Meet me in St Louis

I should start be making clear that I have never been to St Louis, I have no current plans to visit and have little faith in my ability to find it on a map (though could probably pinpoint it to within 1000 miles or so – which would require an absolutely massive pin).

No, last night was my second Playdate – this time a read-through of Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie.  This is set in St Louis – well, within a single rather poky apartment in St Louis.  As the bar was full of mermaids (or I think that’s what they said), it was held in a meeting room at the University Club (which is much less exciting than I’ve made it sound – far fewer over-stuffed leather armchairs than I would want in a Club).  For a free gig, it is astoundingly good value – nearly 3.5 hours of entertainment with wine and softer drinks provided gratis.  This time we – the assembled throng – introduced ourselves and so I discovered that everyone else in the room was an actor, director or playwright.  As mere “audience” I felt somewhat of a fraud, though comfort myself with the fact that, in some way, I fund everyone else’s career.

Actually, I also felt somewhat of a fraud at the Nuffield the previous week when I attended 451 (their regular poetry night) and discovered that I was almost the only audience member not performing poetry.  Despite my limited qualifications and complete lack of preparation, one of my poems was read out during the evening.  In the interval, we all had to write a short poem on the subject “Manifesto” and mine was one of the top four (and so read aloud): oh yes, people – be very afraid! –  as I now I have reason to believe that I’m an actual poet!  Given that I have all the emotional development of a teenage boy, expect GofaDM to be taken over by my angst-ridden poesy in the near future.  However, this validation was not the evening’s highlight, even for your self-obsessed narrator – no that was the excellent set by Kate Fox, which would have made the whole evening worthwhile just for the phrase “binge thinking” which graced one of her poems.

But, let’s return to St Louis and such plot as I am willing to provide to this post.  As my first exposure to Mr Williams’ oeuvre I was rather impressed by The Glass Menagerie – though it is not a cheery tale – and surprised to find the title can be taken literally (it is not a metaphor).  Despite the strong competition from actual actors, I was able to play Tom (now) during the first half and had an absolute ball.  Those who follow me on Facebook (or is follow the wrong verb?  Those who poke me on Facebook?) will know that I was wondering whether to attempt the full southern accent – and those who know me in person, will further wonder if I did essay the accent whether anyone else would (a) know and (b) recognise it.  In the end, I didn’t go for the full “Gone with the Wind” but I did modify my normal speaking voice to add a bit of a drawl and move my speech rhythms and pronunciation a little closer to what I imagined would be authentic (and I was given a lot of background to the character by Sam, the director).  This did force the young lad playing Tom (then) – who in play terms was 6 years my junior, but in real life nearer 26 – to also hazard a somewhat American accent (which I thought was a result).  Given the actual nature of the play, I’m glad I rejected my other plan which was to attend wearing a sweat-stained wife-beater (more Streetcar than Menagerie, as it transpired).

I continue to think I make for a rather good actor at a first reading – for a start, I’m rather better at sight-reading than most people (based, I will admit, on a rather limited sample). In fact, my biggest worry about my own performance was that my German pronunciation of the word “Berchtesgaden” was far too accurate for an American youth in 1943.  However, I strongly suspect that by a second or third reading, real actors would improve their performance significantly whilst mine will remain largely unimproved (though I would fudge my German a little more).  Despite this, the lure of the stage is very strong!

After the read-through, we had a very interesting discussion about the play and its themes and characters.  The Nuffield will be staging The Glass Menagerie later this year, and I now find I have very strong views about various aspects of the play – particularly, the meaning of Jim (who, unusually, I am not worried about – a reference there for the Mrs Dale’s Diary fans, who have been cruelly neglected in recent years).

And did those feet?

In case any readers were worried about my turgid ankles and left foot (as if), I can re-assure them that, after a mere 18 hours back home, they have deflated and returned to normal (or at least, normal for me – a bit like NFN, I suppose).  It seems my potential new career as a gymnast is over before it has even begun.

However, even without things swelling ‘down below’, feet have been much on my mind of late.  How so? I fondly imagine that I hear you cry, well let me explain…

Whilst ‘festing’ up north, I had with me my trusty FiveFingers shoes – though only wore them on relatively dry days given the rather feeble resistance they mount to the ingress of water.  Let me tell you, they attracted a number of admiring comments from both locals and visitors, young and not-so-young alike.  At one of my final gigs, when I – fearing rain – was wearing a more traditional shoe (along with its fraternal sibling), a young chap entered and sat almost next to me wearing a pair of FiveFingers.  Not just any old FiveFingers, but the exact same model (Bikila) and colour-scheme (light grey and red) as mine.  This chap laughed in the face of wet feet (I know, I asked him), and so wore his even more often than I wear mine.  I am no longer alone!  I suppose I need to seek out some even more obscure footwear now to regain my evanescent sense of individuality in this homogenised, corporate world.

Feet have also been on my mind as I am reading “The Ode Less Travelled” by Stephen Fry.  This is designed to help the reader unleash their inner poet – so be afraid, be very afraid!  This blog has heretofore lacked prosody, but that (relatively) golden age could soon be at an end.  In the all too near future, I could be giving you all the big iamb.  There are so many feet to choose from: iambic, anapaestic, trochee, spondee or pyrrhic to name but a few (and wouldn’t these all be great names for shoes?).  What metrical scheme to pick?

One of my last gigs was to see Luke Wright, a relatively local (Colchester) poet perform – further cementing my middle-class credentials.  He really is very good – with some seriously fine balladry.  His set also contained a short introduction to the meter of the ballad, use of the iambic foot and the fact that pentameter and anapaests are only for showing off (which does make them very tempting – but perhaps I should walk before I try running).  This was also the very same gig in which I met the chap wearing Bikilas. This goes beyond coincidence (reminding me of “Elastic Planet”, the splendid radio series by Ben Moor, and one of the inspirations for this blog): the universe has spoken – and I think it is telling me to blog in verse (or worse).  (Well, I suppose it could be telling me to visit a chiropodist – but that seems rather prosaic, which is – of course – the complete antithesis of poetry.)

You have been warned – prepare for the versed!