In honour of Jols’s birthday, I’d like to record for posterity one of my favourite images of her. It was an image I never witnessed, yet for some reason I still feel it indelibly imprinted on my brain.
Jols and I both went to the University of Wales, Aberystwyth – indeed, we took a couple of the same courses – but we rarely crossed paths. We have since chastised one another about this: me she for not going to a single one of our Film lectures; she me for never going to see any of the plays she was performing in.
One of the plays I didn’t go and see her in was the drama department’s production of Macbeth in 1996. Jols was cast in the prestigious role of First Witch – the one who gets to say ‘When shall we three meet again’ and ‘Double, double toil and trouble’.
About two-thirds of the way through the play, the First Witch has a speech to deliver to her wyrd systers, after which the stage directions tell us that some wyrd music plays, during which the hags ‘dance and then vanish’.
The music and dancing, by all accounts, went well. The witches whirled and cackled and were generally wyrd and portentous. Pyrotechnics flashed and fizzled exactly according to plan, adding to the theatrical melée.
The mystical powers of vanishing, though, eluded one of the witches.
There was nothing fancy about the plan: a simple dart for the exit under the cover of a full blackout. However, the whirliness of the dance coupled with the pyrotechnics served to disorientate the First Witch. Rather than disappearing professionally through the exit, she was witchily alarmed to find herself trapped flat against the back wall of the set. Her cackle evaporated into the pitch black as she desperately ran her warty hands across the unyieldng surface to regain her bearings and gather some sense of where the exit had got to.
The scene was still, sadly, in progress. It was only a matter of time before the lights came back up to allow Macbeth to deliver his next line.
When they did, the audience was met with a ‘bonus’ hyperventilating and resolutely unvanished witch, gingerly shuffling towards the rediscovered exit.
Macbeth’s next line, as written by the Bard, was perfect in every way:
Where are they? Gone?
‘The rest of the cast were sitting in the green room,’ Jols recalls of this unfortunate incident. ‘They were watching the performance on a TV screen, and they were just all hooting with laughter. I could hear them through the wall…’
Something about this incident gives me a very strong sense that I was right not to go to any of those plays.
All hail the First Witch.