Blog: Minerva Memories

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‘The Rocking Horse Winner’ programme (Rob’s personal copy) – click image for larger size

My memories of the summer of 1989 are of a summer of firsts. It was CFT’s first season in the new Minerva Theatre and it was the first time the Youth Theatre was officially in the season programme. It was my first main part in a Youth Theatre show and it was my first kiss, (albeit courtesy of the stage directions of the play). The shows were Lords of Creation by John Wiles, a stage version of DH Lawrence’s The Rocking Horse Winner (my show) and A Mad World my Masters by Barrie Keefe. If the Tent had lent its atmosphere to creating the world of the play, the Minerva gave its essence to the world of the professional theatre. For of course, that is what it was. The resources we had (technical, stage management, dressing rooms and acting space) were those also used by the Festival Theatre professionals. Speaking for myself at least, I didn’t realise until later how lucky we were.

 I visited the Minerva recently to discuss writing these blogs and had a sneaky peak in the auditorium beforehand. Immediately I felt that old buzz when walking through the double door entrance. The place still smelled the same but it was more than that; the familiar aura of the space challenged all five senses at once. It was empty on this occasion but immediately I slipped back 25 years and recalled that same feeling as I opened those doors, just after 8pm on Saturday 12 August 1989, for my first live performance as Uncle Oscar Cresswell – the seedy, supernatural uncle of the lead character in The Rocking Horse Winner.

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‘The Rocking Horse Winner’ programme: Offstage crew (Rob’s personal copy) – click image for larger size

I clearly recall the adrenaline washing through me as I followed the dialogue on stage, word by word, heading towards my cue line. I had so much to remember! What was it the director said? “Say each key word as though it is the word ‘coffin’ ”. Nice. To get the full nuances of Oscar’s character in rehearsals, the director asked me to walk slowly towards my friend Kate, who played a maid in the show, in such a way as to make her skin crawl! At which point she had to say ‘stop’. Most of the time this resulted in fits of giggles, but I must have got there eventually, as I felt suitably creepy as I stood by the auditorium entrance. Or perhaps it was the adrenaline? Then there it was. The cue line. No going back now. And on I went… Apart from playing Oscar, another reason for my fondness for The Rocking Horse Winner is that I had several onstage scenes with my brother, Phil. Memories of which are especially important now. This first scene was one of them. I can recall walking on, giving my onstage ‘sister’ a kiss (Yes. That really was it) and Phil, as my brother-in-law, delivering his lines. I can see and hear him now, as alive and well as ever. The Minerva was so exciting, even more in retrospect as the Artistic Director at the time, was one Sam Mendes, shortly before he directed the famous production of The Cherry Orchard with Judi Dench at the Aldwych Theatre in 1989. I don’t recall meeting him, but my mother still remembers a conversation with him!

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‘The Rocking Horse Winner’ programme: Onstage cast (Rob’s personal copy) – click image for larger size

The companies of these three shows built up a very strong camaraderie that summer; the beginning of our bond that would last well up to the present day. We all enthusiastically supported one another’s shows and performances. This was a support that I came to especially appreciate when one night I smashed a glass onstage. Phil didn’t bat an eyelid. He glanced pointedly at me and then at Kate, the maid. “Go and clear that up, please,” I said to her. And she did. My friend Ben, recalls that moment to this day, and reminded me how everyone held their breath until we resolved it. Such was that feeling of fellowship and security between us. And such is the timelessness of the Minerva auditorium, that this feeling was what came over me when I peeked in there again last month. As strong as ever.

Read Rob’s first post.