The Witches Came to Swindon
Dear Diary...adventuresome as I was in the 90s, I was led on a journey into the mysterious world of Roald Dahl. It all started when my friend informed me that a company called Clarion Productions; were to present The Witches at the Wyverne Theater in Swindon Wiltshire. It was to run from 19thJuly to 24th July 1993. I found out they were looking to recruit women from the Swindon area to play the part of Witches In Attendance.
Well! As you can imagine I was determined to get my name down. The acting life always held a place in my heart and the chance to become someone else was always exciting, though I had a feeling there would be many other woman auditioning – boy! Was I right.
Attending the audition, I still to this day can't remember where it was held, but I do remember a large hall packed with a lot of other ladies that were as excited as I was to get the part. The main process of the day was to whittle us down to eleven, which didn't leave me with much hope.
To say the judges worked us hard was an understatement, as each one wandered among we lively bunch of women spurring us on. They had us cackling and screeching like banshees, pulling the ugliest faces we could muster up, moving around the hall like mad women on some kind of hallucinatory drugs, all bent over and then crawling on all fours. It would have looked very weird to any outsider that happened to wander in on us, but I was in my element and loving every second.
My son had bought all the Roald Dahl books and was an avid fan. I just had to take him to the pictures to see the film. Both of us were enthralled, especially by the brilliant actress Anjelica Huston who played the Grand High Witch. I made a point of taking what I remembered from the film and incorporating it into my audition, giving everything I had to impress the judges, I have to admit to being quite astonished at the amount of face pulling I was able to achieve, with anything from gurning to looking like I was a wild animal about to pounce.
As the day wore on, we continued with the raucous racket and motivation of getting the judges attention. To be honest I didn't think I stood a chance of getting the part in a professional production that was going to take place, and was quite prepared to go home disappointed.
After a short break, we were once again assembled back in the hall waiting to hear our names called out. I remember standing there in anticipation as a couple of women were called. Then! All of a sudden out of the blue the judges called my name and told me to step forward, I was absolutely flabbergasted, my flabber had never been so gasted. I was stunned not quite sure if I heard right, until this woman behind tapped me on the shoulder and said; “Go on – you're a witch.”
My throat was dry as I swallowed from all the cackling and screaming, I proceeded to walk to the front, followed by other women that had been picked. It was like a dream come true, my big moment had arrived. Even though we never had any lines to read, we just had to focus on the cackling and face pulling.
Finally the judges thanked everyone else for coming and apologized for those that hadn't been picked. We were the lucky ones, who were then instructed that there would be dress rehearsals to attend and that we should keep our diaries empty until the play was finished.
The dress rehearsals were hilarious, especially in the second half of the play when the Witches get turned into mice. We had to practice escaping down through a trap door in the stage, while smoke filled the air around us – not real smoke of course, I think it was dry ice floating across the stage floor.
We had to pretend we were shriveling up and shrinking to the size of mice, while making a high pitched giggly sorts of noises, which then turned to squeaking as we disappeared down through the stage. I only wish someone had taken a photo of our escape, because with all the smoke it was hard to see where you were going, I became aware if I put a foot wrong I could have had an accident or worse still spoiled the whole show, but luckily the lady I was partnered with was pretty kosher on where she was going, so I just held her hand and followed her.
It bought back memories of my amateur dramatic days when I was in a pantomime, I was supposed to be a lady in waiting in Ali baba and the forty thieves, unfortunately during the end of the first half, I stood on the wrong spot and was left on my own staring at the audience when the curtain came down, it was so embarrassing and I was mortified, because I knew the director would be mad at me. I can still hear his words of; “How many times do I have to tell you – all you have to do is stand where I told you to.” Well! I was a lot younger back then and unsure of myself.
All I had to worry about now, was getting someone to teach my aerobics classes for a week, it wasn't too much of a problem as we now had another girl teaching the same style of dance aerobics as me. After much persuasion she agreed to do my classes, if I would help her out when she wasn't able to teach. I was more than happy to come to her rescue as I'd already helped out other teachers in the past. So to my great relief I wouldn't have to cancel and let my classes down.
It was certainly going to be a busy week, we had a matinee in the afternoons, then an evening performance and on the Saturday we did two matinees, one in the morning then one in the afternoon and the evening, which was very tiring. The dressing room was the height of activity with eleven women all rushing around, putting makeup on and getting changed, plus the wardrobe assistance lending a hand too.
The worst part was when we had to put our hair up in these bold caps that were tight to your head and made you look like an elf, luckily my ears didn't stick out, otherwise I would have felt very self conscious.
Then we had to wear wigs over the top of the bold head pieces, they became very hot under the stage lights, though I was quite taken with my pageboy style which I'd actually worn in my younger days during the 1970s...page boy was a fashion statement back then.
The clothes were so old fashioned though, the kind your grandma wore. I had to wear this awful blue dress with a white scarf and white gloves. Oh! Yes and to make matters worse I had this old fashioned black handbag that came out of the 1950s. Remember that advert for; The Matching Unique At A G Meek? Well I certainly felt like I just dropped out of that advert. Grandma would be pleased if she could see me now.
Well dress rehearsals went well and the other ladies were so much fun, we had a lot of laughs. Now we were ready for our first performance and although nervous, I was looking forward to a week of much entertainment.
I'd never done as much coming and going as I did that week. I lived a bus ride away from town and had to make the journey twice a day, with my son begging me not to go. After much explanation he came to terms with my situation, especially when he went to see one of my matinee performances and saw Mum up on the stage, I think he was quite proud, though hubby had to point me out, I looked so different in all that gear and wig.
At the end of the week we were given a program that that had been signed by all the actors and actresses. Mingling and chatting with professionals was such a buzz and will stay in my mind forever.