“Misty, water coloured memories of the way we were…..”
That is how a person lives on once they have left this world. Joan Brickhill died on the 15th January 2014. She led a life that formed so many memories in masses of people’s lives. She is dead. But what does that word really mean? That she is no longer here? She is. She still lives in masses of people’s memory. And that is what was so unique about Joan.
I was part of the cast of Cinderella. One Sunday, on our day off, we went to a cast members house which led directly onto the beach. There we had a gorgeous braai. (Barbeque as overseas people will know it!) It was a lovely get together. Joan Brickhill had joined us that day. She was older than all of us there but she had the ability to transcend age. She was able to be as silly as the rest of us!
I remember us all going for a walk along the beach that evening. It was a grey and windy. I had a windbreaker on and had put my hands deep into the pockets and was simply walking, my toes crunching in the sand. People moved in twos, threes or simply by themselves . I was walking on my own, enjoying the feel of the wind in my hair and I was singing….You could hardly wait to keep our date this lovely Easter morning….Then a lovely, rich voice from beside me joined in…but my heart beat fast as you came to the door for…..
It was Joan. I laughed and we continued together….In your Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it, you’ll be the grandest person at the Easter Parade, I’ll be all in clover and when they look us over, you’ll be the grandest person at The Easter Parade…
With my accident so many memories were killed off, extinguished forever. But this memory has remained. I am so glad that I have that memory of Joan and me walking along a windy beach in the Durban twilight, singing together.
I had my accident and the next time I saw Joan was in court defending me. This was before my Cochlear Implants and I was unable to hear what she was saying. But I saw that beautiful figure, dressed in pink, facing that awful prosecutor with a calm and resolute air. Mum and Dad told me that she had come down hard on the State Theatre/PACT stating that the stage was lethal to anyone without a dress or tech rehearsal. I had had neither.
I remember appearing in a show with Joan. Ian Von Memerty put on a show to raise money for The Actors Benevolent Fund. The whole cast got together in the morning for a rehearsal. We were performing that night. I went over my bit and then sat in front and observed the goings on.
I love watching rehearsals. Ian and Joan Brickhill rehearsed their number. Joan had had 2 hip operations so was fairly frail. As a result they did their numbers sitting on two chairs – a tap routine deluxe! Hell, Joan was a marvellous performer!
That night I shared a dressing room with Joan. What a hoot that evening was. The theatre stories Joan had to tell! It was great because most of the cast congregated there when they were not onstage.
After having finished my performance, I then went to the front of house where I could see everything happening onstage. Mark Banks, a stand up comic, came onstage holding one of the programs. He read bits and commented. How I wished that I could hear. The audience were crying they were laughing so much. Later in the dressing room I asked him what he had been saying. Joan interrupted: “He was tearing me to shreds!”
“Had you prepared what you were going to say?” I asked him.
No, he hadn’t. Glory be! Imagine being that quick with your humour. Incredible!
I looked across at Joan who had finished her performance. She had a bottle of vodka open and was calmly sitting drinking vodka and apple juice. I joined her! Then when she offered me another I very firmly said no. “We have still got our curtain call, Joan. You could get away with a drunken stumble because of your hips but I couldn’t. Although with my brain damage…hmmnnn…..?”
I didn’t have another.
The evening was a resounding success. A standing ovation.
Now Joan Brickhill, the woman who could walk down a theatre staircase like none other is dead. Ashleigh Sendin who played the title role in Brickhill’s production of Annie says: “She had so much room in her heart for so many.”
That remark says it all. Joan leaves a void that will not easily be filled.
Memory is a preserver of life. It keeps people alive.
But…I will miss her.