A one-act play, written, performed and produced by Rose Collis
Directed by Keith Drinkel
‘If I really had a free hand, I’d wish to broadcast on my 100th birthday, fly round the world…Oh, I forgot — I have often wanted the moon…’
To coincide with the Noël Coward: Art & Style exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery, London, Rose Collis has contributed a guest blog about Clemence Dane for the Noel Coward Archive Trust:
In her Covent Garden flat, Clemence Dane, author, artist, playwright, and Oscar-winning screenwriter, is busy at her easel, trying to finish a new portrait of her great friend, Noel Coward.
But this ‘blithe spirit’ is preoccupied — should she return to her old haunt, the stage, and resurrect the part Coward created for her: the eccentric medium ‘Madame Arcati’? She muses, ‘I have enough ghosts around me nowadays without playing someone who makes a living from conjuring them up…’
While she ponders on this and their long friendship, she summons up ‘ghosts’ from the past and re-visits episodes from her glittering career — the controversy caused by her lesbian novel Regiment of Women, her experiences in both World Wars, and her adventures in Hollywood with Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich… and The Marx Bros.
As she hovers between the worlds of the past and present, she muses on her future: ‘Perhaps I’ll come back and haunt you all.’ ´
And, perhaps, she already has…
Rose Collis’s Wanting the Moon brings back to life the essential spirit of ‘the invisible woman’ of 20th century culture: Clemence Dane, author, artist, playwright, and Oscar-winning screenwriter — mentor and muse to Noel Coward who described her as ‘a wonderful unique mixture of artist, writer, games mistress, poet and egomaniac‘ and on whom he based the legendary character Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit.
Wanting the Moon portrays a remarkable and woefully overlooked polymath who was by turns eccentric, naive, wise, witty, vulnerable and indomitable.
Rose Collis says: ‘The idea for this play stems back several years, when I was approached by Dane’s literary executors, Pollingers, to see if I would be interested in researching the first biography of Dane. Since then, I have given sold-out illustrated talks about her life and work at the V&A, the National Portrait Gallery, West Dean College, Jubilee Library Brighton and Worthing Library. As an author, I am represented by David Smith of the Annette Green Agency and my updated proposal and sample chapter are currently being considered by a number of publishers and we are still optimistic about the chances of gaining a successful commission for this long overdue book.
Thus, Wanting the Moon benefits from being able to be performed ‘in tandem’ with the illustrated talk, providing essential public engagement opportunities. Audiences for the show have come from a broad range of demographics and ages — from 15 to 75.’
‘Wanting the Moon is a moving monologue…It contains moments of intimate friendship and secrets of the time that give insight into the period and lifestyle that went with it. An entertaining play highlighting queer history in the period of closed doors, peaking into this often hidden and secretive time; this is a great example of the otherwise invisible queer history with references to many greats including Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo. The comedy was subtle with spatters of period innuendo that you can only imagine was used by those in the know to express their sexuality in times when it was not so safe to be out and proud as it is today.
The writing was to the high standard that I have come to enjoy from Rose’s work and I can certainly see why she was able to obtain Arts Council funding which has allowed this exquisite piece to be created.’
‘The eccentric medium in Coward’s play is said to be based on Dane herself, whose eccentricities Collis’ draws out through her funny turns of phrase, and odd attire. Collis also demonstrates a scholarly knowledge of the subject of her one woman show…and most deftly shows off Dane’s somewhat oddball character.’
London Pub Theatres Magazine
AUDIENCE FEEDBACK, BREAD & ROSES THEATRE, SEPTEMBER 2016
‘Rose Collis’s show, Wanting the Moon, is genius. Funny, well delivered, amazingly researched.’
‘Fab show: polished , original and thoroughly entertaining’
‘We really enjoyed seeing Rose Collis in Wanting the Moon about the life of Clemence Dane. Such an interesting life she led and Rose really brought it to life on stage…I highly recommend you see this if you can.’
‘Really lovely to see Rose Collis’s fascinating and entertaining new play Wanting the Moon.
AUDIENCE FEEDBACK, PREVIEWS, BRIGHTON AND ARUNDEL, JANUARY 2016
The three preview performances played to packed houses at the Marlborough Theatre and the Arundel Jailhouse, and this is what audiences said:
Mark Burgess, playwright and director: ‘Thoroughly enjoyed tonight’s preview performance. Entertaining, informative, witty & moving at times. Congratulations to performer/writer Rose Collis & director Keith Drinkel.’
Terence Pepper, Senior Special Advisor on Photographs, National Portrait Gallery: ‘What a fabulous first night this was. So glad to attend with sold out show. Amazing writing and acting and perfect costume.’
VG Lee, writer and comedian: ‘Rose Collis was superb as Clemence Dane, in her new play ‘Wanting The Moon’! Last night’s performance was sold out and rightly so. This was an intelligent, impeccably acted and sometimes moving hour that seemed to fly by. I also applaud her director Keith Drinkel.’
Duncan Hall, The Argus: ‘This world premiere was a preview performance, and as such Collis was still finding her way into inhabiting the role. However, as Collis gains confidence, the lines should reveal some of the clever wordplay at the heart of the script, and should make for a great introduction to a largely forgotten character.’
Other audience comments:
‘The physical comedy moments were highlights. The hour went so quickly, I was absorbed. The last line left me hanging a bit, trying to interpret it. It was a really nice touch to see the Coward portrait at the end.’
‘A reflective monologue/memoir from an older eccentric, slightly faded, full of love, good anecdote and funny British actress/artist.’
‘Great script, great performance.’
‘It was great! Really beautifully written and brilliant characterisation.’
‘Congratulations, Rose Collis, on a fascinating foray into the world of Clemence Dane.’
A partial film of the preview at Arundel Jailhouse can be seen here:
Rose Collis has started to re-tool the script of Wanting the Moon. She explains, ‘Since I wrote and performed the original script in 2016, I have been vouchsafed long-term custody of a substantial private Dane archive, which contains a wealth of rare unseen material.
I have only partly worked through it, but what I have found already has made me wish to re-tool the script accordingly, as well as subtly altering a central aspect of the play which I partly trialled during the London run in September 2016: that Dane is not appearing in ‘real-time’, but returning in ‘spectral form’, revisiting aspects her life one last time. Key moments in the original script enabled me to alter my performance accordingly, but re-tooling it will further enable me to develop my performance, after which I would produce and deliver its first regional tour.’
For more details, contact [email protected]
Duration: 60 minutes, no interval. Age suitability: 16+. It is best suited to small-scale venues, with audience capacities of 50-100 and is technically simple. The play has no set as such, but a dark backdrop at the rear of the stage would be preferable.
One small table required. All other props — painting, artist’s free-standing easel, table-cloth, replica bust and Oscar statuette, palette and brushes —carried with production. No special lighting required: general rig of 6-8 lamps with a mix of gels is adequate. Show begins with an audience and stage black-out. PA system with CD player or laptop required for track at end of show. No amplification required for performance.