The scene: a luxurious apartment in BA (that’s Buenos Aries). Argentina’s foremost musical theatre actress Elena Roger is luxuriating on a chaise longue, probably eating a steak, humming a tango and idly toying with her boleadoras (That’s the sum of our knowledge about the Argentine, sorry. You’ll have to add your own colour to the picture). A telephone rings.
Voice: Hello, Elena. It’s Michael Grandage here.
ER: Sorry. Eees a ferry bad larn. Bandage?
MG: No, Grandage. (pause) Michael Grandage? Artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse? You were in our Piaf. You were our Piaf.
ER: Ah, Meester Grandage ! Ow are you? And ‘ow is Meester Orme?
MG: Oram. He’s fine. Listen, I want you to come back to the Donmar.
ER: You waarn me to geeve my Piaf again?
ER: No worry. I geeve it anyway. (Warbles:) Quand il me prend dans ses bras…
MG: Well, actually it’s set in Italy.
ER: Eees next to France. I geeve my Piaf anyway. What ees it?
MG: It’s called Passion.
ER: I know all abow passion. Piaf was passionate. (Warbling:) Il me dit des mots d’amour…
MG: Yes, well, anyway. It’s by Stephen Sondheim with a book by James Lapine based on Ettore Scola‘s film Passione d’Amore (Reading from marketing material:) It “examines the power of love in a haunting story of desire, sacrifice and redemption” apparently. It’s rather dull and short on tunes but… Well, anyway it’s about a soldier who’s having an affair with a pretty married woman but then he starts getting attention from this ugly woman who falls in love with him.
ER: And you want me to play zis pretty married woman… I see.
MG: Can we, er, park the casting details for the moment. Now I’ll be completely honest with you, this is a minor Sondheim and it’s not one of his best but because he’s been spreading his 80th birthday out over the whole year, we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel for things to do frankly. I had to snap this one up; didn’t dare risk leaving it until I take over the National Theatre (Oh, did I say that aloud? I didn’t mean to say that aloud. Ignore that.) or bloody Babani would have nabbed it for the Menier. All there was left was this or that Wise Guys/Bounce/Road Show thing. When I get to the National (Ha ha ha. Did I say the National? Ignore me.) I’ll get Sondheim to write some more. Anyway, the Sondheimites will love it regardless. And we’re really pulling out the stops on this one. Jamie Lloyd‘s directing and of course I’m getting ‘im indoors to design it and we’re going to have real food on stage. The Whingers will love that.
ER: What sort of fud? Ees Argentinian beef?
MG: Veal and carrots.
ER: Veal I ave to eet eet?
MG: Goodness no, Elena. We have to keep you as thin and sickly looking as possible.
ER: Seeekly? Why seeekly?
MG: (Hastily:) And we can’t stretch to veal. Ha ha ha. Even when we sell every ticket for every performance we can only raise 45% of our necessary annual budget. We get an additional 15% from Arts Council England, and we rely on our friends and sponsors for the remaining 40% which translates into over £1.3 million each year. Anyway, We’re toying with char-grilled chicken or pork or possibly Mother’s Pride. But the carrots will be real. They’ll be utterly convincing.
ER: But what ees my motivation?
MG: Fosca’s, very, very sick so don’t eat before you come over we need to make you as unattractive as possible.
(There is a very long pause)
MG: You’re not eating now are you?
ER: (Stops chewing steak) No. Can’t I play ze pretty one?
MG: No, goodness no, Elena this is the showy part. Maria Friedman won the Olivier for it last time round. Anyway I’m thinking of one of Bonnie Langford’s nieces for Clara.
ER: Which one?
MG: Either of them. Whichever one isn’t the one that’s appearing in Paint Never Dries. And we’ve got a great look in mind for you. We’re going with “Fenella Fielding on hunger strike”. You’ll have lots of seizures on stage throughout the show. You get to throw yourself to the ground. It’s a great dramatic role. It could even be described as melodramatic.
ER: I will ave to fall over?
MG: Lots. Time and time again, but it’s not very far for you, is it? And we’ll get a very big wig for you. You’ll be top-heavy, you’ll have a job staying upright. It’ll come completely naturally.
ER: Ooo ees my co-star?
MG: David Thaxton. Good looking, good singer, very tall.
ER: But Michael, I eem teenzy-weenzee won’t eet look, ow you say a leetle exótico?
MG: Well if you were able to sit on your own shoulders you probably still wouldn’t be as tall as him but think about that famous Marg Duchess of Arg polaroid.
MG: Never mind. OK, look if it transfers I’ll get you Joe McElderry. Let’s face it we got you Ricky Martin for your Broadway Evita. See where I’m going with that Elena?
ER: Ees he teensy too? Ees that what you mean?
MG: And we’re planning to do it straight through without an interval. You’ll be out by 9.30. I don’t want to hear those pesky Whingers’ heels clattering down Earlham Street’s cobbles mid-show. They’ll be in a bar nice and early, that’ll keep them happy.
ER: Ooo are zeese Weengers?
MG: Never mind that, the run will sell out anyway. Think transfer. Think Evita. Think about your brilliant Piaf.
ER: Can I do my Piaf voice?
MG: Camp it up, Elena. You can do Buzz Lightyear’s Spanish mode in Toy Story 3 if you want. Are you een, sorry I mean in or out?
ER: Michael, I’m een, but I want to play zee preeety one.
MG: Play the ugly one and I’ll let you do your Piaf voice.
ER: But won’t I have to spend hours een make-up being fitted with prosthetics to transform me into zis ugly one?
MG: You can convey your ugliness through your acting.
ER: You got a deal, Meester Grannage. I go pack my boleadoras. Goo bye. (Warbling as she hangs up:) Non, je ne regrette rien, c’est payé, balayé, oublié, Je me fous du passé…
(this was a preview performance)