Whatever happened to the old me? I miss him...
I think back to my childhood and the extravagant aspirations I had regarding my future career of Oscar-winning actor/entertainer. As soon as I was able to walk, I was eagerly attempting to entertain those around me by either singing, dancing or making puppet shows. My father even made me a Punch and Judy booth out of a couple of old blackboards and an easel. It was decoratively painted in red and yellow strips to emulate the cloth variety oft seen on Brighton Beach in the late 19th Century. My Great Grandmother spent most of the latter years of her life knitting dolls and puppets for me whilst chewing on bits of toast to give to her toothless Yorkshire Terrier. I had a puppet Father Christmas, a bear, a snowman, a clown… oh; the plots one could come up with. OK; so I wasn't re-enacting Dombey & Sons with colourful three-ply characters, but I am sure the storylines were just as thrilling. My father also converted a bathroom cabinet stool into a magician's toolbox/table thing. My poor relatives having to sit through my various acts of mystery and enchantment!
At the charmingly archaic and halcyon Lea Primary School, I was frequently the lead in the school play – partly because I think the teachers thought I might actually burst if they didn't acknowledge my eagerness to participate. When asked for volunteers for anything I would thrust my arm firmly in the air and hold my breath until I was the same colour as the previously mentioned puppet booth (red, not yellow). One would imagine my enthusiasm would irritate my peers, and it probably did but I was much less self-conscious back then.
In those plays, I played Space Captains abducting young girls, a Prince turned into a frog, a rags to riches urchin (I can still sing the song – "Isn't it rich the way fortunes can switch from low to high…") and I would always get an enormous thrill from performing on that stage in the school hall-cum-dining area to the gleeful, yet slightly patronising, adult audience on those glittering nights.
At secondary school (the less-archaic yet still chronically middle-class 'Highfields') I continued to challenge myself in order to entertain. I was in the choir (having done a reasonable stint in the local church choir – although my memories of that are less pleasant. Sure, I sang Who Will Buy from Oliver! and Paul McCartney's Yesterday solo for a congregation, but I also wet myself during the Hallalujah chorus as I was terrified of the Choir mistress and didn't dare nip off to the loo.) and I tried to get involved in every piece of theatre I was eligible for. I even did a deeply distressing stand-up routine for the UK’s first Comic Relief. I believed I could just get up on stage without preparation and make everyone laugh. I did not. Maybe I should have wet myself at that point in my life instead – it may have raised a few chortles.
Given that the great dramatic plays the school put on only came around twice a year (if that), I had to find other avenues to perform; so I volunteered on an embarrassingly regular basis to "present" at assemblies. Yes. I had the gall to stand up in front of my fellow pupils (most of whom had an unpleasant distaste for my slightly demented jocularity) and I would perform – or, as some might say "show-off".
Gosh, I would do anything for the sake of entertainment. I even stripped off to my boxer shorts for one Wednesday morning’s kick-starter. It simply reeked of desperation and a need for attention, but the truth was I simply enjoyed facing a crowd despite the fact that the majority was judging me.
Ooh, it must have been meaningful. See! The world... in human hands! Clever!
The plays we did at school were, thankfully, not the usual tripe forced upon the hormonally dysfunctional teens around the country. We didn't have to do Grease or Jesus Christ Superstar; our teacher, Mrs Phillips, preferred to challenge us with the likes of Terence Rattigan and J.B Priestley. At the time, some parents and their children thought this was a bit bizarre and possibly inappropriate, but I loved it. Sure, we put on a Willy Russell play in which I got to dance like a bonobo chimp having a wave of spasms, but further down the track I got to play an alcoholic RAF pilot who slapped his wife, the husband of a woman in prison for killing her baby, and a septuagenarian who was fond of custard. Oh, the variety!
Of course, I couldn't help myself from getting involved in The Rocky Horror Show. It wasn't a legitimate production, we just loved dressing up and performing the show wherever we could - in the gym, on drama weekends, during mock-political elections...
Me as Frank
I did a bit of amateur dramatics outside of school and appeared in Habeas Corpus, Death and the Maiden, A Lie of the Mind and Oliver! amongst others, but after I left England to move to Australia, my performing days dwindled off to an embarrassing dribble. I spent the first twelve months attempting stand-up comedy (did I learn nothing from my previous venture?) and this time I did do the work beforehand. I just had to put myself through this trial-by-jury to realise that, frankly, I’m just not that funny.
Of course, there were the many, many fancy dress parties and murder parties throughout my youth. My Murder Parties were fun and I often gave myself parts such as 'The Stripper' or 'Jessica Fletcher' for a laugh. At fancy dress parties, I often loved going as some filmic reference...
The Dread Pirate Roberts! NOT Zorro!
So, what happened? When did I become cripplingly self-conscious? I still have the fire inside somewhere to perform – just invite me to a party, give me a gin and tonic for Dutch courage and watch me do the whole 'Party Ben' routine. Give me an audience and I'll give 'em the old "Razzle Dazzle" whether they like it or not.
Instead, I am stuck in a dead-end job feeling miserable and useless, doubting whether I will ever get to do the stuff I love ever again. I am missing you, old me... where did you go?
Just be warned, if I do get back under that spotlight, you might not be able to drag me out of it again…
Ta-da!! (just practising)
I may be in Australia, but I am still an exhibitionist! (Some things can never be unseen!)