At first I blamed it on bloating due to eating at bizarre times – 5pm before a show followed by a midnight snack. Feeling hungry after our energetic shows I often shove a fish pie in the oven or have some tea and toast post a couple of pints in the Duck. Then I started blaming it on the positioning of my microphone pack. When my quick changes were becoming trickier I became irritable with my-no-less-than-normally- efficient dresser Laura. Then I popped open my shirt by breathing deeply. I sidled up to our wardrobe mistress Beth.
'You must end up taking out loads of actors costumes here, right?' I mumbled, rolling all my words into one. 'What with all the boozing and food in the canteen and no time to exercise...right?'
'What, you mean the 'Stratford Spread'? Yes darling! It happens all the time, are they getting a bit tight?'
I am particularly proud of my uncomplicated relationship with food as a woman and as an actress. I am very happy with my healthy figure and I don't do diets, just exercise. But with very little time to hit the gym and a need for fatty carbs to keep me going when I'm tired, the 'Stratford Spread' is happening. It might also have something to do with beer being my drink of choice in the Dirty Duck and the sugary booze on the weekends in the one late night bar/club here in Stratford called 'No.1 Shakespeare'.
I have spent a lot of nights out in tacky bars in small towns and cities in England. This is because I have worked mainly in regional theatres. Often after a break up. I have given my karaoke 'Let it Go!' whilst pole-dancing in a gay club in Plymouth, I have swung from the 'chandeleeeeir' above every sticky floor in Salisbury and I can currently be found in Stratford on weekends being violently attacked by what I can only describe as: A broken, flavoured smoke machine that doesn't emit flavoured smoke onto the dance floor but instead squirts out shoots of bleachy raspberry-ish water directly into the mouths of the people dancing.
We would stop our dancing to stick our tongues out and point frantically to them whilst grimacing and shouting in disgust to each other over the music. Then we would continue dancing. We would repeat the dancing, squirting, pointing, grimacing, shouting, dancing sequence on average every 4 minutes. Until we had drunk so many Jäger bombs we stopped noticing and just kept dancing. At closing time we fell down the cobbles to buttered crumpets and big glasses of water before bed. In the morning my mouth still tasted of raspberry bleach.
From now on you'll find me in the gym. With all that free time I have. After I've learnt my understudy lines for The Alchemist. And done eight shows a week. Plus rehearsals. And tried to relieve my heartbreak through dancing and alcohol and female friendship. I am so deeply embroiled in the RSC Stratford bubble right now perhaps I should just take the 'Stratford Spread' as part of the rest of the excellent package? I'll hit the gym when I no doubt hit unemployment again.
I remember a tutor at drama school telling us that Dame Judi likes having her belly hang out when she's acting as it means she knows she's breathing properly. The extensive voice and singing work I have done here over the last 6 months has meant I am really breathing properly now. It's exciting. Maybe that's the main reason behind my Stratford Spread...? My rib cage could have got bigger as my lung capacity has improved. And my diaphragm is most definitely stronger. There is nothing weak about Shakespearian heroines or the words they speak so why would I want my waist to look anything other than powerful and free?
Whatever the reason, Beth, please take my costumes out for me please thank you very much.