After two months at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury I have finally finished Educating Rita. What an experience. Here's what I wrote at my nadir in the second week of rehearsal:
Well tell you what ol' darlin, this is the real bleeding deal!
It's like being in the army, or at least back in school. Three weeks on camp. My morning commute takes one minute, ten seconds exactly. We rehearse all day, have a meal in the pub, and go to bed early, learning lines. On Wednesday I had had totally sleepless night, not a wink, don't know why. The next morning we did a run of the whole play, when my mind was a thing running along behind my body, trying to catch up. It was just like the actor's nightmare. At one point I thought I actually couldn't carry on, I felt ill, panicked, and brain-dead, but my futile look of pleading only got a prompt and I carried on somehow to the end. Simply not at the races.
You can't do it on no sleep.
That night I drove to the all-night pharmacy at Sainsbury's, which, thanks to my new mobile dongle on the computer, I Googled my way to, and bought something called Nytol on recommendation of others. Watched movie in bed, didn't feel at all sleepy, although totally zonked and wet from having fallen in bog when having crafty fag in the moonlit nature reserve opposite our little house. Took another Nytol. Slept like I was in the arms of angels for nine hours. Salvation.
Today we ran it for the first time in front of the production team, our first audience.
It hummed. It flew. Instead of just surviving we were telling a story, playing the laughs, really talking to each other, feeling the emotions.
I had reached rock bottom and actually said to myself out loud, 'whatever made you think you could do this?'. Serious panic for a bit. Still face prospect of actually doing it - and matinees! Twice a bloody day!!
However I am disciplining myself, have lost weight, have cut back on the booze, am working with this quite wonderful girl, Claire Lams, whose Rita is a force of nature. Keeping up is fantastically exciting. Running with it, like we did today, is still scary, but when it works it's just fantastic.
What's really nice now is going back to the script, and re-learning it, learning all the sense, and without the panic.
I haven't worked this hard for a very long time.
That was then. Six weeks later it was playing to packed houses and standing ovations. I'll miss it in due course, but just now the luxury of not having to get nervous every night is just bliss!
Here's a taste for those who missed it: