You know, it becomes patently obvious that you are getting on in years, when the theatre parts you are cast in drift from the nubile, young hero to the “character” role. However, even being cast as such an individual, the chance to work with such a splendid cast made me swallow my pride and grace the stage with my presence once again.
A Funny Thing Happened On Way To The Forum, written by the illustrious Stephen Sondheim, is set on a spring evening in Ancient Rome, circa 200 years before the Christian era. The story concerns a gullible brothel owner, Marcus Lycus, contracted to obtain a virgin for the mighty Roman soldier, Miles Gloriosus. The acquired virgin and the lovesick next-door-neighbor’s son, Hero, fall in love and they eventually get together – but not before much slapstick, confusion, mistaken identity, potion swapping and general cross-dressing, all this orchestrated by the conniving slave Pseudolis, desperate for freedom, and gullible sidekick Hysterium, both of whom act as the real stars of the show.
Now you may mock and titter about my role, and please no emails saying “typecast”, but I play Erronius, a befuddled old man who is partially blind and always confused. I spend most of the piece wondering, either abroad (i.e. round the back of the stage), looking for my two children who were kidnapped by pirates years ago or around the Seven Hills of Rome (i.e. round the back of the stage). I mumble a lot and gabble about my gaggle of geese ring (trying saying that 3 times, fast). OK, it is a small cameo role, but I hope memorable and crucial for the final twist of the plot – which enables a happy ending.
It is a musical, but no worries, the audience is spared of my singing except for a couple of lines here and there. I was a little intimated by the fantastic voices of the rest of the cast many of whom could do this professionally. There are surprisingly few hits from the show known outside the theatrical world. “Tragedy Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight” is probably the most recognized, but my favourite has to “Everybody Ought to Have Maid”, which has a maddening way of getting stuck in your head.
A word here must be raised for the fabulous costume-ladies (I have to be nice to them or I am be cursed to be in blue fur for the rest of Heidelberg acting career). The costumes (or lack thereof) of Marcus Lycus’ “courtesans” are wonderful and really help to liven the performances. For my sins, I wear some fetching (authentic) Greek sandals (thanks Barbara, my little Grecian urn) and a heavy wool dress, which was not exactly ideal for the 40°c (104°f) temperatures in our unair-conditioned theatre (it was only 34°c (94°f) outside, but the lights..)
So, with sweat dripping from places that we did not know we could sweat from and make-up melting from our faces we took our final curtain call and bathed in the rapturous applause from the audience members, as well as in the sweat from fellow actors and actresses.
The show has been a real success, not least due to the enlightened director Dane – someone whose clarity of vision and comedic timing (and occasionally lack there of when I am waiting for a cue) could certain lure me on stage again (hint, hint).