A Strange-But-True Story
As a theatre student, I once chose a charming but obscure play to direct. Loosely based on Gogol’s “The Overcoat,” the play concerned a Tailor in the Jewish garment district of pre-WWII London. In it, the ghost of an Old Man who’d ordered an overcoat before he died, comes to the Tailor complaining about how cold the afterlife is and asking if his overcoat is ready yet.
I wanted everything perfectly authentic, so I researched the era and London’s Eastside district. I even located the actual street address (mentioned in the play) where the Tailor’s shop would have been had the story been true.
But what about their accents? My stage dialects teacher knew a Cockney couple who’d moved from London to Los Angeles, and they said they’d be happy to talk with us.
So my actors and I, with tape recorders in hand, went to visit them. They were a lovely old couple who’d retired to L.A.’s Fairfax district near the famous Farmer’s Market. Over tea, Alf and Ginnie Singer confirmed that they were indeed Cockneys, and Jewish. And their unique accents further confirmed it.
“Perfect!” we proclaimed as we recorded their speech patterns. Then Alf informed us that he had, in fact, been a London tailor during the time of our story. I was amazed. Then he told us his shop’s address, and my mouth fell open. It was literally the shop next to the one in our play! “Only,” Alf replied, “I was the only Tailor on the block, mate. And your address? It was…do you remember, Ginnie? Ah, right, I think there was an old man who lived there. But he died.”
I’ll never know for certain, but I’ve always suspected our London playwright got his idea after visiting Alf’s shop. Or then again, maybe our playwright…
Was the Old Man’s ghost.