Queen D wears many hats, depending on which act she is performing at the time. Her life is one long royal variety show with a bit of clowning in a crown here, a tap dance in a topper there, and a Peaky Blinders moment now and again to spice things up a bit.
Life’s a drama, and we’re all judged on how we perform each act, whether we like it or not. From the moment we’re born – curtain up – our key critics, family and friends, take their places in the front row, pens poised. By the time we have gurgled and toddled our way through the earliest scenes, the first evaluations are out. “Determined and single-minded!” gushes the Daily Male, an opinion based solely on how his first-born grabs marmite fingers and tries repeatedly to ram them up his own nostrils. “Mini megastar!” from Hello Mum! of her pink twirling tot.
The sweetness of those early reviews isn’t universal. Some parenting is sugar-free, even poisonous. In some plays, most of the seats are empty except in the front row where a couple of drunks slur insults.
In our life play, acting out what we feel is dramatic. What we say matters. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is baloney. I hope its author was killed by a cascade of dictionaries.
From the start of our life’s drama, we need a balance of criticism and praise from our audience. If the scales tip one way and we are idolised, we will be scuttled by hypersensitivity. Tip the other way, and we find harsh criticism has made us insensitive and defensive.
Look around you, Shinies, and see who is involved backstage in your life drama supporting you, who is acting with you, and who is sitting in judgement in the front rows, notebook in hand.
We need to understand the complexities of our performance to play our part as well as we can.
First revelation. If you want your play to be about teamwork, be the best team player you can be. If you want an independent production, then star in your own play, select the squad and pay the bills. You can hire and fire as you please, but remember you can’t sack the audience or the critics. Whatever you do, however powerful you become, you will be judged, even if you lock the doors against the critics and play to an empty theatre.
Second revelation. However good the script, sometimes you’ll forget the words. Remember the three Is – improvise, imagine and invent. Laugh at your own mistakes. Whatever happens, it’s head down and keep going.
Third revelation. Use intervals to rest, recuperate and review your performance. We need time out. We need to recognise when changes are needed and be brave enough to edit.
Fourth revelation. Don’t we just loathe those speeches at Oscars and Daftas? All that self-congratulatory posturing, those lame jokes, those endless thanks. Ah yes. Thanks. Set time aside in your performance to thank people who help you act out your life. Be grateful. Be kind. It isn’t all your own work.
And finally, revelation five. The play has to end. One day, you’ll take a bow and leave the stage. Your audience and critics will be the judges of your performance. Whether we go out to rave reviews, applause, a standing ovation, gales of laughter, boos, a public panning or a stunned silence, it’s up to us. Every performance makes an impact.
Queen D hunted through her props and wore a black tiara this week. A friend made his final exit. I’ve spent a lifetime in the audience of his play and been an enthusiastic fan, laughing in the right places, heckling now and again but always admiring his dramatic flair. He played out of his socks, right up to the last word.
Death as the final scene of the last act can’t be beaten. It’s colossal, inexplicable and enigmatic enough to take up all the stage. The dying can be sudden, an explosive shock, or, like the finale of a Tchaikovsky overture (try the 1812 for the ending of all endings), it can take forever. It can be tragic, or a last sweet whisper; sometimes dark, sometimes weirdly comic. However it’s played out, it’s inescapable. The dramas of life are infinite, but the plays all have the same ending.
Audiences are not so good at accepting life’s endings these days. Some leave before the last scene, unable to cope with the intensity. We love gore and tragedy in fiction, but in real life we don’t like messy. We don’t want an ending unless it’s pretend.
As playwrights of our own lives, we’re not much good at scripting or playing that last scene either. The more sophisticated we get, the less able we are to write its bleak reality, let alone act it out. We’ve spent our lives controlled the lighting and the sound, we’ve created sets and stage-managed the scenes. But when it comes to the end, we corpse. Now THAT is a great pun. Applause please.
It’s no better if we’re in the audience. We’ve loved the play, but hide behind our hands, peeping through our fingers now and again to see how grim the finale is.
When it’s done well, the impact of that final scene remains long after the play has ended. When it’s done badly, the effects can be catastrophic. Ask any therapist.
The final lines of my friend’s last scene were awesome, acted out with courage, intelligence and a surprising amount of merriment. Us critics loved it. The audience gave him a standing ovation and the after-show party was a blast.
Now the black tiara is back in its box, Queen D has time to reflect. Not until that final breath can we judge someone’s whole performance and the death of someone we know makes us look again at our own life and ponder on our own mortality.
I’ve read my script again, and I’m off to rewrite the third act to include a wild night in a castle half way up a mountain and a six month world trip in a truck. I don’t know how many acts I’ve got left, but anyone out there wanting to watch my play might have to pay more for a ticket to help pay for the special effects.