ADVENTURES OF A DRAG QUEEN – by Jeff Kristian “The Killing of Bernard”
There was a stain on one of my patio slabs that looked like Bernard Cribbins. Or perhaps it was just a non-descript blob reminding me to read my script. Another day another casting, as they say, but I had already been head-hunted for this new production. The problem was nobody could really make up their mind which part would be played by whom. And it also hadn’t yet been figured out whether “The Killing of Bernard by The Butler” would be stage, cabaret or radio.
So, into the breach I stepped hoping today would be the day I could help everyone commit to a final decision. Easier said than done.
My train was running late, the tube line I needed was closed for its monthly security scare and the substitute bus service reluctantly laid on by London Transport was still nowhere to be seen. Sitting at the temporary bus stop, I turned to page one of the script and dived in.
The description by the author as, “a period murder mystery set in the nineteen twenties” immediately rang alarm bells. If we know from the title that Bernard is killed by the Butler, where is the mystery? And was the premise that “the butler did it” a double bluff or just bad writing? It’s a luxury for any actor to be cast on their reputation, but I was mindful that even A-listers have had to audition for really good parts. With a loud screech and a rather worrying knocking noise, the standby bus finally pulled into the stop. I found a seat at the back and continued reading.
By the time I reached my destination, I had all but finished. Bernard and several others were indeed dead and the statement about what the Butler did was merely an assertion by the real murderer to throw everyone off the scent. So far, so good. Or so I thought, until I entered the rehearsal room to find an argument in full swing.
A tall skinny woman was trying to take a chair from a red faced, grey-haired man who appeared to want to wrap it around the Director’s head. My sudden appearance thankfully distracted everyone as Grant, the Director ran to greet me. ‘Thank God you’re here,’ he sort of smiled, loosening his tie. ‘Everyone, this is Jeff,’ he announced. Silence fell, as the assembled crowd looked me up and down like I’d been disappointingly booked as the cabaret stripper. ‘You look smaller than you do on TV,’ said a middle-aged man with a ginger beard. ‘Well that’s surprising, considering they say telly adds a stone to your weight,’ I laughed, thinking I’d found a way to diffuse the obvious tension. ‘I was referring to your height,’ he replied cynically, glancing at my midriff. ‘Shall we get started, then?’ said Grant, with a cough.
I was asked to read two parts, my quite possibly intended role of Detective Myers, and that of The Dowager Lady Belsham, which I plunged into with the best Maggie Smith I could muster. This role had actually been intended for old Mrs Cunningham apparently, but she had pulled from the production just two hours before on account of something to do with her kidneys. Whether she was cooking them or had a medical emergency was unclear, but I was advised that my occasional role as a professional drag queen made me the best qualified to take her place.
Despite earlier tensions, the reading actually went quite well. Gloria, the skinny woman with the chair, had to make Peter, the Writer, a strong cup of tea at one point when he started to cry. Someone mentioned aside that it could be on account of his cat recently dying, but it transpired that he was just getting emotional to hear his written word come alive from the page. Upon the reading of the final line, everyone applauded vigorously. Peter started to cry again. Then Grant turned to me, asking, ‘So, what do you think?’ Suddenly, everyone was silent again, hanging on for my detailed analysis as though I had the qualifications of Alan Bennett.
I shot Grant a brief look of gratitude. ‘Let’s all have a cup of tea and think about what just happened here,’ I said, trying not to sound too drama school. Once we’d got the unnecessary mention of the Butler in the title out of the way, everything else fell into place quite nicely. I was to play the Dowager, as it was considered easier to re-cast the Detective. Things got a little tetchy when I mentioned that, on stage or in cabaret, the Maid being pushed down the stairs would be difficult to fulfil successfully without the risk of serious injury. So after a few more tears, Peter changed this to a hit over the back of the head with a wax Champagne bottle. I also delicately mentioned that, although Gloria’s portrayal of Miss Merryweather being choked to death by the ramming of a carrot down her throat was inventive, on radio it may sound a bit like a blow job. I quite liked the play and the role of the Dowager, but I never heard from any of them again. Was it something I said?
Check out what Jeff Kristian is up to by visiting his site here.
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