To celebrate its 50th anniversary and also International Women’s Year, La Boite Theatre mounted its third production of American playwright Clare Boothe Luce’s The Women directed by Rikki Burke (the previous two productions had been directed by Babette Stephens).
It proved to be the biggest box office success for the year. Representing the kind of theatre that had characterised popular productions in the 1960s, this ‘return’ to the ‘good old days’ with such success must have given plenty of ammunition to Blocksidge’s detractors! It was however, a fitting homage to those strong, influential Repertory women who had gone before. The following is a wonderful memory of that production by Graeme Johnston.
The Lemon Meringue Pie Story by Graeme Johnston
Did you ever hear the story about The Women? It was La Boite’s 50th Birthday Celebration play directed by Rikki Burke in 1975. I was there the night that something very funny happened. It’s an all-women play and there is a scene with the cook and the maid in the kitchen at midnight and they’re talking about what’s going on upstairs. Kerry Morris played the maid and Margaret Paterson played the cook. Every night at home, Margaret Paterson used to cook a lemon meringue pie to bring in as a prop. So she and Kerry were sitting down on stage about to have coffee and eat the lemon meringue pie. Now Kerry, remember, played the maid and it was her scene. Most of the dialogue was hers: “Then he said to her … and then she did this…” and Margaret Paterson’s lines were “And what happened next?” sort of lines, feeder lines. Kerry had an amazing facility, she could remember lines, she looked at a page, read it once and remembered it. It’s a good thing so long as you don’t dry! But that night, she dried. There was Margaret trying to help, prompting her with “And what happened next? What were you going to tell me about?” and with fear in her eyes and nothing in the memory bank, Kerry exited the stage.
Poor Margaret was left there with this lemon meringue pie staring at her. So she did the sensible thing and started eating it; and the audience watched entranced as she eat her way through that lemon meringue pie. It felt like 20 minutes but it must have been only three or four. The audience was fascinated! And I must say Margaret didn’t blink an eye. She poured herself a coffee, she cut a bit of pie. Meanwhile, Kerry is frantically running around backstage desperately looking for a script - “Who’s got a script? Who’s got a script?” and eventually she found one, had a quick look, and came running back on with “Just remembered!” That experience shattered Kerry, shattered her. It was a long time before she ventured onto the stage again.
Graeme Johnston has Eileen Beatson to thank for beginning his long association with La Boite in the early 1970s. Over the next two decades, he directed, designed and made costumes and sets for over twenty-five La Boite productions. He also served on the Council and was Wardrobe Manager for a time. His early La Boite ‘apprenticeship’ led to a long professional career in various areas of theatre-making.
Writer: Christine Comans