The afternoon performance had gone well. A largely elderly but not wholly unsupportive crowd of ladies formed the audience. They seemed to be a coach party from the WI. Appropriate, as the play is about the role of the Women’s Land Army, that redoubtable corps of strapping gels who stepped in to run Britain’s farming industry during the Second World War, while the men were away fighting. A few chuckled contentedly, and in most of the right places. One very elderly lady, who had herself been in the WLA, kept up a running commentary. The applause was warm, genuine, but whooping isn’t their style.
In the evening, however, the audience seemed to come from a different planet. Warmed-up from the start, they laughed uproariously at the feeblest of the humorous lines and moments of slapstick, joined in the songs and tried to top the punchlines. There were even one or two under 60. We took our usual rehearsed curtain call – we go in for quick exits in this company, two bows and we’re off. There’s no milking the applause, it’s ‘leave ’em wanting more’ with our director. But the audience kept on cheering and clapping wildly, so we trooped back on for a second call.
At that point, before we had managed to line-up, a tall, grey-haired man in the third row stood up and slowly keeled over sideways, landing with a thud in the aisle. A flurry of concern rippled outwards from the crash site and we actors quit the stage in rapid disorder. Fortunately, with these nice, middle-class productions in provincial Aberystwyth, if the audience are not retired or soon to be forcibly retired academics from the university, which appears to have been taken over by a cast of evil aliens from Dr Who, The Silence perhaps, then a pound gets you twenty they will be hospital staff, doctors and registered nurses. We even had nurses and a radiographer among the cast.
It appeared the poor chap had simply become overwrought by the emotional denouement to the play, and was soon revived as the ambulance arrived outside, the hospital being barely half a mile away. If you are going to suffer a sudden collapse, a fainting fit perhaps, a stroke or a minor myocardial infarction, you will get no better medical attention in Wales than by having it during a production by one of our several excellent amateur theatre companies. But, like this audience member, who later said that he had thought he was feeling a bit unwell but hadn’t wanted to spoil the ending for others, we hope you too will have the consideration to wait until the final fadeout!
As a PS, one of our resident medics later told us a story, concerning an eminent local citizen who had managed to break his ankle hiking in the hills. He dragged himself a mile to the nearest road, and was duly admitted to hospital. Cutting off his trousers, the nurses observed that his underwear seemed less than sanitary. This defect, rather than the tale of his courage and fortitude, then became the prevailing legend among the community. A lesson to us all, I feel.