It’s now over two weeks since the last night of Twelfth Night, the post-show blues have started to wear off and ‘normal’ life is slowly seeping back in. I can actually get through a whole day without wistfully pining after my castmates, and my thought pattern is finally shaking off the ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s that were in danger of popping out every now and then. Several key lines are still there however, especially my first scene, and my mind feels the need to revisit them at random moments in the day; queuing for my morning coffee at Greggs – What country, friends, is this?, logging in to my emails – This is Illyria, lady, heating my soup in the microwave – And what should I do in Illyria? I don’t know love, do whatever you like, just get out of my bloody head!
But Viola is still there, rooted firmly within, and so she shall remain – a little part of every character stays lodged there, even when the play has come and gone and you’re onto the next one. I find her comforting; she reminds me of a wonderful week of living another life. Of the rehearsals before that, the instant coffee, not quite up to standard but enriched by the company, of the camaraderie and the exploration and fun.
After the nerves of the first night, excitement took over, and Viola came out to play. The newspaper reviews were really positive, so everyone was on a high. Not to say the run wasn’t without its difficulties however… On the second night, with my mum, little sister, and several workmates in the audience, I lost my voice. I’d been feeling a bit croaky all day and then after the willow cabin speech, my arch nemesis, my voice cracked. As Olivia (Jess) said her next lines I fought back a choking cough, and realised with mild panic that I was about to have a choking fit, the kind only remedied by downing liquid and focusing all your concentration on forcing your diaphragm back into a normal rhythm. As Jess turned away, I noticed the glass on the little table behind her still had some juice in it. My mind racing, I sauntered over to it in character and downed it cheekily, trying to pretend Viola was doing it to purposely annoy Olivia. Jess accordingly reacted in shock (she later said it was half Olivia, half Jess) and I went in for my next line. What came out of my mouth was a weedy and strained whisper – just listening to it was painful – and I realised a quick swig of juice wasn’t going to sort it out. Only a few lines from my exit, I decided to end the scene early, and made to head offstage. But it felt too much of a tragedy to miss out those key final lines and the tension they created, so I headed back to Jess to deliver the final blow… and had to bail after only one more line. Try as I might, I just couldn’t get anything louder than a hoarse scratching whisper, so I turned for the second time to make my exit. As soon as I was in the wings I ran backstage to get some water, and one of our directors, Paula, handed me a packet of throat sweets. I was working my way through one when I realised I was due back on, so I ran round to the other side of the stage, got a tissue ready in my hand, and as I strode back on stage I slipped the sweet into the tissue and then into my pocket in one sweep. This scene was my big monologue. Thankfully, my voice was back, though I played it as safe as possible throughout the speech, and breathed a sigh of relief when the scene was over and I could get off the stage.
Although obviously at the time I was horrified it was happening, looking back I’m glad it did. It proved that I can think on my feet and not let something like that throw me on stage. I dealt with it the best way I could and all the while I was working out what to do in my head, externally I stayed in character and none of the panic I was feeling inside was visible.
I’ve learnt a great deal from playing Viola, about getting into character and sustaining it throughout, about the subtleties and the little details that make your interpretation unique, about learning lines until they’re absorbed in your system. I’ve given a performance that I feel I can be proud of, but know there is still so much to learn, so much to improve on. I’ve discovered the importance of nurturing and developing your voice, the importance of correctly-placed breathing, and the importance of looking after yourself physically as well as mentally. After a week of practicing wonky posture to look and move like my twin, my back was killing me! So this has been a true learning experience for me. And though I look back fondly on every part I do with the SSA, this one will always hold a particular special memory for me, as my first major speaking part. Hopefully one of many.