Thursday, 24 November 2016

Pastiche- I get it now.

In the late 1960s and early 70s,  my study of English Literature was peppered with novels,  short stories, poetry and plays.  Each academic year I was entertained by at least two Shakespeare plays, a novel by Charles Dickens and poetry by the Romantics.  Some of the stories were familiar to me and this was because of my family’s dedication to cinema and in particular musicals. My elder sister Lesley was a keen student of ballet and tap under the tuition of Blackpool ballet mistress, Elsie Bradley.  By age fourteen Lesley danced on her points, had cameo roles in the Blackpool Children’s Pantomime and danced every Summer Season in the cast of the Tower Ballet, first as a tiny tot and eventually in quartets and duets.  She was a lovely dancer.  

In 1962, my father took licence of a public house in St Helens and unfortunately Lesley didn’t like the new ballet school, (it is hard to go from being a teacher’s favourite to the new girl), declared she hated it and that was that.  Any thoughts of a career in dance evaporated overnight and despite one sojourn in an amateur production of The White Horse Inn, she didn’t dance again.  Our love of musicals was fed by the cinematic journey.  The 1960s were awash with Broadways musicals transformed for Technicolor by Hollywood. We two sisters lapped them up.  

In 1970 I was reading aloud in English: A passage from Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, when suddenly the voice of Eliza Doolittle was transformed into a cockney twang.  Immediately I was playing Audrey Hepburn, the most beautiful and glamorous actress that I had ever seen. Lerner and Lowes pastiche of Shaw’s remarkable play was transformational for me.  I had already seen My Fair Lady at the cinema.  I knew every song, almost every line and I understood the nature of all the characters.  

I had started at Elmslie Girl’s Grammar School as a naturally very bright, scholarship holder with an acquired Liverpool accent and what was more of a strain for my headmistress than my, already blossoming, career in International dance.  It had been made clear to me, before I was offered a place at the school, that if the standard of my school work should deteriorate due to dancing, that the dancing would stop.  Mum and Dad were surprised that I even considered agreement to Miss Oldham’s terms but it made me all the more determined to succeed at both.  

Pygmalion was a turning point.  A working class girl in a public school, intelligent but awkward, playing the role written for me by others.  Suddenly I knew how to live in both worlds.  I became a living pastiche.  I let the school and the world of dance transform me into from ugly duckling into a swan and I soared.  Unfortunately, there is a point in every play, musical or novel when the heroine has to choose, when the pressures of living two lives become too much.  For me, academia and dance were suddenly ripped apart by a seemingly unrelated issue. My sister married.

She could no longer drive me to lessons on the Wirral every Saturday, my twice weekly practice sessions in Manchester were out of the question and gradually, my international competition career went out of the window.  By now I was living in a village inn near Blackpool and my dance partner lived in Stoke on Trent.  The only way to keep up the standard was to travel to his parent’s house every weekend by coach and return on Sunday evening. Inevitably homework suffered and I had to decide.  Despite our success in reaching the British Junior Finals at only thirteen, I had to split with John and give up competitive dance.  He found a new partner and went on to be Ballroom Professional World Champion.  By then he was 6’ 2” and as I never grew above 5’2” the split up was inevitable but at the time I was devastated and totally lost.  

I did return to dance but it was always as a shadow of the dancer that I knew I should be. I found a semi –professional partner who had a cabaret contract. It was not enough and by 16 I was qualified to teach and running a Saturday morning class for kids in the village.  I taught for a while in the South but my heart was still in competition and performance.  When my mother fell ill, I gave up completely and settled into an office.

This week I am taking to the stage in two performances of Die Fledermaus at Thornton Little Theatre. On 'Black Friday', 9 May 1873, the Viennese Stock Exchange crashed, spreading gloom and despair. The shockwaves were also felt by Vienna's theatres, which experienced falling box-office receipts. Anxious to remedy this potentially disastrous situation, theatre managements eagerly sought out productions that would attract audiences back into their establishments. Johan Stauss operetta was a pastiche of a French play adapted as a libretto.  The success of Die Fledermaus was incredible. The overture was a sensation.

Musica Lirica's Musical Director, Michael Hall and his wife Fran's styling on this production of Die Fledermaus is way out there: True to the orchestration and lyrics and music with an English translation and a thrilling ‘Steam Punk’ style. I hope that some of you will come along either this evening or tomorrow at 7.30pm. In a pastiche of my own life, I am cast as ‘The Dance Mistress’.  I have no poem to express the joy at 58 of being able to dance without tears in my eyes. Thank you both Fran and Mike for helping me to be a swan again, just for a while.

As always, thanks for reading.  Adele