"Well, I suppose I was a bit bemused when I was told about the role, as she was so integral to the story and then downright scared when I saw the script! I felt responsible; responsible to People's Company, to the other actors to do a good job with them, to Constantine who had done so much research and to the lady herself. I was desperate not to let anyone down, living or dead. Thank goodness I didn't realise that members of her family would be present until the last minute, or they could have been added to my worry list, and I couldn't bring myself to think about the audience at all!
It is no exaggeration to say that I have lived this part for months - just trying to learn the lines took forever, never mind positions - and I have spent some time, generally when drifting off to sleep, wondering how Marie would have handled this. Undoubtedly, with much greater ease, as she was trained for it and it was her career and she probably could learn and perform different parts in a week, if they did rep in those days, which I suspect they did. How I wished for some of her talent in that.
Would I have liked her? I bet she was interesting and a handful to boot! A working mother, wife, actress, manager - drinker and philanderess, both generally indications of unhappiness, often without people realising, leading a busy (maybe worrisome) life.
Would she have liked me? Would she have put up with my amateur efforts or would she have been "oh dearing", bawled me out or sacked me. Would she have been amused. Would she have been affronted. Lots of questions.
One thing I do know. She would have appreciated the full house on the night and I suspect that she would have been in the pub afterwards, possibly very much the grand dame.
At times, I wondered if I would be able to do this (despaired even), and just put my faith in John Whelan, the theatre director knowing what he's doing in directing me. I was amazed to find that from the day of the technical rehearsal, when we got into the Coronet, how calm I felt. I became quite philosophical; I knew there was nothing more that I could do. I even stopped worrying about forgetting lines. I was totally serene, with no nerves at all on the day of the performance. I like to think that she helped me, but that's romantic nonsense. I think that she probably would have put it down to hard graft, or, maybe, she would expect anyone portraying her to do a good job - naturally!
As for me, well it was a privilege to play this part, like nothing I have ever done before or ever will again. Thank you Marie Henderson."
Shelagh Farren performed with the People's Company of Southwark in the stage play of The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle. This was the final play and community event held at the Coronet on 8 November 2017. The building will be closing down after 147 years of providing entertainment and art to the Elephant and Castle area. Extracts from the play will be shown as part of a programme of short films connecting melodrama with silent movies and the horror genre. In addition, there will be an art installation, drawings and archival photographs.
The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle - Art Exhibition
9-20 December at The Art Academy Gallery
Former Newington Library
155 Walworth Road, London SE17 1RS.
Saturday and Sunday 12.00-17.00
Monday to Friday 15.00-19.00
This is an Arts Council England funded project supported by Southwark Playhouse and The Coronet. The exhibition involved the support of The Art Academy and CoolTan Arts.
Reflecting the views of artists, actors, residents
and participants in
The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle.
An art project about the Coronet from 1872-2017.
Past present future
Music and animation
Euan Vincent on Horror
Tiberius Chis on Chaplin
Final Curtain Call
Directing and acting
Jacko at the Coronet?
Ale and steak pies
This Is Where I Came In
Pollock's Toy Museum
Adventure with the Mayor
Reach for the stars
Ghost of Marie Henderson
Shop till the zombie drops
Faith, Hope and Charity
Singing and sketching
History and legacy
Dark Side of Metropolis
Walworth Street Festival
Interview with Sam Porter
Blood and Thunder
Culture and Capital