June 11th, 2012
It’s Monday, and I’m just drawing breath after the busiest, most emotional and the most exhilarating week of my life. “Never meet your heroes” they say. Well I met mine last Wednesday and I’m still walking on air. Stephen Fry is the reason I began writing again, he’s an inspiration in so many ways, a national treasure and I can now knowledgably add that he’s also a perfect gent.
I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. As a child I constantly wrote stories, mostly about a young girl who is sent to bed without any supper and then transported to a strange fantastical world. But a chance remark from a schoolteacher when I was ten (“You’ll never be a writer, Susie, you can’t spell”) cut me to the quick, and consequently I didn’t write another thing for 20 years. In 2005 however, by which time I had trained and was working as an actress, somebody bought me The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry for Christmas, ‘a witty and entertaining guide to the mysteries of writing poetry’. I worked through all the exercises as advised and, perhaps most significantly, I took his advice to carry a notebook with me at all times and just ‘doodle with words’; on train journeys, while waiting in cafes, and during my occasional ‘resting’ periods as an actress, this practice has actually become a sort-of therapy for me. And while poetry and scriptwriting are not exactly the same discipline, the seeds were definitely sown during that time for the moment a few years later when I finally put pen to paper and wrote my first radio play.
Leaves in Autumn was released by the Wireless Theatre Company in 2009 starring Josephine Tewson and Hazel Douglas. Two more of my radio scripts were subsequently produced by Wireless: Angels in the Dark starring Kim Durham (Matt Crawford in The Archers) and We are not the BBC in which I eventually had the courage to suggest myself for the lead role alongside a very talented cast which included Christopher Timothy in a cameo role playing himself. The storyline immediately suggested that it could be the first in a series of three, and back in summer 2011, I told director Jack Bowman that there was only one person I wanted to be our celebrity guest in the sequel, and that was Stephen Fry. Nervously, I wrote a part for Stephen in We are the BBC, the producer, Mariele dispatched it to agent, and some months later came the reply that brought tears of joy to my eyes: Stephen liked the script very much and was happy to record on June 6th.
Then came the cluster effect: I was cast as Beatrice in a UK tour of Much Ado About Nothing – opening on June 5th! The director, Maddy Kerr agreed to let me travel from Stratford-upon-Avon to London on the morning of 6th June to record my scenes with Stephen, provided I could assure her I’d be back in time for the second night performance of Much Ado. So having had no more than four hours sleep on the two previous nights following very long and tiring days rehearsing and performing, my three alarms went off at 4:55am on Wednesday and I headed for London.
Stephen was better than magnificent. A consummate professional, he even managed not to laugh at me when I produced the signed photo he’d sent ‘To Susan’ back in 1992 in response to my teenage fan letter, which I’ve treasured ever since. As I stood in that studio in Marylebone hearing Stephen speak lines of dialogue that I’d written, I genuinely felt my heart swell with pride. He performed the three scenes I’d written for him even more brilliantly than I’d imagined he would, and, at our behest, even added in the odd little gem of an ad lib. My whole reason for wanting to write scripts that make people laugh stems from my ongoing love affair with British comedy which began in the 1980s with such shows as A Bit of Fry and Laurie. So to have Stephen himself endorse my own comedy script in such an encouraging and positive way is a dream come true.
Writing has a lot to do with confidence. Knowing that one of my all time comedy heroes likes my work has given me the biggest confidence boost I could possibly wish for. So thank you Stephen, I plan to carry on writing – when I have time that is, for now it’s straight back to the Much Ado tour.
Susan is touring the UK as ‘Beatrice’ in Much Ado About Nothing until September 2nd, 2012, tour dates at www.heartbreakproductions.co.uk We are the BBC starring Susan Casanove and Stephen Fry will be available to download from the Wireless Theatre Company later in the summer.