It’s like putting on an old pair of shoes, don’t you think?’
These were the words of Jo Davies, Ruddigore’s director, after I’d recently dusted off the choreography for the entrance number as Sir Despard Murgatroyd, the Bad Baronet.
She’s absolutely right of course. The sense of familiarity I have with Sir Despard, now that I have an opportunity to perform the role for a third run of performances, has, for me, taken the show to a new level of enjoyment. At the risk of sounding like a luvvie, I feel I know him very well now, and he knows me. When I lunge onto stage with a swish of the cape and a twiddle of the cane, it really feels the most natural thing in the world.
It helps that I'm clad in the most beautiful costume imaginable. In fact, as I make my way up to Sheffield for our first stage rehearsal this evening, I think of the various elements waiting in my dressing room that will combine to create the evil Sir Despard; the glorious cape (perfectly weighted to create the ultimate‘swish’), the finest leather gloves (soft enough to facilitate the deftest of cane-twiddling), the silk upholstered tophat, the immaculately coiffured wig, the devilish moustache, carefully tonged and ready to be applied to one’s top lip…..(you see! I’m even starting to sound like Sir Despard). And later, when I take a moment to check my costume in the mirror, as I always do before I go on, I will see someone else, but someone I know very well. That is surely the greatest pleasure of revisiting a part many times.
An interesting aspect of this revival has been the addition of 4 new cast members. In my experience, slotting into a show, especially one that has been a critical success, can be a daunting experience. One worries, naturally, that comparisons will be made, but more than that, one hopes that the artistic team will allow one’s own performance to come to the fore. There’s nothing worse than being told where to go or how to give a line, simply because it’s how the last chap did it. Thankfully we have an artistic team who have allowed the new performers to bring their own interpretation to their roles, and they‘ve all been terrific.
This show is loved by everyone involved in it, and by everyone who sees it. The fun we have in the rehearsal room transfers effortlessly to the stage, and spills over those rather lovely period footlights that are part of Richard Hudson’s magical set. It’s been so much fun, and a privilege to be part of.
Sir Despard will, of course, be sadly missed. But he will spend his well earned retirement in the garden, tending his internationally recognised collection of nettles and bindweed. Should I or anyone wish to contact him and Mad Margaret, I understand their number can be found in the Basingstoke phonebook, under M for Murgatroyd….