Monday, 17 August 2009

You've got to put me on the S. T. A. G. E...

I’m on a train- currently at Peterborough, location fans- and trying to fathom exactly how I can put the last three weeks or so into words. It’s fairly safe to say that I’ve had an unforgettable time.

It began, like all good stories do, with a mysterious phone call. My friend Des, who I’ve known since Cambridge, called me as I was on another train- heading, coincidentally enough, up to Edinburgh for Fran and Steve’s wedding. He left a voicemail which was very crackly and difficult to understand. All I heard was ‘potential job… first two weeks of August… paid…’ and then an email address to which I was told to send my CV. The address, however, was a BBC one, which was encouraging, so I emailed my Spotlight link over and waited to see what would happen.

The next day I was in Jenners buying a tie for the wedding (crimson and black, neckwear fans) when my phone rang again and Des greeted me with the immortal line ‘Welcome to Scott Mills The Musical’.

Of course, to an accomplished and professional actor like me the work starts way before the rehearsal room, so as soon as I received my script I set to rehearsing my characters- sports correspondent Chappers and ubercool NZ type Zane Lowe. I was already familiar with Chappers from the 606 phone-in, and since we both like football I figured I’d probably pretty much nailed that character already. For Zane I decided to do an insufferably generic antipodean accent and shout a lot. An invaluable insight into the creative process for you all, there.

In all seriousness, it was one of those jobs where you know from the first hour of the first day that you’re going to have an incredible time. Although in my case my major contribution to the first hour was to inadvertently out myself during a cast bonding game when I was forced to answer the question ‘When was your last girlfriend’ with the reply ’18 years ago’. This did not, needless to say, cause too many ructions. As far as the percentage of gay men involved, ‘Scott Mills The Musical’ was not exactly the Woodsboro Baptist Church. But a lot of other worries were resolved in those first few days.

The worries I’d had before starting rehearsal had been based largely on the unfamiliar; I was worried that a competition winner rather than a ‘pro’ was playing Scott, and I was worried that the stars from R1 might be a little grand or distant. Well, you know how that turned out. Joe, the competition winner concerned, is an absolute star, a pro to his fingertips and a smashing fella with it, and as for Scott, Beccy and co they could hardly have been friendlier or thrown themselves into things more. On about the third rehearsal they came to, when Beccy had belted out ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ and Scott had watched us perform a (very wobbly, at that point) stage lift on Joe before immediately and cheerfully agreeing to take part himself in the very same health-and-safety nightmare*, I realised that 'grand and distant' was pretty much the antithesis of the people we were working with.

So, those worries evaporated immediately. But as we began to realise that we had potentially a rather good show on our hands, they were replaced by others. Would people take us seriously or just turn up for a shambolic bunfight? What kind of audience would we get at half ten at night during the Fringe (the expected answer was ‘drunk’, mainly) and were the critics gleefully sharpening their knives in anticipation of our arrival? And, most worrying of all, how the hell were we going to survive a 12 hour overnight tech rehearsal?

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend teching overnight but I have to say it was much worse in anticipation than in reality. We all went a little delirious at one point- everything was suddenly funny- and once we discovered that it was possible to lie very comfortably on the empty benches in the auditorium the energy levels may have dipped a little. But it was yet another testament to the incredible people who made up the cast, crew and creative team of this show that it was easily the smoothest and best-natured tech I’ve ever been involved in. That’s not to say, of course, that when 7am rolled around, and I’d been up for god knows how many hours, and it was time to start a dress rehearsal, I didn’t want to kill myself and maybe whoever invented radio, the fringe, and Scotland. I didn’t kill any of those people though, I danced around a bit instead. After the dress I was lying prone on the stage trying not to actually die when I noticed in my peripheral vision that Scott was talking on his phone. This is not an unusual occurrence so I thought no more of it until he came over to where my remains were lying.

‘It’s fake Chappers! Say hello, fake Chappers!’ said Scott.

Drawing together every last ounce of my energy to be polite to whoever Scott was speaking to, I summoned up a cheery ‘Hello!’.

‘No’, said Scott, ‘Say it like you do in the musical’

I think that’s when I realised I was on air. I hope I’d have been a little less dumb if I’d had more sleep, but that’s the story of how I made my radio 1 debut getting it all wrong.

Heading towards King’s Cross now so I’d better break off for now. In subsequent posts I’ll have a crack at describing the sheer terror that struck us all on the opening night, and the extraordinary audience response that turned that terror into euphoria. And I’ll probably talk about our cameos from Costa and Outen and Kay, and about how I met actual Chappers, and about how I went on the show with a little more sleep and played ‘Oh, What’s Occurring’ and and and and…

But be warned. I’ve hardly even started on how ace the cast and crew were, so I’ll mainly be banging on about them. People of a misanthropic disposition may want to throw their computers out of the window at this point.

*note to insurers etc: this is phrasemaking. It was totally safe.

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