In 2005 Reg, Richard Moir and myself worked on a production of Samuel Beckett's "Krapps Last Tape". It was to star David Argue in a return the the stage as Krapp and the three of us would do everything else. My son Dom played the tapes on the night. Reg did everything from finding the venue, sourcing furniture, blacking out windows atop two storey ladders - we were amazed that he was in his late seventies. Below is a little story I wrote after the successful performances.
THE ACTOR PREPARES
"He wants my part, I know it. He´s been trying to put me off for days," the actor said.
"Why would Reg want your part, that´s ridiculous."
"No it´s not, he knows how to get to me. He´s subtle. To the untrained eye it´s nothing, but have you seen what he´s done in my dressing room?" The actor hasn´t had a drink for months now so humour him and we´ll get through this.
"What´s he done in your dressing room?"
"My candle ... He´s moved it." I can´t help showing that I´m perplexed.
"Everything has to be just right. The candle, my tie-dyed cloth, the position of the mirror, it all adds up. Look at him up there. Butter wouldnt melt in his mouth. He´s just waiting for the right moment to make his move."
I look up to the mock gothic window and through the stained glass I can see Reg taping black plastic into position. Once we´ve cut out the daylight we can get the stage lighting happening.
"Mate, he´s not doing anything except helping get this show up and running. For you. It´s all for you. Beckett, Krapp´s Last Tape, it´s your chance to get back in the game, show them that you can still do it. It could have been written for you!"
"It could have been written for Reg too. One man show, humour, pathos, a great face, plenty of silence, a man reflecting on his life; he´d nail it," says David
Richard´s had the idea of staging the play with David in the lead, me helping out and Reg doing everything. Reg´s introduced Richard to the managers at Monsalvat so we´ve got a venue. He´s hunted for tables, boxes and tapes so we´ve got the props. He´s the calm intermediary between the psychotic actor, the Parkinson´s Richard and the violently angry ex enfant terrible me. So we´ve got a team. In the dreamy lightness of the air and soft sun he´s up the top of a long ladder quietly running a commentary with my son Dom who´s steadying it at the bottom. His voice drifts in and out of hearing but Dom stares up at him intently. Black plastic is being attached to the outside of all the windows to help us create the atmosphere inside.
In the hall, now under a single light, David´s getting the character. He´s made the shoes and so feeling comfortable, he´s starting to understand what´s required. Reg, Richard and I are sitting separated in different parts of the hall while Dom plays in the required sound. Thread the prop tape David. It´s an old tape recorder but not that hard.
"The bloody thing won´t work. It´s trying to stuff me up. How can I concentrate when the tape machine won´t let me thread it!" What can you say. Glances pinball between Reg, Richard and me. We´re twenty four hours from opening. The main door crashes open. Enter a Monsalvat hostess accompanied by a prospective wedding party.
"So as you can see we´ll have plenty of seating. Presents can be displayed over here, food service from here..." Accompanied by future bride, mother, father and several small children the hostess leads them straight through David´s little set. There´s not enough time for any of us to save the her if things get out of hand. Triangulated looks flash between Reg and Richard, Richard and me, me and Reg. We´re too far away to help and any sudden movement might set him off. David has frozen mid sentence as the tour group pass through his sphere of influence ¯ unaware of the danger they´re in. The only thing David moves is his eyes. Like a statue coming to life, his eyes follow them with little poisonous daggers streaming from them and entering the throat of the oblivious tour guide. It used to be an arts colony but now it´s mainly wedding receptions and the odd funeral.
Reg has got that way of approaching quietly. Diffident, ironic and aware of the scene.
"That was close," he breathes. The tension´s building but not in Reg. The tape machine is conspiring against David again. His fear, self doubt and general disgust come raging out. Spluttering disjointed anger. The boxes are swept off the table. A swear word, previously unknown, and made of four other swear words is screamed. Reg is laying cables now. He stays out of the maelstrom. That professional detachment which leads to longevity in the business. The actor retires.
"Did you see how calm Reg stays? He´s waiting for his chance."
Reg seems to have been born out of his correct era. He has the demeanour of a true hippy. Peace and Love are what he projects. Be cool, stay calm. Construct teams, build ideas. It´s a shock for young Dom when he realises how old Reg is; that he"s been in the war and now up ladders, under stages, collecting tables, putting up with psychos. He just doesn´t give off that smell of age and the retreat to pipe and slippers.
"He says his voice is getting tight and would I duck down to the chemist and get him some Listerine." He looks at me pained and quizzical. You know that look. We both know what´s happening. Throat tight, voice cracking, hasn´t had a drink in months and needs some Listerine. A quick dash to the chemist.
"What do you think?"
"No Reg definitely not. We both know what will happen."
"Yes that´s what I thought." Let´s hope the nerves don´t get to our man. There´s not much more we can do now. It´s the night before and the stage is set. I drive David home.
"Everything´s good mate. Good, good, good. I´ve got it. No worries for tomorrow. I just don´t want Reg mozzing me."
"I´ll look after that mate don´t worry about it."
"Drop me here will you. I´ll walk the rest of the way." What´s he up to. It´s never simple.
"I can drive you, it´s no problem." He insists and I drop him outside Coles. Now it´s the lovely afternoon. Monsalvat looking great. Breeze gently blowing bird song and rustling trees to us. We´re all present. Dressing room in order, nerves under control, David to be picked up and due to arrive an hour before show time. There´s the small talk, the sense of achievement that we´ve done it. No matter what the audience response we´ve achieved something worthwhile here. Something for an actor in need. Three people working for a fellow traveller. Minutes tick by in nervous slabs. Pointless checks are rechecked. David no show. Pacing round the great Gatsby pool takes it´s toll and you start to curse the little shit who´s putting you through it. After all we´ve done etc. Richard doesn´t give much away and Reg is in limbo. It´s forty minutes till curtain up. I´m thinking I´ll punch David - but after the show. Richard´s phone rings.
"Yes, yes it is, ..... I see, ....where, ... right. That´s very kind, thank you." Reg and I are paused.
"David´s in the cells at St Kilda police station! Picked up pinching booze from Coles. They´re trying to get him bailed and up here asap." It´s a forty minutes trip and we´re due to go on in thirty five.
"Shit, what´ll we do if he doesn´t make it? The audience is starting to arrive now." Richard, Reg and I contemplate the stuff of showbiz legend. Without raising his head Reg speaks like a punter at the track, "Well I suppose I could have a crack at it. I know the lines ......... and most of it´s silence anyway......"
© 2009 H.J.Keenan
"Coming soon: the film maker's writer, the late great Terry Southern."