So I arranged to chat via Skype with my namesake but non-relation actress Amanda Fleming in Manchester. She has not been heard of in this blog since May 2015.
We were going to talk about her play The Countess, which we last talked about in February 2015.
But we got sidetracked…
JOHN: So, your vampire Countess woman…
AMANDA: She wasn’t a vampire; she was a serial killer.
JOHN: Well, she was Countess Dracula, in the Hammer horror film.
AMANDA: Yes. Ingrid Pitt. She’s still alive, isn’t she?
JOHN: Of course; she is one of the undead.
AMANDA: No, Ingrid Pitt… Well, the… I… Oh… Someone here wants to say hello… (A WHITE CAT APPEARS ON SKYPE AND SNIFFS THE SCREEN)… I have two cats now. This is Misty.
JOHN: Hello Misty. Lovely pink ears. Not the cat, of course. You.
AMANDA: Pink ears. But no earlobes.
JOHN: You or the cat?
AMANDA: Me… Look.
JOHN: No earlobes.You must be Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
JOHN: From the James Bond films… You have no earlobes.
AMANDA: The Plantagenets didn’t have earlobes.
JOHN: You are a Plantagenet?
AMANDA: According to ancestry.com I am.
JOHN: Related to whom? Not Richard III, I hope.
AMANDA: Edward I… Longshanks.
JOHN: The Hammer of the Scots? I am Scottish. I am shocked and saddened.
AMANDA: Well, I have my Celtic side. My bloodline from about 1500 upwards is a bastardisation of the Tudors and the Plantagenets and then they married into Irish aristocracy from Wexford.
JOHN: Accidents of birth.
AMANDA: I had an accident.
JOHN: You had an accident?
AMANDA: I had an accident. A window fell on me on 5th May this year. I finished work and went to the theatre pub where we were doing a show to do a bit of work on the synopsis. I was sitting in the beer garden, typing away on my laptop computer. I had had literally two sips out of a glass of Chardoney and I heard this crack and the edge of a pane of glass from an upstairs window hit me on the head.
JOHN: The pane or the frame?
AMANDA: The whole section of the middle part of the glass.
JOHN: It hit you flat or the edge hit you?
AMANDA: The edge. Luckily it was not two floors above me or I would have had time to look up and I would have been a goner. It was excruciating pain. I didn’t even know it had cut all down my face. The shock.
Apparently there was an improvisation performance going on upstairs and there was only a very thin wood panelling covering the window and blacking out the room and a guy bumped into the wood panelling. That loosened the centre part of the window which broke loose and fell down on me – about this size.
JOHN: Bloody hell! That’s about what? Two feet wide?
AMANDA: The circular centre with a jagged edge broke loose and fell and just thank God the jagged edge didn’t hit me or I would be dead. It hit the corner of my skull and slit down off the side of my face and that is why I have a big gash there.
JOHN: It was mostly impact damage?
AMANDA: Yes. It smashed on the floor. The police who came said: “Amanda, you’re very lucky. It would have been a lot worse if it had smashed on your head.”
You know when you bang your head sometimes? You come up too quickly and you hit your head on something? Imagine that, but five times more painful. I thought a piece of metal had hit me on the head. I didn’t realise it was glass. I got up and went: “Oh! What was… Aaaargghh!” and then it all went Boooofff! – There was blood everywhere.
The guys in the beer garden were going: “Shit!! Shit!!!” and all running round.
I had no idea of the extent of it. There was a 9 cm gash and I had to have two lots of stitches. I had them under, because it had cut an artery – That was why were was so much blood. Apparently I had lost half my body weight in blood by the time I got to the hospital.
It was a surreal experience, because I was talking and trying to crack jokes, but I could hear my voice slurring.
JOHN: Because of the impact; because of the concussion.
AMANDA: Yeah. I tried to do yoga breathing to keep myself calm, because I could feel myself… you know… the adrenaline. I was telling everyone else: “It’s OK! It’s OK, yes…” Crack a joke, crack a joke, crack a joke. But, inside, I was thinking: KEEP ALERT! KEEP ALERT! KEEP ALERT!
JOHN: You were trying to crack jokes?
AMANDA: I think it’s just a kind of survival instinct thing with me. To not think about what is actually happening.
By the time I got in, the surgeon realised the secondary artery – not the main carotid artery – the one next to it that goes down – had been sliced and that was why I had lost so much blood. So he had to do two lots of stitches: one lot to secure underneath and then on the top of the head as well.
There was a lot of work I had to cancel. I had about £2,500 of work booked in for the next six weeks and I had to cancel it all.
For the first couple of weeks afterwards, I was just numb everywhere. Now, near where the scar is, it’s like a weird kind of tingling. And, if I touch the right side of my head here, I feel it on the left side. It’s the weirdest thing ever.
JOHN: I was hit by a truck in 1991 and the back of my head hit the corner – the edge – of a low brick wall as I fell – My brain wasn’t even remotely right for about nine months with concussion coming and going. You must have had problems with the concussion.
AMANDA: It was weird. I had never had concussion before. I have noticed some of my words I have to think about a bit more now. And, when I’m typing fast, some of the letters go wrong… not all of them… just like, for example, if I mean to type WEAR it sometimes comes out as WAER.
JOHN: It hasn’t affected your acting?
AMANDA: Well, I think I’m going to go fully into directing now. It has changed my life – the way I look at my life now. Definitely.
JOHN: You look up a lot more?
AMANDA: Don’t even get me started on that… That’s still an anxiety I’m trying to get over… When I see scaffolding ahead of me, I have to cross the road.
JOHN: But it’s changed your life more fundamentally?
AMANDA: Yes. I used to over-think things all the time. Things I could not really do anything about. It would frustrate me and get me angry and make me bitter about things. But, since this happened – even though lots of negative stuff came with it – the sensations and shooting pains and things – on a personal level, it has made me realise that, right now I should be doing everything to enjoy myself and do what I love rather than worrying about what could have been or what people think or whatever.
JOHN: And why has that happened? Because you could have been killed?
AMANDA: That’s it, yes.
JOHN: Why have you decided not to act?
AMANDA: I haven’t decided I’m not going to act – if something comes up in films or commercials or voice-over or whatever, I will still do it, but I’m not going to act in theatre any more: I’m going to direct theatre and I’m getting a strong passion for film-making and directing.
AMANDA: I think because I have more scope and creativity there. When you’re an actor, you only have a specific area where you can create. Having been in acting for like 30 years, I can bring my actor’s side to directing. You are in charge of your own creativity.
JOHN: Anyway, we are supposed to be talking about your Countess woman thing.
AMANDA: I wanted to make it historical but with a supernatural twist. We put it on for three performances at Todmorden, because they have an amazing Gothic church there. Ideally, we would like to tour round the country in those types of venues. We did two performances in Manchester last month, because people who saw it in Todmorden told people in Manchester and there was a demand… It sold out in Manchester.
We cant afford to stage it in Edinburgh, but we are trying to get the funding together to take it to the festivals at what they call The Three Bs – Brighton, Buxton and Bath. But we would like to tour it round rural venues like barns and village halls.
JOHN: Or castles?
AMANDA: We’d like to! We are going to get a video – a 60 second ‘taster’ – and press pack together.
JOHN: Sounds like it has movie potential, too.
AMANDA: Yes. Or maybe an amazing Gothic opera.
JOHN: And it’s the Countess Dracula woman?
AMANDA: Well, she wasn’t a vampire, though some sources say she was somehow distantly related to Vlad the Impaler.
JOHN: Blood relatives.
AMANDA: Maybe. Might not be true.
JOHN: But she was for real.
AMANDA: Yes. Countess Elizabeth Báthory. She was a Hungarian aristocrat in the 1500s who murdered at least 650 people – 90% women plus some men – probably more than 650, but those were only the bodies they found.
JOHN: 650 is going it some… Was there a ‘trigger’?
AMANDA: She started by knocking off peasant girls and bathing in their blood. She didn’t want to grow old. Blood is kind of soft and moisturising – it’s the plasma in it. She must have thought: Ooooh! It makes yer skin go really soft! That was the trigger.