Liz Webster

The Next Judy Garland


Liz Webster


[A monologue written as part of the Teachers as Dramatists course for Birmingham's year of Arts. First performed Tuesday March 16th 1999 at MAC, Birmingham. The part of Jude was played by Janice Connolly]



[Empty stage except for an old chair and table with large mirror frame with border of lightbulbs, « la dressing room in a theatre. On the table, a collection of make-up, head for wig, tissues, cotton wool etc. Under the table is a bag and shoes.]


[Blackout, fade in. Distant music - finale of the Mikado]


[Jude enters, stage left, wearing tight evening dress, wig, full theatrical make-up]


[Off-stage laughter]




Darling you were fabulous, really…fabulous…what? No your ladder did not show up on stage…those lights allow you to get away with murder. Oh Frank, shame about your top notes…only a little flat..


[Jude enters during speech, sits on chair in front of mirror and looks through as if audience were not there]


[To herself] Blimey, you should have seen Dolly tonight. Worrying about her 'performance'. I told her nobody 'Pitti Sings' like her…thank God. Most of the men in the audience were placing bats on when her chest was going to escaper from that bloody awful dress she was wearing…silly cow. And at her age. The RSPCA will no doubt be in touch - cruelty to animals. 'Why Madam do you have two small piglets strapped to the front of your body…gives crackling and stuffing a whole new meaning.


[Pause. Looks down her own dress]


What is it with breasts? At 13 I developed some and immediately wanted to hide them, by 16 I'd dabbled in tacky underwear to wrap them in and at 18 I was beginning to tease the male sex with them, as if they were a dog with a rubber bone. Of course, some man gains entrance to the Temple of your chest, worships there periodically and then leaves on a pilgrimage to the next shrine whilst you devote the rest of your life to trying to firm, support and generally keep them bright and bushy-tailed while continually checking for unwanted bumps, lumps and surface veins.


[Pause. Thinks]


God, they're worse than keeping a pet. 'Bosoms' - they're not just for Christmas….


[Starts taking off eye-shadow]


…stroke them, look after them, and never let them meet your waist on their southward journey to old age and baggy cardigans.


[Pause. Continues make-up removal]


Not that I'd want to be young again. 'In your prime' they call it…huh. In your prime 'what?' If memory serves me correctly I spent most of my prime worrying about my waistline, my complexion, my mother and my ability to be attractive to an unmarried man. How many times did I hear '..Jude, my wife doesn't understand me…we have different needs. Hell what made them think I'd want to understand them and did they consider my needs. Did they fuck.


[Restores thoughts]


No I wouldn't want to be young again…trying to be liked [to herself] 'My Fair Lady' [Laughs] now what was that year? 1968. I remember the opening night. We were all so nervous. The dressing room was buzzing. We all chattered like caged canaries. Whose family was coming to see the show. Which octopus-armed leading man did we have to avoid in the wings. Who had a spare pair of stockings, and who could stick false eyelashes without making them look like an escaping spider dashing across someone's freshly painted face.




Nancy was drinking neat vodka out of her thermos. [drunk] 'Being pissed adds depths to one's performance…hic!' Blimey, her performance was pretty deep most of the time anyway, and playing 'third flower seller on the right' hardly required RADA training and a preparatory session at the National.


[Wipes off remaining make-up]


[slowly] Nancy died last week. That once brown-eyed brunette vixen, who'd always laughed, joked and flirted...that siren who'd broken hearts…and marriages, with just one smile, look or grope behind the back-cloth. Gone. What was left...a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings and a box full of costumes…How I'd envied her.


'My Fair Lady' I hear they are thinking of putting on the show again next year. 'A crowd-pleaser…bound to put bums on seats'.


I suppose Louise will get the lead. Shame her acting resembles the cast of Eastenders…dull depressing and only worth watching once a week.


What is it with young girls today? Where's the romance? The ability to imagine yourself out of the mundane and into the world of make-believe sophistication. 'My Fair Lady' is supposed to be the story of a girl reaching the heights of her potential. Louise seems to be living her life the other way round. Wanting to scrub out any sign of individuality or self worth. What is she scared of? I mean, she's not a bad looking girl…looks a bit like one of those 'Spice girls'…now which one is it? Not the one with a piece of shrapnel going through her tongue, the other one. You know, brown hair, going out with the footballer who needs a decent haircut and wears a shirt…Posh, that's it. Posh Spice. Our Louise is more Mixed Spice. Changes her boyfriends more often than the colour of her hair. Sleeps with them all of course. Tells us all the graphic detail of her bedroom adventures. I don't know what she expects… around of applause? Never mentions love...says she is too young for 'commitment to one man'. Did I ever think like that? I can't remember.


In my day we were encouraged to be ladies. Mother always insisted I wore a hat to church on Sundays and support tights at all times…even in the heat of summer. As for men, I should save myself for the 'right' one and yet not be too choosy in case the good one got away. 'Especially with your looks, Jude' she'd say 'you're hardly Rita Hayworth'. No, but I wasn't Boris Karloff either. To my mother my 'hobby' was an escape from my responsibilities. The reality of my situation. My situation…unmarried and living with her. 'I'm not escaping to join the Foreign Legion' I told her 'I still have to face reality for six days a week' …but mother never understood and never tried to. She was satisfied, her world was easy to understand and I should fit in with her ways, no questions asked.


Of course, looking back, I used the stage to escape her. For a couple of hours a week I wasn't me, Ms Scott, shop assistant at Marks and Spencer who looked after her ageing mother in a two-up, two-down in Selly Oak. I was a star...Ethel Merman in 'Annie Get Your Gun', Doris Day in 'Calamity Jane', a leading soprano in the d'Oyly Carte Opera Company. An actress to be admired, who's eyes alone spoke a myriad of emotions. Just for an instant, I was more than I am… I was free.




Tom. What was it he used to call me? 'Linnet', that's it. 'Jude' he'd say, 'you sing just like a linnet….what a beauty you are' Nowadays I sing more like an old crow…and the beauty has long since melted away.


[dreamily] We did lots of shows together me and Tom - he the handsome leading man, and me the frail leading lady who needed saving. People used to say we were a joy to watch, the voices blended perfectly, we looked great together and his eyes looking into mine made any romance believable…I believed.


How I wanted him…but Tom never suggested anything and Mother's ingrained training stopped me making moves in that direction. Don't get me wrong…I wasn't totally blindly stupid in my hopes. Tom had no females on the scene wasn't ever married or ever was. I felt I stood as good a chance as anyone, but he never asked me, never once approached the subject, was content to hold hands during rehearsals and embrace me when saying goodbye. 'Bye, Linnet…see you next week' he'd whisper in my ear, and my heart would ache.




I suppose Louise would call it 'soppy Mills and Boon romance'. What was it she said the other day? 'Men…all the ones I know are useless. Might as well get a shag out of them then dump them'. 'Shag' - now there's an attractive word…oozing romance and self-respect. Human beings, how wonderful we are, we develop a perfectly beautiful language and then try to destroy it. Reducing it to as few words as possible. 'Shag', not 'make love' just 'shag' - sounds like a breed of highland cattle. I suppose I'm too old for either now.


Last time I saw Tom was ten years ago. He'd left the group overnight. One week all smiles, the next we were told he'd had to drop out of the show due to 'trouble at work'. Fred took his place… all hands and beer breath. Tom had been a social worker in charge of one of the local council children's homes or something…never really asked. Theatre night was for pretend, not reality…life outside rehearsals. There were rumours of course…Tom's name linked to abuse allegations, mistreatment of boys in his care…couldn't have been true…someone with his voice and looks couldn't have done things like that, could they?


[Picks up belongings, ready to leave]


Oh well, another night over. I'm thinking that this may be my last show. Well, look at me…hardly 'good on stage' any more. Only, what will I do with my Wednesday nights? Sing in front of the mirror? Mother's voice would still be heard…'who do you think you are…the next Judy Garland'


[Looks up as if to heaven and shouts]


Well if I was Mother, I'd have stayed somewhere over the bloody rainbow.







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