Sunday, 21 December 2014

The greatest Billie

The day started rather wearily. It's really time I had myself a lie-in, because I haven't woken up naturally for what seems like an age. My internal computer has calculated that the next actual lie-in could well be December 28th, which is far too long from now.

It was the NYMT Christmas Carol concert today and there were rehearsals planned from 11.30am. I took the tube down to Charing Cross and exited the station via that curiously grotty underground mini-shopping centre which is filled with terrible clothing boutiques and tacky souvenir stalls. I genuinely don't know how it exists. I have never seen anyone in it, not have I seen any of the shops actually open!

We used the area as a set for the film 28 Weeks Later in the sequence where the two kids go underground and meet Robert Carlisle in zombie (or more specifically "infected") form.

In a previous life, I worked as the acting coach and associate casting director on that film, specifically engaged to work with the child actors on the film, one of whom was the luminous Imogen Poots, who needed very little help! I'm proud to say I actually put Imogen on the casting list for that film, because I had an empty audition slot, and liked her spotlight photo. 28 Weeks Later turned out to be her big break!

The carol concert went remarkably well. We rehearsed in the afternoon and I sat in the church with Uncle Bill, nattering and drinking cups of tea from Pret A Manger, whilst the cast and musicians rehearsed their numbers. It was so lovely to see her. I adore her son, Jago, but it's also really great to spend some time with her talking about herself, and her plans for the second half of her life. Many of the women I know are now coming out the other side of child-rearing, wondering, for the first time in four years who they actually are, or want to be.

We met the parentals and Brother Edward on the South Bank. They'd just been chucked out of the National Theatre restaurant, which unhelpfully closed just after they'd ordered a bottle of wine!

The concert took place at St John's in Smith Square, that curiously quiet, and highly beautiful corner of London which sits between Parliament and the back of Victoria. I associate the area with Mrs Dalloway, whom I think was meant to live somewhere close by. The church sits grandly in the middle of a Georgian Square. I learned today that it was built in 1714. 300 years old.

Highlights of the carol concert definitely included Pippa Cleary's carol about Snow. Pippa and her partner, Jake, are writing next year's new commission for the NYMT, and from the strength of what I've heard of their work, I'm passing the baton on to a very safe pair of hands.

Billy Whistle from Brass went down an absolute storm. The cast performed it with absolute panache, taking my music right into the laps of the audience. There was an extended and very vocal applause. I told the cast afterwards that they'd won the concert!

I was asked to give a little thank you speech at the end, standing in for Jude Law who sadly wasn't able to attend at the last moment. It seemed to go down well, and in fact, when I introduced myself as the writer of Billy Whistle, I received another rather lengthy applause. Nathan later told me I'd shuffled about the stage like a baby dinosaur with ADHD. It does seem I'm quite unable to stand still!

As the concert ended, Brother Edward handed me his phone, with a newsfeed telling me the very sad news that my great heroine, Billie Whitelaw had died. Billie was one of the greatest actresses in the world in my view. I studied her performances of Beckett shorts at university, and wrote to her whilst I was at drama school. She was gracious enough to write back, and a few years later I was lucky enough to spend a large number of Sunday lunches with her at our mutual friend, Vera's house. I took a large number of photographs of her at that time which still proudly hang on my walls.

It may take me a while to process the news. I hadn't seen her for about ten years, so she didn't feel like she was present in my life, but she was a large part of my past, somehow, and I mourn those happy lunches in Hampstead.

Billie liked a glass or two of wine, and used to ask me to "fill her glass up to the pretty", a reference to the little fancy engraving which old-fashioned wine glasses would often have around the rim. Well, Billie, I hope you're with your beloved husband, Robert again, and that, Samuel Beckett is taking you both out for a glass of vino. Rest in peace, you darling woman. I shall buy a wine glass with a pretty on it tomorrow and raise a glass to you on Christmas Day.

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