Monday, September 9, 2013

French without Tears

The fig season is over, now the grapes are ripening and it’s the turn of the prickly pear. I have never seen so much fruit before, the plant is absolutely laden, half a dozen or more on every paddle and they are delicious. Soon it will be the avocados, the quinces, and the guavas and then, just before Christmas, the oranges. The tree in the courtyard is as laden with fruit as the prickly pear. So far they are green and about the size of a golf-ball but they will be ready for Christmas, and I mustn’t forget the winter figs which will be ready at the same time. And at last we’ve had rain.
“I can spot one a mile off.” No, I’m not talking about queers; I’m talking about women who are queue jumpers. In the doctor’s surgery the other day there were two of them, both ex-pat Brits who arrived well after us. Having already waited the best part of two hours in an overcrowded waiting room I told Chris to watch them and, as sure as god made little apples, at the first opportunity they were in before anyone could move. This extended our wait another half hour. I managed to address one as she made her way out.
‘Thank you for jumping the queue,’ I said
‘I didn’t jump the queue,’ she replied, ‘I had to have a blood test.’
What the hell did she think I (and everyone else) were doing there having a picnic? Greek ladies too have a habit of entirely ignoring the existence of a queue, usually in supermarkets.
Reading a biography of the playwright Terence Rattigan whose plays, having long been ousted by the kitchen sink school of the fifties and dismissed more or less as trivia for many years, have recently been rediscovered and produced once more in London to much acclaim. Great to be appreciated after you’re dead, huh? His first play, written in conjunction with an Oxford friend, was produced when he was very young but, although it received four of five productions both in London and America; it was not exactly a great success. After that – nothing. His father was determined he should go into the diplomatic corps and in order to avoid it Rattigan signed on as a writer for Warner Bros, a dead end nine to five job six days a week for £15 and achieving nothing. But during this period he wrote no fewer than eight plays – all rejected.
He finally made it with French Without Tears and I wonder if the great unwashed in the auditorium are ever aware of the drama that goes on backstage, let alone on-stage. Here is a description of the dress rehearsal with a cast that, if not already famous, soon would be. I take it from Geoffrey Wansell’s book. I hope he won’t mind.
“The mood on stage was nervous. No sooner had the curtain gone up when Trevor Howard forgot his second line… Rex Harrison played as though he was constipated and didn’t care wh0 knew it.. Roland Culver put in more “ers” than he had done at the reading. Jessica Tandy was so slow she might have on a modern strike and Percy Walsh forgot he was playing a Frenchman and every now and then lapsed into an Oxford accent. Only Kay Hammond looked reasonably relaxed… the mood in the theatre turned suicidal. Jessica Tandy looked across the footlights to her director and proclaimed, ‘Mr. French you know we can’t open tomorrow night. This isn’t a play; it’s a charade, and an under-rehearsed one at that.’”
On opening night, convinced his play was aging to bomb Rattigan spent the evening in a neighbouring pub. To everyone’s surprise the play was a roaring success with the audience laughing at practically every line. The cast took their bows and there were cries of “Author! Author!” So Rattigan had to be found but he never got around to masking his curtain speech. By the time he arrived on stage the stage hands had grown tired of waiting and lowered the curtain as he took one bow.

There is an old  song originally from Showboat, and later from  When the clouds roll by,’ “Life upon the wicked stage ain’t all a girl supposes,” and that lyricist certainly knew what he was on about.

No comments: