Today’s blog by me

I wrote an article today for a theatre website. All of my dopamine receptors are trying to pacify me into not writing this blog. “It’s done little brain. Stop little brain stop. Stop and bathe in our happy juice. Yummmzzzzzz” NO! No – dopamine, you filthy beast. No. I’ve got a blog to write. I’ve got a contract towards myself that I’m too stubborn to break.

It’s coming up to a year now. Jesus. But here we are. Me with my phone and words. Going out live! Every day! Rain or shine! You heard it here first, kids. The ridiculous life of Al Barclay – unedited. Mostly written in a rush, or drunk, or angry, or trying to be optimistic about something that wrenches my guts out. But written.

Here’s today’s blog:

“Whatever have you been doing today? O Al Barclay actor and writer?” *photo attached (sexy version)* *CV and credits (lies)*

“Gosh. Well, it’s funny you should ask me that, journalist. The last time someone asked me that question it was producer. In fact it was producer that introduced me to executive producer and other actor from TV programme plus director. Thanks to writer and funding body, we have been putting on a play called play at venue. Made possible by person, person, annoying but brilliant person and person!  Ha haha haha joke. I’m also very excited to be supporting charity! Because of my best friend person I’ve never met. Me and funding body care deeply for their whatever the thing we care about is.”


Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. I love writing about it. I’m good at my job. I’m good at writing about it. There’s just this notional template that has been established by generations of unimaginative people writing about it before us. And the need to mention everybody’s names. But where do you stop? Ethan and Harry the chippies were fucking indispensable during the get in for this show. They smashed it and worked like trains. They built the table. The shelves. The benches. They put the board up. They put the mirror in. They did invaluable carpentry work with circular saws in the dark and cold. Botan gave days of labour sorting electrics, shifting stuff around, making things look better, bringing positivity, doing it. Anna-Fleur held us all together while working harder than all of us, and sorted out stuff way beyond her remit knowing that nobody else would. Insanely positive, utterly brilliant. But for me to write my article about their work – it would have been a good article but not to brief. Because there’s a template to fit. Maybe I should’ve been less obedient, but I feel it’s in our interests to have that generic “yayy theatre” article published. Plus it IS in my voice to an extent. It’s just the obedient version of that voice. And I’m not instinctively obedient.

So yeah. My first commissioned article. Hooray etc. About a show I love too. But what you’re witnessing is me coming to terms with the difference between writing freeform for my own site, and writing for PR.

Hey ho. It’s past 2am. I’m done. Here’s Jack measuring material today. He’s a total legend. Rehearsals reshmersals.

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All the things

Early finish tonight, and home. They’re doing electrics in the space, which is beyond my remit. I’m better off having sausage and mash, changing my sheets, tidying my room and getting in the bath.

It’s amazing to think about the amount of work that’s going into this project. Brian and Louie started with an abandoned warehouse, a show that they knew worked well, and people. The last few days have been us all working out how to make the rest fit together. We’ve built from absolutely nothing into a space that is really starting to feel great now, but it’s been a sheer act of will. It started as a huge empty cavernous freezing warehouse. Now it’s Scrooge’s Parlour.

There’s such a huge amount that needs to be thought of to make something like this happen properly. Fire precautions and drills, sightlines, light, toilets, clearing plates, bins, plumbing, missing bits of costume, volume, sound effects, tricks, light effects, carpentry, who takes the tickets, bar stock, bar staff, heat, electricity load, getting the food out on time, candles, smoke, tablecloths, laundry, holly, audience journey, food quality, books, set dressing, food quantity and much more. Endless stuff. And that’s before you get started on the acting : lines, beats, pace, intentions, tactics, coining it, listening, responding, physical and mental acuity, accuracy, simplicity, bravery, journey, life, truth. And then the marketing, pricing, inviting, press, PR, websites, social media, images, press release, credits. Aaargh. I have to write a 500 word piece for a theatre mag about the process. I write 500 words every day minimum now without blinking. But I haven’t done it yet because I’ve been mostly working through a list of things that are important for my show, and writing about it for wider public consumption isn’t up there. Probably due to my instinctive distaste for doing things that will help me. I haven’t been inviting industry people who could put me in the way of work. I’ll inevitably leave that until too late as always.

The thing is though, we know this show works. It’s a delight both to do and to encounter. I wouldn’t keep coming back if not, nor would the producers be putting themselves through this tough week for it. We will be making Christmas for ourselves and for loads of other people. It’s going to be brilliant fun, it’s going to bring people together, it’s going to be delightful. All this work in the dark and the cold is going to a good cause. We are taking a warehouse that sits empty all year haunted by security guards and murdered prostitutes, and we are making it into a hub of community, the heart of a story, and a place to laugh, play, eat and sing songs.

One of the things I’ve got to write about for this article is “the enduring appeal of the story.” To me it’s about the fact that we can utterly transform, no matter how lost we might think we are. Scrooge starts cold and empty like the warehouse did. Every early description of him is about the cold: “The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.” In a short space of time, and after a journey, he is redeemed. He is warm again, full of joy and life and hope.

This freezing warehouse is virtually unused most of the time. We are the spirits, coming in and warming it – cramming it with light and food and happiness and warmth and redemption.

It’s a lot of work. But it’ll be worth it and we’ve got the team. I’m so thrilled to be back again and staring down this month of unadulterated loveliness. Bring it.

Here’s the link to tickets. Feel free to share it, and book in large numbers, and come celebrate this glorious show with us!!! Aaargh merry Christmas. Now I should think about writing this bloody article where I can’t swear.

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Theatre BANG

Out the back of the cold warehouse we are building into, someone has written “Send Help.” It wasn’t me. But it tickled me and it’s the only snap I took today.

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I was wearing my ski jacket with extra socks and walking boots, but I’m still sneezing my way home on the tube. 

I spent a good few hours under a table taping wires to chipboard to get them clear of people’s feet. I’m very aware that they might be moved or replaced tomorrow, but my stomach muscles needed a workout and it was like doing a hundred sit-ups. Then I got my hands covered in blackboard paint and my hair full of fake snow that appears to be made out of nits. Many lovely people spent many hours freezing themselves in the dark to make shiny things.

Ladies and gentlemen – the magic of theatre. Lots of work by lots of people so a few people can make it look easy and take all the credit. It’s mostly been joyful, this build. And nobody has been injured.

In Yorkshire a few years ago I was doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, running around, playing multiple parts in a wood. I quickchanged my trousers every night. Costume had pinned them up for sewing and left the pins in. I didn’t notice for ages. A week and a half into the run I crouched down and felt the entirety of a pin go into the top of my inner thigh, about an inch away from babies, in the hip join, mid sentence. I played the rest of the scene, then got out of sight slowly, favouring the other leg, and pulled the bastard out behind a tree. It was painful yet bizarrely satisfying, and had the effect of elongating time. In my memory the wrench of pin on flesh lasted ages. My skin rubber banded weirdly far as it tried to cling to the metal. No wonder they say pulling a sword out does more damage than sticking it in.

For me, I changed my costume into Peter Quince, ran for the next scene, muttered “I just got a fucking pin in my crotch” to one of my fellow actors who looked at me blankly, and carried on. I didn’t really think about the pain until the show was over. I got the rest of the pins out before the next show. There were four. The next time I played that scene I was acutely aware when I crouched, worrying I’d missed one. I hadn’t, it didn’t go septic. I thought no more about it, as no real harm was done and it didn’t hurt that long. I’m using it as a personal illustration of what goes on constantly in this job.

About two years ago a friend of mine went through an unsecured trapdoor and fell about 15 foot in the dark. He landed on his feet like a cat between a piano and a pile of chairs. All that acrobatic training paid off. A guy I met got stabbed hard in the back with a letter opener playing Julius Caesar at Edinburgh and it only just missed vital organs. It was supposed to be retractable but it was the wrong one. As far as I understand the audience knew nothing and he got himself to hospital. A friend of mine had her fingers slammed hard in some hinges in front of me. Another got hit in the face with a broken bottle. Things happen all the time. If nobody dies, it goes in the show report and that’s the extent of it. One actor I was working with on a short film was on harness. While he was grounded, the bar from the harness came out and fell from the flies (way up) onto his head. Big steel bar. Wham. It was a film shoot about theatre going wrong. He went to hospital concussed. They kept the shot and – of necessity – wrote the character out and fixed the rest in the edit. All in all they lost an hour. It would’ve been the same if he’d died.

Another friend once had a striplight fall on him randomly in rehearsal. He went down like a sack of spuds. “Are you alright?” we cried. He assessed the situation, regathered, and quipped “A bit light headed.” Light. Headed. Ow. That’s the dark joy in this job. We might get killed. But if we don’t we’ll find joy and apposite puns.

I’m trusting that this build will be fine, of course, or I wouldn’t be blogging it like this. It’s mostly that there’s this actor called Al Barclay on it. That worries me. I’m told he’s alright at taking care of other people. The audience should be fine. But apparently he expends most of his energy sabotaging the actor playing Scrooge…

(In all truth, I’m thrilled to be part of this process. This should be a bloody brilliant Christmas show irrespective of my technical skills or lack thereof.) There’s a link to tickets in yesterday’s blog, and if there’s a number you can call I’ll sort it out ASAP and post it here. 🙂 X

Building in the cold

It will take a long time for my feet to defrost.

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I haven’t seen the light of day today, and fucking hell it’s been cold. We’ve been shut in a haunted warehouse with virtually no artificial light and absolutely no natural light, on a cold day, with no heating. The stone floors have been glacial. At one point I did a coffee run and everyone took their cup with both hands and brought it to their heart. They wanted heat from their drink. We were theatre-morlocks. The show itself will be warm and Christmassy. But right now we’re building, and because we aren’t paying we don’t need heat.

We have been repurposing random items of furniture and bolts of fabric. We’ve been humping great big ovens out of vans. We’ve been stapling lace to the ceiling, tacking wallpaper into walls, digging through bags of ridiculously random crap and emerging thrilled with black capes. We’ve been attempting to rig old school theatre tricks into a big wide warehouse space and learning as we try. I’ve been asked by the director not to spoil it by posting pictures of some of the stuff. Nonetheless, you know about the cast of my face. And it’s still not certain it’ll make the show. So I can tell you that it was really weird to be observed by my own moulded face as I went about my business.

The way in which things are disseminated across our industry is delightful. Our set is from Mike Leigh’s latest film (still in the edit), which gave employment to some good friends of mine. All this stuff got collected on a Mike Leigh’s budget – which isn’t huge for film, but it’s noticeable. Then it all has to go somewhere. Their set ended up in the hands of the Hammer Horror Immersive show. Again it gave employment to my friends. So already this furniture has allowed numerous friends to make stories. 

Now it’s repurposed for us. Some of it’s up in Sheffield for Neverland. Some is here – and today we turned a four poster bed into a bar without damaging it, using hard work, cable ties, clever carpentry and goodwill. Eventually all this stuff will go back to Hammer. And then to the next company. And so on. It’s in the theatre mix now. Far better to have it used and loved than in a Self Storage racking up costs. And there’s some brilliant stuff.

It’s really exciting that we’ve got our own space now for Carol – this big haunted warehouse. We can make what we want. It’s rare for the actors to be involved in the build, but this feels like the best use of our time – learning and making the space we’ll be playing. We’ve done it together two years running. We still have new material, but most of what we want to add is technical. It can’t be cemented until the build is complete. So better by far to be involved in the build because then we can feed directly into what we need while dressing bits ourselves, being there when the chippies have to make the call, understanding the limitations of the space.

Often in theatre you realise that the thing you have all imagined in rehearsal doesn’t work how you’ve imagined it because communication between the performance and the design team has been lacking. I’ve been on both sides over the years now. Today I’ve been design team. Tomorrow I’ll be a mixture of both. I feel responsible for the entirety of this show. I want it all to be lovely, and to have ownership over my work. I’d prefer to directly influence that than sit at home all weekend and then come in and complain that the doors don’t open the way I thought they would or whatever. Although admittedly yesterday I slept when I could’ve worked. But I was rancid.

While I’ve been writing this I had a hot bath and now I’m in bed early feeling toasty. Roll on tomorrow. Roll on December. Here’s a ticket link. I’m credited as Alexander Barclay. It’s a mistake, but I’m dedicating it in honour of the spirit of my mother, who never wanted me to shorten my name and would dislike that my acting name is Al. She made Christmas every year for me. I make Christmas these days in her honour. I’ll be picking up people who are stuck in London for Christmas at mine again. It’s become a tradition now. If you know anyone who is stuck in London, put me onto them.

Meanwhile, do come to Carol if you can afford it  If you’re a broke friend of mine, message me. The expense is the food, which is a proper Christmas dinner cooked by a masterchef winner. But I can bypass my fee and make it a bit cheaper. It’s worth messaging me.

Wolf Alice and Ralph Alex

I somehow missed Wolf Alice’s debut album when it came out. I’m firmly on board with the band now though.

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After rehearsal, Tom Jack and I managed to hoover down four beers almost without thinking. Then, without eating, I went to Chelsea and met up with Ollie. He funds music so he can get tickets to these gigs for free. His girlfriend is in Paris so he asked me to come to watch Wolf Alice in Allie Pally.

Problem is Ollie is on a mission. And I’m working first thing in the morning. By the time we get to Alexandra palace we’ve necked a few more beers and I’m already perfectly drunk enough thank you. I’m watching the set, which is mesmerising. Very much my kind of music, and at one point in front of 10000 people she lets a young fan come up on stage to play her guitar riffs. Everyone around me in the audience is honking angeldust up their schnozzes. Strangers ask me if I want some. I don’t. Gradually their eyes get more and more stupid. Ollie appears out of nowhere with a pint of pink champagne. I know it’ll kill me but it goes down so well. Then there’s gin. Is that tequila? Who am I again? I go into the cubicle to make myself sick in order to try to gain some sort of perspective. Everything is swimming. I’ve not done that for some time, the fingers in the throat. Three people are in the cubicle next to me putting powder up their noses. I discreetly yark and they narrate it. Staggering out I’m told “That’s not cool bro.” I didn’t set out to be cool, darlings. And you can talk, with your dusty nostrils. I’m in survival mode. Back to the fray but it’s clear we aren’t leaving anytime soon. Musicians and producers network around me. I can’t network. It’s not my industry and I’ve almost lost the ability to speak in coherent sentences. I’m too far gone to realise I need food. Somehow I actually succeed in booking an uber. In retrospect I should’ve ghosted but I’ve been waiting for Ollie to be ready to leave as he asked that we stick together.

In the uber, Ollie is ringing various hotel bars trying to persuade them to let him come in for a drink. I tell him I have to go home but he’s on a mission. His energy is relentless. There must and will be oblivion. I ask the driver to pull over for a second and yark out the door which helps him get the sense he’s dealing with a casualty. Doubly tactical chunder. I haven’t been sick drunk for years. He gets out at a club and reluctantly allows me to carry on home. I write a blog somehow, comparing people to cows, and fail to schedule it properly. Then I pass out.

Friday night, kids. I think I preferred it when I wasn’t drinking. I got up this morning and humped a load of furniture around town for Carol, sweating death from every pore, unable to even keep coffee down. Then I had a pizza. Now? Now I’m off to a party. Pray for me.

Panic!

At Notting Hill Carnival this year there were multiple occasions where everyone started screaming and running simultaneously in random directions for no reason. A car mounted a pavement in South Kensington recently and there was panic. I got swept up and wrote a blog about it. Now today in Oxford Circus – again mass panic, again – it seems – unfounded.

Most people go about their business under the fallacy that their existence has some consequence. That fallacy is how crap newspapers are sold. “This happened to someone else. You’re important. It could happen to you.” Nowadays when there are so many people and it’s so arbitrary we all want to feel like we’re special. And we are special. But also we just aren’t. That’s that. But God we need to stop being so obedient.

Today is Black Friday. It’s the day after the founding fathers of America were given food by the people they took the land from and slaughtered, as far as I understand. I’m not hot on US history. It’s not culturally relevant at all here, but the market wants it. So everyone obediently troops to Oxford Circus to punch strangers for a piece of technology that’s still marked up massively and that they’ll use once and forget.

Today, though, something happened in Oxford Circus. Maybe a car backfired. Maybe someone shouted. Maybe there was a gun or a knife. Who knows? It seems like it wasn’t a big deal. But everyone went crazy. Shops were shut and boarded. People were telling each other they were safe on Facebook, people were getting calls from their mothers. It all went south.

The less imaginative we are, the more obedient we are, and the more we are convinced of our own significance.

To go shopping on Black Friday in Oxford Circus implies a herd mentality. I used to warm up on a hill at Ripley Castle and look over a lake to a field with a herd of cows. Periodically the cows would stampede. (It’s a danger for dogwalkers.) Something innocuous would set off their flight instinct, and they would run because all the other cows were running. They would run in the same direction as the cows they could see. As a result, the bulk of the cows would run in one direction, but actually small groups of cows would run in all directions. Some would end up running towards the thing that had set the stampede off. That’s what I observed at Notting Hill. Every time it happened I would get to the side and watch closely. Everyone was running but nobody was running from anything. I wasn’t going to run without knowing what I was running from, in case I ran towards it. But as a result I never had to run because everyone was running from nothing but the idea that they were in danger.

We really aren’t in that much danger in this country. The people we fear and isolate and build walls against – they have experienced true hardship. They’ve had reasons to run. We haven’t really had that in this country since 1066 when people came from across the sea with better weapons and took our land. Yes occasionally there’s a horrible attack. Occasionally, hateful or misguided people randomly destroy. But if we live convinced that they’ll destroy us, we only stifle our own freedom and allow fear to govern us. It’s statistically very unlikely we’ll be the unlucky one. It’s like not swimming in the sea for fear of sharks.

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I have to publish this immediately. I wrote it last night in a mood. Can’t miss the daily grind. Morning everyone. Ugh. Stay safe.

Measure for Measure on the London Stage.

Last night I helped celebrate the 94th birthday of Homer “Murph” Swander. I’ve never met him, but I recorded a video thanking him. He’s an academic. More than 50 years ago he invited five Shakespearean actors he’d met in Stratford to his university to talk about process. One of them was Patrick Stewart. It began a relationship that continues to this day between process driven theatre actors living in London, and academics across the length and breadth of the USA.

I thanked him because, through his initial enterprise, I was able to visit Utah, lots of Texas, Wellesley, Boston and small town Indiana, where Stranger Things is set. Jack (Marley in Carol) and I were on the same tour. It was an eye-opener. We did a show in a prison in Indiana which I blogged. I made good friends, and learnt a lot about my process by having to run workshops with students kids and adults. My favourite teaching experience was doing voice and breath work to 50 college aged Mormons in Provo, and then going to a school to talk to delightful Mormon kids about approaching Shakespeare as performance text, before doing Much Ado to a crowd of about 300 Mormons who laughed heartily about all the marriage jokes. The teacher at the school, mister Dowdle, wearing his Shakespeare tie, socks, and cravat, said at the end of my lesson “show me some of your quality”, and pimped me into trying to remember some Merchant of Venice out loud. Miraculously I knew much of Shylock. They took my photo in front of the American flag hoo-ah. I’m still friends online with Mr D. He’s a brilliant teacher.

The company is still going great guns, and last night I got to see a load of lovely actors celebrate the end of their Measure for Measure tour. The company is called AFTLS. Actors From The London Stage. Yep. Does what it says on the tin. They get our accents, our process, our attitude and our quirkiness. We get an amazing tour and a chance to learn more about how we go about our work. There’s no director. Five actors have to make the show in a room in Brixton knowing nothing but the parts they’re playing. Damn it’s fun but it can be hard work.

The show was a joy to watch last night. You’ve got a cast of five, and the set and props have to fit in a suitcase. It’s always really clear and fun and beautiful because there’s no space for bullshit. I laughed a great deal, and as always had some big thoughts drop. Shakespeare done well is such a joy.

Now I’m off to bed. We’ve been discovering new things re Scrooge today. It’s brilliant to have the time to address those moments that have never quite worked. I am excited about tomorrow.

I had a brilliant night at the theatre last night. Good on Homer Swander for making that possible for so many people. I’m just going to post a photo of the company I saw, and then crawl to sleep. It was a delight. Happy birthday Murph. Here’s the M4M lot being modest. Legends.

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