My alter-ego Lady Margaret will be treading the boards again soon at a Christmas cabaret glorifying in the title ‘Lady Margaret’s Surgery’. Her Ladyship will be reclining on a fur lined troika or Russian sled (it’s amazing what the Natural Theatre Company has hidden in its props store) whilst grilling the various guest acts about their aches and pains. There’s nothing that persons of a certain age love discussing more than their minor ailments. There’s even a competitive streak in the one-upmanship as to who has the achiest knee or the stiffest shoulder.
People often ask how Lady Margaret evolved. Well, there are no qualms in the Naturals where cross dressing is concerned, (and let’s be clear, in this the girls in the company give as good as the boys) and years ago we presented a play normally staged by Women’s Institute drama groups. It was called The Respectable Terrace and was set in a boarding house in Bath’s Royal Crescent. It of course involved a gristly murder in the second half, added by us to spice up the rather tedious plot. (We added a bit of cannibalism too when the play was booked at an avant-garde art centre in Holland)
All the characters were middle aged ladies so some of us were obliged to look to our feminine sides. We presented the show as a radio play which came to life. Well, actually it came half to life as some of the characters remained steadfastly invisible on the wireless throughout, whilst some were live on stage and others even traversed both mediums. It involved much complicated editing of tapes, a need for split-second timing by the live actors and not a little concentration on behalf of the audience. Once, the actor playing the maid lost his voice so we made yet another tape to which he mimed. The show must go on!
We loved the characters so much that several of us kept them in our repertoire. Mine was a rather grande dame simply called Margaret. She has grown grander by the years, gained a title and at one time was rarely seen more than a few yards from her Rolls Royce. She appeared on several series of Radio 4’s Double Vision with Miles Kington, who suggested she might like to perform a topical song each week. Subsequent to this initial warbling, Lady M got her own radio series which went on to become a hit show at the Edinburgh Fringe. In this endeavour she was ably accompanied on piano by her fine upstanding nephew Penkivil, played by the brilliant Chris Dickins.
Her Ladyship has toured the world, had an audience with the President of Costa Rica and even led the Queen’s Jubilee procession down The Mall in the guise of a Royal Nanny.
On millennium night she found herself on stage at midnight in of all places Hamlyn, seeing in the new century entertaining an audience of completely bemused Germans. (Why Hamlyn I hear you ask? Well, they offered the most money. Canny old bird, Lady M)
Last year she attended over a dozen celebratory street parties and as ribbon-cutter extraordinaire has declared open such noble institutions as the restored town theatre in Eperney (where her limousine was provide by the directors of Moet et Chandon ), the Covent Garden Oscars and even the new vicar of Widcombe.
Although people regard her as a real person, she is merely theatrical character played by me. I’m always there inside her, guiding her in what to do and say.
And in case you were wondering, it’s not a drag act. If anyone could get a thrill out of donning those horrendous floral frocks and monstrous hats to play a cantankerous old aristo with swollen ankles, they’re a better man than me. Cross-dressing is a staple of British pantomimic humour and long may it live.
And by the way, the swollen ankles are mine.
For more details of Lady Margaret’s Surgery and online booking see www.bathcomedy.com