‘Avast there you curly screw!’ I bellowed, waving my twine-tied wooden sword, plastic patch over one eye, red paisley handkerchief tied tightly around my head.
The junior school play – and I the pirate captain, the lead no less; picked, not because I had a full beard or a wooden leg, but because I had the loudest voice. And I’d managed to get the opening line wrong – AGAIN!
The play was called ‘The Lonely Bard’, said ‘Lonely Bard’ being a ship, and I, as I’ve already mentioned, the pirate captain. I’ve no idea what his name was or what the play was about but I’ll remember the opening lines for as long as I live; or at least until the Alzheimer’s gets to my long term.
Captain: ‘Avast there you scurvy crew!’ (Draws the attention of sailors to a dilapidated old ship docked in harbour.)
Captain: ‘Beshrew me heart it goes against the grain to leave the old ship. The Lonely Bard, a rakish craft when new and well suited for my purposes when I fled from justice in my native land.’ (Sailors look at each other and mumble.)
So, the plot so far - Nameless pirate captain is running from the authorities in ship called Lonely Bard. The ship is old, no longer seaworthy and he’s trying to persuade / press gang / bribe a few honest sailors (Peter Fry, Malcolm Talbot, Teresa Davies) to steal another ship, become pirates, and sail away with him on a pirate adventure. Captain, despite having loudest voice, seems not to be able to remember further lines even with constant whispered prompting from Mrs Beatty sitting in wings with script. Captain tries to distract audience away from his inability to remember lines by waving wooden sword around profusely hitting Malcolm Talbot over eye and causing said eye to bleed even more profusely than the sword waving.
The audience went wild applauding as Mrs Beatty and Miss Evans rushed the blood smeared Malcolm off to the office to make use of the school first aid kit and contact his mother - presumably by semaphore or passenger pigeon as very few of us had a telephone back then. I was still taking encores and bowing when Mrs Hicks (the headmistress), with a face as black as a Jolly Roger, entered the hall, dragged me from the stage, and off to her office for a ‘talking to’.
After tears and explanations, excuses and apologies, and of course the ‘talking to’ I emerged from the office no longer wearing my patch or headscarf and with my sword locked safely away in Mrs Hicks’ storage cupboard where it could: ‘do no more damage’. It appears that despite my brilliant method acting Mrs Hicks felt that I wasn’t cut out to be an actor and simply having the loudest voice and a wicked way with a wooden sword wasn’t quite enough to get me into RADA or the RSC.
‘Beshrew’ - what a funny word; I haven’t trodden the boards since.
Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like if I’d remembered my lines (it couldn’t have been the onset of pre-pubescent Alzheimer’s could it?). Could I have become a great character actor if I’d not almost removed poor Malcolm’s eye with my sword? Would I have grown to be a standing-ovationed Falstaff, or a Fagin, or even a Fu Manchu? Could I have been in westerns, or gangsters, or maybe - just maybe - swashbucklers? What if I’d been given a standing ovation not because I managed to bloody Malcolm’s eye, or because I had the loudest voice, but because I’d moved each and every child in the hall to tears and laughter with the brilliance of my acting ability – suspending their disbelief for a few minutes with the my dazzlingly believable performance.
What if. What if. What if…
Maybe I should have had the leg removed in true method acting style – that’s what Johnny Depp would have done.
Oh well -- I bought this snow globe recently at a market stall. It reminded me of my brief and unsuccessful acting career – as dead as the pirate inside it.
Now how does it go? ‘Beshrew me heart it goes against the grain…’