OCTOBER 1st to NOVEMBER 14th, 2009
Life Begins at 84!
Coming home from a lunch date on the last day of September, there was a phone message from the Jermyn Street theatre. I phoned back to speak to Penny, who runs the theatre, and she told me they were about to open in a play called MANY ROADS TO PARADISE. It had been performed a year ago at the Finborough Theatre, and was being revived with virtually the same cast at the Jermyn Street theatre.
A leading part was being played by my old friend Miriam Karlin, but, alas, she had been taken ill. Would I consider taking over the part. "I will email the script to you" she said. Out of my trusty printer there floated out 106 pages! It was written by Stewart Permutt, whom I knew from my appearances in the DISCOVERING THE LOST MUSICALS, performances, which I have been doing since they started in 1990.
In January 2008 I performed at the New End Theatre in my one-woman show, THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT, for 3 weeks. It had gone so well (I have quoted some of the notices in the "Reviews" section of this Website), and I was so thrilled, I said to myself "You are now 82. You have been a professional actress for 63 years. Go out on a high. Retire!!" Apart from 2 performances of my show later that year in the U.S., that has been it....I have retired! Thank goodness, I am in good health and knew in my heart that if something good came my way, I would consider it!
So it was that I read the script and loved the part of an elderly, Jewish, blind woman in a wheelchair living in a Home. I mean...who else would they turn to!!! For the LOST MUSICALS we hold our scripts, and I had done THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT many times, and TV, which I have done in recent years, is easy---you don't have to learn a whole part to perform live. But learning a new part for the theatre...I looked it up and it was 11 years since I had done it. The Director, Anthony Biggs, came to my flat next morning, Thursday October 1st to persuade me. "When does the play open?" I asked. "Next Tuesday!" he said, "But of course we will have to postpone it." I truly didn't know if I could learn it, but I said "Yes"---I couldn't resist the challenge.
We went straight from my flat to the rehearsal room, where I met the cast. They told me they were in despair, thinking the production would be cancelled. They applauded me when I arrived, with shouts of "Our Saviour"!!! One good thing...in the part I was pushed around in a wheelchair, so didn't have to learn any moves. I asked for the Saturday morning off to study the lines, and on the Saturday afternoon we rehearsed only my scenes. I had much prompting, but I did it without the script!
Now comes my favourite bit. Weeks ago I had arranged to go to Paris on the Sunday for two days on Eurostar, to see my dear friend Samuel Bak who lives in Boston, but was to be in Paris visiting his daughters. Honestly! I caught the Eurostar Sunday morning, two hours on the train studying the script, two glorious days in Paris, back Monday evening...two hours on Eurostar studying the script. Monday was the technical rehearsal onstage, which I missed, and the author, Stewart, had sat in my wheelchair for the lighting!
We rehearsed Tuesday and Wednesday, on Thursday a few friends came in to watch a dress rehearsal, and on Friday we opened!! A week and a day after joining the cast (with 2 days off for Paris).
It is not up to me to say how well I did, but to judge by the enthusiasm of the audience, the compliments and praise that were heaped on me and by the reviews, I suppose I was O.K. I dried quite often, but the audience never knew. Either I floundered around until I remembered a line, or the two girls with whom I had my scenes helped me out. In one scene I had to remind my daughter of how I had made her an outfit to go to a wedding. Complete blank...had no idea what to say. Gillian Hanna, playing my daughter, said "Mummy, you know that story about the wedding, you never stop telling me, tell it to me again"!! That saved me. On another occasion I was nearing the end of a scene with my carer, played by Elizabeth Uter...Blank! She tried: "Tell me about the boy who deserted you"...nothing, I just whimpered, then "Tell me more about your daughter" I remembered only one thing from the speech "She is very plain..she is so plain"...She: "Tell me more" Me: (bursting into tears) I don't remember anything!!" At that moment the brilliant stage manager blacked out the stage!
On the night before we closed, the Friday, there was a sort of miracle that can only happen in the theatre. The audience went wild! They laughed where there had never been laughs before--they "got" it--and at the end they stood, they cheered. When I came up to cross the stage and leave after the show, there were still a lot of people in the auditorium who clapped and cheered, and a group from the Friends of Wimbledon Theatre gave me flowers. Everyone crowded round me, many saying I had reminded them of their mother or grandmother, one girl in tears because not only did I have the same name as her mother, Stella, but she too was always shouting for a banana, as I did in the play.
On the closing night my hairdresser, Alan, came. He is Chinese from Singapore. He brought 2 friends, one of them a Chinese boy from Taiwan. After the show, because they were busy striking the set, all friends had to wait on the pavement up a flight of stairs. When I appeared, the Taiwan boy declared to Alan: "But she can see!!!! And I wondered how she would get up those stairs without a wheelchair!" Isn't that a compliment...he thought I really was blind and couldn't stand or walk!
We ran for 6 weeks, and eventually I got on top of the script. Can you imagine my excitement and my feeling of achievement...driving in to the West End 6 days a week, praise, flowers, encouragement, sharing a dressing room with three charming actresses (Gillian, Elizabeth and Amanda Boxer--a well-known actress who insisted on taking on the task of being my dresser) who all kept telling me that I had saved the show, and how grateful they were. Once again to enjoy the laughter and fun of the dressing room. Backstage camaraderie is a special joy. I have a close friend in Israel called Albert Cohen who is a wonderful actor...he has a saying: "I love being an actor. It is a marvellous life. Only 2 things I don't like...rehearsals and performances!" I like those as well. The year is now nearly over...and I am still floating on air. Aged 84!!!
My retired doctor, Vjera Whitehead, comes from Dubrovnik. She is a great doctor. Peter would say: "I have a nasty pain in my leg." Vjera: "Oh yes, I have the same thing, it is awful isn't it? Now what about the situation in the Middle East (or Yugoslavia or Africa)" And they would have a spirited political discussion. As Peter left the surgery, he would say "You know, I feel better!"
I have always wanted to visit Dubrovnik, so in June 2008 I went with my best friend, Helen Cotterill, and luckily Vjera was there at the same time staying in their family home with her brother. We loved the walled city, the luxurious hotel with a view, overlooking the sea and the islands, where we swam in the infinity pool every morning at 7.00. Vjera's brother, Ivo, is a retired Professor of Music, and also a guide. He took us round the town, and we visited them in their lovely old home on the hill overlooking the town. Maybe the highlight was a day out with a car and driver, during which we stopped for coffee at a Guest House in a village at the edge of the sea called Zaton. We sat on the terrace overlooking the sea chatting with the proprietress--her husband has a vineyard nearby and all the food is freshly picked locally. She showed us around the Guest House and it was so idyllic Helen is determined to go back and stay there someday. Translated, the lady's name is Sunday. Here are some photos:
In October 2008 I went to the U.S. I had never been to Chicago so I met my dear friend Pat Apstein, who lives in Los Angeles, in another lovely hotel and spent a week there. What a surprise. I imagined that the lakeside would be beautiful populated by rich people, but that the rest of the city would be gangsters, mean streets, underworld. Wrong! It is beautiful. We were told that there is more open space there than any other city in America. There are elegant skyscrapers, spaced out, not crushed together like Manhattan. And I had no idea there was a river running through the city into the endless waters of the lake, spanned by graceful bridges. Here are some photos:
After Chicago I visited friends in Albany, N.Y., New Bedford and Boston, Mass. I performed my one-woman show, THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT, in Albany and at the University of Massachusetts. Those were my last performances up to the time of writing, 9 months later. Maybe my last performances ever, but after a happy career of 64 years, I truly don't mind. Of course, if I were offered a good part.....!!!
2009 has been a wonderful year so far. In January I went to stay with my precious friend, Mrinalini Sarabhai, in the paradise she has created in Ahmedabad, India. Mrinalini and her daughter Mallika are famous Indian dancers. But more than that, they are great humanitarians, fighting to make a world a better place. They live in Darpana. There you will find the family home, a school teaching dancing, drama, music and puppetry, a company of Indian dancers who perform all over the world, and a stunning open-air theatre. They are enfolded by a glorious garden of grass, flowers, trees full of blossom, parakeets, monkeys, birds I have never seen before swooping and floating overhead. And in every corner of the garden are works of art---terracotta statues and sculptures, dancing figures carved out of tree-trunks, batik on the walls, flower petals making colourful displays....just heaven. Mrinalini is a most amazing lady---brilliant, funny, charming...with a shining soul. I have stayed there many times..I have performed twice in their theatre..and always I leave with my spirit uplifted. Here are some pictures:
My Dad devoted his life to Youth Work in Leeds. In 1929 he founded a Youth Club called THE JUDEAN CLUB, and in February they celebrated the 80th annivesary of the founding. Of course I went. The organisers expected maybe a couple of hundred people to turn up---to their surprise there were 800 people came from all over the world. And I was the only one there who remembered the Opening..I presented a bouquet aged 3!!! I had a new dress and learned how to curtsey! I had a most enjoyable few days seeing old friends, and being taken around the new premises for my school, the Leeds Girls' High School. I left there in 1939, when the war broke out and I was evacuated. And was totally out of touch until recently, when I went to a reunion of the London branch of the Old Girls' Association. A lady came up to me and said: "I remember you in A KISS FOR CINDERELLA" by J M Barrie". It was the only chance I had to act in the 9 years I was at the school and I played a wounded soldier called Danny! Another lady came to join us, and I said: "Isn't it amazing that this lady remembers me in A KISS FOR CINDERELLA?" She replied "I was in it!! And it was in 1936"!!! Wow! Somebody remembers my performance from 1936!!!
In March I went to Israel for 3 weeks. I have a step-daughter who lives in Jerusalem and who has 10 children...8 girls and 2 boys. While I was there, number 5, my lovely grand-daughter Nomi, got married in Jerusalem. And in Tel Aviv my 2 nephews, Shimshon and Meir, gave me a wonderful party for my 84th birthday. The last time I was given a birthday party was a surprise party my Mother made for me in New York for my 16th birthday! Here are some photos:
In April I spent a week in Hamburg with a German friend, Annegret Fuehr. A remarkable lady. I first met her over 30 years ago when she was visiting Israel with a group of Christians who belonged to a German-Israel friendship group. She was a teacher, and I will explain how we met in the Appendix section of the Website. Under PETER THE DIRECTOR. We have remained friends--she became a headmistress and I visited her in Heiliganstadt, and she visited me in England. She has dedicated her life to expunging the guilt of what the Germans did during the Holocaust, and when she retired she spent 2 years as a volunteer in Auschwitz. She has always wanted to show me Northern Germany, and we had a wonderful week exploring not only the lovely city of Hamburg but also Lubeck and Bremen. Here are some photos:
In May I was in New York for 2 weeks. There was a special celebration for ladies who had been to Finch College and had received a Lifetime Achievement Award, which I was given a few years ago. Again my memory of the visit is filled with happy meetings with many good friends. One day I went on the train to Providence, Rhode Island. One of my closest friends, Samuel Bak who is a great painter, was giving a lecture at Brown University. Samy, his wife Josee and I stayed at a very posh club (no shorts or trainer shoes, and always a tie for the men) which was delightful, expecially when I went to pay and found the Rector of the University had settled the bill!! The lecture was in honour of Mel and Cindy Yoken, whom I had met and become friendly with on last year's Amazon cruise. New York...Oh, how good to be in New York in the spring, and even to see 3 wonderful plays on Broadway. Here are some photos:
Now I am home. In June I went to 18 films at the National Film Theatre...they did a season of films on the subject of the Spanish Civil War. One of them, RETURN TO LIFE, I have always wanted to see because Peter helped in the making of it when he was wounded in the war and sent to a hospital in a place called Benicasim. All the films were fascinating.
I wonder if anybody will be interested in reading all the above. It might have been more interesting if I could have gone into more detail, but then it would have been even longer, and that is too much for ANYBODY!!