We ran everything on a shoestring and borrowed from antique shops, other tradespeople and members of the public. After some bad experiences I said that we couldn’t afford to get things for nothing – it was too expensive. If somebody makes a promise and lets you down if you’re not paying him you have no lien. Because of our large company we were able to do plays that needed too big a cast for most provincial theatres. We could do a big cast play in one stream and a small cast one in the other. That took some tricky juggling but it could be done. One of the larger ones was a splendid comedy called The Teahouse of the August Moon. That needed a live goat. From memory the situation was that American soldiers on Okinawa produced some homemade hooch that they thought they could sell. But first they wanted to be sure it was safe. They reckoned that if a goat could drink it so could a Marine.
Because it was a more complicated production than most we had two dress rehearsals, a Sunday one as well as the usual one on Monday. On Sunday afternoon everything was in place except the goat. I phoned the farmer who said that he couldn’t bring it in that day. In any case it would have to be two goats because they were inseparable.
At the back of my mind I had a Plan B. There’d been an item in the local paper about the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) shelter and it mentioned that they had a goat. I rang them up and they agreed to let us borrow it. I asked if it had any favourite delicacy and they said cigarettes. It ate them, not smoked them. I said we would come for it. The next question was how. One of the Assistant Stage Managers had a car. She agreed to let me use it but the car was owned jointly with somebody else and that other person had the keys. Finally the ASM and myself set off for the animal shelter. I’d never had any experience with goats. All I knew of them I remembered from children’s comics. Somebody would be bending over and a goat with ferocious looking horns would be running at a great pace towards their rear end. The goat was actually a very likeable, docile animal but the owners warned me that they are immensely strong. If they didn’t want to go anywhere you couldn’t move them. I decided we would have to depend upon cigarettes as a lure and we set off. I drove with the ASM, who was a city girl and knew no more about goats than I did, beside me and the goat in the back breathing down our necks. It was a tricky car to drive that would stall at the slightest provocation and the knowledge that a fearsome animal was just behind me didn’t help.
Fortunately the back of the front passenger seat was split and the goat was able to chew happily on some exposed straw. We made it. The goat let itself be led on stage at the appropriate moment and it ducked its head into a steel helmet apparently to drink but actually to eat the cigarettes inside it. After the rehearsal came the problem of getting the goat home. I found a friendly taxi driver on the rank and he agreed to take us. It was one of those big, London style taxis with a steel floor. I thought that goats were sure-footed animals but it slipped all over the place. The taxi driver agreed to collect somebody from the stage management every evening, take them to the shelter, pick up the goat and come after the performance to return it.
I had plenty of other things on my mind but after a few days I thought I’d better check on the arrangements. I found that nobody from the theatre was now involved in the transport arrangements. The taxi went straight to the shelter, the goat got in the back, came out at the stage door, signed a few autographs and went in. I wasn’t happy about the goat travelling on its own but it didn’t seem to mind and I let it go. The next finger-crossing moment was the Saturday night performance when the owners would be in the audience. I felt sure that the goat would refuse to go on stage or an actor would tread on its foot. It came on dead on cue, “drank” from the steel helmet and then reached up and nuzzled the actor’s chin. The audience went “Aah” and I’d survived again. Next week the production moved to Scunthorpe. We couldn’t take the goat on the bus so that meant a different goat and another story.
I had a domestic complication whilst working in Lincoln. My mother had married a man who Dave, Mabs and myself didn’t care for but it was her life. After they’d married she learned that he’d had a history of mental illness including spells in an institution. One night I had a phone call saying that she had left home in some distress and was at my brother’s. I got there as quickly as I could and heard that he’d threatened her with a knife. She also talked about her sex life saying that he was always at her. I found this slightly embarrassing. She wouldn’t come back with me that night but told me to find a house first and she would follow taking some of her furniture with her. I found a house to rent and she moved in with me.
Later my crazy stepfather started sending postcards addressed to me at the theatre. Postcards presumably because other people could read them. One of them said “why don’t you get a proper job like a bus conductor.” I found him one afternoon outside our house putting leaflets into the letterboxes of neighbours. I confronted him, told him I’d talked to the police and they were on their way and he left me alone after that.
There were many times in the small hours when I felt that I couldn’t take any more but I told myself “You can always take more.” But there came a point when I really felt that I should get out. I hadn’t had a nervous breakdown or a heart attack but it would be pushing my luck to keep working under that pressure. next