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My mustache takes center stage

By Christopher Andreae / December 21, 2000

"I think I should have a mustache," I said.

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Kate, who is in charge of costumes - and gives the added impression of being in charge of everything - always shoots straight from the hip. "No, no! We won't have time."

I wondered how many other inspired ideas have bitten the dust in such brush-offs.

Anyway, surprised by her brusque dismissal, I muttered: "Oh, I didn't want to waste anyone's time. I thought of doing it myself."

"Humph. Well. We'll have to ask the Director."

Sean, the Director of our play (J.B. Priestley's "When We Are Married," a Yorkshire farcical comedy much favored by amateurs) always seemed a little too preoccupied to be troubled with questions like "Should I have a mustache?" So I let it ride, planning to have a go at the job on my own just before the dress rehearsal, and then wait for thumbs up or down.

I believe some actors - you know, of the professional persuasion, the ones who know what they are doing - like to start outside and work in. A mustache (or nose or item of dress or a walk or whatever) can set them off on a deep voyage of character discovery. Others start with the inner and arrive at the outer. I guess Kate is one of the latter. And actually I think I am, too.

My conviction about Albert Parker's mustache arrived only after much rehearsal. He didn't seem to me to be first a moustache and then an insufferable, humorless, pompous male chauvinist. The play is set in Edwardian times, and mustaches were popular then, particularly with sideburns.

But period isn't everything. I just felt sure Parker would have a mustache.

So I spent the afternoon before the dress rehearsal deeply involved in spirit gum and gray crepe hair and some white woolly stuff sold in joke shops for Christmas jollities, attempting to cobble together something convincing and hirsute to disguise my facial features. And I wasn't too displeased, finally, with the result.

I arrived at the theater very early, ready to repeat my hard-won makeup. And when I had just about finished, in walked two young women. "Ah," they said, and "Oh."

"We were going to make you a moustache. But you've already made one...."

They seemed a touch disappointed.

It turned out that the redoubtable Kate had arranged for these two college students to come and practice their budding skills on the cast. Far be it from me to thwart their voyage of discovery, so my hairy efforts were removed, and the experts started work.

They knew what they were doing. They used a latex base, so that for each night of the performance the three-part unit - moustache and sideburns - could easily be reglued in place, without having to start all over again from the beginning.

Well, I think I can say that the mustache was a success. Someone asked me much later if I thought it had improved my performance. That's a hard one to answer without some degree of immodesty. I know it gave my face a different shape, and to some extent this meant that I worked less at trying to make facial expressions that I thought were Parkerish.