Babies and Bumpers

I just got off a train at Hoxton and had that sinking feeling that I might have left something behind. What was it? I’ve got my keys, my card, my bag. Oh yes, shit! The baby! I left the baby on the train! No. No. It’s ok. He’s with his mum again. Phew.

It’s pretty full on looking after one of those little bastards. Never mind that they’ll shit in your eye if they can, they want watching. How people deal with them day in day out is a mystery to me. I take my hat off to my acting friends who have managed to make one of those little bundles and can still do their job. It can be achieved, which is heartening. Kerry, the mum, had two auditions today, and needed someone to take the bugger while she went in to audition for the part of “Girl who finds out she’s pregnant”. She was saying that having the baby helps stop her getting fraught with nerves before she goes in. He can smell it and doesn’t like it. But she can’t bring him into the actual casting.  If she can find someone to take him, the audition room becomes a little oasis of creativity where for a second nobody wants to drink you and you can do your job. I want my friends to do well, so it was easy to offer to take him. Hell, I’m happy to borrow a baby for a bit. They’re awesome. They look at stuff, and their feet are as active as their hands.

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It’s another good use of Facebook, crowdsourcing childcare. A few of my friends manage that way. It means they get to go to their auditions and meetings, and people like me get a temporary playmate of approximately the same mental age.

Babies usually look at me and laugh. I’m over it.

Elliot and I went to a park and laughed and made jazz music. I’d just had a meeting with my agent, so an hour or two of squawking and gurgling with the occasional (one sided) milk break was a better wind down than a beer, and healthier.

With a baby, London looks different. You notice all the other babies. You see where there’s space for a push chair. You love places full of soft furnishings with free milk on the table. Elliot and I hung out, looked at stuff for a while and made friends. Then I triumphantly returned him to his mother with all his limbs still in roughly the right place, and without having accidentally dropped him in a hole. Having spent a few hours playing “Who’s foot is that?” it was time for me to knuckle down and do some serious work. Unfortunately all the serious work was taken so I went to a little dusty soundproof box in Hackney and provided the voice of a bumper car. And not just any bumper car. The angriest bumper car in the history of bumper cars.

For an hour I stood there, apoplectic with rage, cross-eyed and bawling like a retired magistrate who’s never had to wait so long for a coffee in his LIFE. They had a huge condenser mic “Bump them! Bump them all!” I exhorted the pop filter. “Crush the fools.” It’s the sort of thing I’d do in the garden when I wasn’t much older than Elliot. It was strangely therapeutic. Now if I’m ever feeling angry I know I can go and sit in my angry bumper car and smash them all.

Shakespeare in the Abbey

I must have walked, cycled and driven past Westminster Abbey a thousand times since I last went into it. Living in London you can quickly harden to the huge amount of history here. I’ll sit, fart and eat my sandwich on a bit of wall that was built by the Romans. I’ll check I’m not late from a clock made in 1465. Having recently been in a place where they say “1830” like we say “600ad” my history head is calibrated a bit better than it was before I left. Tonight I had the opportunity to go into the Abbey and SEE it.

It was the open dress rehearsal of the inventively titled “Shakespeare within the Abbey.” They’ll be doing it for the punters tomorrow and the next day. It’s a site-specific piece in Westminster Abbey. Often I find with site specific work that the performers haven’t managed to unravel themselves from their material, so you see a lot of people needing to be loved. This was not the case tonight. It felt incredibly intimate, honest, human and respectful.

We all spent a couple of hours walking around in the Abbey. Actors would come up to individuals and small groups without that “actor’s energy” and share beautiful moments with us. At no time did I feel put upon or shouted at. I never ran out of fresh things to engage with. I ran into a friend. “Hey Colin – you working or watching tonight?” “I’m working, mate. I’m bloody knackered, here come and have a look at this.” Next thing, he’s telling me the bit about Elizabeth I from Henry VIII right by Elizabeth’s tomb. I met Henry V by his tomb too, and she told a small group of us how we would be remembered this St Crispin’s Day. And Richard II was clearly baffled to find his own tomb, and told us how he is studying to compare this kingdom that he lives in to the world. That one drew a crowd as it was Rylance. He’s always been an actor’s actor. It’s funny to think people know who he is. For years people would say “who?” but now he’s been on the tellybox.

Outside of the Shakespeare, one of my old teachers collared me. “Al, come and see this. It’s my grandmother.” She takes me through a barrier and points to Sybil Thorndike, one of the old dames of theatre. I had no idea she was my old teacher’s granny. As I express that to her I notice I’m standing on Noel Coward.

Then coming back out, i find Anne-May, my Dutch Puck. She’s dancing at the central point of the inner cross. I go to take a photo for this, but the volunteer stops me before I’ve even started. This is the best one I get. He was already on me. Not sure why no photos, but I’ll grudgingly respect it and post this blurry mess anyway.

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Anne-May has drawn a crowd with her dancing and finds her way into a sonnet. Then my friend Scott clumps over with a broken leg from skiing, and points out the beautiful ceilings with his crutch before dismissing them as a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. He’s lost his mirth, it seems. The whole abbey was populated with characters, moments and scenes. It felt very full and the atmosphere was delightful. At the end the whole company came together singing, and processed out together.

Having many friends there lent even more joy to what was already a uniquely gentle and moving evening in one of our country’s most striking spiritual hubs. I needed something restorative after having another go at tackling the many bags of my mother’s old clothes that I haven’t quite been able to tackle for years. It’s evenings like this that help me feel justified for chasing this dragon. There’s no guarantee of money or consistency in the path I’m staggering down. But the fellowship! It’s consistently wonderful. So many big hearts who just want to try and make ephemeral beauty. I don’t think many people could have had a better, happier, more delightful evening in London, free or not.

 

Summer Shows

When I told my dad I wanted to be an actor, he looked at me a while in silence. Then he said “I wanted to be a long distance truck driver when I was your age. You should do that. You’d make more money and you’d see more of the world.”

He went to his grave believing it was a “phase” that I would “get out of my system.” I’ve spent much of my working life trying to see as much of the world as possible through my work. There’s nothing I like more than an opportunity to travel and work. I really wanted to get a meeting for the Globe Tour of Hamlet that went to every country. The furthest I’ve managed so far is Thailand, for just a couple of days filming. The scene involved myself, David Thewlis and Michelle Yeoh, in a flashback scene for a Luc Besson movie. It would’ve been wonderful for my showreel, but Michelle and David both had dots drawn over their faces. They were going to CGI younger versions of their faces over their real faces. The whole flashback sequence was cut for budget in the edit, and I never saw the footage. I kept the credit, got a free trip to Bangkok, and chalked it up to experience.

For the last nine years I’ve always somehow managed to land a lovely summer job. For six of them I was in Yorkshire, running around in the grounds of Ripley Castle for Sprite Productions. We did Twelfth Night, The Tempest, As You Like It, Shrew, Comedy of Errors and Dream. They were beautiful summer days and I met some practitioners who are still very close friends now. The end of an era – I just saw the producer looking to sell their cables, as they’ve moved to Wales and have too much on.

Last year things were a little different and more or less a year ago today I found out I’d be off to play Claudius in Hamlet, in Dubrovnik. They were casting a woman as Hamlet, which was pretty groundbreaking for Croatia. The show had a woefully short rehearsal process for a story of that scale, but a dedicated and hardworking company that wasn’t going to let that detract from it. It was mounted for a month or so in Fort Lovrijenac, jewel of the Dalmatian Coast. It was a lot of fun, despite being a tragedy.

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The Fort is a squat but imposing edifice on a promontory. Back when Dubrovnik was a great port, they were sending Argosies out across Europe, and it needed defending from the sea. There’s plenty of room for cannons with wide angle views of the sea on the battlements. You’d have to work hard to slip by unnoticed. It’s part of a system of defenses in the city that lend it a peculiar beauty now they are redundant. Some of the interior of the walled city itself was destroyed by mortars in the nineties, but the Fort was not hit. The huge stone arches and verandas overlooking the sea were a great setting for Hamlet, as they are for Game of Thrones. It’s where they film most of King’s Landing. It was a hell of a place to work in. We had enough time to learn the city, rather than rush around like tourists. I had already changed my pounds when they tanked for Brexit, and I was happy to be working in Europe while everyone went mental in the UK. From waking to swimming in the sea was less than 5 minutes. I came back after the show brown as a nut and ready for the insanity.

My friend Helen who was Hamlet came round my flat this afternoon and we went for a walk and sat with the Buddha in Battersea Park. I haven’t been very grounded the last few days, but it’s the working week tomorrow and I want to hit things running. New headshots coming soon of beardless Al. I think it might have been good advice to shave it, even if it didn’t yield what I expected. Let’s see if I can find some visible work now and take advantage of the fact I look about 10 years younger without all that grey fluff. Or at least another beautiful summer show. Here’s to a good first week after Easter for all of us. I expect it’ll be pretty hyperactive, as everyone will be rushing on sugar from all the reduced Easter Eggs in Sainsburys.

 

Eostre

“You have to eat the Easter cake otherwise you aren’t a christian, and you won’t go to heaven.”

I’m supposed to be on a diet. I don’t really believe in heaven, and if I did then I wouldn’t be expecting to go there. I do believe in hedging my bets though, and I like cake. Pascal’s wager. Maybe it’ll buy me some heavenpoints. Today was a little bit of a break from the stricture of the diet, inevitably. I went round my carnivorous brother Max’s house: “There’s no veg, Max” “Yes there is – we’re cooking potatoes.”

First thing uncles have to do is Easter bunny duty. Hundreds of eggs in a small garden. It takes ages to hide that many eggs, and the children snatched most of them up in minutes. It was like watching three howling cyclones. Rather than searching in things, they caught on that knocking them over would probably make all of the eggs fall out and then they could scoop them off the floor. As I watched them I wondered how Easter got tangled up with eggs. If the Easter Cake is so important to orthodox Russians that I had to eat a bit even on a diet, what is the significance of the eggs?

EGGS

Well first it’s a rebirth thing I suppose. This time of year is all about fertility. Eggs are new life. Bunnies are shagging and breeding all the time. Both are pertinent symbols for the beginning of Spring. It’s not long before everyone dances round a phallus singing songs. The early Christians quickly caught on that the best way to stamp out rival religions is to absorb their customs and change their significance a little. It’s strange that there was all that furore about “Easter” not being on the poster for egg hunts. Where does the word come from anyway?

The Dark Ages are dark because very little was written down. People were mostly illiterate. We were an oral tradition. In an oral tradition, there are people who are the carriers of stories – Skalds and Bards etc. They were brought up from an early age to understand and be able to pass on the the tales that inform the culture they work in. Home grown myths are the best for understanding the needs of the place they’re grown in. All the old Testament stories regarding saving a portion of your crops against famine etc are preserved warnings based on hard lessons. The Romans and subsequent conquerors and witch hunters ensured that anyone who was able to pass on our oral traditions died with their stories. All that remain are scatterings, and old wives tales, and the feast days superstitions and customs – observed more clearly than they are understood. There are probably things we can do with our native plants that were discovered through years of trial and error that we will never know. One of the only reasonably reliable sources we have for what was happening back then is a monk called Bede who set himself up as a chronicler. He claims that “Eostre” was a German fertility goddess symbolised by a rabbit. That would certainly key into the whole business of spring and rebirth and fertility. But with him as the only source it’s easy to discredit it.

With some excellent symbolic thinking, my brother cooked a lamb. I didn’t eat it though – I have to draw the line at red meat for now. My own (equally arbitrary) superstitions and observances got in the way. The cake was enough. I had a plate of hastily heated up frozen peas with potatoes and looked longingly at my 14 year old nephew as he paraded around the kitchen wielding the entire bone, occasionally pausing to try to bite through it in order to suck out the marrow, and finally attacking it with tools once he accepted that his teeth would go before the bone went.

Lovely to spend a day with my family in Eostremonath, and hang out with the kids. I’m gasping for chocolate now though…

WeekEND

Last night was spent in a barn with 50 strangers. There was a lot of live music and singing, and we were participating in a ceremony. One woman had a huge gong and was able to play on it exquisitely. Because I was there as part of an ongoing healing process that I have embarked upon this year (and this blog is part of it too) then I don’t want to talk about the details of my experience. The easiest thing to say is that I found it extremely valuable and powerful.

Afterwards I walked for hours down a canal. I wasn’t really sure where I was going, or why. I just wanted to walk in nature.

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A man called Francis had recommended it to me. He had two beautiful dogs, (you can just see him and the dogs in the right of the picture). I was inclined to take his word for it as he seemed the type to do a lot of walking. It was a great. If I hadn’t had my rucksack on I would probably have ended up in Birmingham, but once I started to notice it was feeling heavy I got out google maps and ended up on a bus to Wembley Park from somewhere in Middlesex. We went through Pinner, where I used to look after old people as part of the community outreach of my school. There was a man called Mister Dyke. When I was 14 me and Dan would see him every Tuesday, and every Tuesday he would say “I didn’t know YOU were coming today.” We would pull out weeds from his garden. He never had the heating on but he always had all four hobs on full. He told us that this was because he got his gas subsidised but not his electricity. I didn’t know if he was right or not, but I was always worried he was going to blow himself up.

We went past the bottom of the hill where my school still lies. The bus went through the bus stop where Dan and I would wait after visiting him. I thought about that kid. I wondered if he’d recognise this “adult” sitting in the same seat in the bus, who still thinks it is a good use of his time to stay up all night meditating and singing with a load of strangers, and then go for a pointless walk for hours just because. He probably would.

Getting home was a great though, especially after only a couple of hours fitful sleep. I feel rested but I know my body will thank me for a proper sleep tonight. The brilliant thing is, the weekend has barely begun, what with this Easter malarkey and the extra day. Although a bank holiday means sod all in theatreland. I want to sort my flat out, and get some bags down from the attic, as I’m still in a jobhole and need to make sure my time isn’t wasted. Plus there’s likely things I can sell for a few bob if I’m organised with ebay. Old computer games and so on.

Since I got home Brian and I have just chilled out in each other’s company, cooked for each other, and shared a happy lazy Saturday. Sometimes that’s all you need to make the day complete – companionship and relaxation.

 

Chocolate Cake

All this stuff about the chocolate cake and the wrong country. It makes me very uncomfortable. I’ve tried to avoid politics so far in this blog apart from an occasional little rant. I’m sure I’m going to be roundly educated about all the things I’ve got wrong. But here’s my take on the cake.

It’s theatre. Xi Jinping is having dessert with a maniac. “Oh you gotta try the chocolate cake, it’s just the best.” Xi humours the maniac. He takes a little slice. He eats it. That’s the cue that the guys have been waiting for, stationed there by the maniac. “Isn’t the cake just the best cake?” says the maniac. Xi continues to humour him thinking *What the fuck is wrong with this guy?*. “Yes, the cake is good.” he says. And on cue a bunch of aides interrupt. They’ve been told to. “Oh excuse me a moment…” *mutter mutter mutter* “Well that was a surprise. I’ve just this second unexpectedly given the order to bomb Syria. Would you like some more cake.”

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Missiles must have a shelf life. May as well fire them off if they’re approaching it. The fact that loads of them didn’t reach their target implies they were on the way out. Then later on when interviewed by Fox, maniac gets the name of the country wrong. “Iraq” he says before he is corrected. He doesn’t care or know. “One of those middle eastern places” is as far as he is capable of differentiating. Maybe not even as detailed as that. “One of those muslim places.” But it was never about where the missiles were fired. It was about the theatre of firing them just after getting Xi to say “Nice chocolate cake.” Big happy inconsequential positive, news comes in, total change. It’s a very old storytelling device. Because he may be a maniac, a dolt and a sociopathic narcissist but he’s not an idiot. He’s clumsily sending the signal that he is a dangerous man of action. A clumsy one. Which lends weight to whatever veiled threats he had been making, and is followed up by mobilising his fleet towards North Korea. What human cost?

He’s not playing politics as politics, he’s playing it as business. But he’s playing it with so many nukes in his arsenal that he could wipe out humanity. He is also playing it, most likely, with the childlike and probably incorrect belief that whatever defence system there is in the US will catch the nukes out of the sky over America. And without the understanding of global climate that would inform him that blowing everybody else up, even if he does shoot out all the nukes aimed at him, is still going to be disastrous for him.

This is posturing and positioning. He fired about $60 million worth of tomahawks into a geographical area he doesn’t really understand or care about in order to make a point to a man he thinks of as his business rival. Even if, as I suspect they were, the missiles were disintegrating, there is still a huge human cost that he will never lose sleep about from the ones that exploded.

What makes a good businessman? I would argue a total lack of empathy comes very high up. Ideally coupled with the ability to mimic empathy. It’s no surprise that David Icke arrived at reptiles when he was constructing a conspiracy theory about the illuminati. Crocodile tears. Reptiles are a good animal model for the sort of sociopath that seems to be inevitably bubbling up at the top of many of the major economies in the world. Ability to shed skin, total unstoppable hunger, immunity to feeling, ability to blend in. The problem is, total catastrophic failure in business doesn’t usually have a global effect – although the recession might argue otherwise. If there is total catastrophic failure in any of Trump’s power plays, the global consequences are vast. He can’t just declare bankruptcy and start again with a new planet a few years later.

I’m getting more and more worried about what is going to happen with this guy. America can still be first if most of the globe is irradiated, and at heart I fear the maniac thinks “If I’m ok, everything is ok.”

I’m off to the countryside for a weekend of contemplation, so I’m writing this in the morning before leaving and scheduling it. I can’t have chocolate cake or I’d be wolfing the stuff.

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I’m on a 19 bus across town. It’s a beautiful spring evening, if a little chilly. It’s London. There’s so much variation, streetlife, colour. And yet since my friend disembarked five stops ago all I’ve done is cycle through social media on my phone. There’s the beginnings of a sunset struggling through the clouds to my right. All the Londoners are free from their chains for the rest of the day. If I look out of the window even for a moment I see massive variety in this crackling mass of people. So many different stories. They all have their way of walking, their gestures, their tics, their pain, their happiness. I could easily spend the journey observing, wondering, enjoying, extrapolating, dreaming through them.

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Instead I’ve been consuming other people’s lives through my phone. It’s a malaise. I say, even though you might be doing the same with mine. These devices are amazing. It’s great how social media helps us stay connected with people we shared joy with once. But if I’m not careful I can get stuck in a consumption spiral. I suspect it must be the same for many people.

As someone who frequently makes grand gestures, I suppose I could just cut it all out for a predetermined period of time and come back with a different view on it. I’m wondering if that’s necessary, however. Surely there must be a way of regulating it – catching it when we get in a spiral. Some people can multitask and read their phone while having a conversation. If I look into my phone it slurps me into itself right away. If I’m with someone they usually immediately notice I’ve vanished and hound me back.

My nephew has made an app which nudges you when you’ve been on whichever site is your poison for too long. You can set the limit. “After 40 minutes on Facebook, nudge me.” I haven’t downloaded it yet so I have no idea if it works. But the fact he made it gives me pause.

When I was 18 only dickheads had mobile phones. “What are you expecting that’s so important it can’t wait until you’re home?” Expectation and culture has shifted now though. “If i don’t reply to that email quickly that job might go elsewhere.” It’s fucked though if we’re constantly messaging Tom while sitting with Dick and Harry, and messaging Dick and Harry when sat with Tom. But a lot of us are.

We need a code of etiquette. Technology has overtaken manners. There’s no commonly accepted social code apart from “Put your phone away” “But I’m waiting on a job!” “It can wait.” “No it can’t.” When I’m on my own though? I guess we have to parent ourselves. I don’t have much of a television habit, as I was strictly regulated as a kid to the extent that it exists in my unconscious as an occasional luxury rather than an essential wind-down. I think I’m going to try and throttle back my consumption as if I were my own parents regulating me, and break the hand to phone instinct. I can wear a watch. I can wait a little while for the news that Spielberg wants me to have his baby. When I finally acquiesce he’ll be all the more excited. I don’t have to cling to every buzz in case it’s the buzz that will solve my money worries. I’ll make that buzz myself and I’ll choose when I do it.

Meanwhile that was my bus stop. I am now walking down the street writing this. There could be a dragon in the sky above me for all I’m aware. There might be a herd of engineers. Or elephants depending on your typing app. Time to put this in my pocket, look at the sunset and muse on what has been a good solid inconclusive ramble.

 

Lighthouse

I think I need to have an early bed. All this excitement is a little too much for me and I’m not accustomed to eating as little as I have recently. I read 10 plays today for the writers. Thankfully they weren’t full length. The only directorial note we got was “Be strong and wrong.” No time for more than that. Sightreading with a room full of strangers to a room full of strangers, and a licence to play. My first part was God. Then there was a selection of dads and doctors, the captain of the titanic, a weird homeless guy who makes friends with a child, and Tweedledum. Then I walked home and met up with an old friend.

Anne-May is connected to a fellowship of actors that I work with from time to time in Amsterdam. A few years ago I was asked a number of times to go to Amsterdam and do little bits of corporate theatre for Sol lager -(it’s owned by Heineken). They wanted to rebrand, and as far as I understand they needed hispanic looking people to say “Espiritu Libre” and have beards. I wasn’t going to complain, considering the amount of party that was happening around us. These branding events are essentially an excuse for everyone who works on the product to get pants down sloshed and run around in beautiful places. I ran with the wolves for a while. I apparently signed my name to a poster that said “We are the 1%”, as there was a photo on my phone the next day. I went home with a lovely leather jacket and a stain.

Since I was in Amsterdam anyway it made sense to make some theatre outside the corporate world. I had to work in the evenings so the traditional Amsterdam pursuits were out. An opportunity to make theatre presented itself. There’s a company out there that does Shakespeare in english. They work on similar principles to the old Factory Hamlet game over here – the actors learn multiple parts, and the exact casting is determined by a game of chance played a minute before the show starts. They call themselves “The Dutch Factory.” (For those of you wondering what The Factory is I’ll inevitably dedicate a blog to them before long. Right now it’s easter sabbatical. But here is the website. They’ve been a big part of my life for years now.)

The Dutch Factory heard I was coming over, and I got an email asking me which parts I knew in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Two days after listing the ones I thought I could get away with, I was playing Oberon on my Sunday off on a mosquito infested lighthouse island in Ijmuiden. I can’t really remember how it played out. You just have to lock into your partner and let the text work, and solve any problems in the moment.  I occasionally look back and think “What the fuck happened that day?” It was very very hot. I know I carried a small dutch boy around for a while, as he volunteered himself as the changeling. I know I sang a song on a moving boat and everyone hummed along. There was a crocodile. I had pair of binoculars. I made someone eat a clove of garlic. I lost some blood to flying monsters. I did a lot of running. And I made some friends. One of those friends was Anne-May, who played Puck. We were constantly surprising and challenging each other when the mosquitos weren’t trying to kill us. Also she was a little more familiar with the play and helped me out all the times I said “Ok that’s done, what the fuck is my next scene?” We stayed in touch.

Sometimes these one day jobs lead to friendships. The fellowship of actors, which I touched upon yesterday, is wide but focused. When you find a kindred spirit, the gods find ways to make sure you keep in each other’s lives. She’s working in Westminster on Shakespeare within the Abbey soon so she’s staying on my sofa for a few nights. She has already fed me, and It’s half past ten, and I think I’m going to pass out if I stay up any longer. here’s the only photo I took today. It’s Anne-May at Westminster Cathedral. Spot the actor.

I’m knackered. zzzzzz

Cathedral

House of St Barnabus

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.

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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.

I Am!
I am—yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes—
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
Even the dearest that I loved the best
Are strange—nay, rather, stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.

Crypt

86. Sorry, theatre peeps, I’m hacking out some context here. I’ve been thinking about the theatre director Peter Brook. Someone quoted him at The Oliviers: “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.” His book “The Empty Space” is usually the first book someone reads about theatre. It was second I read after “theatre of cruelty”, back when i should’ve been doing my homework. It was and is an important book, of its time re gender pronouns etc, but with a lot that was new and pioneering. It introduced terms to the mainstream of theatre practice – most noticably the word “Space”. You hear that word all the time. The man himself is still going, in Paris, at 92. He survived 2016.

While my brother was being given Attenborough’s Life on Earth six times every Christmas, I was being given “The Empty Space.” It’s a hugely influential expression of the way in which theatre practice has been moving for some years, since before I was born. After the Restoration, Charles II imported the theatre he was used to from France. The puritans had torn down the old playhouses, where the actors and audience shared an intimacy borne from hundreds of years of travelling carts and mysteries. They were all gone. In their stead he erected huge houses of trickery and stagecraft, frames for the genius of the stage engineer Inigo Jones. These imposing proscenium arches pepper The West End with their balconies and vaulted ceilings. His framed theatre allowed women to be actors. Arguably Charles’ predilection for actresses is part of why he went to such lengths to restore the theatre in the first place. He liked actresses very much, most famously Nell Gwynn – his last words were “Let not poor Nellie starve.” That shows that despite being in charge he understood that artists need food. Unlike the fuckers we’ve got now. Nellie didn’t starve. Syphilis got her first..

The theatre of Charles and Inigo instigated such familiar concepts as the fourth wall. I suspect that by modern standards the acting would feel very mannered – there was a language of gesture, posture and tone that was consciously put into play over time by the casts. With so much naturalism across all disciplines now, it would be unfamiliar and likely jarring to see such practice. It stayed much the same though for a few hundred years.

Brook’s book came once television and film had taken root as the providers of the framed fourth wall. Since they took over as the primary visual storytellers, theatre has been reconnecting with its audience. There’s still a lot to be taken from being a fly on the wall in a room with breathing actors. Ballet is an example of why that will never stop being beautiful and moving. Harry Potter another – stagecraft and stage trickery is wonderful to witness and we can do so much with the technology we have. But there are many ways to tell a story, and deeper exploration of the nature of live experience is one of many ways to keep theatre breathing. In London, where space is at a premium, anywhere can be a stage as long as there’s room for Brook’s “someone” to watch that space.

This morning we were in a Christopher Wren crypt in central London talking about money and rules with a woman called Caroline. The crypt is over 400 years old but it doesn’t feel like it’s going to collapse. It’s expensive but it’s dry. Most underground spaces I’ve worked in have been damp enough to make you think you’ve got tuberculosis after a week. This place is so dry you have to drink plenty of water or ravage your voice. I’d prefer carrying around a bottle of water all day to spending every night coughing my lungs out. And it looks great, and works well. I was there once before some years ago for a week of R&D with Baz Productions that led to their inaugural showing of Macbeth. They are a brilliant motivated bunch of friends and collaborators, and our paths frequently cross. From my experience of watching their finished Macbeth, I know that with a load of candles and whatever else we can afford we can turn this spooky crypt into a Viking Mead Hall.

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One of the things I love to make is theatre that’s about community and bringing people together. In Christmas Carol it was always my chief joy to see strangers swapping numbers after the show. If we make this right, we can have a Viking show where the audience leaves entertained, replete with mead and meat, and comfortably holding hands with someone they’ve only just met.