Theatre: Debut: David Calder

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The Independent Culture
The Time: 1967

The Place: Bristol Old Vic

The part: A pirate in

Treasure Island

MY FIRST job was at the Bristol Old Vic, then the country's leading repertory theatre. Quite early on, around Christmas time, when I was appearing in Treasure Island, my agent got me my first audition for a television job. They wanted to see me in London on a Wednesday morning, but I had to be back in time for a matinee in the afternoon. It was high adrenaline stuff and afterwards I was so preoccupied with how it had gone that instead of getting on the Bristol train, I got on the Cardiff train - which doesn't stop at Bristol.

My anxiety levels went up and up. I changed at Cardiff and managed to get back to Bristol, with a short time to get to Colston Hall before I had to be on stage. I grabbed a cab, and started to take my clothes off, much to the amazement of the cab driver. I rushed all the way up the stairs literally taking my shirt off and burst into the dressing-room, to find the pirates all dressed and ready to go. They completely got into the spirit of the thing, cheering me to the line to get out there on stage. I got into costume and suddenly, as you do in these situations, time stops and you think you've made it. I thought I had enough time to put some make-up on. I grabbed the sponge and dabbed myself with it, leaving a complete ring of brown tan round my face. I was then thrown on stage.

Everyone turned, looked at me, saw this face and collapsed. The play couldn't continue - the laughter was unstoppable. The audience didn't know why these hairy pirates were being rather camp, falling about on stage. To pull ourselves back together, we had to go from being laughing pirates to being very angry ones, gritting our teeth and persevering.

Afterwards, Val May, the artistic director, told me in no uncertain terms about the discipline of theatre. It's hard in those situations to keep a straight face, but I managed to. If I'd laughed, I'd have been out on my ear. I've never had quite such an unfortunate experience since, but it happens to us all and when it does, it's beautifully humbling. Actors can get over-serious about what they do; there's nothing wrong with having a quick laugh at yourself.

David Calder stars as Prospero in `The Tempest', Barbican, London EC2 (0171-638 8891) to 4 Mar

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