Way back in 2001, I heard that the local drama group, Wrington Drama Club, was casting for Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ – and though, at that point, I had neither the confidence nor the appetite for acting, I loved singing and fancied a role in a musical.
Secretly, I harboured dreams of being cast as Mabel, even though I knew, in my heart of hearts, that years as a smoker had, shall we say, slightly compromised my range as a soprano. In addition, at forty-three, and large, I was not the obvious choice for playing a fresh young girl!
The audition was great fun and I got to know many lovely people, several of whom I would work, and play, with time and time again over the next fifteen years.
‘Poor Wand’ring One’ was, from memory, late in the schedule – and I was asked to try out ‘When Fred’ric was a little lad’, Ruth’s solo first.
Singing it, and acting at the same time – hoicking my bosoms up, as I recall, a move which has become a bit of an Ali trademark in thespian circles! – I made an amazing discovery: Though clearly not romantic lead material, I was a natural when it came to comedy, on-stage and off!
I was given the role of Ruth!
We had two casts back in those days, so I shared the role with Judith, a lovely lady a few years my senior. On nights when I wasn’t singing my solo and trio-ing with Frederic and The Pirate King in ‘Paradox’, I played a member of the piratical crew. This latter role was, in its way, almost as much fun as Ruth. We pirates, quietly rebellious, laughed and sneered and, off-stage, Spoonerised our infamous ‘A Rollicking Band of Pirates, we’ number into, ‘A Bollocking Rand…’ like you do!
Facing a real audience on the first Ruth night was daunting, and I was very nervous. But, when the introduction to my song came on, I man-handled my mammaries in true comedic fashion and, launching into the song below, gave it some serious wellie!
The audience fell about laughing and clapped abundantly. I was, from that moment on, hooked!
Have I, since then, become type-cast in comedic roles? Aha! That’s for another post!
But this song has wonderful associations and triggers many happy memories of my fifteen years with Wrington Drama Club.
He proved so brave and daring
His father thought he’d ‘prentice him
To some career seafaring
I was, alas! his nurserymaid
And so it fell to my lot
To take and bind the promising boy
Apprentice to a pilot
Though surely not a high lot
Though I’m a nurse, you might do worse
Than make your boy a pilot
On breakers always steering
And I did not catch the word aright
Through being hard of hearing;
Mistaking my instructions
Which within my brain did gyrate
I took and bound this promising boy
Apprentice to a pirate
And doom him to a vile lot
I bound him to a pirate ? you!
Instead of to a pilot
The scope of this disaster
But I hadn’t the face to return to my place
And break it to my master
A nurserymaid is not afraid
Of what you people call work
So I made up my mind to go as a kind
Of piratical maid-of-all-work
A member of this shy lot
Which you wouldn’t have found, had he been bound
Apprentice to a pilot