Apockeclipse

The problem with predicting the apocalypse is if you’re correct then nobody can reward you and if you’re wrong you look silly. So far everybody who has ever predicted the apocalypse has (thankfully) been wrong, or they were vague enough about the date to make it roll over a few times. But in these divided times it is tempting to have a pop at the old “End of the world is nigh” business. Nowadays we’ve got the internet so we don’t have to carry heavy placards and bells around, although I’d take my tinfoil hat off to anyone who felt like giving it a go.

They’re throwing the adjectives and details around with this moon, those internet people. It’s a half blood thunder moon eclipse at midnight over Jerusalem. Oh lordy. “Rapture experts” reckon it’s a good target for the old apocalypse signal. I’m scheduling this blog for 6am tomorrow morning but maybe there’s no point. Damn.

Imagine being a rapture expert. “I’m just an apprentice. This is Bill. He’s the expert in Raptures.” “Hi Bill, how many Raptures have you experienced?” “Well, none. But I’ve read a lot of articles and I’m extremely opinionated without being curious. I just … take an idea and roll and roll and roll with it. Give me money.”

Ok, pros and cons to the apocalypse. Pro: I won’t have to tidy my bedroom. Con: I won’t get to do this crazybeautiful Tempest. Pro: We won’t have to worry about Brexit anymore. Con: We will never go back to that restaurant where we had that amazing meal. Pro: Those nasty people I don’t like will be reduced to ashes or vanished or whatever. Con: So will the nice people who I do like.

On balance I’d prefer not to explode tonight. I’ve gone to all the effort to write this for fuck’s sake. I’ve even learnt some Shakespeare.

We all imagine a big old meteor or a firestorm or zombies or Farage or Ebola. But we haven’t experienced the end of the world yet, or spoken to anyone that has. We think we are important and that our existence has significance, and we’ve consumed enough story to make us expect fireworks when we bow out as a species. Hmm. I wouldn’t be surprised if it came in the form of an algae or a creeping mold, like the jellyfish taking over the oceans. Something damp and slow and inevitable and undramatic and alien.

It’s all breaking down anyway. We are too arrogant to accept our culpability and too soft to give up our luxuries. I’m writing this on my Galaxy S9+. It’s a piece of technology I could only have dreamed of as a kid. Now we are all sucked into these screens. I often wonder if it will always be like this now until we burn, that friendship groups sit together in parks each of them separately lost in their portable screen.

So. The apocalypse. Can this privileged hippy put an order in? Can it be a massive love-in where everybody realises it’s just fear that makes them hate people they frame as different and we can all have a nice sing song and then this big old Rapture takes loads of people and nature takes over and anybody that didn’t get a ticket to the Rapture gets to hang out with nature?

I literally just saw a BADGER as I wrote the last sentence. I’ve been walkwriting through the dark park using my smartphone full of child-mined cobalt. Outside of roadkill I’ve never seen a badger. It ran away pretty quickly but it was about the size of Pickle and had a bright stripy head. We had a moment together, badger and I, before it sacked me off. My first wild badger sighting ticked off, maybe just before the Rapture. I can burn happy now, or vanish to ether or turn into a zombie or remain on this plane with Cernunnos and the badgers or whatever might be on the menu.

Meanwhile I’ll keep thinking about this show, just in case the apocalypse doesn’t quite come through this time. Maybe see you tomorrow. Maybe not.

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Accordion

This is such a lovely gig. Bunch of ridiculous humans. Incredible text. Solid well established company. Here’s some of them.

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I’ve got my T-Shirt from back in the day, when The Factory built The Odyssey whilst doing Hamlet in the evening in Oxford funded by Creation. It all happened before I started writing stuff down every day. But for that gig I kind of wish I had been doing it. The Odyssey was a hugely changing show for me. James Oxley was a big part of the squad and he helped me understand that I had a useful singing voice, which had gone for utterly nothing at Guildhall, to the extent that I honestly thought I was no good because I wasn’t a tenor. I was cast as non singing Seymour Fleming in the third year Musical despite being one of the more musically adept members of the year.

James and The Odyssey helped me learn to be the tench in group singing – the bottom of the bottom, providing a solid base. And over the course of the run I had a number of musicians come up afterwards and privately acknowledge a skill that I would hitherto have never understood. I was told I was an “untrained profundo,” and if I had the money, time or inclination I might pursue it. As it is, fuck it. I can keep a harmony without worry or thought, and I can hit the lowest note loud if you need it. No not that one, an octave down.

I’d love to have had some better singing training at Guildhall, as I think about wasted time and money, but it was all done through part time tutors and mine could make no sense of my voice at all but that’s ok as the faculty and the school in general were amazing. She, though, just got me singing “Luck be a Lady”. Badly. Rather then “Old Man River” properly. Catastrophically unhelpful. Helen something, but a singer not yet wide enough on her own craft to be able to help people so different from her. Learning is so dependent on the teacher. James Oxley’s imagination was fired up by witnessing me announce that I couldn’t sing and wanting to show me how wrong I was. He helped me overcome an unnecessary insecurity given to me by my otherwise remarkably nurturing drama school about my musicality.

Now I’m trying to learn to read music on the Accordion, and – being entirely self taught – have been given some very positive feedback from someone who knows how the fucking thing works. Up until that I’ve just been banging the thing around until it makes the right noise, and then remembering the pattern. Simon occasionally shouts out letters of the alphabet. Some of them actually mean something to me now at last. The bulk of my left hand playing is pattern dependent. But why not. I’ve been noodling this instrument for over a decade. Let’s make sense of it…

Crickit

This was yesterday. The guy in front of me was a regular. Tense shift.

“Box of tiger prawns,” he utters in very uncertain English. I’m in a fishmonger cash and carry. They usually cater to restaurants but they’re open to the public. He pays £30 for his box. I tell him I’m going to get the same. He validates it. I’m up next. “Box of tiger prawns,” I ape. The shop guy hesitates for a second. They prefer it if punters get the prawns on display fir punters. But he gets me one. I want the polystyrene box so it can travel. “Eight scallops,” I continue, indicating the display. Huge great big queenies, roe attached. He gets them for me. He’s still with me even though I’m bluffing. But then “And four of these octopus.” “They’re cuttlefish.” Oops “I meant these octopus.” “They’re squid.” “Um… These ones?” “There’s only one left.” … “AND I SHALL PURCHASE IT.”

It didn’t matter that I was clueless. I still bought a huge amount of marvellous seafood. I brought it round to Tristan’s today. If anyone knows what to do with luxury ingredients it’s him. And it’s the cricket world cup final. I’ve watched a lot of cricket with Tristan over the years, and eaten good food into the bargain. Today the plan is to do both.

We are going to have a barbeque of sorts, but we got distracted. England won the Cricket World Cup but it was such a horribly close thing. Tanya was disinterested most of the day but suddenly, in the last few overs, she joined us watching as anybody would have. “And they say cricket is boring,” she says, knowing what is at stake and what is possible. Good God, what a final. What an incredibly tight game.

I remember watching the Superbowl with people who understood the game in LA, and starting to enjoy American football because of watching Tom Brady come back from too far behind by sheer force of will and unbelievable skill, which I only understood through the people I was with. This reminded me of that.

Watching Ben Stokes holding on by the skin of his teeth, so exhausted, so determined. Watching him take his helmet off when he thought he was caught and then readorn when it turned out to be a six as the fielder had stumbled into the boundary marker. Seeing him so apologetic when he got an accidental crucial 4 extra from a fielder throwing the ball into his bat and it rebounding to the boundary. All of this is jargon. But Stokes was indomitable. He wept off the pitch when it went to super overs. He actually was full on crying. He came back on, despite exhaustion, for that one last “penalty shootout” super over and he ran himself into the ground for the team and we won.

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I watched a game of cricket today that anybody, if watching with people who could explain the details, would’ve appreciated deeply. I’m glad I made the effort to come to Richmond for it (with prawns.) Perhaps I wouldn’t have had this shared experience if I hadn’t bought the seafood. I felt terrible this morning but I had fifty quid of seafood in my fridge so no matter how tired I was on this, my only day off for a while, I wanted to go where the cricket was because there was also the incredible chef friend of mine who understands a box of tiger prawns. When it gets close, I love how there is no way to run down the timer like they do in timed games. You HAVE to bowl that ball. And they did. What a wonderful wonderful hard game to watch.

Lunch was scallops with concasse tomato, seeded rye wafers with a piquant drizzle of sage, roe and caper butter, served with wedges of lemon. Lunch was Tristan spending half an hour in the kitchen with a bunch of stuff. Both of the last two sentences are true. Supper will involve shrimps on the barbeque. Appropriate after watching us scrape that win against New Zealand after just … yes. Just the sort of match that makes us know why we love live sports. That’s why we create a game we can win or lose with The Factory. Because without the knife edge the stakes get lost…

 

Weekend at home

We finished rehearsal at 1pm and decanted straight to The Punter, waiting for lovely Simon who was driving home to Lewisham after doing some carpentry. He’s playing Prospero and also building bits of the set. They cast their actors wisely at Creation. I was thrilled. He told me his route, and he was going right past my front door. He picked three half-cut actors up from the lunchtime pub, and he ferried us all home for the weekend. Right to my doorstep. Amazing.

I walked into my flat but I’d missed Brian. Pickle was there so we had a moment. I’ve been gone for less than a week but it feels so much longer. The Tempest company – I can’t fully comprehend that I’ve known them for only six days. We’ve bonded. Next week is going to be epic. But a little bit of away time is good, to recharge. I dropped my stuff off, turned around and went straight back out again. There’s always something on in London and I wanted to catch Scene and Heard while I was down. It’s their first course – playmaking 1. I’ve blogged about them before but they’re a charity working with kids from the Somerstown estate in Mornington Crescent. They’ve been doing it brilliantly for twenty years. The kids write plays.

This evening was as rich as it always is. It’s one of the best nights at the theatre in London. I watched Steve, the English Channel as he learnt life lessons from a lettuce. A robin met some sushi. A sarcosuchus helped the spirit of a dead Kukui tree to find peace. A panda was fed poisoned ice cream by liquid nitrogen. A balloon pump and a horse were definitely just friends and sang a song about it to make sure. An ancient shield teamed up with all four members of a very successful modern rock band, played by a single actress. We had diamonds and a Kraken and the rarest quail in the world and a bike with the soul of Albert Einstein.

Everything is done by volunteers. The costumes are incredible. The props as well. It’s all custom made for that particular show. The Kraken had a police badge hidden inside its tentacles. The diamond was so glittery. The English Channel was really detailed, with lighthouses and landmarks and a white cliffs of Dover hat. And all the performances were committed, specific and spot on.

It’s always packed in the theatre, with a party atmosphere. A lovely thing to come back to London to, these complicated yet innocent stories told verbatim by ten year olds with extremely difficult circumstances, through the skills and attack of so many adults. Not least the people who work full time, the makers and the technical crew, the composers, the dramaturgs, the directors… I tried dramaturging once but you have to have a predictable existence to be consistent for the kids, as you see them every week for a few months. I can’t do that predictable thing, much as I’d love to. I rarely know where I’ll be in a month. I was sad to leave for a job when I left though, as the kids are ace.

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There’s a matinee tomorrow. If you’re near Camden catch a chance. It’s free – but with donations. 

Making my den

I’m back in the park. The sun is close to setting and I’m thinking I might want to get a few cheap blankets if I’m going to be out here for a few hours every night but I’ll probably be ok with adrenaline etc. If I need some solar festoons they’re pretty easy to find at this time of year. I’ve got the beginnings of a beautiful den though and I’m comfortable here.

I’m under a willow tree. Appropriate considering The Factory are making a short lived Anthony and Cleopatra to be performed in a living willow tree in Wales and this is the reason I can’t play with them. It’s lovely there. I want to make things as lovely as I can in my little Shakespeare willow.

I haven’t got any wind chimes yet, but being me I’ll be looking to add them next week. Or I’ll be hanging shells up. Shells fit the world. Unlike incense, but I’m discreetly burning ylang-ylang from the covered market so it smells nice and brings in the sense of smell. The more senses the better really. I can’t think of anything story appropriate that I can feed the audience with. I mean, oysters… But no.

To my left there’s a slow flowing stream. To my right the setting sun. Birds and evening play from grown ups and children in the park are the sounds that carry to me here in my verdant den right now. And occasional planes.

There’s a test audience on the way. They might be half an hour yet but they’re coming. I’m going to get them to pull a wet sandbag out of the water and then talk to them for a bit in verse. I can’t remember all the lines yet so I’ll make some of them up. Then I’ll get them to sing with me. The usual stuff. And a lovely place for it. I’ll probably find something better than a sandbag eventually, or find a way to make a sandbag work.

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The Germans paid me today for the Newquay filming so I reflexively sent my lovely agent a Magnum of Bollinger. Always give presents you’d like to receive. And sadly it looks like the bike, in the short term, is going out the window (not literally though.) That’ll work out a lot cheaper, a lot less fun and a little less certain on the commute, but means that I’m probably not outlaying on a big bike so I can afford to be extravagant with presents. And they’ve been brilliant. Plaudits and joy to my excellent agents at Esta Charkham Associates – find your actors there!

Joy to everybody else who helped me towards this delightful and well paid summer and autumn of work! We are nothing without other people. In this business it’s as much about the artist as it is about the support network. I’ve been blessed over the last few years, and it’s only getting lovelier.

This summer, apart from a two week headfuck overlap, I’m looking golden. The overlap sans bike won’t kill me either. It’s manageable. I’m likely going to get the train pass organised in the next few days and then just splash out on Ubers from Paddington late at night. Not what I wanted. But if I can’t get my test in time to upgrade to a big bike, I’m not squealing up to Oxford on a little bike every day. Ironically a little bike is infinitely more dangerous for a journey like that.

Dark Park

To get to where I’m staying from the town centre I have to walk through a park. In London if the parks don’t have ghostly fluorescent lights every few paces then they instead have twelve foot fences and bored people in hats called Norbert who are supposed to be there to stop you taking crack or murdering the crack addicts or mugging the people who are murdering the crack addicts or displaying public nudity to affront the muggers of the would-be crack addict murderers. The few entry points that can’t be blocked entirely are instead festooned with warnings: “This place is seething with evil naked crack besotted murdering muggers who hate everything you stand for.” In reality, Norbert saw a dying fox last June and had to help that drunk teenager find the gate once a few years ago, remember?

But having lived in London I paused before the big dark Oxford park. On the one side, no fantastical warning signs. On the other, no Norbert.

Norbert won’t keep anyone safe, torch or no, apart from the verges and the annual safety assessment. Screw Norbert. I went for a dark walk.

It was properly pitch black at points, when the trees were low. The moon was bright though, and a clear sky was throwing up many stars, interrupted by scales of reflective cloud. It was a peaceful warm summer night. I thought about my concerns.

A person can only see so much. What you can see is dictated by light. All humans have a similar capacity to turn light into shapes. If you have no portable light source you can see no more than all humans can see, unless those humans have a portable light source in which case you’ll see them first, their better vision is directional, and their night vision is impaired by their light source. The playing field is as level as it is by day. Just because I’m impaired, it’s easy to forget that everybody else is too.

And If I’m walking alone through a park, the only thing to be afraid of is people. If I remember that my night vision is no better or worse than anyone else’s then I can shut down any worried voices.

Apart from those about fiends, of course. I did only turn round once. Because the pricking on the back of the neck is a real thing. Don’t turn more than once. You don’t want to see it. I still love this bit from Coleridge, who was my teenage jam.

“Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.”

Frightful fiends aside I reckon I’ll be good to stroll through that park every night without fear of public nudity, fly tipping, unregulated discharge of a blunderbuss, naughtiness etc etc.

On my late night perambulation tonight I even passed by the tree where I’ll be blithering about sons and waves and loss and whatever else occurs to me to blither. I took a photo of the sky, and it made me sad because the sky was astonishing and there was no means whatsover to convey that with the camera on my smartphone. But here is the attempt. A useful illustration of the difference between creative intention and bland reality.

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Day 3 rehearsal

Even in a short rehearsal process you still go through all the usual stages. Today was the “fuck fuck fuck I’m never going to sustain this” day.

All I’ve got to do is have fun with people under a tree, do a wee spot of scene acting and force noises out of my accordion. I’m hip with the scene acting. Have targets, think on the line, mix it up a bit, stay alive. And I’m hip with the fun under the tree, but I need more content so I can wade through the groups who have no play in their hearts and still be confident and lively. I think I’ll learn some emergency flufftext so when it’s 12 bemused people checking their emails and saying “I’m sure it said we were watching Shakespeare, darling, not playing silly buggers with some crazyman under a tree” I can click into something performative and impressive and leave them happy despite their dead hearts. “Oh yes, we met the king and he did that lovely poem.” I’m even hip with the accordion now. I reckon I’ll be able to play it without my eyes glazing over and my face freezing into a panic rictus. I’ve just got to get my head straight, generate some content, learn some actual Shakespeare and be armed with options. I need to get to the bottom of why my king has gone feral, and what he thinks has happened to everybody else etc etc so I can story it and take people on a little fun journey with me. It’s The Marquis all over again, without the hallucinogenic tea, but with all the gifts of nature, random cyclists, running water, ducks, dogs, nettles and weather. Once I’ve got my head round it it’ll be huge fun. Until I’ve got my head around it …

Thankfully it’s a damn fine company. Kind unusual thoughtful brave humans the lot of them. There’s a lot of fun to be had here and once I find my way out of the other end of the white noise I’ll have it.

Early bed tonight. That’ll help. Also I bought a load of vitamins and a razor so I can make myself feel a little bit less heavy and look a little bit more fresh. I can use this busy summer as a means of accidentally getting fitter if I treat myself well from the outset. So I just had a load of greens and I’ve put myself firmly back on the wagon after walking into a pub after rehearsal and bouncing straight back out of it without ordering a drink. Tick.

Now I’m in bed. It’s still light outside and all the kids are still up.

It’s pleasant being here in Oxford. There’s a bit more actual nature to be found rather than designated areas of nature-like stuff artfully displayed by the kerb. I spent a good few minutes on the way home just watching the bees flitting around and being glad I’m in Oxford . It’s a great town.

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