Audition: Waiting in the Wings

by Noël Coward

Directed by Hannah Sayer

Thursday 24th October 2019 at 7.30pm in Room One

Playing dates: 20th-28th March 2020 and Hertford Theatre Week

Waiting in the Wings was Coward’s 50th play and, in my opinion is a lovely piece. It has received some criticism in the past but Sir Michael Redgrave, who put the first play together, must’ve seen something in it and who am I to argue with him? Coward himself said ‘I wrote Waiting in the Wings with loving care and absolute belief in its characters. I consider that the play as a whole contains, beneath the froth of some of its lighter moments, the basic truth that old age needn’t be nearly so dreary and sad as it is supposed to be, provided you greet it with humour and live it with courage’. What a sentiment!

It’s set in the 1960s, ‘modern-day’ at the time, in the lounge of The Wings, a charity home for retired actresses. It’s a home only for those who have been stars or leading ladies and who have fallen on hard times. No actress under the age of 60 is eligible for admittance and the home is controlled from London by a committee of leading actors and actresses of the day.

Characters

There are eight residents of the home (so over the age of 60) and a host of other characters. The women are wonderful: all are friends, rivals, divas with one common enemy – time. I’ve taken some of Coward’s descriptions below, and if you know Coward, you know it’s not so much stage directions but instructions! He has even specified hair length, colour and thickness… but I think in order to actually be able to cast it, I’m going to use my artistic licence as a director.

There’s no such thing as being too old for this play, or indeed too young. The ages listed below are what Coward wrote – nowadays 60 is still young so I’m probably looking at more. These ladies are together more due to financial circumstances than age and ability to look after themselves. If you’re worried about learning lines, we can work together with all kinds of tricks. The bold S indicates that the character smokes in the play: we’ll either be using stage cigarettes, or fashioning something in props. I’ve also highlighted those characters who sing and/or play the piano.

  • Bonita Belgrave – late 60s, bright woman with a strongly developed theatrical sense of humour, very successful in WW1 with reviews and musical comedies till the 1920s when she took to the stage, not overly successful but popular as support. Worked for ENSA during WW2 and was forced, due to age and lack of offers, to retire in 1950. She sings a song.
  • Cora Clarke – early 70s, very brightly made up, rouge high on her cheeks, turban-wearing type. S
  • Maude Melrose – 70, a diminutive soubrette (saucy soprano), vivacity was her strong suit, always an excellent musician and, in her youth, had a piercing soprano voice of startling volume. On the whole her life has been a long and fairly fruitless struggle. She wears large horn-rimmed glasses. Plays piano and sings. S
  • May Davenport – about 75, ‘authentic star’ in her day, specialised in Shakespeare. Very dignified and majestic. Elegant. She takes great issue with Lotta moving into the house and is quite cantankerous about it – there is history there that she’ll not dignify by bringing up in company. She mellows toward the end and shows that she’s not as heartless as she seems.
  • Almina Clare – 85 and… immensely fat (Coward’s words, not mine) but doesn’t care, she ‘likes eating and there’s no need to diet any more’. We have fat suits in costume so no need to panic, ladies.
  • Estelle Craven – 74, white-haired and permanently wistful, both Estelle and Almina have been on stage all their lives and played leading parts but stardom has eluded them. S
  • Deirdre O’Malley – 82, Irish brogue, spry lady, never played the same scene twice. Puts up with nothing.
  • Perry Lascoe – late 30s, early 40s, male, years ago had certain success as a musical comedy juvenile but realised, wisely, that although he could sing and dance he had little hope of being a star, so renounced the shadow for substance and took on the job of being secretary to The Wings Fund. Very kind chap, adored by the inmates because he jokes and jollies them along. He also sings a song.
  • Sylvia Archibald (Miss Archie) – 50s, resident superintendent, gruff with a rather masculine manner but is an utter softie. Popular but can be slightly overbearing. Worked diligently for ENSA during WW2 and retired with the rank of colonel.
  • Osgood Meeker – 70-80s, male, such a darling old chap, described as elderly bald-headed man, nattily dressed and rather dim. I can’t help but see him as the old fellow in The Aristocats, devoted to ‘old’ Martha who is 25 years older than him. They’re not married, he’s seemingly just a big fan of hers. Very sweet small part.
  • Lotta Bainbridge – early 70s, well preserved woman, well made up and calmly cheerful.
  • Dora – 40s, Lotta’s maid/dresser, described as ‘fat and morose’ but I’m not necessarily going to stick to that description. She’s very devoted to Lotta and doesn’t want to really leave her, even though she’s leaving to get married! Sweet little part.
  • Doreen – early 20s, works as a maid at The Wings, rather untidy. Not the sharpest tool in the shed but her heart is there. Lovely little part.
  • Sarita Myrtle – late 70s, wispy old lady, was always ‘a bit vague’ and old age has not helped. A mostly comical role, some moments of pure vulnerability, not a huge part but has a big impact. While she’s in her own world, she’s happy.
  • Zelda Fenwick – mid 30s, journalist. Another part that isn’t huge but has an impact to the story, she’s charming but doesn’t back down when challenged. Typical journalist. Has a good heart.
  • Dr Jevons – 30s, male, pleasant young man, doctor. Nice tidy little part. Although the script says 30s, I’m going to open this out to looks under-60s.
  • Alan Bennet – late 40s, male, Lotta’s son. Neatly dressed but ‘indefinable quality of failure about him’ (how do you portray that?!). English/Canadian so if we could have a slight accent that would be great. Has a lovely scene with Lotta which Coward described as ‘…the meeting of Lotta and her son in Act Three Scene Two, are two of the best scenes I have ever written’.
  • Topsy Baskerville – 60+, cameo appearance with one line.
Contact

Scripts are available from Lucy:

Lucy Winston
Production Manager
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Audition dates

Auditions will be held on the following dates:

Thursday 24th October at 7.30pm in Room One

Tuesday 29th October at 7.30pm in Room One

Saturday 2nd November at 10am in Room One

Auditions for all productions

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