An old friend of mine has died quite suddenly recently.
I hadn’t seen him in many many years, but my mum had spent some time around him over the past few years, in her role as “Costumes” for an amateur theatrical society called Chelmsford Theatre Workshop (CTW).
That was where I met Dave (second from the right) when he seemed to magically appear one day - I think with another splendid chap in tow called Barry - and we ended up doing a couple of plays. The one pictured here: Journey’s End (that’s me on the far left), which was a fantastic experience and also One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which I co-directed with.....yes, another splendid chap called Steve.
My memory is poor, but I think it was the first thing that I had ever directed and as such, Steve who had a lot more experience than me, was there to ensure that a hash wasn’t made of it. We made a good team, had some great ideas and assembled a fantastic cast. None of that mattered really though, because we had Dave in the role of Randall Patrick McMurphy.
I won’t do a psychological breakdown of McMurphy, suffice it to say, he is a deceptively complex character to play, but one of his key traits is his relentless, indefatigable energy. It drives the character, who in turn drives the play. Through rehearsals and the run of the show, Dave’s commitment, professionalism and the pure energy he infused the role with was to me thoroughly inspiring. Remember, we’re amateurs and so must of us are rehearsing and performing after a day’s work, so to maintain the level he did for many weeks, was no mean feat.
When you’re doing a lot of plays, sometimes they can all roll into one and become a bit “samey”, but every now and then, a bit of creative lightning is caught in a bottle, the planets align and all the elements come together to produce something rather special.
I think I’ve experienced that just three times in my amateur theatrical life: Journey’s End, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and most recently in The Ladykillers. Dave was a major part of those first two and it’s probably fair to say that the third one was made possible for me through watching and learning from people like him: masters of the craft.
Oh, he wasn’t some poncey actor by the way and he would probably piss himself laughing if he’d heard that he’d been dubbed a “master of the craft”!
The man I knew from all those years ago was down to earth, smart, funny, always laughing or smiling and just one of those people who has that much of a life force about them that you just naturally assume that they are immortal.
Which just makes it all the more unbelievable that the curtain seems to have prematurely fallen on a fantastic performance.
Rest in peace.