Exit the Leading Man
by Muriel Watson
Look Back in Anger opened the first La Boite in the converted cottage in Hale Street in 1967. It was directed by Babette Stephens and there were five in the cast, Jennifer Blocksidge, myself and three other gentlemen, one of whom was an Irishman playing the lead role of Jimmy Porter – a nice fellow but rather feisty – and the others were Michael Gaut and Edward Thompson.
This particular opening night, the Clayfield Kindergarten Ladies and their husbands were having a fun evening. From the dressing room we could hear them having a jolly time before the show – a few drinks, nibbles and so forth. And I thought “I bet those gentlemen have been dragged along to this play!” but anyway they came in and the theatre was packed. Now, after a while Jennifer and I both got the feeling this young Irishman, who was the angry young man, was getting a little het up and at interval he refused to go back on again. He said they were laughing at him! We convinced him that they were not laughing at him, rather they were laughing with him. So he came back after interval, but Jennifer and I were watching him like a hawk. Anyway, the play had 15 minutes to finish and, much to my amazement, he just walked out the front door onto the street! And, I might add, no one ever saw him again in Repertory.
Now, what happened in that final 15 minutes of the play, I will always remember. There was Babette as I had never seen her, sitting in the audience, looking very tense, wondering what on earth was going to happen! And there we were, Jennifer and myself, and no leading man! Now, Jennifer had beautiful long blond hair and in this scene she’d been brushing it. As I turned around I noticed that she had her hair all over her face, and was vigorously brushing it down. I had a momentary thought “I’ve never seen her do that before!”, until I saw her shoulders shaking with barely suppressed laughter. So, I thought, it’s all up to me! Well, I talked inanely to her for a while and she was making sort of murmuring sounds under her hair, so finally I said: “I tell you what, he’s in a huff but he’ll be back later, so let’s go and have a cup of coffee” and we both walked out and we brought the show to a close.
That evening Babette got in touch with the actor David Clendinning. We all came down to the theatre early the next morning, and we went over the play with him. And even though he was reading from the part and he hadn’t read it before, I thought “What a fine actor he is”. You know, he hadn’t seen the play and that night he read from the script and people said he was so good in the role of Jimmy Porter they forgot he was reading. So David continued to play the lead role in Look Back in Anger and he was so very, very good.
Muriel Watson began her association with Brisbane Repertory Theatre in 1959. A talented and popular actress, she played many lead roles in Repertory productions throughout the 1960s. She continued her involvement as Chair of the Social Committee and raised considerable funds towards the new Hale Street theatre building. She worked professionally in radio, television and film in the 1970s. Her last stage performance was in the 2002 Energex Brisbane Festival’s The Way We Were. She never misses an opening night at La Boite.