Dipping into the Electronic Pocket Oxford Stagey Dictionary, I discover that a West End Wendy is a “ performer who has performed in what feels like every show going and seems never to be out of work…. experienced, talented, fierce “
There’s no doubt reading this fascinating musical theatre memoir by actor/singer/dancer/choreographer/director Scott St Martyn that he is one of the biggest Wendys of our theatrical era! And I mean that kindly.
Starting as a schoolboy actor in Watford , he got a scholarship to Arts Educational and came out to his parents . Jobs as various costumed characters at the Disney shop in London helped out but as he frankly says: “ I had arrived at Arts Ed knowing I could do it. I left knowing how to do it. “
It’s a strand that runs through the book – his self-confidence, cheekiness and determination to rise to the top. From the moment in 1969 that he sang his heart out as an orphan in an amateur production of Oliver in Watford, it’s clear Scott had only one aim – to make it big in London’s West End.
The book, expanded from an earlier volume, is a fascinating glimpse of life both onstage and backstage at some of the biggest musicals the UK has seen in recent decades, but it’s also a tantalising look at gay culture , particularly at the emergence of the AIDS crisis, currently so graphically portrayed in Channel 4’s It’s A Sin.
What’s fascinating is the cast of characters – all real – that he came across – from the drag scene’s Marc Fleming, Maisie Trollette, Dave Lynn , Mrs Shufflewick and Lily Savage, to the stage and television stars he performed with like Dennis Quilley, George Hearn, Barbara Windsor, Frankie Vaughan and Su Pollard to name only a few.
It’s a picture of what now seems like a long lost age of summer seasons at the seaside, and lavish annual pantos ,alongside blockbusters – from La Cage Aux Folles to 42nd St, Jesus Christ Superstar and others.
There are delicious indiscretions about behaviour at auditions, a pay bar for the cast in a dressing room during the run of a show and the burgeoning talent of a young tall blonde dancer who knew he was more than just a hoofer.
Along the way we meet Broadway legend Barbara Cook, theatre titans like David Merrick ,La Cage writer Harvey Fierstein, and larger than life actors like the “ swear bear “ Brian Blessed , who in the run of the ill-fated musical Metropolis swore so much that the children in the cast had to be chaperoned out of rehearsals.
There are dark moments too – the murder of a gay theatre director , a terrorist bomb in Barcelona , a gay bashing incident which Scott suffers and the sorrow of fellow performers succumbing to HIV/AIDS, but above all this is a delightful romp through one performer’s career that took him from cruise liners to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and the Palladium, and saw him in many UK tours, as well as musicals at Nottingham Playhouse like Rocky Horror and West Side Story . And not forgetting Madam Jo Jos cabaret venue in Soho, where he often performed .
There’s much on La Cage Aux Folles in which Scott played the Cagelle Chantal , opposite Dennis Quilley and George Hearn with his best top vocal range on display. But even Cage had its downside – when the show got terrible reviews and was accused of promoting promiscuity its run ended abruptly in January 1987 , and as AIDS took hold Scott was turned down for parts in Fiddler On The Roof and Les Mis because he had been in La Cage- such was the stigma . Performers were forced to take the show credit out of their cvs for fear of not getting work- something I had never realised.
Scott often performed in Brighton, especially with Maisie and Dave Lynn and was involved in the resurrection of the alternative adult panto at the Pavilion and the Queen’s Arms, so I guess the city has a fond place in his heart .
Other interesting attitudes appear – like when he’s told at 27 that he’s too old to dance in the West End. It’s clear this episode and others were overcome by Scott’s bloody-mindedness – sometimes blagging his way into auditions and recalls by force of his sheer determination.
When his life-long partner French businessman Jean decided to retire, so did Scott , and after marrying they moved to France and then to Oliva in Spain where they now reside.
It’s a life full of memories , joyful friends and fellow performers and it lightens the darkness of our lockdown days for sure.
More Diaries of a West End Wendy is available on Amazon here.