Once ensconced in my new abode high above Basildon town centre (was this a metaphor for the way I viewed the town, looking down on it and its inhabitants?) my next move was to make friends.
In my past where had I found friends?
At school – but those days were long gone.
At the Rhyl Yacht Club – but there was no such club in Basildon.
At the Little Theatre – that offered a greater possibility.
As I knew from six months of reviews, Basildon had a plethora of amateur dramatic societies. Most towns do. Many of these societies, whether they be drama groups, operatic groups, or a mix of both, such as musical comedy or pantomime societies, are quite pedestrian in the names they choose, not even checking the acronyms. It would tend to be “Chester Amateur Dramatic Society” commonly known as CADS; or “Malvern Operatic & Dramatic Society” – MODS; or “Shrewsbury Operatic & Dramatic Society” – SODS.
The Basildon groups mainly followed this basic naming style: Basildon Players, Basildon Operatic Society; Basildon Amateur Dramatic Society.
This made one particular group stand out when I saw that a group called The Thalians were staging Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters at the Basildon Arts Centre.
My knowledge of Greek mythology is that of anyone who has read some of the Greek myths or even just seen some of the films from the 60s and 70s such as Jason and the Argonauts or Clash of the Titans or Helen of Troy.
My father was the classics scholar, at grammar school at any rate. He would have gone on to study classics at university if it hadn’t been for a family tragedy, but that is a tale for another time. Maybe I did pick up an interest and a love of Homer from him.
Thalia was one of the Muses, daughters of Zeus (in Thalia’s case by Mnemosyne, goddess of memory and time).
Clearly a theatrical group that chose one of the Muses to represent them must be at least a touch ahead of the more plebeian groups. Especially as they chose the Muse of comedy and idyllic poetry.
Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters is an Italian classic in the style of the commedia del’arte, a forebear of our Punch and Judy.
On the Tuesday night I went along to watch what I hoped would be a classic piece of theatre. Little did I realise that far from just seeing a group who took one of the Muses as their patron I was to meet my own Muse.
The programme for this production was presented in the style of a mediaeval scroll, which I thought a cunning touch (although it was to come close to causing my downfall) and having studied it I sat back in my seat and prepared for an evening’s entertainment.
The evening was entertaining; the play was as funny as I anticipated it would be; the players, although young, were far better than other amateurs I had seen; but from the moment the curtain went up I was smitten by one character on that stage – the maid Smeraldina.
As a professional I managed to concentrate on the play itself but felt my heart drop every time she left the stage and it rose again each time she entered.
If I joined this group I would get to meet my Muse and if I met her I felt sure that, given time, she would get to know me well.
In a way that is what happened but it was a rocky road with many pitfalls.
I almost fell at the first twist, thanks in part to our somewhat overcocky sub.
As I said the Thalians had produced their programme in the form of a scroll and I made the mistake of mentioning this to our sub who always thought he could go one better.
He had suggested I write it in the style of “olden days” which would probably have been fine if it had not been for his cocky little sidebar which might just as well have said: “Anything you can do we can do better.”
It is not surprising, therefore, that on the Friday morning the review appeared in the paper I got a somewhat irate call from a member of the Thalians asking why I had virtually accused of them of seeing themselves as better than other groups.
It took me a good ten minutes to make my peace but I finally got my caller to realise that I had praised the production and considered them to be an exceptional amateur drama group and had copied their programme style as the sincerest form of flattery.
My sincerity must have shone through and before I knew it I was being invited to the after show party on Saturday night. I was given the address and told that it wouldn’t get properly underway until after 11pm as they would need to get their makeup off, change, and get round to the house.
I was overjoyed at the idea of meeting my Muse in person.
Of course life was never meant to be easy but I’ll tell you all about that later.