Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tea Break

It was a day full of rain here in the south east of England, last Sunday.

Most of the day the clouds held the water just above our heads: great grey cushions bursting with drops.  Finally, around five, they began to fall.

I was outside when the rain began, at the tea tent, because the country house in which we were filming did not allow food and drink inside.  The house was somewhere north west of London, buried in rolling fields dotted with sheep.  We all 'aaahhed!' when we first walked in.  It was the perfect setting for our scene - a library masquerading as a public school staffroom during the First World War.

I had been awake since some ungodly hour in the morning.  It was still dark when my driver picked me up.  The luxury!    We flew around the M25 as dawn pinned the trees to the horizon.  These days, when I find myself actually doing the thing I've always wanted to do since donning a pair of fingerless mittens and a scowl to play the part of Scrooge at the age of seven, I am wise enough to savour every minute.

The 'second' met me at Base Unit and guided me across the muddy forecourt of the outbuildings to my portion of a winibago: my own little portable room, complete with shower and toilet!  Soon they brought me to make-up; then it was back to shiver at the icy hands of the wardrobe lady as she laced me into a corset.  Instantly I am standing straighter, my figure is transformed and once the clothes are on I have become the stern, high-collared person I have been cast to play.

Then begins the waiting, a very special art every actor has to learn - particularly challenging in a corset, when sitting down for too long or in too low a chair is agony.

Just before lunch they call me and the rest of the women in my scene to a 'line-up' for the cameras.  We are driven through the estate to the house and ushered into a billiard room, where we run our lines in a mood verging on hysterical.

I love actors, I think.  I love the way we get through.  I love the way we all know we're dispensable, and make light of it, and deliver, excellently, because we also know that we're better than our parts and that we will make the thing look even better than it already is.


Looking round our characterful shapes and faces, I see that thought has gone into our casting, and I know that it is not often that a chance like this comes around, to work with the best.

Suddenly, we're in the room and 'on'.  One, two, three ACT! a favourite tutor of mine used to say at drama school, and it was a bit like that, really.  We were there to deliver, almost first time, which is what we did.

A couple of hours later the scene was in the can.  There was a little frisson as we realised that a couple of the series' stars were filming in the room next door - they wandered by in evening dress, and for all the world, bar the cables, and cameras, and countless crew, we were there, in the latter stages of the First World War, glimpsing the staircase of a gentlemen's club.

Someone mentioned tea and sandwiches and a couple of us grabbed our coats and headed out into the bitter cold.  Lunch had been hours ago, and anyway we couldn't eat much because of the corsets. We grabbed polysterene cups and thick cut, generously filled triangles and giggled our way through the break.

All of a sudden I was the only one out there, nursing my steaming tea, facing the dark as the rain began to fall.  Rivulets of water glittered in the headlights of a location truck as they coursed from the roof of the tea tent.  I could see my breath.

And I felt happy.  Looking through the rain to the black fields beyond, taking a break from what I do best, contemplating the year that has passed and the year that is to come, I was happy.

4 comments:

Nora said...

What a wonderful description of your day and your happiness in it. I am almost envious, yes, I am.

Livvy U. said...

Hello Nora, thanks for reading, and thanks especially for your kind words. Happiness can be elusive, can't it, which is why I wanted to record this day, a series of moments which were quite simply happy.

Shiny said...

Oh, wow. I've been sent to bed by the doc for the past week because i have a clot in my leg and have ddvoured Season 1 and 2 of Downton Abbey and LOVED it. Could it be that, I wonder, from here in the sweltering Summer heat at the tip of Africa. Whatever it is, yay, yay, yay, to your finding your feet again. And the potential for love and just allowing your heart to open... even bigger yay. Happy Christmas! xx

Joel said...

Wow, how cool! And can't forget my annual compliment to your writing skills/beauty. Here's to a wonderful new year.