I am excited. Today I am going to join a band of forty extras to make my small contribution to a film, set in the 1930s. I am no stranger to the stage. In the past I have revelled in shedding my every day skin and stepping out in roles both serious and comical. Always enlightening and exhilarating experiences, I look back on those days with joy. A film is an altogether different experience for me. I am excited.
The day dawns and I dress for the part, pulling on clothes that I have sourced over weeks and months from charity shops. The costume is drab but appropriate. I check my joining instructions meticulously – no make-up other than foundation; there will be make-up artists there to apply the finishing touches. I remove my wedding ring and my engagement ring and put them away for safety. I feel naked without them but it is a small price to pay for this wonderful opportunity. No modern hairstyles, no hairspray. Fortunately I wear my hair in what will one day be a bob – it is in that between styles stage at the moment! I assume therefore that it will meet with their approval. No coloured nail varnish, of course.
My ten point check complete, my sat nav set for a destination that I have never heard of, let alone visited, I am away.
The weather is British; fine drizzle and mist obscures the beauty of the English countryside. A lone scarecrow in a field makes me feel sad, and I wish that he were wearing a coat and a hat to keep the elements at bay. His clothes hang from his body, the fabric of his shirt and corduroy trousers sodden from the rain. He is surely a sad sight.
I walk into the venue and find the room allocated to costume and make-up. There is a buzz, an atmosphere of expectation. The make-up artists are already at work. I sit and wait my turn watching as hair is expertly twisted up into chignons and curled, and faces transformed with highlighters, blushers and lipsticks. I hold my breath; I can hardly wait for my own transformation.
My turn arrives and I sit anxiously feeling soft brushes caress my forehead and cheeks. There is no mirror for me to watch my pupation into a star, but I trust completely in the make-up artists into whose hands I have cast my fate. I feel the warmth of a heated brush on my scalp and happily accept that adjustment to my so-called bob is a necessary part of delivering the finished product into the film set. I thank the delightful young make-up artist and pass on to the costume department for the final touches to my outfit, a hat.
It is of black velvet and has Laura Ashley written on the internal label. It is a narrow brimmed, layered creation which immediately reminds me of an elephant’s trunk; skin concertinaed into multiple, irregular and unfathomable layers. ‘Just perfect,’ she says, ’Put it on’. With no mirror to hand I do as I am asked. Seconds later a comb assaults me and Kirby grips push my wispy fringe from my forehead up inside the trunk. Wisps of hair are pulled down on either side of my cheeks.
I appear to have passed the test. I am, they inform me with a smile, ready to go. I see my reflection in a mirror as I drift along to the film set. I catch my breath and stare. I am a dead ringer for Worzle Gummage. Fleetingly I ask myself if I might have offended anybody along the way for them to transform me into this person. I remind myself of those most prophetic words from Shakespeare’s As You Like It: ‘All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts…’. This is just one of my parts. The words soothe, but I question my own vanity. Why does this feel so different to the many times that I have been transformed in the past? How can a simple, albeit drab costume, make-up and a hat change the way I feel about myself? It is a strange feeling. I no longer have the youthful features that I once had, but I pride myself on always making the best of my meagre assets. It is a rare occasion that I look in the mirror without a small measure of satisfaction at the finished product. What I see and feel right now is not me, internally or externally. An entirely different person is looking back at me. Maybe this is just as it should be?
I see the scarecrow in the field and yearn to run all the way back and throw my arms around him. I feel for him more deeply than ever before. I know that he will understand how I am feeling right now.
I straighten my shoulders, set aside my feelings and tell myself to ‘get over it’. Today and tomorrow I will be professional. No-one will know how I feel about this persona that has been thrust upon me. I determine to cast aside my misgivings and let my personality shine through in the hope that my colleagues will see through the drab, unstylish woman, with straw poking out from a hat.
The first day complete, I return to my hotel, shower, restyle my hair, and feel once more as though I am part of the human race.
The process repeats itself the second day. Once more I am transformed into Worzle Gummage. I am a little fractious and sensitive about it! I nearly break when the hair stylist draws out her comb yet again and threatens to fix the straw on either side of my face. I smile sweetly and say, ‘Please leave it. ‘It is exactly the same as it was yesterday.” A second stylist draws near brandishing her wand. I wave her away with a stern look and reference to her colleague who, moments before, had narrowly escaped my wrath.
The camera rolls – a great monster that rolls up and down a track, the cameraman hidden behind the lens. Stay in part at all times, I remind myself, less the black monster should catch you unawares. The crowd visibly relaxes as the director shouts ‘cut’. Mobile phones are whipped out of pockets to collect memories of the unsuspecting cast. Photographs are shared over coffee and tea. I divert my eyes away from those in which I feature, and hope that if they find their way to Facebook, then it will not be my family or friends who see them.
It is a wrap for the day and I am the first to leave. I retrace my route to my hotel and pull in beside a wooden crossbar gate that leads into a field. In the distance I can see my scarecrow. My feet carry me forward until we are eye to eye. I take the hat off my head and place it on his, carefully nudging his straw hair up and into the hat. I stand back and glance at him before adjusting it so that it sits well on his head. He smiles at me. ‘Good-bye Worzel,’ I say.