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A twist of lemon

July 29, 2013
A twist of lemon

Last night I was in the audience for a series of short plays with a twist – a collection of new writing performed by actors, script in hand, with minimal props in a wonderfully tiny sneeze of a theatre in the back streets of Cambridge. An intimate setting in which I perched on the bench seats sandwiched between husband and mother, nervously clutching the programme, and willing the performance to be good. Please be good. Oh God, let them get it.

Last night was my first experience of being a ‘produced’ writer – I’d gone from blogging into the abyss, in the hope that someone was listening, to having my work performed in front of 80 or so would-be critics, fanning themselves in the steamy darkness, waiting to be entertained. I have never been so terrified.

I submitted my play – a very short short based on a story I’d written called The Dancer – to this wonderful group of writers, actors and directors about six weeks ago and was frankly stunned when they said they’d like to include it in their collection. Me? Are you sure? I had to check the details a dozen times to see if there had been a mistake. But yes, it was true, and when I turned up for the first read-through a few days later I was welcomed on to the writers’ bench and asked my opinion, and sat there, a little dazed and bewildered by the smiling actors who took to the stage to try out for the parts.

The twist didn’t work. All the plays had to suit the theme ‘A twist of lemon’, and thus surprise the audience at the end. I’d watched as the other performances before me managed this to a greater and lesser extent – and my palms began to sweat. The actors won’t understand. It’s going to go horribly wrong. They’ll decide not to include it in the show. These were the thoughts rattling around my busy mind as the performance took place – and were proved right. The twist flopped; it relies on action and direction, and it was really no surprise that on a blind reading it wouldn’t have worked. The kindly director, Julia, said Don’t worry, we’ll make it work on the night. I slunk off home and spent the next three weeks worrying.

And so here I am in the audience, feedback form (feedback form?! What fresh torture is this?!) clutched in sweaty hand, whilst friends give reassuring nudges and my husband counts down the plays until mine. The plays are great – twists and turns and laughter and sighs of appreciation. Julian Assange is turned away from the Gates of Heaven; a rock star’s daughter grabs a DNA sample; a writing class is slowly gassed by a jealous writer. My turn.

The lights go up and we’re in my beach bar, my customers drinking wine and beer from imaginary vessels, a sea breeze blowing from an imaginary shore. And in comes my dancer – and she’s beautiful. She skips amongst the customers and my heart beats so hard I can barely hear the music. She’s perfect, the narrator – a softly spoken European – is word-perfect, and my burly bartender is contemptuous towards his clientele, giving theatrical snorts. The music quickens, Ben squeezes my hand, and we get to the climax – please work, please get it – and it’s over. The audience laughs, claps – and understands the twist. I positively melt from exhaustion and relief.

It’s the interval and we’re being ushered outside by impatient smokers. The cool breeze in the alleyway adds to my relief and I realise I’ve been holding my breath – maybe for three weeks. It worked. I am a produced writer. Actors have read and performed my words. I’m starting small, but I loved and hated every second, and I want to write more.

We retire to a nearby bar and order large gin and tonics – with a twist of lemon.

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