Caroline Scattergood was devastated by criticism during a production at the Stratford East Theatre and then discovered Sir Michael Caine had a very similar experience…
“There’s no business like show business”… so the song goes… it should also say “There’s no rejection like show rejection”!
I was reading the Daily Mail (13th September) when the writings of Ephraim Hardcastle on Sir Michael Caine caught my eye. It said Sir Michael Caine was sacked by Left-wing theatre boss Joan Littlewood in the 1950’s from the famous Stratford East Theatre that made stars of Barbara Windsor and many others. The late Joan Littlewood told him “You’re not a group actor Michael. You can p*ss off to Shaftsbury Avenue”.
This took me way back to the 1970’s when I too was insulted by Joan Littlewood, who was a producer, director, author and the founder of the Stratford East Theatre, and in my mind a genius, and her director Ken (his surname eludes me!). I have born the shame of what happened to this day. We may think that theatre is all glitz and glamour… but my experience will show you another side!
I auditioned at the Stratford East Theatre for Joan’s friend and producer, the late Gerry Raffles, who died two years later at the young age of 53. He was great and cast me in the play as a funny police woman. I left with the script, so very excited… and I was word perfect on the first day of rehearsals. I was also terrified, and so I should have been, as what happened was horrific and humiliating.
We all sat in a circle with Joan Littlewood and the director Ken… but to my shock and horror… we didn’t read the script – we had to put them down and ad-lib. Everything I did was criticised. Ad-libbing is not something I could do and at the end of the day everyone left but I was told to stay behind. The FIRST SHOCK was yes, I was being kept on in the cast – but my part was being given to the actress and singer Diane Langton who went on to become a musical star and also played Nana in TV’s “Hollyoaks”. Diane and I had both worked together at the famous “Stork Club” and I liked her a lot as we got very merry together… hiccup!
The director Ken said he would coach me in ad-lib and I had to stay after everyone had left. He told me to crawl on the floor as if I were in a sewer heaving with rats. It felt humiliating and I was close to tears so I refused and ran out.
My first thought was… how would I tell all my friends in the cast of the musical “No, No Nanette” at the Drury Lane Theatre, where I was working alongside Dame Thora Hird, Tony Britton and Dame Anna Neagle. On reflection I wish I had done what Joan Littlewood did to Sir Michael Caine and told Ken the director to p*ss off! Instead, I cried all the way home to my flat in Camberwell… the very place that Sir Michael Caine lived as a child.
I took to my bed and never returned to Stratford East and to this day I have held this thought of “Oh, you can’t act. You are so useless”. In conclusion, I would like to say… Let’s all remember the power of the spoken or written word – especially in this day of social media – it leaves a harmful legacy on the recipient.
So a huge thank you to Sir Michael Caine and the Daily Mail for helping me to heal a wound of 48 years – oh yes… “There’s no business like show business!”
And there’s lots more insults and fun to come…