Belch

Time is running away. I still haven’t got Toby / Antonio 1 second left hand change satisfactorily solved. That’ll be the weekend. My head is burning with Shakespeare right now. And logistics.

“Is it normal to be so fried?” asks Katherine. I’ve only done one of these tours before so I’m no expert. But yeah. I remember how my brain was hurting at this stage last time. We have been looking at the journey of the stuff, and topping and tailing all the entrances and exits, trying to lose dead time and snip and nip and tuck. We are in on Saturday as well, to bolster the time lost to the bank holiday when we can’t get into the venue. The wash of the show is almost done. We have to start tightening now, really getting to the heart of why scenes exist. Thankfully it’s a lovely bunch and we are all pulling together.

I’m out for the night though. I’m off to see Minnie. I’ll be away until late November so I’m trying to capitalise on my time outside of rehearsals. I don’t see enough of many of my friends anyway, with the obsession I have with this delightful antisocial work. I‘m trying to catch people in the gaps, when I have the energy. Considering I was able to commute to Oxford and do a show after rehearsal for the first few weeks I know that there is fuel in the tank for that sort of thing. Minnie has been so important in my life over the years. I’ll miss her daughter tonight – she’ll already be in bed – but I’m writing this in an expensive Uber to Catford as the sun sets to see her. My very very dear old friend.


I got to hang out with her and it was great. We both needed it. When you’re with with a true and proven friend the weight falls away immediately. We both needed that simplicity for a bit. Just … to communicate with ease, to sit by each other. The solutions are in the silences and the simple understanding, as much as anywhere else. I am exhausted and less than fully secure. Zeph had been kicking off unusually just before I arrived. Min was discombobulated. I have no clue about babies, but I know discombobulation. We had pizza and caught up and now I’m on the bus home feeling so much lighter even though we only managed a few hours together. Again though, if there’s room in your head to do it, it’s worth making space for the people that matter. I have a few people I’ve neglected utterly recently, and it’s unlikely I’ll catch some of them before I leave. I don’t even have parents or grandparents to factor in. I can barely manage seeing any of my deep friends around my job.

I need to see too many people before I sod off to the States until Christmastime. I won’t manage it. But I’m glad I managed one tonight even if it means less time for important costume thinkyness. Belch doesn’t need to be fat. Sure, he was played by the Falstaff actor. But aside from his alcoholism there’s nothing in the text to imply he’s fat. It might be the belly that I ditch in the end. I’m still cooking though.

But this is where my head is at right now. It’s the downside of doing what you love. You can’t park it when the working day is over. It keeps on bubbling…

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Rehearsal day

This morning, instead of being at my friend’s wedding I was at a jam session. One of us was at the US Embassy. Another was off working. I had to be there though, because there was the knowledge that I desperately wanted to be elsewhere. My presence became the most important part of procedures in reaction. I’m shit at politics. I prefer it when people just say true things. I got myself into a corner again.

As a result I was working while my dear friend tied the knot. Beautiful work though. I started to find ways to bring my accordion into the gorgeous music that Kaffe has initiated. It was fun and engaging and it helped me better assimilate the loss of an important day. I’ll never quite overcome that loss, but it’s something to do with being in Twelfth Night and maybe I can find a superstitious way in which I blame the play. Last time, playing Malvolio up at Sprite, I had to miss my friend Davina’s wedding. It was press night and the wedding was abroad. Our friendship never quite recovered. It will with work though. All relationships respond to work.

Dan and Jules and I are hopefully solid enough to overcome this unfortunate shitstorm. I hope they had a beautiful day.

The issue at stake here is the antisocial nature of my profession. If I’m working, I work when everybody else is playing. If I’m not working I’m hibernating, counting the pennies and struggling with self esteem. And I would always sooner be working than not working, and that occasionally involves having to miss important occasions at last minute. As I said before, insha’Allah. At least I like the people I’m working with.

It’s nice having the squeezebox included in the mix. If I can make it do nice sounds then I might be able to improve the show while getting better at it. I hadn’t really figured it as a possibility until today. I have to get my hands to play together, but Kaffe is a folk musician in the same way I am, understanding shapes and needs over letters if the alphabet. He totally understood that I just needed him to play his bit while I worked out by ear what to plop in. He’s very good at his bits, but his attitude towards it all is so forward and positive that it helps us all pick up and play. Some of us were traumatised by formal training, but intrinsically musical. We will have a little band by the time the tour is open.

It’s at a tricky stage right now. None of us can remember everything simultaneously. Five person Shakespeare is genuinely not an easy thing to do, and to do it with ease and clarity is even harder. For me, my brain is currently fried with logistics. I also badly want to find a solution for Toby / Antonio so I can have a fight with myself whilst changing signifiers as quick as a flash. This weekend I’ll have to do some magnet sewing, because if I’ve still got nothing by Monday I’ll have to just go with cummerbund / sash which will disappoint me. I want to make something more impressive and harder. But it might take more skill than I’ve got. The only way of finding out is by doing…

We had a run today of much of it. It feels like we are barking up the right tree. That’s something at least. We had a horse drawn carriage where I’m one of the horses, that I was convinced was going to get cut for all the time we’ve worked on it. But it passed muster. So far. Neighh!

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Hey ho the wind and the rain

I’d normally be in Wales by now. Instead I had a hot bath. Now I’m sitting companionably with Brian on the sofa while Pickle happily munches away at her white fish and her biscuits, satisfied in the knowledge that she just shat directly in the middle of Brian’s brand new duvet cover. I chose the wrong time to have a hot bath in the same room as her litter tray.

My magnets arrived in the post today. I bought some quick change magnets. They took ages to arrive. You sew them into your clothes so you can magically change in and out of them at speed. The fact that I can’t sew has only just come to my attention. Never too late to learn I guess. I need to make something where I can efficiently switch between Belch and Antonio so I can have a fight with myself without it being too fussy. If I can do it deftly with my left hand in about a second it’ll be a delight. My head is not great in that sort of thing. I’m currently thinking belly to epaulette. Some sort of foam bolster with material to round off a shoulder pad for Antonio, and it goes under the shirt and holds with magnets for Toby’s belly. It might be too complicated. I’ll know I’m a few days, and a cummerbund to a sash will be a fine compromise if I can’t make it work. It’s all about communication and simplicity this work, not the tricks. But the devil is in the detail.

I’ve only gone and put the accordion in the show as well. I’m still struggling to separate my left and right hands so I’m taking it to America at my own inconvenience in order to have time with it. If it’s in the show I have to play it live. I’ll have it in my hotel room too. A little bit of work often. I’ve already noticed an improvement but I’ve still got a long way to go. It’d be a beautiful dream to be able to play it well enough to put it on my CV. I had it there for about three days. My agent at the time rang me up once it was on and said someone had asked if I could sight read music on the thing. I said categorically not and took it off again immediately. I’ve got an actor’s brain on it. “You need that note. I can hear where that note is. It comes out of this button. Excellent well. Note achieved. Need another note? I’ll keep listening.”

Twelfth Night is probably the most musical play in the canon. It opens with that famous line “If music be the food of love, play on!” The scenes incorporate the music much more than some of the other musical comedies do. It ends with “Hey ho, the wind and the rain!” All of us are rising into our musicality, led aptly by Kaffe who has written some great music and requires us to jam along. The more time I spend with it the more I enjoy this play and this process on it. Although I wish I could be in Wales tonight and tomorrow.

Here are four of us, joined at the head like a rat king. We will have to remember to take photos of Katherine, as she is great at taking them of us…

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Oh yes

It’s amazing having my evenings back. Yesterday I met up with Tom, who has directed Christmas Carol every year. It looks likely it’ll pop up again. Three jobs back to back? Don’t mind if I do. Today I’m just hanging out in the evening sun as it sets after Twelfth Night rehearsal. It’s been a perfect late summer day today in London, the warm air moving, the sky clear.

Most of the day we have been in our excellent vast rehearsal room in Brixton. We are doing it all. Actors, directors, stage management, lighting, music. All but producing, although it’ll be part of my job to give us a good face with local papers as we move around. Kaffe has to write the blog. We all have duties. Jonno is Travel monitor. Katherine is Tech. But we will all help one another.

You might ask why I’m not on blog. Well, I can’t do two blogs at the same time. And by can’t I mean won’t. I’d do nothing but write. And I reserve the right to rant here, or obsess about something tiny, or try an idea. But anyway, Kaffe has got it sewn up.

We are at that difficult stage in the process where our minds are halfway in a remembering place and halfway in the moment. “What did we decide was happening in that moment? Should I be ready to switch character? What’s the staging? What’s my objective here? Have I got my lines right? Where is my signifier for the next character I’m shifting into? Fuck I missed it.” It’s difficult, this thing that we are doing. But that’s the point, and therein lies the joy. In the end I always prefer things to be difficult. Better to have a challenge and overcome it. That’s part of what this game’s about.

Patrick Stewart and Peter Holland helped make this wonderful company over fifty years ago now as far as I understand. The game is clear. We tell a Shakespeare play as clearly as we can with just five actors. The show has to fit in a single suitcase. We do it in a different city every week, hosted by an institution. We work with and in the community around the shows we do.

Last time found me working with lots of students, some old folks, and once – and this will always stay with me – we went into a prison in Indiana and played to the inmates. That was our preview. I wrote the above blog at the time and if you fancy double Al Barclay it’s one of the posts from the blog that kicked this extended experiment off.

The last tour was one of the most fruitful and positive times I could’ve had in a very dark personal place. Now I’m internally much better and I’m very excited about the potential of what might come from this tour with this extraordinary group of humans.

I have no idea what it’ll bring, but the five of us are already ready for it.

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Weddings vs Acting

On Thursday my friend Dan is getting married. I was best man at his last wedding. Thank God he hasn’t asked me again as he’d have to find a new best man with three days notice. I can’t go. Perfect storm.

His partner practices the same Buddhism I practice and knows my ex girlfriend. They have only recently moved back to the UK after emigrating to Canada. I’ve missed him. This is a chance to reconnect and plug into their lives.

Nope. Acting.


When we were at school, he was a one man army in my defence. He put up with mockery to be my friend. He taught me what it means to be a friend to someone. He barricaded his bedroom door once whilst I climbed out the window to escape. He was a rock. He is a rock. We have held contact. But if he’s a rock, I’m a Rick. (One for the Rick and Morty fans there!) Ugh.

Dan’s getting married in Wales, four hours drive from London, and I so so want to support it. His stag came when I was overlapping jobs recently so I had to miss it but I really thought I could make it work for his marriage. His wedding is this Thursday.

One of the four other actors I’m working with will be at the US Embassy in the morning for a visa interview which will take as long as it takes. It’s already a half day for her. I thought it made sense.

I cleared a day off weeks ago with all the other actors, but hadn’t thought it relevant to clear it with casting.

Thursday afternoon is the only time possible for the people who cast us to come in and see us in a run. It’s a necessary part of a process that has been interrupted anyway with recasting one part. It’s in the contract.

Despite this pending partnership! Dan and Jules! Getting married!

The heart of my pain on this is the fact that it’s a pattern I’ve been running on myself for decades. Up until this time I’ve never dug my heels in to try to put life before work. Normally I just sacrifice life to work unthinkingly and immediately. But I’m getting older. This time I tried to put life first, and tried to hold out but to no avail, which only adds to my sense of powerlessness. Dan and Jules are one of the shining flakes of joy coruscating around me. I now have to hit them with a shoe.


I sent the actual messages today. It’s the day they signed their vows at the registry office. I’m thrilled for them. I care for them both. I couldn’t bear to call and bring a down. I sent messages. He hasn’t read them yet so I might have to ring tomorrow. They’re busy and it’s a ton of work.

There’ll be an empty seat with my name on it and empty space in the ceremony where I was going to do a sonnet and some Buddhism. I’ve already offered to cover whatever my absence costs them fiscally. For what it’s worth.

It’s always hard when they aren’t actors; “Just tell them you’re sick!” “I really can’t.” Particularly when I write a daily blog.

This delightful vocation. It’s antisocial. No wonder such a high percentage at the Guildhall reunion have jumped ship and seem happier for it. I still love it, but … Oh compromise you old familiar beast. I’ve just been so lucky recently to have lots of work, that I’m experiencing the work/life balance skewed in an unfamiliar direction.

I have made a family of my friends. One of the last friends who knew both parents is back in the country and getting married to someone amazing. It’s a blow to miss it but miss I must.

“The show must go on!” It’s seductive. We are dancing into the fire though with it. I pledge to try never to do it again – to give cold advice.

Stiff upper lip. Chin up. It’s not helpful. Really not. I will listen to you and offer support.

I’m off to bed. Lovely day of rehearsal today. This feels really positive, this Twelfth Night. It’s going to be great. It’s such a strong company, and part of my job as an alumni is to lead the company positively. And I will continue to do so. I’m just having a moment. Don’t read too much into it. Better out than in. As before, so again. I sometimes forget people read this until I get to the end.

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20 years

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I’m still thinking about that reunion yesterday.

Ellen has been photographing old snaps she took of us, and sending them to a WhatsApp group in bunches. At the time I had it in my head that I was old, as I was a little older than some of the people in my year. There really wasn’t much in it when I compare it with how old we all are now. The youngest of us all have babies now. Ellen’s sensible daughter – who we all knew when we were training – she’s older than all of us were when we started, and she’s got an OBE for her work with ebola while we were putting on make-up in a room above a pub.

To get to Guildhall for the reunion I took my usual commute. I found it quite emotional to tread the ground I had walked every day back as the millennium turned, guessing at what might be in store for myself and for others. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, which is why they still remake films that were great the first time round. I wasn’t the only one to get a bit teary eyed as I remembered the uncomplicated past.

These were not halcyon days. Halcyon days are a construct. It’s pretty good now, frankly. But time brings weight. I miss the gung ho way in which I approached things back then, even if I was many degrees more naïve than I am now. My support structure was in full presence. It’s good to connect with that sense of safety again. My mother was a fixed point. I can’t overestimate the extent to which parents anchor us. When I lost that anchor a couple of years after this photo, I drifted for a long long time, and reflexively started protecting myself and building defences.

I’ve been thinking of the girlfriends I left so I could chase my career or my solitude, and the other people I’ve pushed away by mistake. I see that pattern having become a deeper part of my behaviour now that I’m my own anchor. I wonder if I’ll ever break it enough to walk alongside somebody again. I hope so. Some of those eyes around that table – they are unchanged. I love those humans. I’ve looked into all of those eyes and told the truth so many times that even though I hadn’t seen some of them for decades it felt like yesterday. Such a diverse group of unusual humans. We were a strong ensemble. There was a lot of love. Now I rarely see the bulk of them.

There are one or two who I still see, who still touch my life regularly. Some through Factory, others through just walking in similar patterns. But this all consuming antisocial vocation I’m still rattling at forces me to concentrate when people leave the nexus that is London, and often I can go months and months without contacting someone I really like. It’s all so sporadic, shifting from centre to centre. I still love it. But it’s an antisocial job.

In my recall audition at Guildhall before the whole faculty they asked “Where do you see yourself in twenty years?” “Definitely still acting, no matter what. This audition will help determine how well.”

Well. Here I am. Wherever that is…

 

GSMD reunion

Around this time of year 20 years ago we got the news. “You have been accepted to train at Guildhall School of Music and Drama.” Boom.

At the time you could go there to find out live on the day it was announced. I did so. A woman tried to sell me lucky heather on the way. I told her no, saying I needed good luck, I had a good feeling about it, and if I got the result I wanted I’d forever be reliant on heather. Good shout. I am now immune to lucky heather.

I had been working as the receptionist at Ambassadors Theatre Group, Turnstyle. The bulk of my work that day had been to do with preventing Jason Donovan from being put through to a certain producer. There were Rocky Horror problems with no answers yet, and delaying tactics were in full swing. “I know she’s there. I’m sitting in the Rainforest Cafe opposite! She walked in 5 minutes ago.” “She hasn’t walked past my desk yet.” “You’re lying to me.” “I’m not.” It was good to escape. Had I not got into Guildhall I might have still been working there. I’d have a lot more money. I wouldn’t be so happy.

They separated us into groups in the gym at Guildhall whilst loudly playing terrible music. We went into another room. My old schoolfriend Toby read the names. I was counting the group size. I knew that the year group at Guildhall was 24. We had about 30 names called out in our group and as soon as the count for my group went past 24 I hit rage. Toby winked at me as if to say well done. I didn’t properly register it. The numbers were wrong. We were moved into a room and I sat there with a face like thunder. It was too many. I didn’t have a place. Fuck this whole idea. We sat there for ages.

When the faculty came in and told us we had been accepted I didn’t immediately process it, so convinced I had been of it going the other way. After all, I had spoken to one of the guys in my group and he spoke next to no English. Maté, our Hungarian film star. One of my best friends over the years we were there. I often have negative expectations. I’m learning not to.

They buffer themselves with too many acceptances at Guildhall. I was overthinking as ever. Funny that. Sometimes people decide they’d prefer to be a scientist, or go to Julliard or get a proper job. They offer too many places tactically. We ended up 23 because one student literally just didn’t show up on the first day. She was rich Chinese, I think, and her parents prevented her at the last minute. We watched the teachers pretending not to panic about it. It was a wasted space. A shame. But our unit was complete.

Some of us got together this evening for a reunion. Twenty years since we first met. Fuck you, time! But it was lovely.

Russell organised it. It was a strange and beautiful thing. We met in The Jugged Hare – the pub that still stands on the site of our beloved King’s Head. It has since been retooled to appeal to the people we didn’t like when we were students.

A good sized group of us had a meal in the shadow of the past. Things felt much as they used to, although many of us are parents now. I went home early, but full of memories of how it used to be, even now that we are 20 years older…

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