6th October seemed like a good day to head out of Manchester, just as the world and their 'amusing' little terrace chants were heading in. Budget and convenience dictated I travel to Leeds by coach with my fellow improverished, the hormonally challenged and the strangers to soap.
Plumping for a Goldie Hawn meets Fidel Castro look and armed with my knitting (an old trick I picked up from my student days, people don't sit next to you if you're wielding pointy sticks), I head off in brilliant sunshine over the Pennines into deepest, darkest Yorkshire.
Now I don't know why I thought this, it's not like the West Riding is the arse end of England, but the first thing that struck me when we pulled into Leeds was that they had shops and amazingly there were actually things to buy in them. The second thing I noticed was the hopefully larger than life sized photo of Patrick Stewart's rather yummy head plastered all over the side of a brick building which, lucky for me, turned out to be the playhouse. The group coagulates, chats, eats a little food and then we're called in. A large notice on the theatre doors advises punters not to be scared of the loud gunfire used during the performance but Harriet and I are from Manchester and made of sterner stuff. The Courtyard theatre itself is rather confusingly named, for it seems neither courtly or yardy. It seats around 200 people in some comfort. Harriet and I are at the end of the second row, Emma & Tavia are within tickling distance infront but we've lost Ika who's a couple of rows behind us. The lights dim, rhythmic music that sounds as if it's played on dustbin lids and milk bottles strikes up and suddenly there she is, masked by a gauze curtain - Jackie Pearce, instantly recognisable. She stands about 3 metres from us, almost in defiance, wearing a black crepe dress, leather ankle boots, red lipstick and clearly nothing else. Her hair is speckled grey and cropped serverely. When she smiles she looks like a very hungry, wily wolf and I feel like little red riding hood She moves like a predator, which suits the character she plays - a best-selling author, a nosy meddler, constantly picking away at the self-esteem of others, who accidently strikes a nerve during a dinner party - namely the mystery surrounding the death of Martin, a man 'known', in every possible sense of the word, to the rest of the dinner guests. I won't spoil the plot, but lets just say that I'm not shocked that Martin died, just surprised it wasn't of exhaustion, he must have been a very active chap. At first I feel embarrassed to look at Jackie, I don't want to be caught gawping like some perv but then Harriet reminds me that this is Jacqueline Pearce we're talking about, she probably enjoys that sort of thing and not for the first time I wish I was ten years younger and male.
We settle down into the play, trying to catch its rhythm. Look! There's that woman who snogged the priest in Ballykissangel, what's her name? You know, Davina McCall! Oh no wait, that's Big Brother, and ha! There's Ash from Casualty, and I'm sure I've seen 'Robert' on TV recently but I can't remember what...
Five minutes in and I still feel disorientated. It's only later, during a fight scene, that I work out that I'm so close to the actors that I can actually see them, well..., act. Their body language matches the emotional intensity suggested by the dialogue, but there's something missing in their eyes, it's as if 'the wheels turning but the hamsters not home.' I'm fascinated, the effect is vaguely unnerving, but not unpleasant. After 15 mins JPs character retires for the evening, and despite us silently hoping she would stay, she exits stage left. I hear the muffled sounds of somebody eating a bowl of cornflakes soon after. End of a stonking Act One and a quick reality check with the rest of the group- yes it is golly good, yes it is rather unnerving being so close to the actors, no I'm not going mad. Act Two is a lot darker than the first and just as wonderful. The only question remaining - what on earth is the significance of the JP character? Finally it is revealed, she is there to establish a time-line, a quick boogie from the cast, curtain down, lights up, thunderous appaluse and mummers of approval from the audience, it's over.
Just time for a post show dissection and as you'd expect from a group of intelligent, mature women the discussion included cult films (Emma), DTPs (Tavia), and whether our arses looked bigger in skirts (me). As always it seemed too soon to head home, but after six hours I physically ached to be back with my children and it was good to return to the comfort of a man who understands why, occasionally, his 'other half' needs to go off and do these things.
High fives to Emma, Harriet, Ika and Tavia for being such excellent theatre buddies with special snogs for Ika for organising things so well.
And if you can't be bothered to read all of that... a summary: Jacqueline Pearce makes an excellent but brief presence in a well acted and hugely enjoyable production.
Still can't be bothered? a summary of the summary:
Go see (but not from the first two rows.)
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Last updated on 16th of October 2001.