Visa interviews

I’m in the US Embassy for my Visa interview. One of us is sick and the others have all gone through the machine already. The lady at the booth didn’t like my photo. I had to go and get a new one. Exactly the same thing happened to the person before me in the queue. I suspect she is just overly fussy. £6 and a delay. Now I’m waiting for my interview.

This is the controversial new site in Vauxhall. Probably a lot more practical, but lacking some of the charm of the old place. Security is much more relaxed though, which is why I have my mobile phone. You couldn’t take it in with you to the previous place. There was a newsagent round the corner asking for a tenner just to put your stuff in a lockbox for a couple of hours. Glad that’s not happening anymore, although someone misses the extra cash you can be sure

I say a couple of hours… I arrived here at about ten past ten. It’s now ten past twelve and I have a feeling I’ll be here a while yet. Two of the others have already finished and are in a café outside enjoying a second cup of coffee.

I’m with lots of people sitting disconsolately in a big sterile custom built hallway. Occasionally a stern woman moves us arbitrarily from one part of the hall to the next. Every few seconds there’s a “bong” noise and a number that isn’t mine pops up on the screen. I’m tired. At least it’s an opportunity to rest. I didn’t get to bed until near 3 last night after the journey back and a hot bath. I might experiment with sleeping in Oxford tonight.

Nobody speaks out loud in this hallway. Everybody whispers. Men and women in uniform patrol among us. Most of us are buried in our phones but it’s grey outside and there’s not much to see. I’d love to just go to sleep but I’m a slave to the bong. Every time it sounds I hope it might be my turn at last. Every time it sounds it isn’t my turn.

Last time I had one of these interviews it was over in a flash. The guy conducting it was lovely. I’m hoping that when my number comes up it’ll be smooth again and then I can get coffee. Right now I’ll just sit here and doze…


Yep, he was lovely. “You’re going to Notre Dame! I’m part Irish.” he tells me, to the sound of 5 million people facepalming. The college football team is called The Fighting Irish, and it’s a great team. Last time I went out I watched them play. You can buy little punching leprechauns that sit on top of your pencil. Got to love the USA. We all got through the interview!

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The reality of the fact I’m going back out to there is dawning fully on me now and I’m super excited about it. It’s a lovely company and could be a lovely show if we can get specific enough about it. Lots of work to be done though.

It’s tiring, rehearsing in the day and doing a show in the evening. One of our number is sick so we are reduced… Hopefully it’ll work out.

 

My routine

Routine is anathema. I have barely if ever had the sort of rigidity that I’ll be adhering to for the next few weeks on weekdays.

7.30 alarm. Two 10 minute snoozes, but up by 8. Breakfast? Certainly coffee. Housekeeping. Chant. An hour and a half of time to do the me things that need doing that day. The only certainties are coffee and chanting.

9.30am leave the house and go to Brixton. Rehearsal starts at ten right in the thick of it. Lovely people in a room, building something difficult and beautiful. Nearby is Pop Brixton for incredible lunch, with plenty of options to buy interesting things or get good coffee. Rehearse until my alarm goes off to tell me I’ll miss the train if I don’t go NOW. Leave immediately and walk fast to Brixton tube through the unrushed and haphazard crowds. Funnel into the early rush hour Victoria line. Cross the platform at Oxford Circus. Bakerloo stopping and starting all the way to Paddington. 17.22 to Hereford, platform 3. Miss it at your peril. An hour to Oxford. Arrive, squeeze accordion until someone shouts “briefing” at 18.30. Find out about the audience. Meet any FOH volunteers. Shave if necessary. Polish shoes. Cover self with aftershave. Kingsmell. Get into costume. More aftershave. Reeking of the stuff. Write something silly on the blackboard. Say things like “Kick it in the dick, everybody!” or “Smashy smashface.” Anything but “Good luck” or the coopted “Break a leg”.

Beginners. Front of House clearance. Four actors round a watercooler guzzling cups of cold water. Giles introduces the king. Enter. Be  patronising. Selfie with son. Silly fun shipwreck.

Change shoes, ditch jacket, grab water, all in under 5 seconds. RUN. Keith and I, getting faster every night, accidentally fitter every night despite bad shoes. “Summer Shakespeare: Accidental fitness for actors”. “Have a good one!” we shout. He hives off left. A pleasant moment of togetherness in an isolated show.

I’m on my own now for a good ninety minutes.

Into the park. Stop at a tree. Grab ten ivy leaves. Run to my willow with them. Make five out of ten ivy boats. Throw the stick into the river. Lay rope. Stash five remaining ivy leaves for later. It’s all I’ve got time for.

Group arrives quicker than anticipated. Send “ready” on WhatsApp. Listen as they get restless. “Are we in the right place?” “Look there’s someone in the bushes.” Hide if necessary. Fail at hiding. Style out getting rumbled. “Goodness, you’ve found me. I’m in some sort of timeloop where I keep looking at my phone at this moment. Goodness, you’ve found me, I’m in some sort of timeloop etc.” Whatever I can think of that allows me to check my phone until “GO” comes in on WhatsApp. Keep it playful.

Start content. Realise that most of the content I have is made up. Listen to the audience. Play more. Play together if they have any play in them. Spam energy if necessary. Do about a minute and a half of excellent verse work for the traditionalists. Watch ’em touch the corners of their eyes. Softies. Let kids take it in weird directions so long as I think I can bring it back. Occasionally fail to bring it back. Go through an emotional wringer ten times using bits of Shakespeare and bits of context. Finally have time to light incense vs the dogshit bin after the third group. Make the other five hopeboats after the fourth group. See a beautiful sunset alone when it slows down. Do penultimate group as the last rays fall, and one in total darkness. Send them back singing.

Reset my willow. Follow, drinking any remaining water. It’s about 9.40 by now. Reconnect with the company. Find fellow feeling about the character of the audiences. “What about that old guy? He was weird? He said what to you? No way!”

Last scene. Ceilidh. Magic trick. Bang? Bow.

Get changed. Carry shoe boxes and costume rails out of the changing room. It’s not ours in the day. Get ticked off for moving it too early. “The audience is still leaving. It’s unprofessional.” FFS. Wish the audience would hurry up and leave. Stack up stuff the other side of the door ready to take out.

Move all the stuff eventually. Make sure the room is clear. Pick up the rubbish left by the interns.

Pub? Punter. Time for one pint despite protestations? If irresponsible, alarm goes off at 22.52. Fast walk to train station in time for the 23.01 last direct train to London that stops everywhere. Write blog as we roll.

Get bus at Paddington? Or Uber? This part remains to be seen. I’ll find out when I get there. Citymapper. Hopefully bed by 1.30am either way. Rinse and repeat for two weeks with significant changes on the weekend…

A routine! Of sorts. Closest I’ll ever get I reckon. Unless hellmouth opens and I have to go with in an …

an …

… one of those things that begin with O. No satisfactory rhymes. Lots of people working in them. False notions of hierarchy and advancement. Hideous cross sections of entitlement. Daily death by inches. Those things.

I’ll take this empty train.

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Another lazy Sunday

I’m getting ready for bed. Still not fully conversant with how the next two weeks will pan out in terms of energy levels. I went to Specsavers today to jump through some hoops in order to get more contact lenses. I don’t trust them as opticians but I do trust their prices. I’ll let them run their finger down the checklist with me as long as there’s vision at the end of it. I know that there’s no personal service or specific knowledge. You’re just a number. But I can be a number when it saves me money. And if you’re careful you can walk out of Specsavers very cheaply. I didn’t today though. I let myself be upsold. Inshallah. I’ll have enough lenses for America which is what matters. And some expensive frames.

I enjoyed a day down today. It’s the last possible for some time. Two Italian plumbers came round in the morning and hoovered the blockage I’ve been trying to flush. They validated my choice of coffee. They told me that they struggle to buy acid as well. “They’ll sell it to you if they know you. Even if I come in like this with my overalls covered in muck -they won’t sell if they don’t know you.”

Probably for the best in these divided times. Just not for my antique pipes. I used to put strong acid down once every month or so. Since it’s become scarce I haven’t been able to, which led to the block that just took up so much of my time. I’ll have to be careful what goes down the plug in future. I’m sure that a large part of the sludge block was made of casually flushed coffee grains. Whatever it was, I don’t want it happening again.

It’s not midnight yet but this is my last shot at an early bed. I’m horizonal and Pickle is splayed out against the side of my leg. She’s a cutie. I’ll miss her when I’m on my travels. But it feels like bedtime.

In another world I’d have a big bike parked in the street below my head. Tomorrow morning I’d be guddering to Brixton so I could scream up to Oxford post rehearsals and arrive exhilirated and trembling in time to play the king. As it has panned out, I’m at the mercy of the trains and thus the weather. It’s not an exact science, but this week will bear out the shape of things before next week takes another fifteen minutes away. My heartrate will be to do with the efficiency of the tubes and the efficiency of Great Western Railway. I think those scientists might still attach a monitor to me but even if they don’t I might kick my old Camino Fitbit into gear.

Meanwhile I’m off for an early bed, expensive glasses or no.

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Why you should just call the experts

Amateur plumbing? Nah. Time for a professional. Thankfully it was just a low potency alkaline that I got in my face, rather than one of the big nasty ones, or the 93% sulphuric I’ve been looking for. I expect I would’ve been more careful had I been actually using the hard stuff. But that doesn’t take away from the fact I got it all up my arm and on my cheek after a bout of overly vigorous plunging with the “clever” addition of plugging the overflow with a damp cloth to make a vacuum. My beauty is still pristine, never fear, it was just a splash. My arm itches though. It was merely the alkaline equivalent of a good strong vinegar. But it was also an object lesson.

I’m paying for someone to come over tomorrow morning and fix it for good. £80 he wants. Worth every penny if he sorts it out. I should’ve paid him in the first place and saved myself the price of a plumber’s snake, of two trips to London, of lots of alkali and of an itchy arm.

Right now I’m using being in town again to go on a fact finding mission. No matinee as there’s an exam in the hall, so I’m going to Brixton in order to test the commute without the time pressure. Working out where to stand on the platform for maximum efficiency. It’s completely OCD of me. But anything to reduce stress.

I’ve been disastrously unable to stop hammering myself with booze in this job. I get drunk immediately after the show and then talk complete idiocy in circles before falling over. It’s honestly getting to the stage where I’m contemplating going and talking to Bob. “We admitted we were powerless”. I hope the added pressure of rehearsal in the daytime will force me to stay on the wagon at least on weekdays. It’s that or collapse in a puddle at some point. I’d sooner not. But nature finds a way.

Life is good as well. The Tempest is a complete joy. The only thing I’m running away from is myself but ain’t that always the case? A few weeks of mindfulness will do me the world of benefit and will likely improve the quality of my work in both Twelfth Night and The Tempest, save me a small fortune, and make me less of a dick into the bargain. Triple win.

Now I’m on the train. 58 minutes to Oxford. One more show this week and I’ve got mates in the audience which I’m thrilled about. Then it’s my best mate’s fortieth celebration in North London and I’m hoping I’ll have enough fuel left in the tank later on tonight to catch her for some dancing, even if a bit of me wishes I could just stay in Oxford and have roast lunch and go punting with this lovely company.

It’s about to get busy. The train is full of children. Somebody has activated the emergency passenger alarm so we aren’t going anywhere fast…


And bless. Ed Milliband came to the show and was a highly enthusiastic audience member. He was so vigorous in telling me that my son wasn’t dead and that he’d seen him in a coffee shop that I had to tell him that as a king I was used to people flattering me with what I want to hear in the hope of advancement. Later on he got stuck into the ceilidh and at the end he genuinely led the standing ovation. I liked him. My character didn’t. He’s gone a bit grey now, but we could’ve had him in charge instead of the rotten bacon sandwich.

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“Game” theatre

I didn’t want to go back to London tonight. I’m starting to love the people I’m working with. Normally when the show is open you get to know people better. The days get longer. That incredible realisation that you’re being paid to do the thing you love – it starts to sink in. And community develops.

Annabelle and I went for fish and chips today and then just pinballed around in her car doing stuff. It was as much about what we were doing as it was about the fact we were doing it. It was fun. I’ve made a friend in her, solid as a rock. It doesn’t take long in this business. We were friends immediately and it’ll last. She wanted a tarot reading, as it had come up in conversation as a thing I do. We found a place upstairs in the venue. She drove me around, helped me get my week long train season ticket, then food and an industrial bag of litter for the pussy cat and we even fruitlessly looked for sulfuric acid – (fuck you acid!). We got some Soleros and also some cherries and blueberries. I love that Waitrose is cutting back on packaging for fruit. Bellwethers, I hope. And we got back to the venue in plenty of time for the show and again I observed how extraordinarily insightful Alice Instone’s tarot cards are.

Like that tarot job, this “theatre” job is not a job of work in anything other than the loosest sense. Yes, it requires skill on our part, and yes it can be exhausting, but hellfire, it pleases us.

The clichémonger has a permanent discount on the quote “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.” “Thank you, clichémonger. But the next two weeks commuting are likely to be hard, yes? Despite me doing what I love? Yes?” *silence*

“Happiness is only real when shared,” says the clichémonger finally, and I see their point this time. This is a happy company. No two ways about it. You can’t get ego in the way of game because there’s no way to control how it plays out. If you try to you usually end up looking foolish. This is a company of amazing people approaching from many different angles and places and histories. Engaged audiences who want to feel something and to get stuck in. Nothing has ever reminded me of Sprite so completely. Everybody mucking in. Beautiful things made by many hands. No hierarchy. No bad energy. Joy across the board.

Nonetheless I’m going back to London tonight. I’m writing on the bus. Pipes still aren’t good, plus I want to try the tube journey from Brixton to Paddington with time to spare so I don’t get taken by surprise when I have to do it in a hurry.

Today I got asked in a Q&A about the history of game theatre. How can you answer that? These things respond to a possibility and a need. In London for me it started with Rabbit – (now Coney) – back in 2001 at BAC when everyone told us we were insane and this wasn’t acting, and we made games that didn’t work using technology that doesn’t even compare to what is available now and kept making and learning and tweaking and learning and failing and failing better and popping to the clichémonger to pay for the “fail better” and sometimes … sometimes starting to win…

Obviously site specific and audience responsive theatre have existed since The Acropolis. But a lot of active game stuff started with the erstwhile secret community of Rabbit. I think I’m allowed to say that I was “Mother” now. One of our codenames has since helped build many of the Escape Rooms that exist globally. But Zoe, our director likely hit on this work through totally different routes. Convergent evolution. Augusto Boal. Theatre fits the need. People need to feel they have a voice right now – that they can affect the things around them. Let’s make stuff that does that!

Recently, elections have not proven to be effective in bearing out people’s will. We all want to feel like we have an impact. Let’s make theatre that allows people to simultaneously have fun and feel powerful..

Here’s the king, dropping his status a bit. Playing. But sticking in the knife.

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Skag vs bag

I’m lying on Ginny’s sofa. To my right is a glass of chilled white port that my agent sent to me for opening night. To my left is Louis the cat. He is just doing his cat thing. He won’t be there for long. He ain’t no Pickle.

It was so hot today. I met Paul and Ryan for breakfast in Jericho under the air con in Jericho Cafe, and then went for a walk to Port Meadow with no aircon, before realising it was too damn hot to go for a walk in a meadow with just a flask of water. I ended up in The Odeon on Cornmarket having a glass of £2.20 Fanta plus excellent air conditioning. Then I had light lunch in a cheap air conditioned pasta restaurant before staggering out dripping again into the Sahara. I tried some ice cream but I could feel myself fading. I got an emergency black cab back to Ginny’s. I haven’t slept long hours lately. My body went into catch up mode. I shut down like an overheated laptop, after just managing a cold shower, in Ginny’s spare room, covering my bits with a towel in case Casper decided to throw open the door again.

My dreams were extremely detailed and completely insane for an hour. Then my alarm went off and I had to wake up and wake up again into showheadedness.

I had ten groups of hot audience members come and meet me in the tree. They were all so hot and knackered that it was easy to shift them into intimacy but harder to get them to be playful. If it’s raining their play is buried beneath a protective heaviness. If it’s hot they’ll play soft but nobody wants to be called on to be energetic. That’s where they all were. Knackered.

Some skagheads shot up in my playing area between my 5.30 check and my 7.40 arrival. They pulled the case bits out of the water and utterly decimated the remains of it. They destroyed the sandbag as well while looking for value and tipped out my pack of almond flakes for the strange fishes maybe hoping it was a stash.

They even left their needle case for me but not the needle thankfully. I got it all cleared up before the first group. That’s not a good life drug, junk. I just bought Naked Lunch as my next book. I didn’t expect the worlds to collide so quickly.

Of course they left their paraphernalia. But a shame they needed to trash what I’ve built when I have to lead my audience in a process: “What is it, Josh, is it a body?” “It’s a stick and … some empty sacking.” “Oh thank God it’s not a body. But wait Josh – it’s not a stick. It looks man made.” “I think it’s just a bit of ship timber your majesty.” “But it has these hinges, look.” “I can’t work out out.” “And this material. Is it crocodile skin?” “I think it’s leather.” “No Josh it’s crocodile skin. Go with the prompt. It’s the disintegrated remains of my son’s bag. Lost like he is. Gone back to the ooze oh thou mine heir etc etc”

Everybody stood up when we did bows. Good for them.

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Insecure

Weird day today if I’m honest. My insecurities racked themselves up to the max and I’m still plagued as I write. I slept fitfully for just three and a half hours last night which likely didn’t help at all and still isn’t helping.

The start time for the show up here is being shifted earlier because sunset is getting earlier by the night and our last few outdoor scenes are conducted in near darkness already. I was asked by text to have an early meeting with production today. My imagination went wild. I thought maybe someone had complained about a bit of my improv – (I’m alone with the audience so if they’re asshats I’ve got no support and it’s their word against mine.) But no. It was a feasibility study. They wanted to see if it was possible for me to get to the show earlier than contracted from my rehearsal in London. They know that sunset is only going to get earlier as we go through the run.

I fucked the big bike for myself so I’m reliant on trains. The train is pretty quick, and I asked the guys on the next job if they could be flexible on timings and if we could start rehearsal earlier in Brixton even half an hour earlier. I was rebutted firmly by a close friend and collaborator who happens to be in the USA company with me. I can’t wait to tour with him. He’s a witty, gentle and kind individual. But he knows me well enough to “no” me and he did so categorically and immediately.

He’s worked for this glorious Oxford company a few times before too so he knows the score. I saw him do beautiful work as Shylock. I had auditioned for it. Often it’s hard when you went up for it, but I loved seeing him smash that role. We’ll never be in competition, he and I. We are so very different. We play well together in The Factory and he’s a friend. He needs to walk his dog. And the Piccadilly line is horrible for him before 9.

In another world he might have been in the cast with me here – he often works for the company. It would’ve been lovely to share the time-pressured journey from London to Oxford with him, and to get to the show on time from shared rehearsal while preparing together. But sadly he’s not doing it this year.

Being me I’ve factored in delay time to my original arrival calculation. I had a whole hour of spill. Reputation is important to me. I really don’t want the show held on my account.

I’ll still arrive in time, trusting that there are no delays, certainly for the first week of overlap where the show is only opening 15 minutes earlier. But the second week it’s a further 15 minutes earlier to start, which will be a bit too squeaky for my taste.

With early rehearsal start times nixed I’ll have to be leaving rehearsals before they’re finished for two weeks. “We will do scenes you aren’t in for an hour,” they say. But I know that for the scenes I’m not involved in, my presence is even more valuable as an outside eye. There’s no director. We have to ring the bell for each other on this job. And we will. It’ll be beautiful. But I want so much to be able to provide that outside eye and help everybody to be the best version of themselves. NMHRK.

I’m fortunate enough to have met all four of the other actors and I adore and respect all of them. But I want all the time I can get to come together and make it an honest fun piece of work to tour with.

I’m so privileged, working two jobs. How rare is that? That opportunity never comes up. I even have banter in the WhatsApp group for Twelfth Night taking the piss out of me about how lucky I am.

I love Creation up here in Oxford. I’m so happy in this summer show I’m doing. It’s a beautiful way to spend a season. This honest and deeply artistic company is led by a bunch of extraordinary women and It’s taken 8 years for them to get me back up here BUT THEY HAVE! Thank the Gods they’ve persisted. This is a fantastic job to be involved in. I feel so at home and happy in my work now that I’ve made it back.

This commute to Brixton and back will work fine because I’ll make it work despite everything. Nothing is ever simple but we can edge it towards simplicity by having the right head on it.

Here’s me and my “son”. Apple didn’t fall far…?

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