He was right of course. However, the thing about being in ‘a stinker’ is that the performer has to go on and do it again the next night. And I wasn’t yet ready to acknowledge and accept it as ‘a stinker’. I think I may even have waffled on about the underlying esoteric significance of the scenes and what we were trying to achieve. “Rubbish!” Dad reaffirmed.
He was right.
The College Principal, a marvellous man by the name of Hugh Crutwell, blamed the director and vowed that the man would never set foot in the Academy again, which I don’t believe he ever did.
That was my first brush with ‘the stinker’. I met a few plays later on in my rep days that were pretty undistinguished. The thing is, whilst rehearsing ‘the stinker’ you and the rest of the cast endlessly reassure yourselves that you’re doing something really important, yes different perhaps, but most definitely very worthwhile. However, when the curtain finally comes down on the last performance and you see the same relief you feel inside clearly etched on the faces of your fellow performers - you know then, without a shadow of a doubt you’ve been involved in ‘a stinker’! You head for the bar and commiserate with your colleagues. As you weave your way (often unsteadily in days past) towards your theatrical ‘digs’ you feel like a great weight has been lifted from your being!
What made me raise the subject of ‘stinkers’? For my wife’s birthday this year, one of the presents I gave her was a box set of Sidney Poitier films. In the Heat of the Night probably ranks as one of our all time favourite movies: great title song, title singer, script, acting and direction - a tick in every box! So imagine how delighted we were to finally have the chance to watch its sequel They Call Me Mister Tibbs for the first time. Oh dear! You can probably take every single item in the list above and replace the tick with a thick red line. Every performance and every throw-away line was delivered like it was a Hamlet soliloquy. Everyone, including Sidney Poitier, looked really bad; the car chase just looked silly; the reasons behind a character’s speech or actions seemed to make no sense whatever at times; a foot-chase with Poitier hunting down a bad guy looked like out-takes from a Naked Gun movie; the cast, tried and trusted paid-up members of the acting fraternity looked like veterans of a bad daytime soap. Ed Asner, an actor I generally admire, was lousy in two categories, for his performance and his terrible wig. Poor ol’ Sidney Poitier - the ignominy of landing himself in ‘a stinker’ after playing the same character in such a great classic. I did wonder for a moment if someone by the name of Max Bialystok was the movie’s Executive Producer.
But like I said at the top, nobody in the performing arts can elude ‘the stinker’ forever. My father-in-law, himself an actor of some distinction in his heyday, once told me a story of his own regrettable brush with an ill-fated production. It was his first major appearance in London’s West End. He proudly took a box for his family and friends, booked a table at the Savoy for afterwards and invited his cousin the British Ambassador to Moscow to the first night. It is easy to imagine his chagrin when the audience began boo-ing the performers whenever they appeared. The only good thing that came out of the night, he informed me, was that the show closed immediately.
Yep, ‘a stinker’!