Sarah Day reviews Lynne Shelby’s novel There She Goes, part of The Theatreland series.
“‘Live theatre,’ Zac said. ‘It’s just a group of men and women standing around on wooden boards under artificial light, speaking words written by someone else, and yet they can make an audience of thousands laugh or cry. How does that happen?’”
‘What do you do?’ I don’t know what I cringe at more: this inevitable question when you meet someone new, or my answer. ‘I’m an actress’.
Imposture-syndrome feeling aside, anyone who has experienced this knows that the next thing out of the new acquaintance’s mouth will either be ‘Have I seen you in anything…?’ or ‘Wow! What a glamorous life you must lead!’
If you’re a theatre-lover, as so many of our Britishtheatre.com community are, you’ll have experienced the lights, costumes and magic from your red velvet theatre seats. Lynne Shelby’s book There She Goes transports us through the fourth wall, like Alice’s looking glass, and reflects on what life as an actor is really like through the eyes of a new graduate, Julie Farrell.
The book is honest, and when I first picked it up, I felt uneasy. Was I ready to read the headlines of the past 6 years of my life page by page?:
Open ‘cattle-call’ castings, queuing outside a dance studio in the rain, ‘the floor’s really sticky’ (that one made me chuckle!), putting our ‘muggle’ jobs at risk for a sniff at a last-minute audition, take a number – you’ll get your name back if you’re recalled, and then – of course – the sickening wait for ‘the Call’. The importance of this ‘Call’ was clear throughout the book, capitalised at every mention. A nice touch, hinting that it is from the powers above, which I can confirm from first-hand experience is definitely what it feels like.
I have to admit, I struggled to swallow the first few chapters because of the truth of the above. Having graduating six years ago, I wanted to jump inside the book and shake our heroine, Julie, tell her to remember to live her life as well, or it will flash by you and all you’ll have to show for it is a dodgy hamstring. But as the momentum of an open-casting picks up for Julie, I was there holding her hand, turning each page, recall after recall and willing her to land the job. It’s an addiction, and when you get a taste for it, you can’t let it go.
Julie meets actor, Zac Diaz, at a commercial casting where they are told they have ‘absolutely no sexual chemistry’. After multiple run-ins, their relationship begins to grow, which offers a seductive plot far away from theatre-land. For those who say musicals aren’t for them because ‘people don’t just burst into song’ must be dead inside. As Zac and Julies’ relationship develops, there is a moment when Julie is so overcome with emotion that she has to refrain from bursting into song, which is a really touching detail from Lynne Shelby, and reminded me of a moment in my first year of training when Nigel Richards said ‘There is no such thing as a love song, only an exploration of love. We sing when words are not enough’. Life imitating art, this was a memorable moment in my training, as well as a memorable moment for me in this book. The reader roots for their relationship, as well as their success in the industry.
There She Goes also touches or the harsher truths of our industry. Ones that are finally coming to light in the press recently – thank god. Naked auditions. It’s a sensitive subject, but Shelby introduces it with respect and defiance as a character refuses a job offer that she wasn’t comfortable with. One to us, nil to the predators.
Am I surprised that a new graduate, with no experience, does so well from an open casting for a brand new musical? Or that so many actors with agents went to the open-casting with no mention of attempting to be seen privately via their agent? It’s unrealistic, but I guess not unheard of. Perhaps this could be touched on a bit more in the book; the fact that sometimes talent and hard work really isn’t enough. You can go to as many dance classes at ‘Limelight’ as your purse
strings will allow, but the reality of it is that most doors are opened by an agent these days unless you make the work yourself – another avenue that could have been ventured down.
There She Goes paints a really clear picture of the theatre world and makes me excited for theatre to return. If you’re looking for something to fill that hole whilst we patiently wait, this book is it.