Ah the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowds! Just standing there in that wide open space brought it all back to me. The many, many...... many, many, many characters I played. Gosforth in Confusions, Charles Condomine in Blithe Spirit, Harrison Bracewell in Murder in Play, Sir Richard Ratcliffe in Richard the Turd and not forgetting, Frances, the aging queen forever on the hunt for "young chicks" in Elegies. Happy days. But alas no more. You see there comes a time in a young mans life, when he quite reasonably says to himself, "I shall never play The Dane!" It is at that moment that all ambition ceases to exist. Uncle Monty was right, it is devastating to realise that you are not cut out for an actor's life.
Well, OK that wasn't exactly the case. I had to give up treading the boards and the heady heights of amateur dramatics because once two little urchins arrived on the scene, I simply didn't have the time. And to be honest, I don't really think I have the calling. The kitchen is my stage now darling. But then my alma mater got in touch recently asking for help. I cried "What do you need? What part is it? Do I have time to immerse? Where's my lines?" But all the folk at the Brentwood Theatre wanted were volunteers to help feed the troupes during panto season. This year it's all singing, dancing, slugs, maggots and ladybirds in The Plotters of Cabbage Patch Corner. So I replied "OK........but just this once" before retiring to my boudoir.
Actually there were lots of reasons why I was happy to get involved. The Brentwood Theatre is a small community theatre and a fantastic outpost for the arts in our area, run on a shoestring but with plenty of passion. Also there have been lots of changes since I was last there, building work and such so I was keen to inspect the new dressing room facilities. Particularly as I have many painful memories of standing in a hut, shivering in just my y-fronts. And plus Mark Reed, the theatre's general manager, tickled me with his email appeal to feed starving starlets. "An actor, unlike a dog, is only for Christmas." Aw. So with a budget of £3 a head, last week Mrs FU and I set about providing a heartwarming lunch. Luckily the dietary requirements weren't too fussy, well for actors anyway. No egg white omelettes or requests for organic WHO certified raw Peruvian guava guava pulp so we settled upon a lunch of Lemon Butternut Squash Lasagne (recipe taken from The Kitchen Revolution and at the end of this post) and Chickpea and Chorizo Stew (recipe taken from this dodgy former Essex residing beard). Served up with a green salad and coriander rice. And Mrs FU got the chance to show off her baking skills knocking up some Triple Choc Muffins and a fine Marmalade and Poppy Seed cake.
The most important remit was to arrive at noon sharp after the actors had run their first performance of the day. So it was straight out of the oven, into the car, foot to the gas, out of the car and up to the theatre's gleamy new studio which served as a makeshift canteen. As the cast trotted in I must say it was pretty surreal to serve up food to grown-ups in make up and tight leggings. What does this mean? Am I now really so far removed from the theatrical world these days? I shouldn't be because I still dress up like that at home. Maybe it was the inner child in me that got confused. "Wait a minute, you....you.....you're not really a slug???"
Lunch went down very well with many going back for seconds, some thirds, such is the life of an impoverished thesp. Well you just don't know where your next job/meal is coming from? So best to fill up while you can. And besides, money is far better spent on things like red wine. And white wine. Don't forget the white wine. I must admit whilst sitting there, watching everyone tuck in, the romanticism of it all started to draw me in again. What better life could there be than to jump, dance, sing and prance on the stage, pretending to be someone else. It must have been etched on my dopey grinning face because Mrs FU gave me a sharp slap and told me to give her a hand carting the pots and plates back down to the car. The room was empty. But maybe I will tread the boards again one of these days, there's a Hamlet in me yet. Or a Porter at the very least.
The Plotters of Cabbage Patch Corner at The Brentwood Theatre runs until the end of December.
The Plotters of Cabbage Patch Corner (who are in fact human beings would you believe)
Mrs FU's Marmalade and Poppy Seed cake
Lemon Butternut Lasagne
2 medium butternut squash (approx 1.2kg)
8 leeks (approx 1.2kg)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh sage
75g pine nuts
2tbsp olive oil
a little splash of milk
pinch of nutmeg
10 sheets of lasagne
salt and pepper
First, cook the squash and leek mixture. Peel, deseed and cut the squash into 1cm thick slices. Cook in boiling salted water for 3 minutes. Meanwhile wash and slice the leeks.
After 3 minutes add the leeks to the squash and cook together for another 6-8 minutes until the leeks are soft and the squash is collapsing.
Preheat the oven to 200c/400f/gas mark 6
Cook the sheets of lasagne in boiling water according to packet instructions.
While the leeks are cooking, zest and juice half the lemon. Strip the thyme and sage leaves from their stalks and roughly chop the sage. Coarsely grate the mozzarella and finely grate the Parmesan. Toast the pine nuts in the oven as it warms up. Watch them like a hawk so that they don't burn.
When the leeks and squash are ready, drain them very well. Once drained, toss both the leeks and the squash with the oil, butter and herbs. Add the lemon juice and zest and season well with salt and pepper. Now add the mozzarella and one-third of the Parmesan.
Next, make the ricotta mixture. Mix together the ricotta and mascarpone and loosen them with some milk so that you have a dropping texture. Stir in another third of the Parmesan and season with the nutmeg and salt and pepper.
Now the lasagne can be assembled. Take one large dish (a rectangular lasagne dish would be good) and place half of the squash mixture in the bottom, spreading it around evenly. Sprinkle over half the pine nuts and then cover with a layer of lasagne sheets. The sheets can overlap a little and be cut to fit the shape of all corners. Add a layer of half the ricotta mixture over the lasagne. Repeat the process once more, finishing with the ricotta mixture on top. Finally, sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan.
Place in the oven for 30 minutes until the top is golden and a knife inserted into the middle meet no resistance. Serve with green vegetables or salad.