Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Coke Floats & Chemo: On stage during a magical week

Coke Floats & Chemo: On stage during a magical week: Brighton Fringe was just amazing! I remembered all my lines, and performing in front of real audiences was just electric. In each of the two...

On stage during a magical week

Brighton Fringe was just amazing! I remembered all my lines, and performing in front of real audiences was just electric. In each of the two performances there was a moment, a different one in each, when it became crystal clear that the audience was totally on our side, with us, willing us to do well, and thoroughly enjoying themselves. 

This is me on stage, with my gorgeous daughter Francesca in the background, holding the real star of the
show, the puppet miniYvonne
It was all a bit of a mess in my head beforehand. I just could not master all my lines, get my head around the running order, work out who was doing what and when and why, and even on the hour-long drive to Brighton I was still manically trying to learn the script. When the opening music for each show started, my brain went to mush, and I could barely remember what day of the week it was never mind all those words. Even throughout the show, I couldn't grasp what bit was coming next. Yet by staying in the moment, something magical happened, the words came out of my mouth in the right order, my limbs carried me around the stage in the right direction, and from the photos I saw later, my face had lost that awful "rabbit-caught-in-headlights" total look of fear. I must have a Guardian Angel as well as a Fairy Godmother. 

From the left, Anita, Francesca, miniYvonne, Alice, me and Charmaine
The other thing that was playing on my mind was how it would be received. There aren't many, if any, precedents for comedy shows about cancer with the cancer patient taking the leading role, and Coke Floats & Chemo is very quirky, to say the least. I had no clue as to whether I was committing social suicide by putting so much of "me" out there, risking ridicule or goodness knows what else, but when the time comes and the music starts playing there's no room for self-obsessed doubt and insecurity, if it was going to work, I just had to throw the whole of me headlong into it. There's a line in the play about something completely different where I say "Deep breath, jump in the deep end and just keep swimming" and that's exactly what it felt like. 

My lovely friends Debbie and Mick were there for the first performance, and they just beamed throughout, and stood up at the end cheering their socks off. I can't tell you what that felt like - but as someone with Stage IV metastatic cancer I reckon it's better than any of the drugs I've been on so far. Maybe appearing on-stage should be on prescription via the NHS. 

From the left, WM, Alice and miniYvonne, and Francesca

The second show had a very large and supportive contingent from my family. Even my Auntie Betty was there, the one who was given 3 months to live due to cancer over 30 years ago. She had come all the way by ferry and train from the Isle of Wight which just about made my day. Her two daughters were there too, and so was my sister and my Dad. Then WM's sister and brother-in-law came along too. My family are my toughest audience, nothing gets past them, and if they don't like something they won't pull any punches, so I was just a tad more nervous with them all there, but also thrilled to bits that they cared enough to come. Well they all just loved the whole thing, so it must be OK.

The very talented miniYvonne centre-stage where she belongs

There were one or two surprises, though. A couple of times I was somewhat taken aback when I noticed audience members wiping their eyes. I thought the whole thing was supposed to be funny, and it struck me that I'm viewing this whole thing very differently to everyone else. By the time I write something here, it has already happened to me, I've done the mental processing and I've coped with it, then somehow the writing of it down is really cathartic and helps any sadness float away. On top of that, with the play, we had rehearsed and rehearsed, saying the words until they were virtually devoid of any meaning. It's like singing a well-known nursery rhyme, the words are so familiar that they just become a series of vocal noises and we hardly notice the meaning. Some of the audience had probably never even read the blog. My marvellous youngest son and his girlfriend were doing a fabulous job on the streets of Brighton handing out flyers about the show and persuading strangers to come and watch it. For them, all that emotion and sadness that has been diluted for me over many months and many retellings had a much more powerful effect, and I felt really awful for them, as if I'd got them in under false pretences. 

Mostly, though, there were gales of laughter, and mostly in the places we expected them to happen. Sheree has done a fabulous job of direction, and Lucinda and David's set and props really do have a "wow" factor every now and again. MiniYvonne of course won over a whole new set of fans, she really did steal the show, and she was the undisputed star of the day. 

Talented Alice making everyone laugh, with miniYvonne in the corner

So many people have pulled together to make this happen, this dream-come-true very surreal opportunity to present the real-life story of my past year. It is so humbling, and the rest of the cast have been so generous in working so hard to create something that is really personal and incredibly special for me. To be on-stage with the people I know and love, not just WM, my lovely, talented daughter, Francesca, my very special friend, Anita, but the rest of the cast, because they have all become very good friends over the past few months. Brenda, who will be 89 later this year is an absolute hoot when she comes on stage and gives Sam a really dirty look. Sam, who just never stops looking so happy, and who had the audience in fits with an ad lib "Ozzy Osbourne" line. Francesca and Alice together make miniYvonne come alive, Alice also has a really funny cameo role where she does a double-hander with Charmaine, who also has some outrageously insulting lines that made the audience laugh out loud. Francesca gets her own back on some of the less-than-sensitive professionals we've had to put up with lately, doing a parody of the worst of them. I think that shocked the audience, it's only if you had been in my house when certain conversations actually took place that you would see the funny side of them. Then there is Stephen, marvellous Stephen, who takes on the role of both Mr Lovely and a German, who was my Dad's favourite character in the whole thing. Anita has been given every bitchy line in the play, she must be an excellent actress because I've known her for over 15 years and she only ever says lovely things about everyone. Then WM, playing, of course, WM, my hero both on and off stage. 

Sam, who just exudes presence on-stage

Brighton is a fabulous place, never better than during the three weeks of the Brighton Fringe. It's a very quirky town, very well-heeled and respectable, and yet also wild and outrageous. Being on the coast makes it even more fabulous, and with everything happening, and me not being able to walk very far, it's just made me want to go back again and again throughout the summer months. 

Afterwards with Adam and Francesca at Browns

After the show we met up with WM's sister and brother-in-law, and went for a lovely meal in Browns Restaurant. The food was divine, the service was beyond fabulous, and the ambience exactly right. They were very patient with us because various members of our family joined in for various courses or coffees throughout the 4 hours we were there. Then it was home, totally exhausted, but happy exhausted is a really lovely way to end the day. 

And here is minYvonne,, chilling on the way back home

Still loads more to tell, there will just have to be a Part III of this magical week, maybe tomorrow I'll get a chance to fill you in on the rest.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Coke Floats & Chemo: Boris Johnson & the start of a magical week

Coke Floats & Chemo: Boris Johnson & the start of a magical week: Very occasionally, we all get a moment of complete wonderment, where something amazing or unusual happens, and it lives with us forever. I&...

Boris Johnson & the start of a magical week

Very occasionally, we all get a moment of complete wonderment, where something amazing or unusual happens, and it lives with us forever. I've just had a whole weekload of such moments, magically crammed together in the space of a very few days, and it's felt like I have been given the exclusive use of my very own Fairy Godmother for a whole week. OK, so she didn't clean the house, but after the week I've just had, she probably knew I'd need something to bring me back to earth. 

An invitation from Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, to join him at City Hall for a reception kick-started the week beautifully. Boris is a larger-than-life character, and you either love him or hate him, and I must admit I really wasn't very fond.  In person though, he is just lovely, with much more warmth and humanity than I expected. The building itself is amazing, with all sorts of really clever architectural features. There is an enormous aerial map of the whole of the Greater London area in the basement, taking virtually the whole floor area, so you can see it over the stairwell balconies from above. We were on the ninth floor, and it has a terrace running almost the entire way around, with simply breath-taking views of our Capital City. We Londoners aren't famed for our free-flowing emotional literacy, but this balcony is designed to bring all that emotion out onto your sleeve in one easy move. I just stood there, breathing in views of the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the Gherkin, St Paul's Catherdral, The Thames with all the boats busying up and down, and felt so enormously proud of our heritage and our City in a real lump-in-throat sort of way. 
London's amazing City Hall, affectionately known as "The Onion"

I took this photo of Tower Bridge from the Terrace on the 9th Floor

On the terrace, the Gherkin is just across the river

This photo I took just doesn't do it justice - a huge mape of the whole of the Greater London Area on the floor of the basement,

Then they started serving food. Forget the views, the food was simply heavenly.  All finger food, served on trays one dish at a time, but so many lovely staff carrying so many trays. Stuffed baby new potatoes, kebabs of lamb, chicken, salmon, jenga-sized chips in tiny little paper cones, beautiful melt-in-the-mouth pastries with all sorts of delicacies...... I should have brought a sleeping-bag and taken up residence. 

Boris Johnson has to be one of the best public speakers there is. He is just so funny.  He is also very well-informed and does his  research very well indeed - I can honestly say his speech was the best I've ever heard. 

Isn't it strange how life can bring such lows and highs together even on the same day? This was on the very same day that I got the letter that floored me, detailing in stark black and white how my cancer has spread to my spine, and what that means in terms of my life-expectancy. 
I didn't react well to the letter, and for a few hours I was a simply horrible person, and the last thing I wanted was to go out and have to be pleasant to people. It was my first trip up to the centre of London on a train for over a year, and although I'm feeling lots better, my stamina still has a long way to go to be anywhere near normal, and walking more than a few paces is agony on all my joints due to the side-effects of some of the drugs I'm on.  WM, who hadn't been invited, insisted on coming with me to make sure I was OK all the way up there, and when we got there, despite all the necessarily stringent security measures in central London buildings, they allowed him to come into the reception with me. Their kindness just about made my day, and having WM there too made the whole thing so much more special. 

The walking did nearly kill me - it's about a 10 minute walk for normal people, and not easily accessible by bus or taxi. It took me nearly an hour of painful steps and breathlessness, but I felt so good that I'd done it, there and back. 

So many other magic moments to tell you about - being on-stage for two performances of Coke Floats & Chemo which our audiences seemed to love, getting an amazing phonecall from somebody that could turn out to be literally life-changing, and Steve, our exhaustingly naughty puppy turning into a brilliantly behaved little poppet. If I do it now, this post will be so long that you'll get horribly bored, so I'm off to make a cup of tea, and I'll do a second post in a little while, maybe even later today. 

Friday, 17 May 2013

Coke Floats & Chemo: Rehearsal Photos

Coke Floats & Chemo: Rehearsal Photos: We had our final rehearsal tonight for Coke Floats & Chemo, and here are the photos to prove it! I still can't believe this whole t...

Rehearsal Photos

We had our final rehearsal tonight for Coke Floats & Chemo, and here are the photos to prove it! I still can't believe this whole thing is happening, it's all very exciting, stacks of fun, and the perfect antidote to the misery of having cancer. I also can't believe how absolutely awful I look in every single one of the photos...... I need a new face, liposuction everywhere and a whole new range of facial expressions ...... all by lunchtime Saturday, exactly 36 hours away. Unlikely, so I'll just have to brazen it out. Everyone in the cast is amazing, everyone pulls together and makes the whole thing just work somehow. It's all quite technical, the props are really imaginative, and little miniYvonne virtually steals the show on more than one occasion....

If you can come, please do, we'd love to see you there, and if nothing else, you'll get to see the full range of idiot faces I never knew I could pull!!! 

Brighton Fringe, Friends Meeting House,  Saturday 18th May 2013 at 1.00pm and 3.00pm. Tickets only £5.00, and it's even suitable for children. 

If you can't make it, these photos will certainly make you wonder what on earth......!