From the wings, we could hear the chatter of the audience. Loud, excited - the Hall was packed. Jacquie Potter and I exchanged glances, grinned, me feeling the slightly gritty texture of black on my teeth - to make them look rotten. This was it. The culmination of weeks of rehearsals for the School Birthday extravaganza, for which each form had prepared a fifteen minute entertainment. To be performed in front of the governors, the staff, various illustrious visitors - Old Girls among them, and of course, the entire school.
No - I was not known for my school stage career. This is the only time I recall being in a play during my whole five years at DWS. Two reasons prevailed on this occasion. Number one. I wrote the play. Entitled ‘Randicilla and the Beautiful Sisters’ it was a ‘brilliant and unparalleled’ (my words in the programme) rendition of the old panto favourite Cinderella and the Ugly Sisters - in which the familiar world of Cinderella was turned on its head. In my play, she was as ugly as sin whereas the sisters were gorgeous. Prince Charming (played by slightly-built Jacquie Potter, entirely in white - tights, bloomers and vest) was a wimp. And there was indeed a Godmother - only a Hairy Godmother, as opposed to a fairy one. There was a Buttons too, only he was called Zipper...
Reason number two. Who on earth wanted to play Randicilla, who is Fat And Ugly As Sin? No one. Hence me having blacked teeth, waiting in the wings. At least I knew the words, having written them. There weren’t many.
My memory is that this was Lower Fifth. Whatever - the School Birthday happened to fall a few weeks before we were due to be confirmed - confirmation classes having been held weekly, led by the vicar from St Mary’s, Dolgellau. I don’t recall his name, only that he had a daughter called Rosemary who was in the form below us. We were all duly prepared, and very, very holy.
The curtains rose, to a hushed audience. Bare stage. Enter Randicilla The Fat And Ugly As Sin, (I was pudgy but also had a cushion under my shirt) pushing a broom, and yelling ‘I wanna go to thuh BALL!’ at the top of her voice. Bawling about the ball. This went on for a long time. No script - just a lot of brushing, yelling and over-acting. Enter The Hairy Godmother, Helen Evans - looking like a walking hearthrug. “Shut up!” and so forth - wand waved - and scene changes to Ballroom. Prince Charming mincing about the stage, clad in white, a real fop - dwarfed by Randicilla who is all over him like a rash. Randy? Good grief, oh yes. Over acted randy. The multifarious sexual references - Zipper not the least of them, were going down a bomb, judging by screams of delight coming from the girls in their rows towards the back of the hall.
Well, blinded by the occasion, and the stage lights, I was vaguely aware of the horrified expressions on one or two ‘Important Visitors’ and Governors’ faces, in the front row. But ‘The Play Must Go ON’ - and it did. It staggered to its conclusion, a duet, between me and Prince Charming, and the immortal lines:
PRINCE: Once a King, always a King.
RANDICILLA: And once a Knight’s enough! Come on! (Drags Prince offstage, tearing at his clothes...)
Uproarious applause from the gels.
Applause which is very quickly stopped. We, the cast, expecting fame, adulation - crept back into the hall, to be rounded up before we even found our seats, and told to wait outside Miss Lickes’s office.
Having written the play, having taking the title role, I was obviously the ringleader in this subversive occurrence. Miss Lickes was fearsomely angry. No matter that we were all still in our costumes, makeup. Black teeth and all... we had shown the entire school up in front of Important Visitors and Governors. We had embarrassed her, the staff, ourselves. We had insulted Dr Williams’ School. Ruined its reputation. And what’s more. She was calling in the Vicar to ascertain whether he thought we should still be confirmed.
Oh the shame. (Not really... the whole episode did my street-cred no end of good...) My parents had A Phone Call. The school was deliberating An Appropriate Punishment. Suspension was not out of the question. Excommunication. Guillotine.
In the end, the Vicar upped the frequency of Confirmation classes for the final month, for most of us delinquents. And one prospective confirmee was banned. Both from the classes and from the ceremony, me. Because ‘I Had The Devil on My Shoulder’.
I was confirmed by The Bishop of Bangor the following term, on my own, a solitary figure in a green sack with tablecloth on head, alongside the girls of Aberystwyth, in their town confirmation. I was taken to the ceremony by Maggie Morley, the maths teacher, in her car... and, in a real act of kindness, taken all the way to Lake Vrnwy Hotel afterwards, for tea, with the Bishop of Bangor.
Even that could not be taken seriously. On a trip to the loo during tea, I was very taken with the hotel’s loo-paper, which had the words ‘Now wash your hands please’ printed on every sheet. And I stuffed a wad in my pocket to take back to show my friends. (Don’t ask...). It was hard loo paper. It rustled. Every time I shifted on my window seat, leaning forward to take a bite of scone - I rustled. The bishop looked askance, obviously wondering what on earth... but he never asked - and for that small mercy I am immensely grateful.
Vanessa Rees, DWS 1965 - 1970.