I’ve mentioned before that I was an acutely shy child, though few of you really believe it, but all the same I was assigned a speaking part in the school play. I was very small, I’m not sure if it was my first year or the first year in the main school rather than the kindergarden. The play was Snow White and I was to be a rabbit.
I was quite pleased at this and, funnily enough, not at all scared at the thought of speaking out. It’s the acting thing I suppose, many actors say that they are only confident when playing a part. However, my teacher thought again, even before the first rehearsal and decided I wouldn’t have the confidence and made me a tree instead. You know how, when Snow White is lost in the forest and she’s frightened by all these menacing trees towering above her? The idea was to wave our arms about as if blown by the wind. Of course, this was impossible for a thoroughly inhibited little girl whose only confidence was the use of words. Even now, I’d feel a complete twit, the only difference being that I don’t care. So I stood there, refusing to move.
“I’m going to be a bush,” I told my mother. “I hear Z’s going to play a bush rather than a rabbit?” she said to my teacher – the tree incident had affronted me so much that I hadn’t even mentioned it. “Oh, a pretty flowering shrub,” said the teacher awkwardly – anyway, my part, along with another silent little girl, was to kneel near the front of the stage during the scene, doing and saying nothing.
Worse was to come. After the performance, a teacher came and asked me if I’d had an accident? No I hadn’t and fortunately I was startled into saying so and not, for once, too shy to speak. But a puddle had been found where I’d been kneeling and it was thought I’d been frightened into incontinence. At least my kneel-on part had been early in the play – worst of all would have been to kneel in someone else’s puddle. I was immensely polite with iron self-control and I’m quite sure I’d have knelt there regardless, not to spoil the scene, and gone and quietly mopped myself up later. I wouldn’t have cried. I never cried in public.