‘MARGOT Brockenhurst makes a truly remarkable debut.
‘Such maturity, such empathy, an unbelievable performance from one so young.’
Tomorrow morning, the reviews will be full of such praise for the young actress’s heartrending portrayal of a woman whose hopes for the future have been cruelly dashed.
But tonight Margot’s major concern is how she is going to act that transition from brash confident fortune-hunter to heartbroken wretch.
It seems unreasonable that she has no problem with the brashness and confidence part of the role, whereas in real life she has always been more the shy, vulnerable type.
“Well I suppose that’s what acting is all about, compensating for our weaknesses,” she tells herself. “It’s our true selves that we shy away from.”
Rehearsal after rehearsal she’s failed to break down convincingly.
“Relax, you’ll find a way once we open, everyone does,” the assistant director reassures her, adding to himself: “Or at least the ones who are going to make it do.”
She’s tried every trick she can think of, to no avail. Onions are fine for making her eyes water, but they don’t produce the sobs demanded by the stage directions. Maybe cigarette smoke would have worked, but these days smoking is banned in the theatre, even behind the scenes.
Following the advice of the more experienced members of the cast, Margot tries to remember sad stories, tragic films, tales of the horrors of wars, of famines, of terrible natural disasters. But though those might move her when she’s alone at home, they just don’t have the impact she’ll need on stage in front of a live audience.
No, she needs something more personal. But she knows that the big personal tragedies, like when her best school friend committed suicide, or the recent death of her grandfather, work all too well. They’d had to abandon yesterday’s dress rehearsal until she recovered her composure.
“Try something smaller, dear, perhaps something that upset you when you were a child,” urged the make-up girl who had the job of repairing the damage to Margot’s mascara and eyeliner.
So on opening night, Margot is trying to rake up the smaller tragedies of her own past life. What about Benjamin and Disraeli, the goldfish from the fair on Putney Heath, with their ominous floating trails of white fungus? Hardly an overwhelming catastrophe even at the time - she’d been dreading having to clean their tank - but the memory of those pathetic golden corpses among the eggshells and tea leaves in the kitchen bin might raise a small tear to accompany her character’s first emotional scene.
Then perhaps she can recall the loss of Sooty, the little white bear lost on Chesil beach. Sooty wasn’t there when they went back to search for him that evening among the cold wet pebbles, and she’s never really believed her mother’s reassurance about another little girl or boy finding him and looking after him. Even as an adult, whenever she goes to the seaside, she can’t help imagining the remnants of Sooty still floating out there somewhere on the waves, but she knows this is mere sentimentality, not true emotion.
Of course there was the woolly caterpillar she rescued from the traffic on Putney Hill. He did already seem rather squashed when she scraped him up from the road, but the young Margot was sure that with a little love he would recover. However Leviathan never ate any of the leaves and grass she stuffed into his musty jam jar. In fact he never moved at all, and his head turned a nasty grey colour, but that didn’t excuse the way her father threw him on the compost heap.
No, this is ridiculous. These childish sadnesses might stir a tear or two, but for real dramatic effect she has to find something she really cares about.
It’s at this moment that Mr Fulbright comes to her rescue.
Her father had always thought it funny to suggest ridiculous names for the succession of cuddly toys and small pets passing through Margot’s life. Not content with naming goldfish after a nineteenth century prime minister or christening a toy polar bear Sooty, he tried to insist that Khrushchev was the ideal name for a teddy bear. But young Margot came up with Mr Fulbright all on her own. She has no idea where she originally heard the name, but it is now inextricably linked with a small golden brown bear with a shiny red ribbon, glass eyes and a button nose.
And now it happens. No tears, but the very thought of Mr Fulbright’s nose shakes her with a shudder of unexpected violence. Hastily locking away the distressing mental image, she prepares to face her first full house.
Act 1. As she foresaw, she has no difficulty acting the hard, apparently unfeeling fiancée of the handsome heir to a massive fortune.
Act 2. War is declared, Nigel dons his new naval uniform, and thanks to Benjamin, Disraeli and Sooty, a tear is ready to roll down Margot’s cheek as she waves him goodbye.
Act 3. The telegram arrives, Nigel is missing, presumed dead. With thoughts of poor squashed Leviathan in the pile of rotting grass cuttings and vegetable peelings, it’s easy to play the brave young woman who overcomes her grief, and displays angry patriotism as she decides to join the war effort herself.
Act 4. Nigel has been found, but not as the hero his fiancée imagines. He has been shot as a traitor. There will be no happy future together, no fortune, no pride, only shame.
It’s time for Margot to reach deep inside herself, to access the one sure way she knows to gut-wrenching despair, to that emotion that lies too deep for tears. With true courage, she recalls her feelings on the very worst day of her life so far, the day the puppy from next door broke in through a gap in the garden fence, and finding Mr Fulbright lying on the lawn, proceeded to chew off his shiny black button nose.
‘Many older and more experienced actors will want to know Miss Brockenhurst’s secret….’