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The Understudy
(part two)

By January 31, 2022February 9th, 2022Acting, Stage

I was Adam, Orlando’s old servant and mentor; he’s seventy-nine. It took me an hour to make myself look like this (I was twenty-one). As curtain-up approached, and Paul Rogers still didn’t show, I was told to undo all of this art and get ready to be – Touchstone. As we hadn’t had an understudy call for six months, I suggested I go on with the book – no deal. So, I began to unpick all this gunk, while an ASM crouched near me feeding me Touchstone’s cues (it’s quite a sizeable part). Meanwhile, as you’ll gather from Ray’s letter, he was trying to age up to be Adam and – as he says – knew no more than a couple of Adam’s speeches. (In the panic of the moment I had no idea that this parallel trauma was going on in another dressing room.)

I have shuddered at what the unsuspecting audience might have been assaulted with if… ten minutes before curtain-up, Paul effing Rogers hadn’t turned up. There was a screech of emotional brakes and I was told to age up again. ‘But it takes an hour to get this make-up right…’ ‘Just get on with it! You’re on in five minutes.’ True. Because Adam and Orlando start the play. Stage management held the curtain for perhaps five minutes more and then, looking like a badly made-up drama student, I went on stage with John Neville (Orlando) to start the play.

The thing that pisses me off to this day is that Paul never came and apologised. Especially strange because it was then, as now, obligatory stage etiquette to grovel a bit if you’ve put a couple of actors through the mill like this. And Paul wasn’t a hard or heavy kind of bloke – he was pleasant, likeable.

Somewhere – was it at the airport on the company’s return to London, in the middle of all the ‘goodbyes’ and ‘see-yous’? – he muttered something like, ‘sorry about the other day…’ Not good enough. Here’s the Old Vic’s Belfast bill of fare.    

We did indeed take two productions to Belfast… but we played each show for a whole week.

Pictured below is the Belfast theatre’s own programme.

End Part Two