World of Chig   

The Show Must Go On

I'm hoping for a slightly less dramatic Monday evening than I experienced this time last week. A group of us went to Birmingham Rep, to see a revival of Tom Stoppard's 1998 play, Hapgood, starring Josie Lawrence. We ended up seeing a little more drama than we expected.

On the way into the auditorium, there was a sign on the door, warning that there would be a gunshot about 45 minutes into act one. Not altogether surprising, as it's a spy drama, but it's always good to try and prevent heart attacks in the audience. It turned out that the audience was the least of the theatre's concerns. Around thirty minutes into the play, Josie Lawrence was engaged in conversation with her spy colleague, played by Christopher Ettridge (left), best known for playing the gormless wartime policeman, Reg Deadman, in six series of Goodnight Sweetheart. (His acting was so good that I didn't make that connection until reading it today, even though I probably watched most episodes of the Nicholas Lyndhurst sitcom.) During the conversation, Ettridge slumped to the floor, almost in slow motion, in a way that an actor is probably taught to fall, to avoid hurting themselves. But there was no gunshot. The effect didn't work, I thought. But we can't be 45 minutes in already?

Josie Lawrence knelt down close to his head, as you would expect if someone had been shot in front of you, but very calmly. Then she called a man's name, which wasn't the character's name, and only then did we realise what had happened. A stage manager came onstage with headphones on and it became clear that the actor had collapsed. She apologised and the curtain started to come down, but stopped halfway. Then another member of staff came on and announced that there would be a delay, which I think we'd all accepted by this point. Ettridge had come round by now, but I was still concerned that he may have had a heart attack. Then he popped his head up and said, very clearly for someone who had just fainted, "What it is, ladies and gentlemen, is that I have an irregular heartbeat, an arrhythmia, and it's started playing up again today. What it does is makes me feel faint. I really am very sorry." Then he was taken off into the wings.

I thought that was it, to be honest. I assumed we'd be going home without seeing the rest of the play, but we couldn't really complain. I thought Ettridge would go off to hospital. As I said to my friends, if that had happened in an office, you wouldn't expect the employee to carry on working. But carry on he did, not long afterwards. Ettridge and Lawrence came back on to much applause and she announced where they would be restarting, and that was that. We saw the play out to the end, and very good it was too (although I think I might need to see it again to completely understand all of the plot twists and turns). I can't say I was very relaxed though for the rest of the play, as I was so worried that Ettridge was going to collapse again. It was either a brave or stupid move to continue, but I'm sure everyone in the audience was extremely grateful.

I hope Christopher Ettridge has made a full recovery and (if this Sunday Mercury report is to be believed) that he remembers to take his heart tablets in future! What a trooper though. We wish him well.

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