Tuesday, 28 May 2013

On stage during a magical week

Brighton Fringe was just amazing! I remembered all my lines, and performing in front of real audiences was just electric. In each of the two performances there was a moment, a different one in each, when it became crystal clear that the audience was totally on our side, with us, willing us to do well, and thoroughly enjoying themselves. 

This is me on stage, with my gorgeous daughter Francesca in the background, holding the real star of the
show, the puppet miniYvonne
It was all a bit of a mess in my head beforehand. I just could not master all my lines, get my head around the running order, work out who was doing what and when and why, and even on the hour-long drive to Brighton I was still manically trying to learn the script. When the opening music for each show started, my brain went to mush, and I could barely remember what day of the week it was never mind all those words. Even throughout the show, I couldn't grasp what bit was coming next. Yet by staying in the moment, something magical happened, the words came out of my mouth in the right order, my limbs carried me around the stage in the right direction, and from the photos I saw later, my face had lost that awful "rabbit-caught-in-headlights" total look of fear. I must have a Guardian Angel as well as a Fairy Godmother. 

From the left, Anita, Francesca, miniYvonne, Alice, me and Charmaine
The other thing that was playing on my mind was how it would be received. There aren't many, if any, precedents for comedy shows about cancer with the cancer patient taking the leading role, and Coke Floats & Chemo is very quirky, to say the least. I had no clue as to whether I was committing social suicide by putting so much of "me" out there, risking ridicule or goodness knows what else, but when the time comes and the music starts playing there's no room for self-obsessed doubt and insecurity, if it was going to work, I just had to throw the whole of me headlong into it. There's a line in the play about something completely different where I say "Deep breath, jump in the deep end and just keep swimming" and that's exactly what it felt like. 

My lovely friends Debbie and Mick were there for the first performance, and they just beamed throughout, and stood up at the end cheering their socks off. I can't tell you what that felt like - but as someone with Stage IV metastatic cancer I reckon it's better than any of the drugs I've been on so far. Maybe appearing on-stage should be on prescription via the NHS. 

From the left, WM, Alice and miniYvonne, and Francesca

The second show had a very large and supportive contingent from my family. Even my Auntie Betty was there, the one who was given 3 months to live due to cancer over 30 years ago. She had come all the way by ferry and train from the Isle of Wight which just about made my day. Her two daughters were there too, and so was my sister and my Dad. Then WM's sister and brother-in-law came along too. My family are my toughest audience, nothing gets past them, and if they don't like something they won't pull any punches, so I was just a tad more nervous with them all there, but also thrilled to bits that they cared enough to come. Well they all just loved the whole thing, so it must be OK.

The very talented miniYvonne centre-stage where she belongs

There were one or two surprises, though. A couple of times I was somewhat taken aback when I noticed audience members wiping their eyes. I thought the whole thing was supposed to be funny, and it struck me that I'm viewing this whole thing very differently to everyone else. By the time I write something here, it has already happened to me, I've done the mental processing and I've coped with it, then somehow the writing of it down is really cathartic and helps any sadness float away. On top of that, with the play, we had rehearsed and rehearsed, saying the words until they were virtually devoid of any meaning. It's like singing a well-known nursery rhyme, the words are so familiar that they just become a series of vocal noises and we hardly notice the meaning. Some of the audience had probably never even read the blog. My marvellous youngest son and his girlfriend were doing a fabulous job on the streets of Brighton handing out flyers about the show and persuading strangers to come and watch it. For them, all that emotion and sadness that has been diluted for me over many months and many retellings had a much more powerful effect, and I felt really awful for them, as if I'd got them in under false pretences. 

Mostly, though, there were gales of laughter, and mostly in the places we expected them to happen. Sheree has done a fabulous job of direction, and Lucinda and David's set and props really do have a "wow" factor every now and again. MiniYvonne of course won over a whole new set of fans, she really did steal the show, and she was the undisputed star of the day. 

Talented Alice making everyone laugh, with miniYvonne in the corner

So many people have pulled together to make this happen, this dream-come-true very surreal opportunity to present the real-life story of my past year. It is so humbling, and the rest of the cast have been so generous in working so hard to create something that is really personal and incredibly special for me. To be on-stage with the people I know and love, not just WM, my lovely, talented daughter, Francesca, my very special friend, Anita, but the rest of the cast, because they have all become very good friends over the past few months. Brenda, who will be 89 later this year is an absolute hoot when she comes on stage and gives Sam a really dirty look. Sam, who just never stops looking so happy, and who had the audience in fits with an ad lib "Ozzy Osbourne" line. Francesca and Alice together make miniYvonne come alive, Alice also has a really funny cameo role where she does a double-hander with Charmaine, who also has some outrageously insulting lines that made the audience laugh out loud. Francesca gets her own back on some of the less-than-sensitive professionals we've had to put up with lately, doing a parody of the worst of them. I think that shocked the audience, it's only if you had been in my house when certain conversations actually took place that you would see the funny side of them. Then there is Stephen, marvellous Stephen, who takes on the role of both Mr Lovely and a German, who was my Dad's favourite character in the whole thing. Anita has been given every bitchy line in the play, she must be an excellent actress because I've known her for over 15 years and she only ever says lovely things about everyone. Then WM, playing, of course, WM, my hero both on and off stage. 

Sam, who just exudes presence on-stage

Brighton is a fabulous place, never better than during the three weeks of the Brighton Fringe. It's a very quirky town, very well-heeled and respectable, and yet also wild and outrageous. Being on the coast makes it even more fabulous, and with everything happening, and me not being able to walk very far, it's just made me want to go back again and again throughout the summer months. 

Afterwards with Adam and Francesca at Browns

After the show we met up with WM's sister and brother-in-law, and went for a lovely meal in Browns Restaurant. The food was divine, the service was beyond fabulous, and the ambience exactly right. They were very patient with us because various members of our family joined in for various courses or coffees throughout the 4 hours we were there. Then it was home, totally exhausted, but happy exhausted is a really lovely way to end the day. 

And here is minYvonne,, chilling on the way back home

Still loads more to tell, there will just have to be a Part III of this magical week, maybe tomorrow I'll get a chance to fill you in on the rest.


  1. This looks like you had so much fun!!

  2. Diane, thank you, you're right, we had the time of our lives, particularly that very naughty miniYvonne! xx

  3. Yvonne, this is such an amazing story...of your horrendous health crisis turned into a tear-jerking and hilarious play on stage! Bravo to you all for pulling it off and having such supportive audiences. I remember Brighton very well...elegant, trendy and upbeat. I can't wait to hear how the stage performance goes in Carshalton, in July!
    Sharon, Ottawa xox