Have you ever strolled down a street and wondered what goes on behind the net curtains and closed doors of the resident’s houses?
Well we invite you to join us as we glimpse inside this fictional street, with its back to back houses and secret entries, and introduce you to the ordinary and extraordinary people who live there.
Beryl – The Theatre Cleaner
Forty years I’ve been cleaning this place. Never a day sick, not even when me bunions were playing up. They didn’t like me coming in in my carpet slippers but I told them. I said ‘If you want the Axminster vacuumed before Mr Gielgud arrives for his rehearsal, you’ll have to turn a blind eye. Besides they’re M and S with a rubber sole, not your cheap stuff. Nice man Mr Gielgud, partial to a bit too much eyeliner, but a lovely smile.
We’ve had all the greats here, Enid Pickles, Stanley Mackintosh and his dancing ferrets and that lovely dancer with the red hair, you know the one, danced with Gene Kelly in that film, had her legs insured for half a million. Bonnie Hayworth, that was her name. Always well turned out she was, never saw her in the same thing twice. My Clifford had a proper crush on her until I told him about the diamante jar on her dressing table soaking her false teeth. He’s never forgiven me for telling him. Wouldn’t watch any of her films after that.
Course, not everyone is so well turned out. You wouldn’t believe the state of some of the actors we have here, especially the older ones. Who was that old variety act we had one Christmas? The woman with the singing nostrils? Evie Patterson, that was her name. Velvet coat dragging along the floor and an ostrich boa around her neck. I was coughing feathers for weeks. I seem to remember she brought her young daughter with her, running amok backstage she was. Practically feral. Gerald the stage manager at the time, asked me to keep an eye on her whilst her mother performed.
I told him, I’m employed to sweep the stairs and scrub the toilets, not wet nurse a kid for some flouncy madam. But he said it was either that or have her scribble all over the walls.
I spent hours trying to keep her occupied
I recall on one occasion she asked me, ‘Can we do some drawing Beryl?’
Course I agreed cus I’ve always had a penchant for art. Ever since Justin who paints our backdrops ran that ‘life pottery’ workshop at the day centre. He said my statue of Dick from the ironmongers was a sight to behold. I’ve still got it on my dresser at home. Use it to store my rings.
I like a bit of sketching too so I told her to draw something Christmassy to give to her mother when she’d finished her act.
And do you know, she sat lovely she did, carefully sketching out four figures in a nativity scene and colouring them in. Ah but you would have laughed. She drew this man with a long beard and with a tea-towel on his head, and this woman who she’d coloured blue. There was also a baby in a crib lying on some straw, next to a fat bloke who was leaning over.
I said to her, ‘That’s lovely that is, come here and tell me who these characters are.’ – I’ve always had a way with children, 11 of me own I have, 24 grandchildren last count.
Anyways, she points to the beardy man on the right and says, ‘That’s Joseph.’ and then puts her finger on the kneeling woman and tells me that, ‘That’s Mary.’
‘And is this Jesus? I asked her pointing at the baby in the crib.
‘It is,’ she says.
‘So who is the large man at the back love?’ I ask her.
‘Oh that’s round John Virgin’ she tells me calm as you like. I laughed so much, one of the runners came in and told me quieten down, apparently the stage needed to be silent to get the full benefit of Evie’s nostrils.
It’s a lovely place to work though, you can have a laugh, especially with the young stage construction lads they send over from college. Bill in Stores is a devil for winding them up when they are still wet behind the ears. I remember he sent this slip of lad to me to ask if he could borrow my Fallopian tubes and a tin of elbow grease. Oh yes, we’ve had some fun.
Did I mention the massive hole on the stairs? It’s been there since the summer of ‘58. Gerry Dorsey and The Flame Retardants were playing. He tripped over his guitar strap, fell face first, blood everywhere. If you look closely you’ll see a bit of tooth still stuck in the plasterwork. I think he’d had a few. There was a fair share of Barley Wine bottles in his waste paper bin. Partial to a happy ciggie as well, If yer know what I mean.
You have to turn a blind eye in this game. They all tell me their secrets you know. Lots of hanging about back stage see. It loosens their tongues.
Hector Tattersworth was the worst. He was quite the Casanova in his day, before he had his testicle surgically removed after the spike incident. I don’t know if it was shock, but his hair went white over-night. He used to ask me to put Vaseline on his inner thigh where his surgical truss had rubbed. We had many a chat in those intimate moments. Personally, I always thought he was a bit light on his feet. He told me I was like the mother he never had, I wouldn’t mind but I was only a few years older than he was, cheeky bugger.
This theatre’s been here for years you know. Dicken’s mother’s waters broke down in the stalls. I like to think that he knew, Dickens I mean. Like he was trying to be born in this theatre. Call it a premonition of what was to come, if you will. Those waters could have leaked anywhere but he chose to make his entrance here.
Trouble is his mother had other ideas and asked to be taken back home, otherwise it would be us with the blue plaque outside.
I’ve always been fond of history me. My own mother used to take me to all the historical buildings around here, Upark House, The Pier and the Cathedral, of course that was before we had to have her put away. She’d taken to leaving Polaroids of herself in various stages of undress, in between the books at the library. I haven’t been able to show my face since.
We’ve had all the musicals here you know, Kiss me Kate, Guys and Dolls.
The best show we had was that ‘Old Time Music Hall’. All the cast dressed up in Edwardian costumes, bustles, corsets and men in long coats, oh it was a picture. The things you could hide under those long skirts, hip flasks full of gin, hot water bottles. That famous actress Betty Hickenbottom once had a stash of crab sticks under hers. The fishy smell was causing havoc with the female cast. All booking appointments at the surgery. The number of tubes of ‘Intimate ladies cream’ I came across when I was cleaning the dressing room, you wouldn’t believe. Luckily Clarence the theatre cat soon identified the culprit.
That reminds me, I must remember to run the broom over the Orchestra pit later. Chopper the drummer is a terror for sneaking sweets in during the break. He was telling me he’d put on four stone since he started working here. I said three stone of that is strawberry Bon-Bons. He almost choked on one during ‘Cat’s’. The audience thought one of the actors were coughing up a fur ball.
My Clifford says he’s so fat it’s a wonder he can still fit behind the drum kit and play. I said I’m inclined to think he can’t. In that last show, he sounded like he was building a shed.
Anyway, I can’t stand around here gossiping, I must get on. These theatres don’t clean themselves you know.
Jules Garvey-Welch for Pf Magazine
Jules Garvey Welch
Originally from ‘The Black Country’, Jules settled on the south coast after finishing her teaching degree at Chichester University. In 2017, she was long-listed for the ‘Kenneth Branagh Drama Award’ for her play ‘The Saga of Ken and Sandra. This play is also scheduled for production at The Titchfield Festival Theatre in January 2019. Her book ‘The Field Street Monologues’ was recently made into a stage play and was performed to a full-house at this same theatre and will be showing at ‘The Brighton Fringe’ in May 2018. She has also been involved in many of the BBC Writer’s Room events and in March 2018, her monologue ‘Paddy’ was performed by stage and screen actor Paul Lavers at The Green Theatre Company in Camden. One of her monologues ‘Wrath’ has recently been chosen to appear in the ‘Between These Shores’ anthology, which includes writing and art from both the UK and USA.
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The copyright for these monologues belongs to Jules Garvey Welch. They must not be performed or published in any way without the permission of the author.
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At Pf Magazine we love to hear from our readers. This week Janine, quite rightly, pointed out that we haven’t been catering much for our ‘older’ ladies. She felt that she had a story to tell us about what she is experiencing as a woman of a certain age. So we paid her a surprise visit.