Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Queen and I


Readying my royal bob. To the far left, Stanley Holloway tries to contain his excitement.

In Shakespeare Club meetings we explore the Elizabethan world. The girls get excited about Queen Elizabeth and the boys go crazy for poop being tossed out windows.

There you have it: I think it's safe to end all examination of gender differences.

One year a child brought me a Canadian penny. "Look, Ms. Ryane, Queen Elizabeth! There she is, see?"

We had a chat about number I versus number II....I'm talking about the Queen.

And I told them about my rub with royalty.

When I was nineteen and acting at the Shaw Festival, a company in the quaint Ontario town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Queen Elizabeth came to visit with her husband, Prince Philip.

She came to see George Bernard Shaw's "You Never Can Tell," starring Stanley Holloway and not starring me as a maid. Stanley, an English actor well known as Eliza's dad in the movie version of "My Fair Lady," was 83 and a little deaf when we gave our command performance.

For weeks prior to her visit, we were schooled in protocol befitting a royal assemblage. "Ma'am" was appropriate to use in conversation, but only if asked a direct question. Curtsying was a must and joining a conversation while Her Highness was chatting with one's neighbor was a giant no-no.

On the town's streets, people sat in lawn chairs, waiting for the royal drive-by. Clutching small Union Jacks and mugs of tea, folks patiently tarried as the hours ticked by. Unfortunately, the Queen's people overburdened her schedule and she was way, way behind. Her limo burned rubber as it careened around corners at high speeds. Tea was spilled and her subjects tilted crazily in their rickety chairs. Nerves were jangled.

At the theatre we waited and waited.

It is "commoner knowledge" that Queen Elizabeth II, unlike her predecessor, is not a particular fan of plays. She'd much prefer to spend time at a horse show or in a garden romp with her corgis.

By 9:30 p.m. we got word that she was in the VIP room, sucking back a gin and tonic. We yanked ourselves out of a stupor and our stage manager called upstairs.

"Is Betty Windsor on her way?" he cracked.

"Momentarily" was the curt answer he received, along with a hang-up.

Prince Philip, standing next to the ringing phone, had been the one to answer.

A tiny hole in a black wing curtain allowed us to spy on Her Majesty as she watched our production. Awful. The poor thing kept falling asleep. Repeatedly we saw her noggin droop forward and then snap up as she bolted awake.

Our show didn't start until 10 p.m. and didn't end until after 1 a.m.

When the curtain finally fell and she came backstage to meet us, her eyes were red with exhaustion and we were stiff in rehearsed decorum. Hilarity was hardly in the air.

Until...she neared Stanley and he completely forgot all code of behavior.

"I knew your mother very well!" he screamed.

Quite like Shakespeare's Queen may have roared at the antics of Sir Toby Belch in "Twelfth Night," our Queen, too, managed a good giggle.

Queen photo by Robert C. Ragsdale; theater interior photo by David Cooper/Toronto Life

2 comments:

  1. Even though you were playing the maid, I notice you managed to be No. 2 in line to shake Lillibet's hand. You go, girl!

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  2. Yeah, she started at the bottom.

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