There is rebellion in the ranks. The play needs a crowd to storm the Castle. Laertes is thirsting to revenge his father’s death. The problem is that a few Switzers does not a riotous mob make. The solution is to heavily disguise some of the leading actors who have been dead and/or hanging around the Green Room to boost our numbers. "Bah, five years at Drama College and all I get to play is the crowd scene".
The “cream of the company” wrap scarves around their faces and place helmets low on their heads. We lowly Switzers thoroughly enjoy this as we make free with the fake blood and charcoal-grime. “Do you do nose-bleeds?” I ask the make-up assistant. “it can be arranged” is the obvious reply. We form our “mob” right at the back of the Theatre. We are to scream and shout to represent the riotous crowd. Laertes, returned from distant France (or in reality his near-by apartment), is bouncing up and down. He psyches himself into the part as we search for any spare weapons that the Prop department may have left lying around. I select a likely looking cudgel from the “Macbeth” production and we are ready to go as our cue is given- “off-stage noise … go”.
We march towards the stage shouting "Laertes for King …. Who's for King Laertes …. For King Laertes". We enjoy the serendipity of being able to scream “For King” at the top of our voices to 1500 people. As we reach the stage, we burst through the centre doors. Several times, the crowd at the back are too over-enthusiastic and one of the group tumbles forward onto the stage.
After that, the pressing “mob” disperses leaving a hard-core of disguised Switzers to act as the rabble at the door. We are chaperoned by Ian Drysdale, one of the actors, who puts up with our nervous chatter with good grace. Ophelia and her ladies join this depleted group behind the centre-stage doors. They are about to take the stage. Everyone is upbeat and enjoying themselves, silly jokes are quietly made. I look at Ophelia when suddenly her face dissolves into abject misery.
God, what is this? stage fright? is she still going to be able to go-on? I’m still wondering what is happening when the door opens and Ophelia goes on stage to perform her “mad scene”. A lesson is learnt about actors - their ability to turn on emotion at will.