I got my marching orders

17th August 2012 at 01:00

I am grateful to the state education system. It was there that my performing talents were first nurtured. By the time I left school I had productions of Love's Labour's Lost, Threepenny Opera and Hamlet under my belt as well as my first experience of directors.

Of course, they were not directors in the professional sense, nor were they drama specialists (the regarding of that subject as one that can be assessed by exam boards came some years in the enlightened future). No, my first two directors were English teachers Mr Lime and Mr Doyle: the former a goatee-bearded bundle of lanky energy given to shouting, swearing and demonstrating; the latter a lugubrious alcoholic drowning in his own ennui given to sighing, sarcasm and fits of icy rage.

As it was the 1970s, Mr Lime would chain-smoke during after-school rehearsals, while Mr Doyle would recline malevolently on a plastic chair sipping red wine from the carafe underneath his seat. I have since rehearsed plays with directors from all over the world in theatres all over the country. The experience hasn't differed much from those early school days. Perhaps English teachers are just natural theatre directors.

I recently had cause to muse on this theory during a late weekend break to the Lakes, where I saw my dear English teacher wife demonstrate her directorial qualities in a picturesque upland setting.

Tantrums, bossiness, barked instructions, ignored advice, laying of blame and taking credit for the ideas of others were all much in evidence. On one occasion while struggling desperately up yet another pointlessly steep incline I began to believe that I was still in the South London rehearsal room I had escaped three weeks earlier.

There my impatient corrector had been a socially dysfunctional Swede. Here on the mountain heath that role was effortlessly assumed by the hearty Northerner I married, standing in fleece and combat pants on the rocks above me. But as she helpfully pointed out sheep, the view and the best way to do walking, I did feel affection for the shouty twerp.

Underneath the commanding tone lay a genuine desire to help and guide that I almost never see in the rehearsal room and that must make her the effective teacher she is. I felt inspiration surge through me and pausing only to cough up another gob of blood-flecked sputum I ascended to the summit. The view was great. Nearly worth the climb.

That evening we were joined in our rented cottage by two of my wife's colleagues. The wine flowed and shop was talked. Gossip, outrage and acronyms filled the air. Encuetees and essemtees began to make me feel like Dull, a character in Love's Labour's Lost whom I played brilliantly. To quote an apt moment from the play: Holofernes: Via, goodman Dull! Thou hast spoken no word all this while. Dull: Nor understood none neither, Sir.

Eventually, lulled by their oaths and cackles and idly wondering whether a foursome might be on the cards, I fell asleep on the sofa.

The next day's forced march was easier. The morning-after effect and the presence of other pedagogues temporarily restrained my wife's instructional tendencies. I strode off feeling liberated and determined to be my own person. I got lost and fell in a bog. I shouted for help. I was soon feeling less like Dull and more like Macbeth being harangued by three hungover witches. They did get me out of the bog, though.

Husband of Thrope is married to Anne Thrope (Ms), a secondary teacher in the North of England @AnnethropeMs.

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