Sharon Jennings

An ambition fulfilled.

Today is the fourth anniversary of Sharon’s death. The last three years there was a lovely memorial mass said for her in Westminster Cathedral – her spiritual and dramatic home. Her funeral there was the biggest production she ever put on, and it was superb. I have written about it before I think. But the cathedral connection with Sharon is extremely important for me.

In July 2006 Sharon wrote, directed, and produced this play. Id seen her write direct and produce several plays at school, but this was serious and grown up. It was all very exciting, especially as I was going to be in it. I cannot act for toffee, even though I pretended to be a drama teacher for years, but as we had worked together in Cambridge School, Sharon somehow managed to be bamboozled together with all the children and assumed that I could act.

I did try to tell her I couldn’t and that I really could not remember lines. She would have none of it. She persuaded me by telling me that I would be the only woman in the play; that no one else could act though there would be one professional, and anyway she would let me wear her beautiful coat. Well, what could I say? Her son and his school friends would be in it – some of the priests from the cathedral would be in it too, and we would have such fun. Fun was the operative word, of course.

And so we did. I went to several rehearsals – I only had six lines to say but could not for the life of me remember them. The priest who played my husband – Father Tim, was delightful but not much help. His memory for lines almost equalled mine. Yet we were hopeful. On the day of the play, I was at school, having an interview for a promotion. I sailed through it apparently because all I could be nervous about was my stage debut. Yes – this was my first and only time on a stage, in a play, and with a paying public! I couldn’t be nervous about two things (I am not a multi-tasker) so the play won. I got the job, and went to the cathedral with a somewhat lighter heart. I tried to relearn my lines on the tube on the way. My son was with me – he was the only member of the family that came to see my potential humiliation. I didn’t let my mother come, and now I regret it so much. She was to die so suddenly two months later … But we weren’t to know.

The play was set in the side aisle of the cathedral beneath the enormous pulpit. A perfect setting if a bit awkward. I made my entrances and my exits without ruining everything (I have to say I lied about not acting ever before – I was in a performance of the Crucible once. I did manage to ruin a potentially dramatic scene by accidentally stepping on my skirt. The worst pantomime couldn’t have raised a better laugh) but I was only 14 at the time. This time I was 52. Old enough to know better.

Anyway, I got through to the end, breathed a sigh of relief and went to the pub with the rest of the cast. that’s when the fun began. The play was a resounding success. I was a resounding success – or so I thought. then Andrzej said – but you weren’t really acting at all – you were just being yourself – a mother.

Sharon never tried to persuade me to act again – quite wisely, but I did try to see more of her plays, which got better and better. Her wit and wisdom shone through.  How I miss her.

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