Places hold memories. If there are ghosts, they might be something to do with that. If you’ve spent a lot of time and emotion in a place, that place becomes a part of your journey – sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. I have, in the past, gone back to places where bad things took place in my life, and improvised rituals to cleanse myself from them and reclaim the place. I’m sure that sounds ridiculous. But I do feel that we leave little bits of ourselves behind if we’re not careful. Sometimes we leave bits we are better rid of, sometimes bits we might want back.
Above the Arts is a place that resonates strongly with me. It’s a little artists club in the centre of town, and it was built by people I love in a room where I have expended a huge amount of energy over a prolonged period. I did Christmas Carol in there for two seasons running – I love that show, and I try to give everything whenever I work, so there’s a lot of bits of me – probably skin as much as energy – wound into the woodwork there. Today I stopped by after rehearsal to pick up some boxes, and I saw some red paint stains on the floor. Immediately I was in a time-warp.
A little over two years ago I was standing in a top hat behind a two way mirror. It was our first show in London. I could see the audience, but they couldn’t see me as I was in the dark. We had just played a track of a clock while I held a smoke machine behind a door, wafting as best I could, while opening and closing a door slow and sustained. That was the beginning of my show every night. It’s the entrance of Jack as Marley’s ghost, so the audience get him walking through a door dead, while smoke billows in his wake, and I discover that I haven’t got three hands. Once he’s on and talking, I move to the mirror to be revealed. “That’s odd,” I think. “The floor’s wet.” I make a mental note not to slip on this wet stuff. I get in position. But the floor is really wet – I investigate it thoroughly with my foot. Wet and sticky… Ectoplasm?
There’s about a minute before I’m revealed, but it might be a problem, so I come out from behind the curtain to get some light on it. “India – there’s something leaking,” I whisper to my friend who is operating. I head to the corridor where there’s light. “I’m hoping it’s not leaking onto the … oh my fucking GOD”
Red paint. Red paint fucking EVERYWHERE. On my right shoe. On my black trousers. On my top hat. 40 seconds to the reveal. I hop to the loo and get some loo paper to sort the hat out. 15 seconds. Thankfully Brian, the producer, happens by, perhaps attracted by one of his actors hopping to the loo less than 30 seconds before he goes on stage. “Everything alright?” He takes in the situation. I hiss: “There’s fucking red paint fucking everywhere”. It’s redundant. He can see that. A look crosses his face that I’ve not seen before or since, and I see him every day. It’s a mixture of confusion, rage and resignation. 5 seconds to reveal. I get in the mirror and freeze, holding down my frantic energy, putting the hat on backwards to hide the paint. “Where the fuck are the keys – HERE” Bang. Light goes on and I say “Humbug” a couple of times, perfectly still. Around my feet I can feel people wiping my shoes as I stand, and their muffled cursing. The light goes off. Now I have about 2 minutes before I come through the door. Then I’m on stage until the end of the show. There’s myself, Brian and India. Jack is onstage oblivious. It’s rare that an actor desperately wants his scene partner to milk it for all it’s worth but I’m trying to send psychic signals to Jack – “Milk it for God’s sake milk it I need more time.” He speeds up, the fucker.
Anyone in theatre will know the feeling of the next minute or two. Focussed industrious borderline panic. One ear on Jack, part of my focus on keeping my head show-ready, while my entire body automatically solves the problem of getting the paint off me – as much as that’s even possible. I hear my cue coming: “Shit I’ve got to go on”. Brian, still shellshocked, nods automatically: “Have a good show.” I jump down one flight of stairs, bound up another, sneak through a noisy door and listen. “…fix this man.” Bang and I’m on. By the end of the show, there was virtually no paint left, and Brian – who was on 2 hours sleep after the get in – looked like he was not just ready but willing to die on his feet.
All of that came back to me almost physically where I saw my painty footprints on the floor of Above the Arts today, like the evidence of a murder. The feeling came back to me palpably. I felt the need to stand where I had been standing and rediscover the moment of realisation. For the rest of the run I had a spot of red paint on my top hat and one red soled shoe. Nobody ever said “Why did Scrooge have paint on his shoe?” That’s theatre, baby.
Places hold memories. That place is steeped with crazy fun good ones of mine. If you’re in town it’s worth asking if I’m there, as it’s a lovely place to hang out between meetings. We could have peppermint tea and look at the bloodstains. Paintstains!