Whispers from the Wings


February 26, 2014

I am standing infront of a mirror staring at the face of Frank Gallagher. Lank greasy hair, wild eyebrows and grubby tracksuit. It's not how I imagined I'd look in my first season at the RSC.

It's cross dressing day for the female cast of The Roaring Girl. Our very own Scandinavian drag king expert, Ingo, warns us of the perils of stuffing a sock with couscous. I don't know who had the couscous idea but there are bags of it waiting next to a big pile of M&S socks.

Apparently there's a risk of 'leakage' and leading a Hansel and Gretel trail through the streets of Clapham but considering how hot stuffed socks get between your legs, I'm thinking we're more likely to cook the stuff and create a sweaty vegetarian meal in our pants.

Gwyneth Paltrow can eat my sock
When Gwyneth Paltrow had her boobs strapped down in Shakespeare in Love, she twirled balletically, arms above head, into a bandage. Film lie. Films are evil. All around me are cries of 'it's popped out again!' and 'are they meant to be under my ARMS??'

One by one, the girls, through the uncanny magic (and industrial safety pins) of the make-up and costume department, are morphing into magnificent male versions of themselves.

Or rather, recognising lost members of their family. Most are stunned. Some beyond hysterics.

I still look like Frank Gallagher.

The testosterone in the room has gone through the roof. Everywhere, you can see spines stiffening, jaws jutting and the total awareness of the 'sock'. My sock keeps riding up - I assume this is normal. And, hideously, I'm getting teary. How embarrassing. Apparently we are to venture across the road to the pub like men. But I don't look like a man, I don't look like a human being. I look like a creature who belongs in a corner eating rats.

I'm rescued by a sharp-eyed member of stage management who stuffs me into a shirt, tie and overcoat for another bash in make-up. It's the stubble that does it. Even close-up, it looks convincing. I have man skin. And it's incredible how quickly it happens - three dabs of a sponge and my name is John and I'm an estate agent.

I didn't even think this up. All around me, it's the same. Andy, Lester, Errol, Lee... No-one's planned it, these men have just manifested all by themselves.

'I think my bloke's gay but he hasn't come out to anyone yet.'

'I look after my disabled mother.'

'Mine's definitely in IT.'

A Pint of Pinot Grigio please barmaid
And then the music starts and our 'men' dance for the first time. Now, I'm a decent club dancer. I don't mind saying so myself. I consider it a public duty. So how come John the estate agent dances like an oil slick in Sleaze Town?

I also seem to fancy Lisa Dillon's bloke. Does this mean John is gay? Am I a gay estate agent??

Sexual identity is MENTAL. After literally wanting to WEEP in my first incarnation, I am now considering visiting Manchester's Canal Street in my Volvo.

Over the road, we butch into the pub with space for two Volvos between our legs and Ingo's words about couscous ringing in our ears.

We might be feeling slightly sick, we have attracted a few eyes on the way but our men have danced with each other, we have swaggered, we are enlightened - after all we are in touch with our feminine sides more than most in here...

The girl behind the bar takes one look and shrieks 'Oh, you're all women - how brave!'

Collective shoulders fall. I am proud how many of us ask for a large white wine.

Our director (who mercifully found her inner bloke as tough to pin down as me) suggests my weepy rat-thing phase is maybe how teenage boys feel all the time. I don't think this is restricted to teenage boys.

I have a new respect for sexual identity. I thought I knew what it was like to be at odds with the image in the mirror - we girls have it constantly - too fat, too thin, too funny-looking, too OLD - but to look at yourself and see the wrong sex. Something that can't be changed with touche éclat ...

Next day we all come in looking a little more feminine that usual. I look closely at Lisa Dillon. No, I don't fancy her. Well, no more than usual.

Picture the reaction
The response to the pictures is instant. My mum says I look like an Irish murder suspect. A mate says I look like Mick Hucknall and Simon Pegg 'if they were spliced in a time machine.' My partner says he fancies me 'not even a little bit' (which annoyingly, I find insulting) but the women of The Roaring Girl cast now know each other - and ourselves - a little more than expected.

And it was a riot. We shall never forget Lester and Errol, Lee and Andy.... and John.

And strangely, the men of the cast are all jealous and want to do the same in frocks. Typical, us women can't have a THING.

Photo: Lizzie channels Frank Gallagher when she dresses as a man for the day. Picture by Helen Maybanks.

by Lizzie Hopley  |  2 comments

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Feb 26, 10:14pm

You've just reminded me of playing Donalbain at 6th form college. All I did was apply foundation and a small amount of shadow around my jaw, and my dead French grandfather was staring back at me in the mirror! Too weird.

Jul 31, 5:28pm

I was at an all girls school. And tall. Perpetually male roles. Fake stubble expert.

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