Authors: Tanya Landman
For Lindsey, who knows all the words
Tiffany Webb stared at the morning newspapers and sighed. She’d been photographed leaving an exclusive nightclub at four o’clock in the morning. It was the fifth time this month that her face had been splashed across the front pages
It wasn’t enough
But the role she’d just been offered should get her more attention. She’d been chosen to play the part of Dorothy in a stage version of
The Wizard of Oz!
The newspapers were full of it. Her agent had said that if she got good reviews she could be on her way to Hollywood. Tiffany smiled to herself. She knew that everything would be perfect, just as long as she had the right help. The show would sell out; she would delight critics and dazzle audiences. They’d be on their feet at the end of every performance, clapping and cheering, with tears in their eyes – she could already taste her triumph
What Tiffany didn’t know was that someone else was looking at the papers that morning, staring at the photographs with horrid fascination. While Tiffanywas indulging in dreams of a golden future, that same person saw a far darker vision of what lay ahead. Tiffany would never play the part of Dorothy. Before the opening night, she would have an accident that would bring her stage career to a sudden and dramatic end
name is Poppy Fields. There are lots of things I like watching. Comedies? Great. Spy thrillers? Brilliant. War films? Dead exciting. But musicals? I just don’t get them. All that smiling and dancing and bursting into song for no reason at all? It’s weird. The first time I saw one I thought it was just plain silly.
So how did I end up with a huge orange flower stuck on my head, cowering in the dressing room, sick with stage fright among a bunch of Munchkins on the opening night of
The Wizard of Oz
? It certainly didn’t have anything to do with liking the limelight. I’ve never wanted to be famous. Most of the time I try to blend into the background. I’ve got so good at Not Being Noticed that sometimes my mum, Lili, calls me The Invisible Girl. I’m not shy, it’s just that I’m really interested in human behaviour. Studying other people is a bit like being a bird watcher: you have to keep quiet and move carefully so you don’t frighten your subjects away.
In normal circumstances I’d never even have considered auditioning for a part in a musical. But these weren’t normal circumstances.
Tiffany Webb made sure of that.
She was the star of the TV soap “Dead End Street” but she was as famous for her social life as her acting. She was forever being photographed at all-night parties, or getting arrested for bopping paparazzi or having screaming rows with other celebrities. Her face was constantly in the papers or on the covers of magazines – it seemed like you couldn’t walk past a newsagent without seeing a photo of her on
. She’d had a series of well-known boyfriends too. When I added them up it came to two film stars, three pop singers, seven footballers and a boxer.
But I wasn’t interested in her simply because she was a celebrity – it wasn’t the fact that she was famous that I found fascinating. What intrigued me was how
she was to be noticed. I saw her on TV at an awards ceremony once and she was practically pushing other people off the red carpet. It was like she
to be the centre of attention; as if she was scared that she might disappear in a puff of smoke if no one was looking at her. I was working on the theory that publicity was like a mirror: she needed it to prove to herself that she really existed.
I suspected that she was slightly insane, so when I had the opportunity to observe her up close it was irresistible. That was why I ended up in
The Wizard of Oz
It was right after the October half-term. The first Monday morning back at school our head teacher, Mr Thompson, made a dramatic announcement in assembly.
“Something rather exciting is going to happen this Christmas,” he told us, rubbing his hands together with obvious delight. I thought he was going to tell us about some school disco or a design-a-festive-card competition. I stifled a yawn. But then he said, “Anyone heard of the Purple Parrot Theatre Company? Come on now. Hands up.”
He looked expectantly at a sea of blank faces. Hands remained in laps. No one had a clue. No one but Graham, my best friend, whose arm shot up at once. He knows stuff, you see. His head is packed with a mind-blowing assortment of occasionally-fascinating-but-mostly-useless information.
“It’s a touring company that specializes in musicals,” Graham informed us.
“Good lad, well done,” said Mr Thompson, awarding him a house point while simultaneously looking deeply disappointed with the rest of us. “For those of you who don’t know, they’re one of the most prestigious outfits in the UK. They move from town to town, taking their spectacular shows from one venue to the next so you don’t have to travel to London to see first-rate theatre. And this Christmas they’re bringing their version of
The Wizard of Oz
to our Theatre Royal. What’s more, they’re looking for local children to play the parts of the Munchkins!”
There was a buzz of anticipation from the kids who liked doing school plays or were part of the choir. Graham and I weren’t interested in drama or singing so we didn’t share it. I’d kind of switched off by then and I barely heard Mr Thompson saying it was the “opportunity of a lifetime” and that anyone who succeeded in getting a part could have time off school for rehearsals.
But then he mentioned that Tiffany Webb would be playing Dorothy and suddenly I was all ears.
It was my big chance to observe a living celebrity in the flesh and I wasn’t going to pass it up without a fight. I mean, I’d had a similar opportunity during half-term when my mum – who’s a landscape gardener – was invited to make over the Hollywood estate of a retired actress. Sadly that particular star had gone and got herself murdered before I could study her behaviour. So I was doubly determined to grab this fresh chance with both hands. I had no choice but to audition.
Either side of me and Graham the girls we call the Pink Fairy Brigade began their preening rituals, flicking their hair across their shoulders and checking their nails. If I wanted a part, clearly I would have a lot of competition.
When I told Graham we were going for it, he was less than enthusiastic.
“You can’t sing and I can’t act,” he pointed out. “Statistically speaking, the chances of us being offered a part are a zillion to one.”
“It’s worth a go, though, isn’t it, Graham? What have we got to lose?”
“Dignity. Pride. Self-respect…”
“Come on, it will be fun,” I wheedled. And before Graham could start going on about the Very Slim Chances of the Experience Being Even Remotely Amusing, I offered him the best bribe I could think of. I promised to buy him the latest edition of
Guinness World Records
for Christmas. It wasn’t enough. I had to throw in an updated
Book of Lists
as well before he agreed.
For the next week we practised singing “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”. We even devised a sort of dance routine but I have to admit we were truly terrible. I didn’t think we had a hope of getting in.
But on the first Saturday in November we took the bus into town. Clutching the parental consent forms our mums had signed, we joined the back of a queue of Eager Young Hopefuls that wound three times around the Theatre Royal and snaked away over the horizon.
We had to hang around for
: Graham and I were the very last ones in.
I was convinced that the Pink Fairy Brigade and the I’m-going-to-be-an-actor-when-I-grow-up mafia would have grabbed all the singing and dancing parts in the first few minutes. When we finally walked on to the stage, the director – a tall thin man who introduced himself as Peregrine Wingfield – looked about ready to gnaw his own hands off with boredom. We barely got the first word of our song out when he called, “Lovely! That’ll do.” He turned to a large lady next to him and said wearily, “Cynthia, are
the right size?”
Graham and I looked at each other, mystified, as Cynthia ran up to us with a tape measure. “I’m the chaperone. I look after the children in the production,” she explained as she measured the circumference of my head. “Perfect!” she muttered to herself before turning to Graham and doing the same to him. “They’ll do!” she called back.
“What a relief!” Peregrine sighed. “That’s me done for the day, then. I’ll be in the bar, Cynthia. See you later.” He left the auditorium.
“Right, you two,” Cynthia said briskly. “Come with me.”
Cynthia sang softly under her breath (
It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”) as she descended several flights of stairs, Graham and I following obediently behind, all the way down to the basement, where a small room was stuffed with outfits.
It turned out that it was the Purple Parrot Theatre Company’s policy to audition
who turned up. Good for public relations, apparently. But in reality, once they’d cast the singing–dancing Munchkin parts it was down to who would fit into the remaining costumes. Cynthia told us that a load of wonderfully-talented-but-sadly-too-tall/short/wide/weedy kids had already been led away weeping by their disappointed parents.
But I turned out to be just the right size for the Orange Marigold.
Graham was perfect for the Pink Petunia.
It seemed that the person who’d designed the Purple Parrot’s production had given Munchkinland an extra special feature. We were destined to adorn the stage as part of a magical herbaceous border. We wouldn’t have to sing or dance. All we’d have to do was sit in a corner and wiggle our petals in time with the music.
“I hope you’re not too disappointed.” Cynthia looked deeply anxious. “The Fantastical Flowers aren’t what you’d call demanding roles. You might find it a little dull just watching everyone else do their bit.”
“No,” I answered honestly as I studied my outfit. Costume? I thought. It’s camouflage. It looked as solid as a bird watcher’s hide. “This will be perfect,” I said, thinking how closely I’d be able to study Tiffany’s Celebrity Behaviour.
I had no idea that someone else was already watching Tiffany Webb. Someone who wanted to do her some serious damage.
first thing we had to do for the Purple Parrot Theatre Company was what they called “advance publicity”. They’d arranged a photo call early on Monday morning to launch the show so, instead of going to school as usual, Graham and I had to catch a bus into town. All the kids were supposed to report to Maggie on the stage door at 8 a.m. sharp so that we could get made up and into the right costumes. By 9.15 a.m. we should have been standing on the broad, stone steps of the Theatre Royal waiting for Tiffany Webb, dressed in her Dorothy outfit, to pull up in a horse-drawn carriage and pose for the flock of photographers and TV crews who’d turned up for the occasion.
Things didn’t quite work out according to plan.
First of all, the bus Graham and I were supposed to catch was fifteen minutes late. Then it crawled through the rush-hour traffic so slowly that we didn’t get into town until nearly nine o’clock. I was really edgy because I thought we’d be chucked out of the show before we’d even got started and Graham was beside himself because he hated being behind schedule. We sat there, drumming our fingers on the backs of the seat in front of us, jiggling our feet, tutting and sighing, and generally annoying the other passengers.
The area around the theatre was pedestrianized, so, once we’d reached our stop, we had to sprint the last five hundred metres. The quickest way to the stage door was through an alley where the fire escapes criss-crossed the side of the building down to the ground.
When we got there Maggie sent us straight inside. One minute and forty-seven seconds later we were clad in lurid leafy tunics and brightly coloured tights. Cynthia had done our faces to match, singing bursts of “I Can Sing a Rainbow” as she daubed us with garish greasepaint. Cramming the flowers on our heads, she dragged us by our wrists back through the stage door, along the alley and round to the front of the theatre.