This blogging isn’t as easy as it looks, is it? In fact, this is my third attempt to write and publish this, my very first piece.

Anyway, about this photo, taken in the Green Room at the Garrick Theatre in January 2011…she looks relaxed, reading her book in that comfy armchair, doesn’t she? Amanda Reed, understudy. The play was When We Are Married, a J.B.Priestley play, a comedy set in Yorkshire, directed by the incomparable Christopher Luscombe. I was understudying Maureen Lipman and Lynda Baron, amid a star-studded cast comprising most of the top comedic actors of my generation. What a privilege it was to work with them, and learn from them.

It was Maureen who used the quote “They also serve who only stand in…” The job of the unseen and largely unsung heros, the understudies, is to be ready to go on at a moment’s notice…something I did in this show for both the actors I covered. It was around the time my mum died in December 2010 I had to go on for Lynda and then, shortly after her funeral, for Maureen. How does an actor do that: put behind her all that is going on in her private life and give a performance in front of 800 people who have paid an arm and a leg to see a well-loved household name….and instead gets “who? – never heard of her!”

But that’s what I was paid to do, and that’s what I did. Not everyone is cut out to be an understudy. When the wonderful Beryl Reid’s mother died, she had no understudy. She was the comedy turn in a panto, doing her famous character “Marlene”. Not wishing to disappoint the audience who had come to see her, she did her three performances that day to an appreciative crowd who were completely unaware of her situation. Reading her biography whilst on holiday with my mum, also called Beryl Reed (though spelled differently) I wondered what I would do in the same situation. Luckily I did not have to choose. But going on for Maureen and Lynda, experiences which should have been moments of triumph, were tinged with deep sadness. I have not understudied since.

 

 

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