by Ian de Stains
I once knew a woman in London called Elphenstine Courvoisier who billed herself in “The Stage and Television Today” as an artiste. Her act —which consisted of juggling three coloured balls in the air whilst tap dancing on a xylophone — was unique but not exactly destined to bring her fame and fortune.
One is tempted to wonder what might have happened had she done it topless, but this was in the days before that style had found acceptability (outside certain areas of Soho) and in any case, the lady was, to put it delicately, perhaps too well equipped for such an undertaking. One would have worried about the effects on her balance; precarious ever, especially during such numbers as “On The Good Ship Lollipop,” which was how she sometimes closed her act. A far cry from Shirley Temple.
I wonder what became of her? Forgotten by most I should imagine: another name in the long list of speciality acts of yesterday. Sad, really, when you think of what a good living she might have made on Japanese television.
What started me thinking about poor old Ellie was a recent encounter with an extraordinary woman who accosted me in the lobby of one of Tokyo’s grander hotels. Given the kind of career I’ve had, I’ve become somewhat used to the approaches of strangers. Most of the time they’re harmless, like the man who’d just about managed joined-up lettering: he said he’d allow TIP to put on his latest play if we allowed him total artistic control.
Very occasionally, they’re slightly more disturbing, lying like a stair carpet in order to be cast or allowed to direct. But this lady was different: isn’t it odd the things people wear!
She had, she told me, seen several TIP productions in which I’d had some involvement and while she had been impressed by what she called the General Level (you know how some people manage to pronounce capital letters) she thought we ought to be more adventurous.
I thought at first she meant in our choice of plays but when I started to explain how we chose them she waved her Personal Organiser at me and told me I’d Missed the Point Entirely, Hadn’t The Weekender called me some sort of theatrical Expert? I, of all people, should know that the whole Purpose of theater was Self Expression: why were TIP’S actors not Experimenting with new ways of moving? All this ordinary Walking About wasn’t very Creative!
Think of what Suggestion we could bring to the interpretation of a role if you conceived of the body in Other Worldy terms, I could have made a suggestion there and then, but my assailant didn’t pause for long enough: magnificent breath control. What about costumes? What was wrong with Ayckbourn in the Altogether? (I assume she meant his ouvre: nudity isn’t the first thought that springs to mind when you think of Alan himself). I told her to write down her views in the appropriate space in her Personal Organiser.
Frankly, I’ve never much cared for nudity in the theater, agreeing with Sir Frederic Ashton who was against it in ballet because “not everything stops when the music does.” But I did know one actor who nightly got over his stage fright by always imagining the audience in the raw.