Most performers have a recurring nightmare in which they turn up to do a show…without their costume. Or the scenery. Or they have a costume, but it is for the wrong play. Or everything for the play is missing… Well, after nearly forty years in the business, I finally experienced the nightmare for real.

Arriving to set up for a performance of “MRS BEETON, MY SISTER” at Kingsclere Village Cub, I discovered that a large suitcase was missing from the back of my van. Having made a phone call to check that I had not forgotten to pack it, I had to conclude that I must have left the van unlocked at some point on the journey, and the case must have been taken from the van. It turned out that my make-up case had gone, too. These were the only two smart items of luggage among all the bags and boxes in the van, so someone must have thought they contained something worth stealing. They didn’t – except that everything in the bags was invaluable to me.

So. No props for the show. No pictures for the set. No velvet tablecloth. No mirror, hairpins, makeup. No Victorian lorgnettes (specs). No jewellery. And – no wig. And two and a half hours to go before the show…

In a state of shock, I threw myself on the mercy of the organisers at Kingsclere. And they were magnificent. Incredibly sympathetic, but also practical. Whilst trying to set up for the meal that was to follow my show, calls were made to try to locate a Victorian wig. A tablecloth was found, and a huge book to represent the lost “Household Management”. I found some Parish magazines which would stand in for the Victorian magazines in the play, and some other books from around the venue. I cut up sections of my script and stuck them into the new ‘prop’ books and magazines, using the tape provided by the brilliant organisers (no books were hurt during the making of these ‘props’!). Luckily, the script has print large enough for me to read without the missing lorgnettes. We found images for the missing pictures on the organiser’s phone, and she kindly and quickly printed them off, and mounted them on card. Fantastic.
I had a bit of makeup in my handbag, so that would do…

So that left the little matter of a wig. My own hair is short, and definitely not Victorian. Attempts to find a wig from the local amateur dramatic group proved fruitless. The organiser said, “Well, would any old long wig be better than nothing? I have a couple of really terrible wigs…” Absolutely, yes, definitely, anything would be better than nothing. Two other organisers provided hair clips and hair pins, so I could do something with the wigs when they arrived…

And so it was that Mrs Beeton’s sister appeared in Kingsclere in a black, shiny halloween witch’s wig, dressed at high speed into an approximation of a mid-Victorian style by me, kneeling in a disabled toilet in order to see into a very small mirror.

The audience were warned that this would be a unique performance, with rather strange props, but the show went remarkably smoothly. The wig stayed on my head, which was the main thing, and the new ‘props’ were all in the right places. Of course the adrenalin got me through, along with the very kind and supportive audience. Not to mention the organisers who were definitely the starts of the evening.

So a HUGE thank you to the organisers at Kingsclere, who saved the day.

Then I had two and a half days to completely recreate everything for the show, before my next performance….whilst in mourning for all my beautiful hand-made props, and the stunning wig, now presumably in a ditch somewhere. Everything has been remade or replaced at top speed, and another of my wigs is standing in until Derek Easton can make a replacement.

A nightmare survived! It will be interesting to see whether I still have the recurring dream…or whether this performer is cured for good!