Cold taxis – cutting edge comedy?


Most theatrical productions include moments which mean more to the performers than to the audience – lines or bits of business which, for whatever reason, acquired particular resonance during rehearsals or performance.  Sometimes it may be because someone was struggling with something, so it becomes a shared joy when a moment finally works.  Sometimes it’s a choreographic moment which is universally loved, so that the wings get crowded with cast and crew watching every night.  Sometimes there’s a funny rehearsal story attached to a particular line.  And at other times, there is no reason for it at all.

In My Fair Lady this week, it is my lot to deliver one of this production’s lines, a line which many in the company find extremely funny indeed, and yet none of us can work out why.  The line is this zinger:

Eliza, it’s getting awfully cold in that taxi.

Not exactly comedy gold.  My character, the perfectly useless Freddy Eynsford-Hill, is only in this scene in order to get Eliza off the stage and allow her father and the chorus to launch themselves into ‘Get Me to the Church On Time’.  It is dawn, so it would be rather cold, even in a taxi.  There are numerous ways I could say this line to make it funny, and I have experimented.  There’s the suggestive, the teeth-chattering, the whiny.  Rather than spoil the scene with any of these, we are going with a simple statement of fact, yet the first time we reached the scene in question with the whole cast present, it provoked chuckles, giggles, titters and outright laughter.

This has continued to be the case and as the dress rehearsal is in only a few more hours (that’s all the time we’ve got…), it is surely now a problem.  Nobody can put their finger on why the cast are amused, including the director and others in positions of authority.  The only explanation that has been forthcoming is from the lovely chap who plays Alfred Doolittle, who says it’s because it’s “just so good”, which really doesn’t explain things.  Unfortunately, he is on stage as I deliver that blasted line and struggles to maintain a straight face.

It may just be my imagination, but I’m sure the tension now mounts among the cast as that line approaches.  We know we can’t laugh and we know it’s not funny, but that makes it so much worse.  The last time we did  the scene, in the last full run-through (which you have to treat almost as a performance), even I was struggling to keep a straight face and I never, ever, corpse in performance, no matter how ridiculous the scene might be.

You can guarantee that the whole cast will remember that one line for years to come, while the rest of the lines, harmonies and dance steps fade away.  For a few dozen people, those few words will live forever.  All we have to do now is make it through one dress rehearsal and six performances without laughing at them.

  1. Hope all goes well – if I were even slightly nearer I’d make the effort to be there. Let us know how it all comes off.

    All the best

    Aphra.

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