Friday, 4 December 2015

On Being Mr Banks

What is it that causes a grown man, who is not being paid, to rehearse for months, try to pound lines into his aging head, grow a moustache, allow it and his hair to be dyed and then stand on a stage in front of hundreds of people and risk looking like a complete fool whenever his mind goes blank, which it does with alarmingly treacherous and unpredictable regularity? It happened on several occasions in Mary Poppins. The band played the introduction to my song as I stepped to centre stage, but no words came. My mind was blank. I gabbled something. They played the introduction again. Still nothing. And then some words from a couple of lines in surfaced as if from no where so I blurted them out, and off we went again. It’s surprising how few people seem to notice. Perhaps they’re just too kind to point out my failure. 

I was playing Mr Banks, the character which experiences one of the biggest transformations in Mary Poppins. It’s a story of redemption a brother priest told me a few months ago. He’s right. Through the challenging and disturbing offices of the new nanny, Mary Poppins, a cold, materialistic, repressed man who was raised by emotionally absent parents and an abusive martinet nanny and who is unwittingly passing that legacy on to his wife, Winifred, and their children Jane and Michael, is changed. George Banks is propelled from a brimstone and treacle world to a kinder, warmer spoons-full-of-sugar one, much to the joy of his family and, I hope, to the people who came to see the show. 

My, but it was a joy to work with the three youngsters who played Jane and Michael; Gabrielle Campbell and Abby Bacon took turns with Jane and Logan McDowell portrayed Michael. They tugged my heart strings thoroughly with their energy, sparkle and direct gazes. Shannon English was a very spirited and talented partner as the long suffering Winifred Banks. The whole cast and crew were a delight.  

As I drilled down in the script looking for Mr Banks’ subtext, motivations and inner monologues (apart from wondering how on earth a man like George Banks ever came to meet and marry Winifred, an actress, but I digress) I was reminded of how much of our lives are dictated by circumstances beyond our control, especially when we were children, and how damaging some of our experiences and things said to us, or not, can be. 
I’ll fight for the man who needs freeing,
the real you who no-one is seeing,
and you’ll find a way of just being,
being Mr Banks.  
So sings Winifred in the second act after George has been suspended by the bank and Miss Andrew, “The Holy Terror,” returns to Cherry Tree Lane. 

We all need freeing at some level. We all have to deal with terrors of some sort, holy, or otherwise. We all need to come out of hiding. We all need to find a way to get out from under the joy quenching effects of the brimstone and treacle in our lives so we can just be who God made us to be. We need more than just spoons full of sugar, however, to help the medicine go down and to set us free.

I suppose it’s not unusual for retired Anglican clergymen to spiritualize things so I might as well go ahead. This is what we sang in the finale: 
If you reach for the stars
  all you get are the stars,
  but we’ve got a whole new spin,
If you reach for the Heavens,
      you get the stars thrown in.
It’s from the Heavens that freedom comes. That's what Advent and Christmas are all about. After all, it was Heavenly beings who sang,
Glory to God in the highest,
      and on earth peace…! (Luke 2.14)
as they invited the shepherds to go and see the Christ child in Bethlehem. Jesus was the ultimate "whole new spin" who came to set us free (John 8.36; Gal 5.1) from brimstone and terrors. “For there’s no love greater than the Father’s love,” sings Robin Marks in his song, Fortress, “and there’s no love sweeter than the Son’s.” Jesus delivers the sweetest and best—heavenly freedom.