‘One Day’ has come out at the cinemas and unlike the vast majority of my friends I won’t be going to see it. Definitely not.
This is nothing to do with how I feel about the book. I read it on tour and quite enjoyed it. Nor is it anything to do with what I have heard about Anne Hathaway and how her accent apparently does a two hour pitstop tour of the British Isles, mostly lingering between Surrey and Reading yet never really making it to Yorkshire.
And I’m not scared of the sad ending either. If you haven’t read the book I won’t ruin it for you. Let’s just say there is an incident involving a bicycle, Anne Hathaway and a lorry. And one of them dies.
Usually, an afternoon in an air conditioned cinema watching a fairly mindless movie is just the sort of thing I like to do. But this is one movie I will be giving a miss.
The reason for this is my longstanding issue with David Nicholls.
David Nicholls is an ex actor and has also written a novel called ‘The Understudy’. It’s pretty rare that somebody writes a novel about the theatre industry and when I purchased it in Waterstones, earlier this year, I was pretty excited about scurrying off to Holland Park, tucking myself under a tree with a Caramel Machiatto and devouring a hundred odd pages of theatrical based modern literature before dragging myself into my own place of work.
Approximately twenty minutes after settling down with my Starbucks cup and some edamame beans, I was storming back to Waterstone’s, book in hand, and asking the bewildered looking assistant for a refund.
‘Why do you want a refund?’ he asked me.
‘This book is offensive!’ I hissed, ‘I don’t want to read it.’
The assistant pushed his glasses up his nose. ‘I’m not giving you a refund.’
‘There’s froth on the spine.’
In my haste to pack up my belongings from the park I had accidentally spilled some of my Caramel Machiatto onto the odious item. Damn.
‘Fine.’ I spat, shoving the soiled book into my bag, ‘But I’m not reading the rest of it.’ And with that, I turned on my heel and hurried to my venue while the shop assistant smirked from behind his counter. Research has since shown me that David Nicholls used to work in Waterstone’s so they are obviously all in league with him.
The book starts off okay enough. We meet our hero, Stephen, on the set of a murder mystery. He is a jobbing actor and is currently playing the role of a dead body in a morgue. A scene of mirth unfolds as we get a sense of the pitfalls of the industry; the shame, the humiliation etc etc. But then once filming has wrapped, Stephen heads to the West End theatre where he is understudying Josh, a hot and successful movie star. Stephen is late for the half hour call and is met at Stage Door by Donna, the Company Stage Manager.
And it is at this point that my total detestation of Nicholls was born.
Donna is described as a ‘short’ and ‘wide’ woman with a ‘large, blunt’ face. Her hair is ‘brittle’ and ‘ex-Gothic’. Apparently she has the ‘demeanour of an embittered games teacher’ and is ‘permanently’ dressed in ‘regulation black denim’ and always carries the ‘regulation bunch of keys’.
Well thanks a lot Nicholls. Thanks a fucking bunch.
For years now, I have struggled with the stereotype which is bestowed upon stage management and have fought valiantly against it. But again and again I am confronted by people who seem unnerved by female stage managers who don’t spend their whole lives resembling the love-child of Kathy Bates and Zach Galifianakis.
I once attended a Press Night party of a dear actor friend of mine who introduced me to one of his cast members, a young actor who I thought I recognised from an episode of Waking the Dead.
‘Are you an actress?’ he enquired.
‘No,’ I shook my head, ‘I’m a stage manager.’
Young Actor scrunched up his forehead. ‘Oh.’ He swigged his drink. ‘You don’t look like a stage manager.’
Take into account that I was at the party of a production that I wasn’t actually working on so why I would look like a stage manager was beyond me. I was wearing a rather lovely purple shift dress from French Connection teamed with gold kitten heels and the obligatory Press Night false eyelashes. But this had obviously confused Young Actor who expected me to be wearing head to toe black and sporting a stopwatch in order to record the running times of the night’s festivities.
I pressed him on the matter.
‘Well what do stage managers look like?’ I asked.
He smirked before leaning in to me in a conspiratorial fashion. ‘Well, you know. Stage managers are usually a bit,’ he looked around before delivering his verdict,
I contemplated telling him that I had noted from his biog in the programme that he was from RADA. And how I thought graduates from RADA were usually a bit.... talented. But decided against it. I get into enough trouble by offending my own cast members, never mind somebody else’s.
I politely detached myself from Young Actor’s company but was troubled by his words. Were stage managers really viewed by the acting fraternity as ‘rough’?
The next day Billington reviewed Young Actor’s performance and described it as ‘tongue-tied’, ‘gauche’ and ‘lacklustre’ which made me feel marginally better. And after a few days I had forgotten his comment and found an actor within my own company to be annoyed about.
But then I read the first few pages of ‘The Understudy’ and all these feelings came back to the forefront.
So lets pick apart Mr Nicholls description of ‘Donna the Stage Manager’. Who is also apparently the Anti-Christ.
She is a ‘wide’ woman, apparently. Now I am not fat. I have boobs and a bum admittedly. And the kind of little tummy where the twice weekly Nando visits tend to sit. But fat? No. I even attend regular Bikram Yoga sessions to fight this. And I don’t even really know any fat stage managers. Backstage areas are usually tight enough as it is and it would be logistically impossible to work back there if you were the size of Ricki Lake during the Compulsive Eating Years. Even as a size 10 I often find myself pressed up against an actor during a quick change as I try to squeeze past in time for my next cue.
Although admittedly, that’s not always an accident.
Now let’s take the clothes. What word did Mr Nicholls use?
Regulation. Regulation, faded, black denim.
I don’t like the word ‘regulation’. According to my thesaurus, it also means ‘law’. Is the author suggesting that it is the ruling that all Stage Managers have to wear faded black denim clothes. Not one piece of my blacks clothing is denim. When I shop for black clothes I will usually find well-fitting black tops which accentuate certain.... features.
Listen, I spent years praying for boobs and now I have these 32F’s, they’re not being hidden under some baggy, loose-fitting hoodie for three hours a night.
And when shopping for work trousers, I will spend a good twenty minutes in the changing rooms bending over, stretching and jumping up and down. Some productions require a lot of action and movement from Stage Management and when I am at work I like to be safe in the knowledge that I am being judged on my ability and skill. Not whether or not I have a muffin-top or a builder’s arse.
One night, as I was applying a slick of lipgloss at the five minute call, a wardrobe girl looked at me quizzically.
‘Who are you trying to impress?’
The answer is nobody. But why am I not allowed to look presentable when at work? Many people go to work in offices wearing clothes worth hundreds of pounds and full make up. They don’t do their job to an audience, the way an actor does, but they still make the effort and nobody questions why they do this. So why do I get teased and questioned for making myself presentable despite spending most of my work time in the dark?
Plus, as a Stage Manager, you never know when something may happen during a performance. A couple of years ago I had to deal with an incident where one of my cast collapsed onstage during a performance. Going onstage to handle the situation infront of four hundred gawping audience members was pretty horrific.
But at least I could do it safe in the knowledge that I had plucked eyebrows, a straight fringe and well applied mascara.
And the ‘surly demeanour’? It may come as a surprise to you, David, but I sometimes do something a bit crazy with my cast members.
They Become My Friends.
We do things like Spend Time Together Out Of Work. Would they do this if I was churlish and disagreeable? I don’t think so. Yes, they sometimes annoy me and admittedly I can lose my temper with them. But I don’t spend my time permanently stomping around like an ‘embittered games teacher’ (except maybe on matinee days) and nor do I know many Stage Managers who do.
So, in conclusion, Mr David Knickerholes, while the rest of the world flocks to the cinema to see the movie of your book ‘One Day’, I shall not.
I shall spend my days attending Bikram Yoga or trying on tiaras in Accessorize. Maybe I will read a little bit of Hardy (you know, a proper author) before getting my hair carefully highlighted. Perhaps I shall visit the Kings Road to purchase new, sleek black clothing.
And in the evening, if my cast are late, will I be ‘surly’?
Will I greet them with a ‘blunt’ face and ill fitted black denim clothing?
Will I jangle my ‘regulation big bunch of keys’ at them.
I have to exert authority somehow.