The Togs Blog

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Joy of Disguise

Talking of transformations: last year for 24:7 I performed my own satirical monologue, Drinks With Natalie, an adaptation of my earlier radio play, Dry Sherry. This involved me getting dressed up (as the pic shows) as a latter-day Beverley (re Abigails's Party), and greeting the audience in costume and welcoming them to my 'drinks party'.

I was delighted to find that the sound crew included Dave Midgely, whom I'd met the previous year when he'd acted in a show. 'Hi!' I cried to him the first night, from my post where I was waiting for the audience with my bowl of crisps and my glass of 'wine' and my little finger sticking out.

He looked startled and responded a little coolly, I thought, in view of the fact that we'd gone after-show boozing the year before. When my performance was over and I emerged from behind the screens in my jeans he looked even more startled. 'God, it's YOU!' he exclaimed.

It's what we do in our heads all the time as writers, get inside the skins of other people, but there's nothing like the kick of doing it in the flesh - and hoodwinking others!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Diva in the Loo

On Tuesday I ushered for 24:7 at the Palace Theatre in the Grand Tier bar. Between shows I dashed to the loo, which meant going into the darkened Grand Tier itself, the steeply raked gallery of the theatre, with its red plush seats and the staircase like a cliff-face leading down to the toilets. I opened the door to the toilets and a women's voice inside rang out: 'Well, I am a gay icon!'

I glimpsed the speaker, a woman in shorts and heels and with a mass of blonde hair applying makeup in front of the mirror, before I ducked into the nearest cubicle, slightly embarrassed at bursting in on such a conversation. She spoke again, and it was only as I was shutting the cubicle door that I realised she was now speaking to me and that no one else was present. 'I'm going over my lines,' she told me. She was in the next play (which I had not yet at that point seen), the now-famous (and sadly finished) Divas and Double Glazing.

'I auditioned for a play of yours once,' she told me through the cubicle door, and I suddenly realised who she was: Stella Grundy. That other time she came for a part as a serious and academic feminist, but this week she played to perfection the mad diva mother of the young gay hero. Oh, the magical transformations of costume - and brilliant acting, of course!

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Meanings of Black

Black for sobriety. That's what us black-dressed Front of House staff are meant to stand for, sobriety and safety. Showing people the way, pointing out the fire exits before the show starts, we're at strange uneasy odds with the colourful flights of imagination on stage and theatrical suspension of disbelief. The no-nonsense reality check. Except that in a fringe festival like 24:7 most of the box-office staff and ushers are actors really. One night this week Francis's black top had sequins; another night Becky wore a sash with silver threads, and Gerry wore gold pumps, subverting the uniform and switching the connotations: black for excitement and glamour.

And speaking of glamour: the scheduled performances of Colin Carr's Divas and Double Glazing have sold out, so by public demand there'll be an extra performance tonight at 10.15 in the Midland Hotel.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Front of House

This week I am wearing black again. It's the fabulous Manchester 24:7 Theatre Festival, now in its third year, and I'm helping out with Front of House. It's a small, small world, and when the other usher, Ben, walked up in his smart black shirt and trousers, I knew I knew him from somewhere, but he had to remind me: he was the tracksuited scally in the film we both appeared in two weeks ago, unrecognisable now. So there we were again together, only this time the parts we were playing were competent and formal and posh.

This year the festival has really taken off, and right from the first day some of the performances sold out. I've seen some fantastic shows including the hilarious, touching and utterly polished Divas and Double Glazing by Colin Carr and the harrowing but life-affirming Vegetable by Diane Whitley, both in the Palace Theatre bars. You can book online, and you better do it fast!

It's All in the Clothes

Clothes? I hear you ask: why would a writer, someone who should be concerned with higher things, with the things of the mind, blah, blah, keep a blog about clothes? Why obsess about cut and style when villagers are being bombed, when Habeas Corpus is being wiped from the collective consciousness?

Believe me, I've often asked myself such questions. For one period of my life I was bored and angry with the style pages of the newspapers and with purposeful neglect wore the same faded black sack-clothy outfit every time I left the house - for reasons of personal history which I may or may not feel inclined in future to reveal.

But denial is itself obsession, of course. I've long since given in to my fascination with garment, with the power and slavery and downright cultural signification of clothes.

As a playwright and performer I'd have been mad not to anyway, but now it's seeped into my prose. I recently finished a long novel. One person who read the manuscript, commenting on its historical sweep through the twentieth century, said, 'One way you've done it is through the clothes.'