Last week saw the passing of a man who was of great influence to my career and most probably much of my life.
I first met Bob Carlton when I auditioned for his resident theatre company of actor-musicians at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch in 1998. I remained there for the following 12 years, disappearing every now and again to do a few shows elsewhere but always returning to the fold which had become my ‘acting home’. It had become my home, the people there had become my extended family and I even met my husband there!
Bob cast me in some incredible roles there. My CV was growing by the minute and I was starting to understand who I was as a performer. Repertory theatre was ridiculously exhausting but the most exciting experience an actor could wish for.
Now Bob was well known for being a bit of a bugger to work with at times and I myself had my fair share of experiences of dealing with this side of him… One particular recollection was when we were working on a certain show which wasn’t working out as planned. On this particular day, I wasn’t feeling well. I had a bout of conjunctivitus and was struggling to see and to well, function. He had given me some stage directions which I clearly didn’t understand as every time I made my entrance he was getting more and more frustrated with me. He started to lose his patience and so did I! On any normal day, I would consider myself to be quite a tolerant person but on this day, no I wasn’t! He shouted at me – I shouted back. He swore at me – I swore back. This to-ing and fro-ing went on for some time til he finally threw his arms in the air and called for a 5 minute break. Later that day I passed him in the corridor backstage and I apologised for blowing up at him. His response was to simply hug me and say “what are you apologising for? This happens in the rehearsal process. It’s no big deal. When you’re talented, I don’t care how you talk to me!” This made me think that people maybe just misunderstand him. He cared about his work, he wanted things to be right, he wanted to create amazing theatre, exciting theatre. He had passion and vision. And at that point I realised that I had shown him MY passion and he liked it and he kind of respected me for it. From then on whenever he spoke in a snappish way I knew he was just on his creative journey and that I just needed to be quick and jump on board with him.
He was also a very sensitive man and like most creative types, very insecure. One production that I wasn’t in, I came to watch on Press Night. Afterwards while i was sitting with my mother in the bar, he came bounding up to us with a worried look on his face. “Have you seen my friends?” (He had introduced us earlier before the show began.) “I can’t find them! Have they gone? Do you think they didn’t like it?” He was devastated at the thought. Later he found them outside having a cigarrette. They loved it and his cheeky smile returned.
In one of my later years of being in his company, I was cast as the legendary Joan Littlewood in It’s A Fine Life. A huge role to undertake but he seemed to have faith in my abilities…yikes! It’s hard to become someone who actually existed. There’s the pressure to fullfill everyone’s expectations. People knew her. You can’t just make her up – you have to truly become her. While doing my research into her and her life at Stratford and her vision for theatre, I began to see many similarities between her and Bob. Now Bob had mentioned that she was a particular idol of his and whether or not he was aware of it, his approach to his work and the people around him were very similar. It was almost as if he was the male version of her! This excited me from an actor’s point of view and so I set out to study him as well as her. Since I knew him as a live, physical being I decided I would become Bob but in female form. I thought about how he would think, react and behave. As far as the reviews were concerned, I succeeded! Whether I did or not is beside the point. One thing I do know is that it gave me another chance to understand our Bob just that little bit more.
So all in all, Bob was a warm, sensitive, passionate, deep thinking, creative person who often showed signs of an incredibly ingenious mind. He taught me to have passion, ambition and belief in myself. To be daring and take risks – and to never, ever give up!!!
So long Bob, till we meet again…
(and to those reading this who knew him – “Live long and Prosper-o”)