First Forays Into Theatre

Film, Theatre, TV – part two

Let us skirt quickly over the rejections – and the small cameos in big shows most notably with Wayne Sleep – and move on to stage two. Securing a place in the cast of alison’s first musical led to receiving a much coveted Equity card and subsequently to a place in the resident company of the Albany Empire Theatre, Deptford. Labelled with Love was the musical, Squeeze the band whose album inspired it. Luckly the choreographer, Greta Mendez, was a woman Limerick had worked with before. Understanding a choreographic style can be the difference between job and no job. Skipping over rehearsals we arrive at curtain up and a warm reception by audiences and critics. (See here for a bucket load of reviews.) A first brush with celebrates and their largess led to an unsettled stomach (after the opening night party) and the possession of the largest bottle of champagne our young heroine had ever seen. A Methuselah of Verve Cliquot was given to the cast By Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook of the Squeeze; their signatures still adorn the label. La Limerick was determined to carry that bottle home with her but the cast and crew of the show was small; most were also driving home so . . . after consuming as much champagne as was humanly possible the young lady tipped the remainder away (horror of horrors) and was driven home clutching said bottle by none other than the wonderful Eamonn Walker, a cast member who went on to an illustrious acting career. The next day was a milk and dry toast day, nevertheless a love of champagne was ignited that evening; a passion that never died away.

A number of faces that would become well known passed through the Albany during that time. Eamonn Walker, Danny John-Jules and Jimmi Harkishin were fellow thespians who gained renown appearing on TV. Didi Hopkins who ran her own company for several years is still a great innovator and influence in theatre, as this quote from the3rdimagazine.co/uk’s article attests.

Didi Hopkins . . . . is still straddling the great divide. An experienced practitioner and expert in the performance of  Commedia dell’Arte,  Didi has been a huge influence on the National Theatre’s One Man Two Guvnors, working with the writer, Richard Bean, who took the original Italian popular play ‘Servant of Two Masters’ and updated it to the 1960’s so successfully that it has toured, moved to the west end, is going to broadway and opening with a second cast in London. Didi has run onstage masterclasses to link the play with its’ roots and the National Theatre made five films about her practice that can be viewed on youtube or downloaded from itunes.

(The complete article can be viewed here.)

At some point in the mid 80’s alison limerick was asked to appear in an Opera. Excerpts from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, reworked by Howard Goodall for non operatic voices, was to be performed on the South Bank Show. Always up for a challenge the willing singer embarked upon a new journey with her accustomed joi de vivre and when asked to belt out a few of the higher notes during the recording (the cast were performing and singing live in the studio – as they say), La Limerick obliged. Everything was all good at the end of shooting, the takes were clean, the sound was good, the director and MD were satisfied. Sometime later, however, somebody must have changed their minds about just how ‘street’ Purcell could be and Limerick was called in to redo one of the scenes – to overdub the vocal of a duet.

‘Damn! had I been out of tune, did I mess up the words?’

No, somebody in their great wisdom had decided that singing (yelling) like a bawdy chorus girl was not the done thing for the likes of Purcell and ‘could Ms Limerick please sing it in a more classical style’, moreover might she also sing the other girls part, a part she had heard but never sung.  Well, yes of course and thus did she do but as any singer will know the face and body do different things when singing comfortably in a controlled soprano than when having to chest those high notes. The voice no longer matched the visual but – heigh ho, that’s what the man wanted that’s what the man got. In the theatre, on TV, in film, unless one is a huge star or working solo you do mostly what you are told. You learn to bite your lip, even when what is suggested seems ridiculous; that’s just the way it is, the way it has to be or anarchy rules. Doing ones own thing has other, different constraints but more of that anon.

The LWT production was a great learning experience and fun to do. It also lead to Ms Limerick’s voice appearing on the closing theme of the Black Adder III series. Howard Goodall wrote the music and made the call when he next needed a warm-voiced contralto. Yes, getting work it is too often about who you know or more correctly, who knows who the hell you are.

The last port of call to be included in this novella of historical trivia is a place that should rightfully have been somewhere nearer the top or in the music section of the website but it was such a brief and sideways endeavor that it almost got left out altogether. However, somebody out there in internet land was bound to write and complain if it was omitted, so here ’tis.

After trying to make ends meet as a dancer then taking the first steps onto the musical theatre stage, alison limerick was employed to go on tour with Tom Robinson, once a champion of the Gay Rights movement. Mr Robinson or whoever had thought up the idea for the comeback tour had decided that, to make the show extra-ordinary, they would employ a singer who could dance, especially as the first gig on the ‘War Baby Tour’ was to be in the Assembly Rooms at the Edinburgh Festival; a suitably theatrical venue and event. Ms limerick was duly auditioned and employed, unfortunately that, good reader, was as far as any one had thought upon the matter of movement or theatricality. The songs were learned, rehearsals were underway; one or two songs were chosen during which the ‘dancing’ would happen and the stage was set up so that there would be space to move about. Unfortunately no choreographer had been employed and the dancing was left up to the singer; an unheard of occurrence in the world of theater from which Ms Limerick came. Nor was it just a few simple steps and some arm waving that were required, one song had a dance break in the middle of it. Young and ever willing to any task, steps were created and memorized, small routines designed, sometimes involving other band members, none of whom – except for the other backing vocalist – had a stick of rhythm in their feet; in their fingers yes, toes – laad help us aaall! No matter how poor the choreography the show must go on and did. The band played, Limerick danced, trying hard to save enough breath for singing and the show went down a storm in Edinburgh. Thereafter the band went on tour, down the country and to Europe, by road. At no time, after that first show, was there ever room on a stage to dance, not once, which was just as well because only a few days before the European leg, La Limerick had surgery on her left big toe and was hobbling around for two weeks. Yes one can hobble and sing, although the offending digit was a throbbing world of pain after each of the first few shows.

Singing background vocals for the Tom Robinson band was another learning experience that would serve the singer well in times to come. Understanding the why and wherefore of a sound check, knowing how to blend with another voice, even on a loud stage; learning how to get some rest while sitting upright in a tour bus and above all learning the necessity of vocal maintenance. Warming up, not overtaxing the voice in the bar after a good show, drinking enough water to replace the moisture lost while singing . . and the many benefits of sleep. All these thing would be useful when the time came to strike out, doing something much more personal.

 Overall a good start to a career that would be put on hold by events which would change not just the road on which La Limerick traveled but the whole map.

If you can stand a little more Hysterical History read on.

Posted on: 30th April 2015