Factory Macbeth 1

So there we go. The launch of a new project. A load of people came to a church hall in Pimlico and threw some stuff at the wall. Now I’m sitting in my living room with Pickle, Anne May and gin. May is currently in the kitchen making a noise like she’s being exorcised, but I think it’s just wind.

Factory Macbeth. About 20 actors today. Apart from Macbeth, we knew who we were playing which was pleasant. Macbeth came down to either Scott or Maz. Two audience members played “scissor paper stone” – (an old tradition but still a good one) – and scissors cut paper so Scott was out despite his wife being in the audience. She had to put up with him playing Macduff’s child, famously played by naked Keith Chegwin in Polanski’s film. Scott did it with his clothes on, and beautifully, but it’s a tiny part. It’s a familiar pitfall with The Factory. There’s no point inviting friends/industry because you honestly don’t know who you’ll be playing most of the time. Marianne played Macbeth tonight though. It was joyful.

This company has been going for a while now. We work to our tastes, challenging ourselves to be simple while deliberately obstructing simplicity. I’m very proud of the work we did at the inception of this new project. We could’ve been simpler, quicker, smarter etc. But it was a strong start. We had a surprisingly full house, and some wonderfully involved and directional audience witches. I realised that wearing tights over my glasses in a hot room is a recipe for disaster though. I was playing Banquo, so I was dead after the first hour. In this show once you’re dead you’re back immediately with tights on your head as a physical part of the game. It’s not like trad 1950’s Banquo where you can get drunk in the interval and stagger on for the pageant. Notwithstanding that I looked mildly ridiculous with glasses on beneath my tights, cold practice time could not have prepared me for a room full of hot people. Almost instantly my specs steamed up with my breath, and they didn’t clear. The ghost of Banquo was genuinely dangerous because not only was it in hell, it was also completely blind and could easily have broken your ankle if it had got overexcited. Still I had the rest of the company around me and you are never alone in that group.

The show is an exploration of Macbeth, paying close attention to the language, doing it with minimum everything. What we have in The Factory is good people, skill and time. What we lack – deliberately – is budget. It’s a collective of working actors who come together and make stuff when they have gaps. We make it clean and in such a way that anyone can drop in to any part at any time so long as they know it. The only thing we have to make sure of is that all parts are covered. In this current iteration, audience members play the witches, and that’s joyful.

I’ve had a beautiful evening. My brain is exhausted. It’s been an intensive few hours, followed by a wind down and a little too much gin. The last proper Factory show I did was The Odyssey. If this project gives me half as much joy and fries my brain a quarter as much I’ll be happy. And it’s geared up to be a corker. Next show is the 8th. I won’t be Banquo. My best bet is Lady Macduff…

Here’s Al, one of our founders, attempting to tell people what to expect.

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Question marks

There I was being all complacent and thinking I could get away with pulling something over my face and hiding in the crowd in tomorrow’s Macbeth showing. “Chris has got Banquo covered,” I said to myself. I can just swan in, do a lord or something, bish bash bosh, no pressure, there at the start, doesn’t stand or fall on my knowledge, “Factory Macbeth – yeah I did that”. I rolled in all chilled to the session this morning, an hour late, and there’s the usual crowd, these beautiful hearts who have been part of my life for so long, Chris on his crutches wait what crutches? Fuck.

Yeah so I’m in the mix for Banquo now. I have to make sure I know the order of the scenes and actually be alert.

Chris didn’t fall out of a tree like some eejits do. He’s had a knee operation, but it’s taken it out of him more than he anticipated. And knees are notoriously fiddly things. If they go weird they don’t fix nicely. We have to take care of them. God outsourced the knee building bit to the intern. It’s nice to have a sergeant on crutches and it’s less movement dependent to play a dying man. So it looks like I’ll Banquo it up again. In Wales I was in excruciating pain after my oak-dive. The pain lent me a certain depth and helped me remember to ground myself, which is my usual first note from the director. So now I’ll likely get to play Factory Banquo physically healthy for the first time (if a bit fatter than usual.) And within that hopefully I’ll remember to stay grounded. And this time if Macbeth slaps me on the back in an embrace I won’t scream like I’m giving birth and almost pass out. Although manly back-slapping is all a bit claspy-handshakeland, so probably should go in the bullshit pile with all the other stuff people do more frequently on stage than they do in real life. Brian and Mel are on the list as audience. Oh hell. So much for a chilled out show.

Early bed tonight then. The reduced gods are kind and have decreed pies for Brian and I. I’m winding down already, and it’s only half eight. Part of me is obsessing over shared lines and scene endings for Banquo bearing in mind it won’t be easy for players to clock out and check their scripts tomorrow. We’ll need to know it.

Most of me though, to sidetrack utterly, is getting extremely angry about this blue question mark that WordPress has imposed on me. It’s there in the most useful part of my screen making it hard to edit and serving absolutely no purpose other than to obstruct. I’ve got to the stage where I can blog on even this godawful mobile, and then they throw another thing in my way. Grrr. Someone was probably paid loads of money for that shit. I’ve already sent them two tweets about it because it’s seriously obstructive. Like they’ll give a shit.

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Breaking things

I’ve been back at The Factory today. Lots of lovely people in a room in Pimlico throwing balls at each other. The Macbeth that we scratched in Wales has been developing. It’s almost time to throw it into a room with people who have no lines and want to pay to watch. Then we can see what happens. There’s a first show coming on Friday. Thankfully I’ve been very dayjobby this last fortnight so the chances are, barring injury, I won’t have to do a great deal other than witch it up. Although complacency will be punished. I’ll need to be on it – we all will. We don’t know what the hell will happen or be needed. But that’s a familiar feeling now with these guys. And frankly, I love it. But then I’ve always been an adrenaline junkie.

Last night was spent sleeping on a friend’s sofa. She has not slept there since the guy she was living with moved out taking loads of their stuff, leaving lots of nasty little messages and taking a set of keys. Knowing he could come in at any time makes it hard for her to relax there. I thought it might help if I stayed round. I think it did a bit, although she didn’t sleep a wink. At least she was there. She’s been on people’s sofas. I think next she has to have a party and really reclaim the flat. She’s lived there for years. This little turd is just a blip. But she’s been working in America and letting him stay against her better judgement. Which gave him the time he needed to break as much as he could. And so her home has become a trigger for her. I spent ages “smudging” her bed – (trying to burn out bad energy with smoke.) Then I slept fitfully on the sofa bed while she stayed up all night next door. She finally hit sleep after dawn.

It’s so easy for us to betray each other. Destroying something takes seconds, building something takes time and care. He betrayed her trust catastrophically. We all want to love and be loved. Reading tarot last night I found myself saying – after Schopenhauer – that human desire is like hedgehogs snuggling together for warmth. They need the warmth but they have spikes. We are all strangely shaped and confused and drawn to one another but baffled by one another. Let’s try and keep kindness as our guide.

I allowed my energy to get pushed out of whack the other day by history, and did multiple things I regret in the space of three days. It’s an extremely volatile time for me, the build up to the deathiversary. If I attacked you I’m sorry. 15 years ago I smashed as much as I could smash. The bitter coincidence of mum and dad on the same day many years apart. Minnie survived the wreckage through sheer exercise of kindness, and earned her stripes as best friend. But the year turns round, the daffodils show their faces, and I try to screw up everything good in my life. It’s a spring thing.

It’s a good time to look at Macbeth. Treacherous bastard. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this project goes, and what I have to learn from it. Meantime I’ll keep throwing out ill advised piles of words and hoping that the process will improve my quality of life and that of those around me. Not work to the detriment of both!!

Meanwhile this evening I’m throwing a cricket ball around in my flat. Hopefully I won’t break the windows.

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Muck in the pipes

Rather than go to rehearsal today I watched a plumber fix my loo. I can’t pretend it was the most fun I’ve ever had. But at least the loo now works. I used the same guy that fixed my boiler. He’s probably sneaking into my flat at night to sabotage things so I have to pay him to mend them. But he’s got a nice smile. And I haven’t caught him yet.

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There was a box in the cupboard where the stopcocks are. I had to take it out for him. I opened it to assess the contents, out of curiosity. Oh Pandora. Right at the top was a little bag full of photos. At some point, years ago, I must have filled that bag and put it in an oubliette. It was photos of me having OH SO MUCH FUN with a succession of beautiful girlfriends. Oh how we are laughing in the sun playing on beaches and holding hands. I spent a while nostalgically shuffling through these relics of what I now affectionately refer to as the “girlfriends era.” Memory compartmentalises. I had boxed them up, but there they were waiting. I had forgotten those days in Brighton or Europe or Reading or ! with sunsets and guitars, running in woods, visiting new places, eating tasty food in nature, being half of a whole, being in love.

Today is a day of reflection for me generally. It’s the deathiversary. I’m always very aware of its approach. It leaves me a little weird. But today was unexpected. I found myself thinking more of old loves and missed opportunities than of the loss of the unconditional. And mostly it was pleasant. Just remembering these achingly beautiful hearts who have crossed my life as I’ve been rolling along. They’re all – seemingly – happy, from what I can glean from friends (tailored) and Facebook (lies). One of them married a doctor. One of them is a doctor. One of them went to the doctor. One of them pays for all of our doctors with her tax. One is probably doctoring her tax. And with every single one of them I was punching above my weight. Wow. I set the bar super high. Good work Al you charming bastard. Now how come you’ve left it so long this time?

I did just have one of those “my friend fancies you” conversations today. My initial reaction was a cold hard shot of liquid nitrogen in my veins. “Fuck that,” said all of my instincts. The hairs on the back of my neck shot up. But then, maybe it’s time for another good kicking. You never know, I might like it. It might be lovely. She’ll eat my liver raw.

Meanwhile I’m coming into people’s homes and bringing all my mystic stuff. I was invited to dinner by three Buddhists who I met in a caravan, which sounds like a pretty standard sentence for 1966. They are becoming friends. “Shall I bring anything?” I asked, thinking wine/pudding.”Your cards,” they told me. I see. That’s what they brought me round for. And it was a lovely evening. They’re a community of old friends looking after each other on this strange journey. I did some readings on satin and smudged around some Palo Santo and chanted with them a while. Helping them feel better helped me feel better.

I guess that’s what life comes down to. We seek to make ourselves feel better and in so doing we try to make other people feel better too. But we’re all scrabbling around in the dark and we know less about what we want than we can intuit about what others want. Sometimes we find an answer and stick with it in the hopes it’ll be mutually fulfilling. Sometimes we run from what’s best for us. But we’ve only been us for a limited time. And even our self identity is slippery. How can we work out what we actually want? By work, by chance and by time, I guess.

Dust Dragons

Brian and I live very happily. But there’s a lot of clutter. My best friend swears by Marie Kondo, who wrote a faddy book that essentially says “throw literally everything away unless you can’t bear to”. Minnie’s never tried to evangelise me even if she’s made me aware of the good side of it. When you go to visit her it’s a lovely clear home, though you can’t have tea if there’s more than three people. She only has three mugs that “spark joy”. As her friend I need to find her a mug that “sparks joy” so she’ll have some more bloody joyful bloody mugs. I’m terrified to break anything at hers too – I know it passed a hard test to still be there. All her remaining possessions have great notional weight. At mine you can throw stuff around a bit. Break something round mine and I’ll likely not care. “Oh, my grannies egg slicer… meh”. “Wear your shoes if you like and not if you don’t. I don’t give a fuck about the carpet. You spilt wine? Don’t waste salt.”

We live in this flat and we’re happy here. I have my own possessions that spark joy. I also have the stuff of multiple deceased people who I’ve loved. I have my uncle Peter’s childhood “things” pot full of kitchen utensils. I have Dad’s kilt for special occasions. I have my mother’s wooden salad bowl. My grandmother’s big pot. Grandpa’s razor. I use this stuff. It sparks something akin to joy. Should I burn the past entirely? None of it is perfect. All of it still works.

The only rules I have are don’t put eggs in the fridge, don’t be a twat and think actively about waterflow upwards when you’re loading the dishwasher.

But today I started a tidy that is long overdue. Yeah I’ve got a lot of stuff that has meaning and joy for me. But I also have a lot of junk I don’t need. I’m not hoarding but I need a trim. And I needed a catalyst too.

An old friend, who was comfortable last time she stayed but who has been through a lot since then – she came back and couldn’t handle it here. I’d left her catsitting while I was in Liverpool and the flat was at its absolute worst at the time she arrived and we left. I dropped her in at the deep end. Both Brian and myself had been peaking to that wedding and had been worse than ever for tidying. I told her as much but it didn’t land

I got back to find no change – clearly she’d been sitting there like she was in a warzone, panicking, and assuming this worst case was the new normal – while doing nothing to help herself. Literally nothing. I got started on a big tidy while she got finished on finding somewhere else.

She’s found a friend with a regular job, a cleaner and a spare room. In Vauxhall. She told me as I was rubbing stuff off the kitchen floor at the end of the day. It’s probably for the best. She needs to heal. I’m sad she had already given up by the time I got back because this is a healing place. It’s what my home is for. But this guy has a gym. And my place was not clean.

Still, I’ve needed a tidy up irrespective. Although I was trying to tidy according to what was important for her. I ended up asking her for her list of priorities.

She thinks the radiator guards disrupt air convection so she removes them and then sees the ancient dust behind them. Following that line of thinking she determines that the radiators blow the dust into the room as if they were fan heaters. It’s always useful to get another perspective on the world. But ffs.

After she told me she was leaving I immediately and unconsciously moved my attention to cleaning around my Gohonzon. Then I noticed and said to her: “I’ve learnt something about myself. This cluttered Gohonzon has been troubling me for weeks, but I didn’t touch it until you said you were leaving. And then when I knew this tidy was for me and not for you I went to it immediately.” It was an epiphany about how I still keep putting other people’s needs before my own. It was a big realisation. She listened and responded: “So you would be happy with a horrible toilet, all that dust and mess so long as only that gohonzon was done. I see.” !!!!! My brother is married. I don’t know how he does it.

Artists are rarely scientists and my beloved mother was amazingly neurotic. Maybe dust does convect. Maybe selfish epiphanies should always be countered offhand with contempt.

I’m happy to tidy my flat because it needs tidying. There’s days more work before it’s done. It’ll never be done to Minnie’s Kondo standard. But if I can get it to a reasonable nick before Chelsea Flower Show then maybe I can rent it to some VIP and go on holiday far far from the magical dust dragons behind the radiator covers.

Meanwhile the fact I’m upset that my friend moved in with mister gym also demonstrates my self sabotage. If she was still here I’d be on the sofa again. As it is I get a sleep in my bed, just inches from the radiator of death. But I’m sad that she felt uncomfortable here and wouldn’t trust that I was improving things. I can’t let that ever happen again. It defeats the object of the way I live. I don’t have a gym. But I have a home.

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Sam Wanamaker Festival

15 years ago I was part of the team sent by Guildhall to perform at The Globe in what was then called The William Poel Festival. For Scott and I (and Matt in a silent role) it allowed us a first chance to see what it was to perform on that stage. Many of us from that event across some 20 drama schools are still going in this industry. More have quit. 15 years later and there are still a few golden geeks rattling around in the crucible. We still bump into each other from time to time.

As it happened I was working there today. Not on the mainstage dammit, or underneath in the cavernous party room, but a wee corporate gig up in the little Balcony Room – entertaining some exhausted Australians while the sun set behind St Paul’s. They had just flown non stop from Perth to London in 17 hours. An historic fight with no stop overs. Ultra long haul. Better than sitting in a sterile room in Abu Dhabi for 5 hours changing planes. Visit-London was wining and dining all the confused Aussies before they turn around and go back home on Tuesday.

We got called in to do some tasty little vignettes between courses. A perfect evening for it, and what with the clocks changing, everyone in London is confused about what time it is too. The atmosphere was electric in the building with all the drama students – all that youthful vigor helping keep our Aussies awake. That and our dynamite charisma and mastery, of course. They had a lovely time upstairs with us. It’s always a happy gig up there.

The William Poel Festival has changed its name to the Sam Wanamaker Festival. It was happening today and 19 drama schools including one from America were in attendance. The pit was like a mosh pit, capable of nothing but inexplicable dumbshow and noise. On that vast stage, a rotation of two young actors were learning how to keep the energy and focus with a house that will howl for twenty seconds if you say the word “bum”. I remember the energy of that home crowd. They’re all around you. They’re behind you. And this lot were going completely mental.

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I was sneaking in and out at the back of The Pit, catching as many as I could. It’s a real test, an audience like that. You can do anything and get loads of validation. You have to work much harder to be spare. There were some lovely simple moments. And there were some milky eggy pancakes and face pulls. But they were undeniably having fun up there, every one of them.

It got me to thinking back to that sunny day in my life 15 years ago. How I felt at the time and afterwards. How it went. Where life has taken many of us since that day. Life’s rich tapestry.

I caught as much as I could of this year before I had to go meet the client. l was sad to have to leave before Guildhall performed – I’d like to have seen theirs and connected with the old place. I stayed for Bristol Old Vic which I was glad of as it was directed by an acquaintance, and they held the space. RADA were conspicuous by their absence. 15 years ago it was Freddie Stephenson and Sian Brooke.

15 years!!? Where did the time go? I ran into Patrick Spottiswoode after work, in the bar. He heads up Globe Education. He was there front and centre when I did that event, and he’s still there now, smiling. “15 years, mate” I muse, looking at all the shiny kids in the bar. “Tell me about it.” He says with an air of incomprehension. “Closer to 35 for me. 35 years. 35.”

I go home intending an early bed. And then I stay up past one talking dreaming and reading. Then “oh shit, my blog.”

Maybe that’s where the time went. Into dreaming. And maybe that’s okay.

Liverpool

My Liverpool Airbnb last night was a little room in The Albany – an old meeting place in the cotton trade (and likely the slave trade too – you’re not going one way with an empty ship). It was on Old Hall Street – originally called Whiteacre Street in King John’s 1207 charter for the city. One of only five roads that made the original town. Right in the ancient heart of Liverpool.

My host Nicholas was very concerned for my comfort. I’m a pretty relaxed guest, so I’d have been happy with a lot worse, but he took good care of me. I only hosted once, almost a year ago, and understand his concern. The room was booked by a pair of French interior designers and they were bastards. At the end of their stay Brian said “that’s the first time I’ve not felt that this place is my home.” I haven’t listed it again because if I don’t get five stars in my next booking then I’ll get delisted entirely.

When I eventually woke up he had coffee and eggs ready. We sat and had breakfast. He’s had a rough ride, our Nick. He carries a great big generous heart and he’s happy to show it to you. But people and circumstances have been kicking it about. The dominos have been falling, as they can. Three of his friends, all by their own hand, gone. He’s moving to Spain to be a paraglide instructor. “It was either stop living in Liverpool, or stopĀ living. In Liverpool.” he tells me with characteristic open hearted candour and hurting eyes. I find myself giving him advice that people have given me: “You’re allowed to take care of your own needs too, you know.” His focus is firmly set on other people. And his mind is going twenty to the dozen as his language struggles to keep up. At one point he tells me “I’m a bit of an entrepreneur” which elicits a loud bark of laughter from his flatmate upstairs. He flushes as I raise my eyebrows. “Well yes, of course right now I haven’t got any money, but I can be. I will be.”

I like him. I hope he finds the change he seeks when he goes to Spain. When I ask him about paragliding his body changes and grows immediately less physically frenetic – more solid. I suddenly notice what good shape he’s in. He clearly loves it. He’s good at it. He’s at home in it. I think he’s right to seek this shift.

Spain might be just a chapter for him. Life is wide and strange and full. Big hearts can keep rolling a long way before they find a resting place. Or so I keep telling myself.

I take my leave of a Nick, who even runs after me with a handful of fruit. I spend a few hours walking the stone streets. Huge buildings. Warehouses. Majestic temples of commerce. This place was a hub of the Atlantic slave and cotton trade. No wonder the energy is strange – no wonder it’s affecting sensitive Nick. Last night my dreams were dark and muddy. All these monoliths built out of tears and greed. It’ll take more than the constant rain to wash it clean.

I end up at Albert Dock, right by the megabus stand, messing about on a 1938 Swedish Brigantine called Zebu. She’s a restoration project. No sails. She sank two years ago and so needs some serious work. For a quid I got to be attacked by 5 year old swabbers with plastic cutlasses, and took this photo at the helm.

Here’s me at the wheel of an impractical but strangely beautiful vessel, out of its natural time and that was almost damaged beyond repair, but now well on the road to recovery. Arrrrr.

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