Wednesday, December 21, 2016

prior knowledge

Here's another one for the slightly esoteric category People Who You Would Have Been Mildly Surprised To Discover Were Still Alive Had You Not Just Discovered They Were Dead. In this case there probably has to be a Well, If You've Even Heard Of Them At All rider attached, as Jim Prior wasn't one of the most famous or illustrious of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet ministers (he also served in the Cabinet under Edward Heath).

The only reason that I remember Prior, who left the Cabinet when I was 14 and not really particularly politically engaged (like most 14-year-old boys I had more immediate matters to worry about, like disturbing feelings for girls and troubling goings-on, you know, down there), is that he is the only actual person, living or dead, that I have ever portrayed on stage, during the course of an intermittent and far from glorious thespian career.

Let me set the scene for you: I was 10 or 11, in my last or last-but-one year at primary school, and it had been decided that the top couple of classes would put on a show of some sort for the parents (I can't remember, but probably at Christmas). Instead of some sort of glorified nativity play or a musical adaptation with some endearingly amateurish hoofing and singing, the young and enthusiastic teaching staff decided to really stick it to The Man by presenting a searing satirical portrait of early-1980s Britain. So the slightly bemused 10/11-year-old cast were required to portray, among the characters that I can remember, Maggie the Snatcher (scarcely very original), Sir Geoffrey Howe Nowe and, in my case, Cardinal Prior. Beyond those names I have literally no recollection of what any of it was about, other than that Maggie had most of the lines and I didn't get very many. I certainly can't tell you, for instance, what satirical purpose it served to have Prior be a cardinal, thereby joining the small list of dramatic cardinals that includes Cardinal Wolsey, Cardinal Richelieu and Cardinal Fang.

As far as I could gather the thing was mainly the brainchild of one of the teachers, Mr. Kicinski. A perfectly nice bloke, as I recall, whose enduring tragedy is that his laboured political satire was nowhere near as amusing as the nickname his pupils came up with for him: Mr. Kitchensink. I should add that despite his being a tall rangy guy with a beard and the similarity in the names, I am at least 85% sure that he didn't go on (perhaps enraged by his thwarted ambitions in the sphere of the dramatic arts) to be the Unabomber.

My principal other claim to stage fame is my appearance in the school production of Lionel Bart's Oliver! in what must have been 1979, when I would have been nine years old. I'm able to date it reasonably confidently as it was during our time in Bandung, which basically comprised the whole of 1979 (the only entire year I have ever spent outside the UK) plus a couple of months out of each of the adjoining years. My role was a non-speaking one as a member of a troupe of lovable cockney street urchins who did a bit of a tumbling routine, a thing that required what seems in hindsight like months of rehearsal, which must have left precious little time for actual lessons. The picture shows me (on the left) and my sister Emma showing off our costumes at home.

The principal roles in Oliver! are Oliver himself and Fagin. In our production the role of Oliver was time-shared between two people, both girls, as it happens, but as far as I recall the role of Fagin was the same person every time, possibly because it required a slightly older actor, and possibly just because it's a demanding role and they couldn't find more than one person capable of doing it. The person who ended up with the role, to general agreement that she was by far the best thing in the play, was an American girl called Veronica Winegarner. That's a sufficiently unusual name to be Google-able, and a bit of elementary cyberstalking reveals that she is now married to writer Eric Paul Shaffer and lives in Hawaii. That's her on the right in the photo in this blog post; I'm 99% sure that's the same person.

The only other time I can remember being on stage in front of an audience is as part of the sixth form revue we put on during my time at St. Bart's in Newbury. A combination of tediously "edgy" self-written material and lazy rehashes of classic sketches, my involvement was in the latter category as me and my friend Stuart did a version of this Peter Cook and Dudley Moore sketch. I played the psychiatrist and was utterly brilliant; Stuart played the patient and was fine but had a tendency to forget his lines which required some hasty ad-libbing to get around. Anyway, that was it: the theatre's loss was the IT industry's gain, or possibly the other way round.


The black rabbit said...

I should perhaps point out to any readers (plural?) of this blog that didn't know the author whilst he was an undergraduate at Bristol that even 10 or 12 years on from the time that the "Oliver" photo above was taken, Dave still wore the same clothes whilst frequenting the pubs of Bristol and pretending to read maths.
At least the trousers anyway.

The black rabbit said...

Not the cap though.
That'd have ruined his blow-dried barnet. Innit.

Emma said...

I'd forgotten about that play at St Joseph's. Mum was very disapproving. I remember a lot of talk afterwards about political jokes being put into the hands of children.

Emma said...

Couldn't say whether that's Veronica Winegarner, but as you say there can't be many people with that name. I do remember we were all dead impressed with her performance.