Sunday, 6 March 2011

The intoxication of being a public spectacle

Lazy Sunday, still suffering the post-show blues, and nothing to do (except Mount St. Washing-Up, but the less said about that the better...) so I thought I'd amuse myself with a nostalgic retrospective of my six years in the Gilbert and Sullivan society.  This will be of interest to no-one, I'm sure, but I'll try and keep the cliquey anecdotes and plot summaries to a minimum!

2006 - The Gondoliers
The Gondoliers, like many G&S plotlines, involves secret love affairs and babies being mixed up at birth. Also kings, dukes, gondoliers, contadine and gratuitous bits of Italian lyrics.  I was a fresh-faced fresher and had never heard of Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan, had never sung in parts, couldn't read music and was generally bewildered throughout rehearsals.  Our production suffered a change of director mid-way through, we performed in a conference room with no stage, no lighting, no wings, no set and no dressing rooms, one of the leading ladies got pneumonia and couldn't go on, I mimed the whole way through and was too shy to squeak a word to any of the principals, and me and my fellow first-years had the time of our lives, became Gilbert and Sullivan geeks from that day on, and never looked back.

I'm on the end of the row, and I must have known the notes for that bit, or else I'm miming rather convincingly!
Here's a snap from my first G&S after-show party (also the first time I drank gin - another case of never looking back!).  The neighbours complained, the police threw us out at 5am, and I sobbed all the way home for reasons I no longer remember.  Good times!

2007 - The Sorcerer and Dracula Unhinged
Unsurprisingly, The Sorcerer's about a sorcerer.  Also disastrous love potions.  Very silly and lots of fun.  Onstage...

I am on the table in the middle, about to fall out of my top by the looks of it.


Slept on the party hostesses' living room floor that night, and three of us got a taxi home the following morning - looking like the above photograph.  I'll say this for stage make-up - you can pass out on the living room floor in it, and wake up looking more or less the same as you did 16 hours earlier, when the curtain first rose!

This was the year we began doing second shows in the summer term, and our first one was an original script and G&S songs with new lyrics.  It was about vampires, accountants, gravediggers and PhDs.  The chorus were zombie newspaper reporters.

With cat-like tread, beneath our graves we're found.  We're all quite dead, but still we move around.

Here I am, dancing at the after-party. Pretty dress (I still wear that from time to time!), chubby knees and totally demented hair!  Looking more like a zombie than I did on stage, actually!

2008 - The Mikado and Sherlock Holmes and the House of Almost Certain Death
Blah blah, usual G&S nonsense, but set in Japan this time.  If our society had a budget for costumes we may have worn kimonos.  But it hasn't, so we didn't.

I am kneeling, behind the Three Little Maids.
This after-show party was held at my house, as I was on the committee that year. (Fulfilling the role of totally inefficient Treasurer.)  Following tradition, we upset the neighbours (I don't understand why some people just don't appreciate acapella, top-of-our-voices drunk renditions of classic G&S choons in the small hours of the morning, I really don't...) and Mrs Nosy Next Door came and let herself into my house in her dressing gown and bedroom slippers to shout at me.  Whoops.

Our summer show that year was a new adventure for everybody's favourite consultant detective and his sidekick.  I played a jealous, broken-hearted housekeeper (with lines to say and songs to sing!), but there are no pictures of that, so here's a rehearsal snap of my Act Two cameo as a lady of ill-repute:

The Sherlock after-show party:

Bored, Simon?
2009 - Patience and How to Marry an Aristocrat
Patience.  Milkmaids, aesthetes and thwarted love affairs.  Here I am as Lady Saphir (demonstrating what Simon calls my Miss Babs face...)  Offstage, I am now a postgrad, but unprepared to bury myself in the library, talk about postmodernism and wear sweatshirts, as it seems is customary amongst some of the postgraduate section of the School of English.  I loathed my Masters Degree and lived for Tuesday night rehearsals and my theatrical pals.

Matt is amused by mine and Simon's camera faces.  I'll have you know that's the finest acting NUGSS has to offer, young man!
A few months later, in How to Marry an Aristocrat, I was Cacophony Hicksville, a brash, mercenary American heiress with a blonde wig, cowboy boots and an accent that kept flip-flopping between southern belle and gangster's moll.

I remember this as a pretty good cast party, but judging from this photo it must have been rather dull!

2010 - HMS Pinafore and A Tale of Liquor and Dice
It's 2010 and I'm a real grown-up with a job and lots of student debt, but still I cling on to my student days and G&S, because all the Gilbert and Sullivan alto parts are old ladies, and the only way a 23-year-old who still gets asked for ID in bars can get away with playing an old lady is in a student society where everybody else is nineteen...  HMS Pinafore is my favourite G&S operetta (the babies-mixed-up-at-birth plotline is back, you'll be pleased to note) and I played poor, crushed Cousin Hebe.

I love this picture from after the show.  No idea how I got my face to go like that.  I assume gin was involved.

The chap in the hat next to me in the Pinafore photo (my friend Matt, the only person other than me whose name appears on the cast lists for every single NUGSS show since we came to university!) wrote our next summer show, which was about gambling and gangsters in the 1920s.  Proving my earlier point about altos and old ladies, I played the role of Lily de Leazes, an elderly zoo owner, whose feckless son had gambled away her pride and joy.  Apparently one of my friends' parents, seeing me flitting around in the bar post-show, asked "Who's that? She wasn't in the show, was she?"  I enjoy how the real me is totally unrecognisable from my character!  To illustrate, here's demure, stately Lily: (vintage dress that used to belong to my great-great-aunt, vintage kid gloves, vintage shoes, and totally fake plastic pearls!)

And, er, showing my true colours a few hours later!

2011 - The Grand Duke
By popular opinion, our best production yet.  It's one of the lesser-performed shows (because its plot MAKES NO SENSE!) and not very famous, but I think because of that, everyone involved worked extra hard to make it funny and entertaining, and I think it turned out to be a real crowd-pleaser.  I hope everyone was very proud of their efforts.

Me being a bad-tempered costumier in Act Two - all my own clothes!
The after-show party was a hoot, as usual.  I'll spare you the photos of me getting progressively drunker and more embarrassing, but here's a nice one of me and my friend Hannah, another old-timer from the Gondoliers days.
My theatrical friends are the main reason I haven't yet managed to grow up and leave NUGSS.  The Gossip and Scandal society (or Gin and Sore heads society...) is the way we met and the glue that holds us together, spread all across the country as we are now - where would we be without the mischief and rumour-mongering that goes with putting on a show?  The actual performances are just an added bonus!

What's next?  Another production of HMS Pinafore, but set in the 1940s/WW2 this time (It's going to be SWELL, I can't wait!) in May, and after that, who knows?  I heard a whisper of The Pirates of Penzance...  Maybe soon I'll bite the bullet and join one of the other G&S societies in the area and leave NUGSS to the real students.  I suppose it's got to happen sooner or later, and my clinging on to my lost youth is getting a little bit ridiculous!  In the meantime, there's no business like show business!

(Anyone who is remotely interested in the things I have wittered on about today may visit the NUGSS website, since Matt spends so much time making it splendid!  I promise to be less geeky in future and post more pictures of clothes (Although - really the clothes pictured in this toast post are way more interesting than the usual day-to-day outfits that you guys flock (Yes. Flock. In hoardes.) to my blog to see!) Now, suppose I'd better go and scale that washing-up mountain I was talking about!)


  1. Oh goodness so many good times!
    Love you Ziz! Don't stop coming to NUGSS either! Because we will miss you! Even if you just come to the rehearsals for the purely social aspect and aren't actualy in the show... although we will never be able to stop you getting onto that stage =p
    See you tomorrow? I hope so!

  2. Aw man, I was going to do a post like this. Now I'll look unoriginal.
    While it's interesting to look back into NUGSS' sordid past, I must admit that when you reached 2008 my interest levels increased somewhat, and I started looking carefully for my own appearances in the backgrounds of photos.
    I'm not sure how long I'll continue coming back to NUGSS, bbut I can always alleviate my guilt by reminding myself that I've been doing it one year less than you. :P

  3. You look like you have so much fun, I do love a good musical - btw, The Mikado was BRILLIANT (Galliano was on the list ;) x

  4. HOW embarrassing, I spelled 'Sorcerer' wrong THRICE! It does look like it should end in -or, though.
    Thanks for the comments, chums! I love I sordid theatrical life, don't you?
    Penny - glad you liked The Mikado! Another G&S geek is born? Galliano being on the list makes me giggle! I bet Gilbert never dreamed that his lyrics would end up paying tribute to disgraced fashion designers, amongst other things!

  5. I love G&S, so tongue in cheek and camp but very clever for the time. What a great sideline, and a much classier reason to get dressed up and drink lots of gin

  6. I have blog post jealousy!!!! AGAIN! If I did a post like this it would be much more of a mosaic, but maybe I will do it anyway, for comedy value... You always succeeded in looking nice in your shows somehow, the perils of being a man in early productions means this is never true of me!x


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