In the mid-eighties the acting bug bites me again, but I no longer harbour serious ambitions to be a professional performer. Actually I don’t quite un-harbour them either – they join my long list of secret longings. Regardless, I certainly want to do some acting and so scour the ‘amateur’ pages of The Stage, assuming I won’t be able to find many groups in Walthamstow where I live (in that respect I am quite wrong – actually the Waltham Forest/Essex borders has one of the highest concentrations of amateur groups, but I will only find that out years later).
First, I find a smallish group rehearsing and performing in a community centre in Wandsworth, South London, and get a couple of roles in Macbeth, which is fun. I involve Nigel in the next production, a little known play called A Scent of Flowers. I play Uncle Edgar, a rather pathetic character given to groping his niece, Zoë, while Nigel plays a funeral driector called Scrivens. Unfortunately the group is on the verge of folding, and on one occasion we perform to the smallest house I have ever experienced, to wit the leading lady’s mother and her friend. And as the performance is in the round we have our backs to this minimal audience for a lot of the time.
The group folds at the same time as my relationship with L–, so I am quick to try and find another group. The Kensington Drama Company (KDC) – still going strong I see – is at the time affiliated with an evening class, and thus rehearses in a school close to Earl’s Court in Central London. Performances are the Chelsea Theatre at World’s End (the far end of the King’s Road). By contrast with my previous experience, this is a very lively and active group, driven by an enthusiastic (perhaps obssesively so in some cases) committee.
So, one evening in September 1986 I turn up, I audition, and I am cast. The play is Bequest to the Nation by Terence Rattigan, which is about Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton. I have a minor part as one of Nelson’s officers, who suffers from a speech impediment. Although I remain shy, as usual I am able to throw myself into the work itself with gusto. Still a small role, but heigh-ho.
As rehearsals progress, I become quite friendly with Steve, who is also on the committee, and with a girl called Beth, who is playing Nelson’s son George (she briefly finds herself specialising as a male impersonator for the club). Beth is an undergraduate at King’s College London, but has joined a drama group to escape from the horror of her English degree – I of course, sympathise. She has what I take, in the first instance, to be a soft Liverpudlian accent, but it turns out she was born in Swansea and has grown up in the town of Mold in North Wales, which over the years has had a significant population influx from the Wirral and Greater Manchester. From the word go, I find Beth terribly amusing, and we start to become friendly.
After Christmas the next production is The Happiest Days of your Life, a famous comedy about a boys’ school and girls’ school being thrust togeher under bizarre circumstances. A successful film version features the immortal Alastair Sim, Margaret Rutherford and Joyce Grenfell. I am cast as Pond, the Headmaster (another lead, the Sim part!) and Beth is again a boy, the mischievous Hopcroft Minor. A friend of hers from an earlier production, Christine, is given the Joyce Grenfell role of Miss Gossage, a piece of casting it takes her some years to live down.
Once we get into the swing of it, we have a wonderful time rehearsing and performing this play. Beth and Christine become good friends of mine (of which, more later). It looks as though there’s every prospect of my becoming a mainstay of the KDC and developing a new circle of friends off the back of this involvement – good news as I am about to leave Titan and my break-up with L– has affected our mutual social circle.
Things will not, however, proved quite as positive as I hope. Attempts to move forward in exploring my trans identity are about to face a series of setbacks, beginning with the tale of the Four Odd Lodgers …