How I wanted to see this show. It was playing in Cape Town at the Fugard Theatre and three of my friends, Diane Wilson, Michelle Maxwell and Kate Normington were in it. I had worked with all three of them in various productions and had been following their comments closely on Facebook ever since rehearsals began. From the word ‘Go’ they seemed to be having a ball! I looked up Funny Girl via Google and that sold me. I had to see the show. I have a bank account that I NEVER touch and I was pleased to see that it had gained quite a bit of interest. I calculated that I could use the interest to buy my plane ticket down to Cape Town on the Monday. I would return by bus on Friday. It was definitely time to dip into that account.
I dipped with glee!
What an adventure I was about to have.
I was off to Cape Town to see Funny Girl!
At George Airport, the Cape Town flight was called and I joined the rest of the passengers to hand in my ticket. I felt this tap on my shoulder and turned to see a stunning woman standing before me.
“Gaynor, it is you! I couldn’t believe it when I saw you.”
I looked more closely at this woman and then she fell into place. I seemed to hear a voice from 28 years ago singing: ‘Life is sweet, tender and complete, when you find the bluebird of happiness……..The girl who’d played Cinderella in John Moss’s Christmas pantomime we’d put on at The Playhouse in Durban all those years ago – Julie Hartley!
“What seat are you in? I am 6C,” I asked
“16C. Miles apart.”
“Let’s wait and see. Maybe something can be arranged.”
The plane was half full and I had a spare seat next to me. We both hurled questions and answers at each other trying to catch up on twenty-eight years in a mere forty minutes.
Julie lived up the West Coast with the love of her life – her horses!
“The next time you are in Cape Town, please may I drive down and fetch you. I stay in an enchanting place. You will love my horses and dogs!”
I will definitely do that. I will go for a few days and take Perdita, my dachshund with me. Perhaps she will like the horses, I thought doubtfully, thinking of my ‘I only love Gaynor’ dog.
The day of the show dawned!
I sat in a warm and cosy coffee shop. I was meeting my theatre friend of many years, Jenny Steyn. She came in and scanned the room. A wide smile lit her face as she came towards me. I love Jen. She is a person who speaks from the heart. When I had my fall and was hospitalised for seven weeks, Jen didn’t come and visit me. We were on the cusp of getting to know each other. So she didn’t feel that she could claim to know me and take up valuable hospital time. Now it’s a different case completely. Jenny has this natural joy that seems to emanate deep within her. When I worked as an actress, Jenny and I were often up for the same part. I considered us both containing an equal talent. How wrong I was. Recently I saw Jen perform in The Inconvenience of Wings. What a stark display of artistry and passion. Recently she played Nora in The Dolls House. She told me that the play had concluded with Nora walking through the audience and exiting the theatre. I love that! Her talent and grace seems to be fathomless.
On our way to the theatre, my sister, Liz said to me: “Tell me who is in Funny Girl that you know?”
“There’s Kate Normington who I approached about getting us complementary tickets to the show. Then Di Wilson.”
“Oh, I know Di. She’s been around to our house visiting you.”
“That’s right. And then there’s Michelle Maxwell. I did a show in Cape Town, I forget it’s name, but Mums and Dad came to see it. Mums said to me that in that show, for the first time ever, she didn’t recognise me as her daughter. She believed so totally in the character.”
What a beautiful theatre The Fugard is. It’s intimacy instantly transports you to a special place. We were shown to our seats in the third row! Glory be, not only comps but seated in a prime spot. We grinned at each other and settled back comfortably to enjoy the spectacle about to evolve before us. The musical tells the fascinating and bitter-sweet story of Fanny Brice whose vocal talents and comedic ability see her rise from a Brooklyn music hall singer to Broadway star. Intertwined is her tempestuous relationship with gambler Nick Arnstein. It was sumptuously designed and the dancing and singing were outstanding. But it was Ashleigh Harvey playing Fanny that stole the show.
“……Cause I’m the greatest star, I am by far, but no one knows it. Wait, they’re gonna hear voice, a silver flute…..”
I sat up and stared. This woman was incredible! She and the rest of the cast beckoned me into their world for the next two hours. I couldn’t help myself but as Ashleigh Harvey came forward to take her curtain call, I rose to my feet applauding.
After the show, I was meeting up with my old friends. I was nervous. I hadn’t seen Kate for about 13 years and Michelle even more. I had seen Di but that was years ago. I saw Di first. She gave me a warm hug and explained that she couldn’t stay. She had to get all the way home to Hout Bay. Then I saw Kate and my nerves vanished. She put her arms around me and we held each other for a long time. Michelle has this all embracing smile. When she had finished hugging me she said: “I have a present for you. I must see you before you go.”
Then I saw Ashleigh Harvey. Kate said: “Gaye, Ashleigh actually organised the tickets for you.”
“But…I don’t even know her,” I said to Kate.
“Ah, but I know you,” Ashleigh laughed coming straight up to me and giving me a hug. Pulling away but still holding me, she said: “I read and loved your book!”
I saw with astonishment that she was wearing a moon boot. I pointed at it questioningly.
“I fractured my foot in a dance class before I came down to Cape Town to start rehearsals. I have been in a moon boot all day for ten weeks but I take it off for my performances at night. I have had carbon plinths made for my show shoes so that my foot doesn’t move at all. Another few more days and then – goodbye boot!”
While Liz chatted to Kate, I re-found Michelle surrounded by friends at the bar.
“It is so good seeing you again. It’s been too long. I knew you were coming tonight and I….I wanted you to have this.”
She handed me a beautiful red and white dotted present bag. I put my hand in and drew out a mounted photograph of a much younger Michelle and Gaynor. The card said:
I found this photograph of us in Crossing the Line where I played your older sister. I had it copied as I think it’s sooo beautiful!
It was at the Baxter December 1989/90 (ish) and was directed by Mavis Taylor, (Colleen Craig, the author!)
Much love to you and blessings that we could see you tonight…….
I stared at the photograph in total delight. Mich’s timing was wrong. It had been in July, 1989. Here were the characters I had been telling Liz about in Crossing the Line. That was what the play was called! I had this image of me in khaki trousers and a t-shirt walking on stage. Then a blank. Since my fall, I have never been able to remember one instance of performing. Here was a ‘sense’ of the character I played and her relationship to her sister. I’m sure my name was Paula! I must check up with Michelle.
I give so much thanks for the love of a friend giving me back a touch of my past.
Kate and I arranged to meet for tea, a couple of days later. We hadn’t seen one another for about thirteen years, maybe more. The last show I had seen Kate perform in was as Eliza in My Fair Lady. Now I had just watched her play the lead’s mother. Time….!!!
And she had changed. We both had. While still possessing that sharp, humorous wit, she seemed to have grown gentler with age. We spoke of Funny Girl naturally and about the wonderful cast surrounding her. I mentioned laughing at a remark she made on Facebook about Michelle Maxwell getting on the piano and the two of them playing around with various numbers. She said: “Yes, but Gaynor do you remember Ian von Memerty, you and I found an empty rehearsal…”
“…room during Camelot rehearsals,” I finished. “Yes, that is one of the things that I remember clearly, Kate. We had a ball! Ian could do whatever number we came up with. We did numbers from Grease, My Fair Lady, Easter Parade, Sound of Music…”
“I sat on the piano stool as if I was playing the piano and singing and Ian crouched in between my legs with just his hand appearing on the keyboard. It was both magical and hysterical!”
I was so thrilled that that moment had been memorable for us both. It had broken through the mist surrounding my memory of Camelot and has remained sparkling like a much treasured gem all these years.
“And do you remember we found that wheelchair and we pushed each other harum scarum up and down those lovely, long corridors at The State Theatre?”
The wheelchair came skidding round a corner and into my memory.
“Oh yes,” I cried watching those two wild women acting like mad six year olds. That was a new memory that was magically conjured up for me that tea time. I will guard it jealously in my memory box.
Kate has been married for the last year. I am due up in Johannesburg in August. It will be wonderful to meet Kate’s husband during that time. I have also promised to see Ashleigh Harvey for lunch.
Finally, I met Shirley Johnston for dinner that night. She edited my book and is a very precious friend. She always finds time to see me when I’m in Cape Town. It somehow felt right finishing off my Cape Town visit having dinner with her. She had worked for five years with Ashleigh Harvey in Death of a Colonialist. I had heard Shirley speak of Ashleigh but hadn’t clicked that she was the star of the show that I’d just seen.
“That’s your Ashleigh? But…but Shirls, did you know she could sing like that?”
“I actually saw her in a cabaret. I remember tears just falling down my cheeks she was so moving.”
This is what those delectable four days in Cape Town gave me. A superlative show! But more than that. It gave me: Julie Hartley, Jenny Steyn, Diane Wilson, Ashleigh Harvey, Michelle Maxwell, Kate Normington and Shirley Johnston. My theatre friends, old and new. And, except for Shirley, I have lost touch with them. I go up to Johannesburg and down to Cape Town and I don’t contact them. I tend to think: Oh, they won’t want to be bothered by me!
This is garbage! Those four days proved that to me. Friends are special. Theatre friends are exceptionally unique. I am no longer able to act. But that is not important. I believe that once you have entered into that ‘theatre fraternity’ you are there for life.
Oh, how I love my ‘Funny Girls’!!!