87. London just keeps on being surprising. I’m back in my old well trodden role of “We’ve lost an actor. Al’s always game. Ring him.” The part this time was John “I am the self consumer of my woes” Clare. He was a poet, contemporary with Byron, largely in his shadow. He spent much of his life in various asylums with some form of psychosis. He genuinely thought he was Shakespeare for a while. He was a tortured genius, with himself as his own worst enemy. I have no idea why they thought of me for him. Ahem.
We were reading the script at The House of St Barnabus. How the hell have I never seen that place before? It’s a corner building just off Soho Square. It’s huge and filled with art, Chesterfields and people thinking. Some bloke in the 1800’s bequeathed the property for the benefit of the homeless.
They run it as a gorgeous members-only club, but not for profit. All the money goes towards helping the homeless of Soho. That’s got to be a full time job these days. I’ve no idea how much it costs to join, it’s almost certainly out of my reach, but I asked them to email me anyway. There’s a fucking massive autumnal Green Man on one of the walls that they’re flogging for 15 grand. I’ll come back and get it when I’ve got my mansion. I love it.
The play we were reading was a deep funny weird piece, and as is so often the case with this job, I met a load of strangers and almost immediately we all had to jump into each others hearts for a day, then say goodbye and go elsewhere. You have these intense experiences with people and then they’re gone and maybe you don’t see them for years. Paterson, who played my editor John Taylor, had a load of full on scenes with me and had to leave immediately we finished to spend time with his son. If we hadn’t had lunch together I’d know nothing about him. This job makes you one heck of a team player. And now all these new hearts are somehow part of the ever expanding fellowship of lovely actors that coalesces in every actor’s life over time. One day I’ll work with some or all of them again but for now we’ll all ping pong elsewhere.
After we were done, since I was in Soho, I went to dig out another member of my fellowship in long standing. Maddy and I have laughed together a few times now in joyful shows. She had been singing in Soho and I’m accustomed enough to not drinking to go to a dive bar sober. We went to Gerry’s where I nursed my water as people around me got into tremendous arguments about Byron. Was his work beautiful enough to justify his actions? Should we divorce the artist from the art? Were his actions in Greece enough to allow us to forgive his philandering? I’ve always had a suspicion I’d dislike the man if I met him. I’m yet to be bowled over by his verse but I’ve not spent time with it and my context is obviously screwy as he’s long dead.
The whole time I was in Gerry’s I never felt the pull of the bar. Which taught me that it’s possible to have a free night in Soho. An old friend from Holland was there as well, and a director I only met last week. After working I usually need to wind out the adrenaline. After reading John Clare it made sense to wind down by sitting underground trash talking Byron.
Here’s one of his poems. It’s angry. But he was banged up in an asylum for 20 years which would do for anyone. And nobody bothered visiting.