Chris Myles Blog: Watermill Thoughts
Hi, it’s Chris Myles here. Fortunately, I have previously been characterized on these pages as dull and boring so I am not traumatised by a reputation that I might not live up to. Pardon, gentles all, my flat unraised spirit. Hitherto I have been silent on this blog and have left Tony’s slings and arrows to land unanswered in the ether. In fairness to him I must say that I did eventually get my bananas in Coventry last year, but only after he had taken them charity shopping.
Anyway, it is not the jibes of Mr. Bell that have prompted me to write, but a weird combination of celebration and eeriness that was evinced in me by returning to the Watermill with two shows that started their lives there. During one chorus of Henry I took an in-breath to speak someone else’s words and realised that it was because that line had been mine all those years ago and I was standing in the same place in the theatre from which I used to start delivering it. Elephantine muscle memory.
Fifteen years ago to the month on a dusty Sunday afternoon I rode my battered old racer across the gravel of the Watermill Theatre car park as I arrived for the start of a nine week engagement in what promised to be an exciting production of Henry V. The ride in had finished with a turn down a small country road past skittering jackdaws into Bagnor, a village composed of a handful of houses and a pub strung out beside the brook. I had no idea how much the place and the people I was to meet would weave themselves in to my life.
Here I am fifteen years on, having just ridden into the same car park for the last three weeks for performances of the fourteenth and fifteenth different productions of a Shakespeare that Ed Hall has directed with this all-male company. He is uniquely loyal to past companies and will always try to find a part for us in the next show - we sack ourselves he says. I have never fancied the redundancy offer and the one show I thought I was sure to miss, when my daughter was born, was cancelled because two other cast members were off sick and the valiant afternoon's work to put on a show three men down came to nought.
Fifteen different productions over fifteen years and all of them have either opened at the Watermill or visited on tour. We performed a third of that first production outside and in the pre-set I was one of the soldiers in waders, standing in a balaclava mid-stream dragging on a hand-rolled cigarette, little suspecting that I would skinny-dip in that very brook with my wife-to-be. Eight years later, with timing almost as sublime as his sister’s was to be, our son was born in the middle of the six week gap in the tour of the first production of The Winter’s Tale in which, of course, I played the Old Shepherd who finds the abandoned baby. My son is at primary school now where he was the handsome prince who wakes Sleeping Beauty in his class play last week. Thus the jealousy begins – he’s not seven yet and he’s played more romantic leads than I have.
The kids love coming down to Bagnor to see the ducklings, play pooh sticks and run about the stalls in the theatre. For a matinee of this year's Henry they saluted us all in to the theatre as we sang "Brown Eyes". And it’s not just me who has ended up seeing the world with Propeller; last tour the family flew out to Boston for half term and they’ve been out to Brooklyn a couple of times.
There are sadder memories too. The first half of that '97 Henry finished on the back lawn which turned out to be the last place I saw my father before he died. And no Watermill visit passes without a thought for Jill Fraser whose artistic directorship, in the years before her tragically early death, saw the birth and flourishing of Propeller. Two friendly ghosts to me: of the man who, amongst many other things, gave me my love of Shakespeare and of the woman who did most to help me secure a living that involves that love.
The orange spot of Mars and bright white eye of Venus were visible this month in the Berkshire night when the clouds didn’t lour and they have twinkled over much in the last fifteen years. I have grown in that wide gap of time from a sonless son to a fatherless father. In a “happy accident” as Ed calls it, Propeller grew from a one-off show into an internationally acclaimed company.
Hedda, Jill’s very able successor, popped her head round the dressing room door on Saturday night to say thank you and goodbye and hope to see us again. I’ll be back, in one dress or another to say hello to friendly ghosts and nod to the jackdaws at the end of the lane.
Chris Myles, April 24th, 2012