Fun stories

Breakthroughs today in character. A rehearsal out of a discussion into a shift that makes so much sense of Belch. I’ve got the key, finally, to this remarkable fellow. He’s fun, but much more calculating and manipulative than me. But it was one of those moments where the character drops in, today. I’ve felt it before. I felt it today. I know who he is now fully. Just in time. I can’t wait to go through the play again with what we discovered today. But we are in a good place to go to America. Which is just as well, considering that’s what we’ll be doing.

We’ve been rehearsing in Brixton. Frances who runs the venue cooks for us every Friday. Jerk chicken, rice and peas, with spicy spinach and salad. Vast portions. She’s a feeder. She made us rum cake. “Have it at home in the evening with a cup of tea.” I had it with a can of beer. I dreamt torture dreams all night. Two other cast members had terrible dreams too after rum cake but no cup of tea. I always usually have a hand on the tiller dreaming, but I couldn’t. The rum cake was tasty but the hand it put into my dream was the corrupted hand of a gebbeth.

Now I’m aware I’ve only got one day – Saturday – before I leave. In the morning I’m off to the accordion shop in Lewisham. Then to Specsavers Tottenham Court Road. Then home to put things into cases and make sense of the stuff I’ll be taking out to America with me. I’ll be going through a variety of seasons over there. From 1pm I’m having open house just so I can have company when I’m packing. I’ve got food. I’ve only mentioned it to about 3 people. As it should be. But you’re invited.

It’s business as usual round my flat apart from the fact it isn’t as I’m leaving. Pickle had assumed the position and was drilling her purr into my belly when suddenly Al showed up. Another Al. He’s been in my life for a decade or more and he’s making crazy good theatre and will be staying in my room for a bit while I’m away. As always this place seems to be a playground for ideas, thoughtful people poetry and cats.

I know from being in Newquay that sleeping without Pickle will take some getting used to. She and I have been constant for too long now. Brian and Mel will be looking after her when I’m away though, and she loves them too. She will be a happy beast.

I had the evening with Flavia and Ivo. I was made to read The Book With No Pictures. It’s fun but it’s definitely not a sleepy book in the hands of Ivo and I. We were bouncing around like fools. Stories are fun. That’s the job we do…


Pressure run

I feel like I’ve run a marathon.

I sweated a river, unnecessarily shouted enough to train an army, lost all the words I knew when I saw people writing about me talking, covered for uncertainty with a display of overconfidence as is my wont and generally made a twatgenius of myself as I can do when I don’t know fully what I’m doing. If I’m unsure I always attack harder than when I’m sure. That’s my way. I paint in broad strokes, then pull back, then overlay, then finally detail.

I remember this afternoon a verse scene as Antonio that I know excellently being derailed when the person I was delivering my line towards started writing something. It might not even have been about me. I was thrown though. Useful to be thrown. Maybe I don’t know it as excellently as I thought… Maybe I need to really work out the verse again with a ball, think about clarity and detail. Or maybe I just need more time in a room without disrupted company, working with these particular humans on this incredible text.

You always have to keep going back to the text. It’s never worth muffing verse in a company that values that idiom. And my prose is still sometimes made up as Toby. Shakespearean prose is an absolute ball-ache to learn. I’ve got work to do to get the specific words. Lots of it. And no underlying meter to help. I have a thought-filler where I say “I do dare say” while I’m searching for the words he did write in prose. We will need to be utterly precise and correct very very soon.

But five of us did the show starting at the beginning and ending at the underrehearsed song at the end. We didn’t look at our scripts. We noticed every time the ball dropped. Often as with Antonio who I’ve drilled finely, it was to do with the circumstances. Still worth noting. If you can be thrown you can be thrown. My personal shit about an individual came into the room. That shouldn’t happen. I need to know things better and deeper.

It’s like when you do an audition and all three people on the panel are eyes down writing while you work through a tricky scene. It can be discombobulating when people make notes when you want them to be watching. Even though the notes might be glowingly positive and listening is enough.

The people at the showing all have our best interests at heart. And their notes are designed to be helpful. We took them in the spirit they were given and will build them in. These lovely people had given their afternoon to help us. That time is valuable to us. But now we have to bind together with rigor and positivity and make this into the show it almost is.


We fly on Sunday. Then it’s mostly just the five of us, zooming around in beautiful places, making things happen, rolling with the changes, telling a story. It’s gorgeous, this company. The work ethic, the thinking behind it, what it makes possible. Just five actors every tour, twice a year for half a century. We get to tell stories to people who have never seen a play before. But bloody hell, right now I’m feeling the pressure. It’s not all done… It will be. I have to sleep.

Sharing cometh

Tomorrow we have a sharing of Twelfth Night – work in progress. We feel the pressure. I am perhaps feeling less pressure than some because I’ve met the people on the list so far and like all of them. But I’m still feeling pressure. All my paraphrases, all my little moments where I’m not sure what I mean, bits where I’m more involved in logistics than story – all of that will get magnified to me through my perception of how they are viewing it. Thankfully I think this is a lovely show, with a lovely group. I’m happy to put what we have in front of people who know the idiom better than me. I worry we have too much stuff. I worry we are asking for more stuff than we need. But I’m a worrier, and I want this to be great and my worries get in the way, and I know this about myself. I just know we will have shows in venues where there are no chairs possible, and I don’t want us to get stuck in stuff that stops us from looking at the scenes the scenes the scenes. The scenes are paramount. The words between the humans. That’s why we are doing this work.


But we all know it. And that makes it lovely. We are all pulling in the same direction. And our taste is roughly equivalent across the group. And we can all drop everything if we are asked to. It’s gonna be lovely. I can’t wait to go around America with these humans.

Right now I’m in bed. It’s hot. I’m hot. I had a bath. Pickle is lying on my stomach. She likes to do that when I’m blogging like this but it doesn’t make me any colder. She seems to like the heat. She’s purring like a packdrill. I can’t quite believe I’m leaving her and going off to America on Sunday. Good God I’ll miss her. More than anything else. I suspect she’ll miss me too in her feline *I don’t give a fuck about anyone but I like it when he rubs my belly* way.

I haven’t packed. I haven’t emptied my bedroom. I’ll be gone until winter. Saturday is going to be the day I attempt to do literally everything that’s left to do.

I’ve got to drop off some costume to Camden before I leave as well. Stuff that we use for corporate work at the Globe. There are literally not enough hours in the day. I went up to me attic this evening to get it down, swearing copiously as I was hoping to use the time to sew magnets into a bit of felt in order to make a satisfying quick change. It turns out that learning to sew and costume design simultaneously on a rushed hot evening when there’s hundreds of other things to be thinking about – somehow it’s not conducive to my best work. I’ve made something. I’ll make it better over time. That’s what making things is all about anyway. I just have to get the makeshift something through tomorrow without being told to ditch it because it’s not fully realised.


“I like it like this,” says Claire. We are rehearsing in a sauna. Pathetic fans flank the walls, moving the sweltering air around us to no discernible effect. All of our thinking is tortoise slow. We are unfamiliarly fractious. Everybody but Claire is flagging by lunchtime. Claire is bouncing around, keeping the energy moving, positive and funny. How? Who knows. Maybe all the barre classes she teaches. I can feel myself melting into myself. My brain is gazpacho. If I move too quickly it’ll slop out through my ears.

I’m usually cool with heat. I used to go to Bikram Yoga on purpose until I got fed up of feeling dehydrated for hours afterwards. This has been a slog today though in a sweaty room. So much still to do. Jen and Jack were in with us, being lovely, but our five has become a seven. A different dynamic.

We still managed a good day, even if I felt my own eyes on myself unkindly. I know intellectually that’s just a function of me when tired and the heat strung me out fast.

Oh all we humans know so much about ourselves intellectually that we can’t put into practice. It’s the same with the work on the scenes.  “This scene should be about *idea*” we might say. But in the end it always has to be about *need*. Let the idea coruscate in the air between our conflicting objectives, ignored by us, observed by our watchers, different for people with different lives from ours. Most of our audiences on this tour will have lives such as we could never have experienced. We can bring them the story of Twelfth Night. They will do with it what they will. That’s art, at heart. And theatre is live art.

This story is rich. Loving the wrong person, hiding aspects of yourself and the toll it takes, bullying and being bullied, so many colours of love, so many colours of disguise and identity, all wrapped up in the wind and the rain, come away death, grief, avoidance, party, the morning after, love love truth pain need love longing love twelfth night.


Rehearsal done, I hauled myself sweatily across London and over to my brother Rupert’s lovely house in Kensington. He’s worked hard. It has borne fruit.

I was picking up some children’s books that my nephew had written about screen addiction on a successful Kickstarter. He needed them posted to America. I was going to go out and send them locally. Turns out he’s already posted them from the UK. Hey ho. Saves my packing weight and makes it easier for me in the long run.

We had dinner al fresco and how many times can you do that in London? There’s the payback for cooking in our own sweat together like five little Shakespeare lobsters all day.

This will be beautiful and clear this show. We still have detail work to do, but the wash is in place. I need to cut this fabric and so some sewing. Fuck it. I wish my grandmother was still alive, she’d smash it for me. It’s down to me being clueless with fabric and magnets first thing tomorrow morning…



I spent most of the day thinking about fabric. How to shift characters. What do I have in my wardrobe?

I ended up finding a bolt of red cloth from Christmas Carol and realising that it’s good enough to use as cummerbund/sash, but too red. So I’ve ordered two metres of blue cloth on Amazon. It’ll arrive tomorrow. I guess that convenience is what we get in exchange for Bezos and all the richest people paying next to no taxes in the UK. Hooray for quick food-bank fabric. I’ll bring in the red stuff in the meantime, but hopefully I’ve found the solution even though it’ll probably involve some sewing with the fucking magnets and I can’t sew yet. Time past time to learn. It wasn’t considered a useful skill for young Al. Oh I wish I had it. Hitching up Scrooge’s nightie. Making and adjusting costumes. There’s always work to be done and I’d love to be able to do it myself. I’m getting better at widening my focus, and yes of course it would be lovely to get one of those jobs like Newquay where you come and get looked after and don’t have to bring or make your own stuff. But dear gods I love theatre and theatre is often makeshift.

Four more days of rehearsal and then I fly. The start of this job is the start of Brian’s Wolf of Wall Street. Our household is a household with no thinking time whatsover. I’ve started paying for a cleaning lady and it’s the best thing in the world. Maria is amazing. She will sort things out if she has to. But if she can spend time doing laundry and washing up she will do so because they need doing.

It’s a lesson. Do the things that come easy to you, and she will do surprising and amazing things that nobody would think of. She has organised our kitchen draws. She is pairing my socks. I always have clean pants and I know where they are. It’s almost like witchcraft.

Tristan came over this evening to use my home studio. He was recording towards a potential consideration for a well known character in a string of adverts. I got him set up in my home studio and realised voice recording is not a familiar idiom for him. So I’ve lent him the home studio. I’m off for months anyway and I’ve got a very serviceable portable studio. He might as well have my soundproofing and my nice Rode mic. I’ve got an iPad studio which is sexy as fuck with a few towels well placed and that’s what I’ll take to America. I’ve done books in hotel rooms before. I’ll be fine. It was noticeable how Tristan didn’t quite get the game yet. If he experiments with the kit I’ve lent him he’ll likely be able to monetise his ability. You don’t need much for a start (this is not the configuration I record in btw, oh experts).


The well known character had already been cast of course, in spite of our work. We didn’t know it until we had sent a couple of testers. So be it. When I get back from America I might well turn a specific little cupboard I have in my flat into a functioning dead room. Because everyone needs voices. And the tighter I can get my dead sound the better. And I’m very good at this work.

Gradually getting old

Barbeque in the sun. I’m exhausted. It was all I could do to get myself to Richmond but it was worth it for the Bloody Maria. I couldn’t manage a drink for the first few hours so I lay on my back and occasionally munched a sausage hoping it would be the one that brought me back. I was refreshing the cricket scores less and less frequently and more and more disconsolately. Eventually I gave up hope and lay alongside an interesting conversation for a while until Tristan shouted my name. “18 left to win” Fuck me sideways. How did they manage that? Ben Stokes.

Three men in shorts and hats standing in a circle around a phone, listening to the cricket commentary. “This is what it must’ve been like in the 1920s” says Tristan. “This is the most middle aged thing I’ve ever done” says Andy.

Another amazing game and we three bonded over that frantic listening. I thought I’d experiment with a Bloody Maria to celebrate. The same principle as Mary but with tequila. I think it helped, although my head still hurts.

Now I’m writing this in the garden. Dogs, meat, music and friends. It’s more sedate than I remember summer barbeques being, but some of us are pregnant. They’re growing tomatoes in the garden. People are talking about Moreno glass and Galileo. Nobody is shotgunning cans of lager and falling asleep in puddles of sick. Earlier today there was a child. Now it’s gone someone might have a sneaky cigarette, oh my. It’s ten past six. I might be gone in a few hours. People are already slowly leaving, talking about which stations they are going to travel through. The sun is setting.

Good to stop though. And good company to stop in. I caught up with Diana earlier today who taught me at drama school. She lives conveniently close to the barbeque and I’m aware that I’m gone for bloody ages in a week. No time to see everybody but I’m gonna keep trying to see as many people as I can. Although next week is gonna be hard work. I’m good with hard work. Good to see Diana. Good to see the barbeque bunch. So many people to see. So little time to see them. And I need to pack my bags for the tour and sort my bedroom out before I go, not to mention make this 5 person Twelfth Night zingy and fun and alive and alert and deft and meant and delightful and truthful. Not such a big ask?

I’m beginning to come back to life. Could this be a second wind? Someone is recommending books to me now. Good God. I’m going to join a conversation and see how I manage.

I did indifferent well at conversation. Now I have retreated to a cool living room and I’m prostate on the sofa about to watch the highlights from today’s cricket. I do enjoy The Ashes. Now where’s my pipe and slippers?




Can you imagine back to 1185? It’s so hard. It’s forever back.

The Templars built a Temple back then, just south of the river fleet. They had money. Back then it was the crusades kicking off. “That thing you believe is wrong. We will teach you that our idea is right. By force.”

With a modern sensibility it seems absurd that a belief structure can be used as grounds for war. But still now in the modern world pretendywendy things are the unquestioned basis for absurd acts. People actually literally explode themselves publicly because their flibbedywobbet has PINK wings, not blue like those hateful fools have believed for centuries!

The Knights Templar created the idea of banks, before banks became about gambling for profit and actively destroying the economy.

Back then you could lodge your money in London and shortly have it available in Jerusalem. Amazing, and difficult and rare. It was still a gamble, of course, but the gamble was on the Templars. Less likely to result in some pasty faced narcissist eating your stuff. They tried to make sure you got your stuff.

The gold you left wasn’t the gold you withdrew, of course. They didn’t need to send the bank manager off walking from London to Jerusalem laden with your stuff without getting beaten up. They just passed a promissory note down the line, faster than any individual could travel.

It was a gamble. It was largely predicated on pillaging. But it worked. Yes the gold was mostly stolen but there was enough stolen gold to satisfy the people who didn’t get killed when they asked for it.

Meanwhile the heart of their economy sat in London. It’s still there, in the thick of it, pulled back from the main drag. The inner Temple is a strange anomaly – a quiet public private bit of land, just off the main drag. Sometimes I know someone who has a key to private gardens around there. I’ve covered that ground in different contexts very deeply. The church itself is a huge beautiful and fascinating monument. And whatever it was built on, in the heart of London, it’s a powerful building.

This evening I watched Macbeth there. Good to see a show with witches in that ancient edifice. All the stone churches are built on places of power.

The guys in the Twelfth Night company told me I was mad to go and watch a play. Particularly a Shakespeare’s play. I’ve had a six day week on Shakespeare and then on the Saturday before my day off I pay money to see people do it instead of just stopping. But hell, I love working with that person’s words and I always learn from watching other people.

Right now Macbeth is of particular interest to me as it’s the active Factory project. I basically literally know every single line. I’m interested in how they deliver them, and whether the company can sweep me up enough that I forget. But meanwhile I reserve the right to be distracted by a glorious ceiling…



Time is running away. I still haven’t got Toby / Antonio 1 second left hand change satisfactorily solved. That’ll be the weekend. My head is burning with Shakespeare right now. And logistics.

“Is it normal to be so fried?” asks Katherine. I’ve only done one of these tours before so I’m no expert. But yeah. I remember how my brain was hurting at this stage last time. We have been looking at the journey of the stuff, and topping and tailing all the entrances and exits, trying to lose dead time and snip and nip and tuck. We are in on Saturday as well, to bolster the time lost to the bank holiday when we can’t get into the venue. The wash of the show is almost done. We have to start tightening now, really getting to the heart of why scenes exist. Thankfully it’s a lovely bunch and we are all pulling together.

I’m out for the night though. I’m off to see Minnie. I’ll be away until late November so I’m trying to capitalise on my time outside of rehearsals. I don’t see enough of many of my friends anyway, with the obsession I have with this delightful antisocial work. I‘m trying to catch people in the gaps, when I have the energy. Considering I was able to commute to Oxford and do a show after rehearsal for the first few weeks I know that there is fuel in the tank for that sort of thing. Minnie has been so important in my life over the years. I’ll miss her daughter tonight – she’ll already be in bed – but I’m writing this in an expensive Uber to Catford as the sun sets to see her. My very very dear old friend.

I got to hang out with her and it was great. We both needed it. When you’re with with a true and proven friend the weight falls away immediately. We both needed that simplicity for a bit. Just … to communicate with ease, to sit by each other. The solutions are in the silences and the simple understanding, as much as anywhere else. I am exhausted and less than fully secure. Zeph had been kicking off unusually just before I arrived. Min was discombobulated. I have no clue about babies, but I know discombobulation. We had pizza and caught up and now I’m on the bus home feeling so much lighter even though we only managed a few hours together. Again though, if there’s room in your head to do it, it’s worth making space for the people that matter. I have a few people I’ve neglected utterly recently, and it’s unlikely I’ll catch some of them before I leave. I don’t even have parents or grandparents to factor in. I can barely manage seeing any of my deep friends around my job.

I need to see too many people before I sod off to the States until Christmastime. I won’t manage it. But I’m glad I managed one tonight even if it means less time for important costume thinkyness. Belch doesn’t need to be fat. Sure, he was played by the Falstaff actor. But aside from his alcoholism there’s nothing in the text to imply he’s fat. It might be the belly that I ditch in the end. I’m still cooking though.

But this is where my head is at right now. It’s the downside of doing what you love. You can’t park it when the working day is over. It keeps on bubbling…


Rehearsal day

This morning, instead of being at my friend’s wedding I was at a jam session. One of us was at the US Embassy. Another was off working. I had to be there though, because there was the knowledge that I desperately wanted to be elsewhere. My presence became the most important part of procedures in reaction. I’m shit at politics. I prefer it when people just say true things. I got myself into a corner again.

As a result I was working while my dear friend tied the knot. Beautiful work though. I started to find ways to bring my accordion into the gorgeous music that Kaffe has initiated. It was fun and engaging and it helped me better assimilate the loss of an important day. I’ll never quite overcome that loss, but it’s something to do with being in Twelfth Night and maybe I can find a superstitious way in which I blame the play. Last time, playing Malvolio up at Sprite, I had to miss my friend Davina’s wedding. It was press night and the wedding was abroad. Our friendship never quite recovered. It will with work though. All relationships respond to work.

Dan and Jules and I are hopefully solid enough to overcome this unfortunate shitstorm. I hope they had a beautiful day.

The issue at stake here is the antisocial nature of my profession. If I’m working, I work when everybody else is playing. If I’m not working I’m hibernating, counting the pennies and struggling with self esteem. And I would always sooner be working than not working, and that occasionally involves having to miss important occasions at last minute. As I said before, insha’Allah. At least I like the people I’m working with.

It’s nice having the squeezebox included in the mix. If I can make it do nice sounds then I might be able to improve the show while getting better at it. I hadn’t really figured it as a possibility until today. I have to get my hands to play together, but Kaffe is a folk musician in the same way I am, understanding shapes and needs over letters if the alphabet. He totally understood that I just needed him to play his bit while I worked out by ear what to plop in. He’s very good at his bits, but his attitude towards it all is so forward and positive that it helps us all pick up and play. Some of us were traumatised by formal training, but intrinsically musical. We will have a little band by the time the tour is open.

It’s at a tricky stage right now. None of us can remember everything simultaneously. Five person Shakespeare is genuinely not an easy thing to do, and to do it with ease and clarity is even harder. For me, my brain is currently fried with logistics. I also badly want to find a solution for Toby / Antonio so I can have a fight with myself whilst changing signifiers as quick as a flash. This weekend I’ll have to do some magnet sewing, because if I’ve still got nothing by Monday I’ll have to just go with cummerbund / sash which will disappoint me. I want to make something more impressive and harder. But it might take more skill than I’ve got. The only way of finding out is by doing…

We had a run today of much of it. It feels like we are barking up the right tree. That’s something at least. We had a horse drawn carriage where I’m one of the horses, that I was convinced was going to get cut for all the time we’ve worked on it. But it passed muster. So far. Neighh!


Hey ho the wind and the rain

I’d normally be in Wales by now. Instead I had a hot bath. Now I’m sitting companionably with Brian on the sofa while Pickle happily munches away at her white fish and her biscuits, satisfied in the knowledge that she just shat directly in the middle of Brian’s brand new duvet cover. I chose the wrong time to have a hot bath in the same room as her litter tray.

My magnets arrived in the post today. I bought some quick change magnets. They took ages to arrive. You sew them into your clothes so you can magically change in and out of them at speed. The fact that I can’t sew has only just come to my attention. Never too late to learn I guess. I need to make something where I can efficiently switch between Belch and Antonio so I can have a fight with myself without it being too fussy. If I can do it deftly with my left hand in about a second it’ll be a delight. My head is not great in that sort of thing. I’m currently thinking belly to epaulette. Some sort of foam bolster with material to round off a shoulder pad for Antonio, and it goes under the shirt and holds with magnets for Toby’s belly. It might be too complicated. I’ll know I’m a few days, and a cummerbund to a sash will be a fine compromise if I can’t make it work. It’s all about communication and simplicity this work, not the tricks. But the devil is in the detail.

I’ve only gone and put the accordion in the show as well. I’m still struggling to separate my left and right hands so I’m taking it to America at my own inconvenience in order to have time with it. If it’s in the show I have to play it live. I’ll have it in my hotel room too. A little bit of work often. I’ve already noticed an improvement but I’ve still got a long way to go. It’d be a beautiful dream to be able to play it well enough to put it on my CV. I had it there for about three days. My agent at the time rang me up once it was on and said someone had asked if I could sight read music on the thing. I said categorically not and took it off again immediately. I’ve got an actor’s brain on it. “You need that note. I can hear where that note is. It comes out of this button. Excellent well. Note achieved. Need another note? I’ll keep listening.”

Twelfth Night is probably the most musical play in the canon. It opens with that famous line “If music be the food of love, play on!” The scenes incorporate the music much more than some of the other musical comedies do. It ends with “Hey ho, the wind and the rain!” All of us are rising into our musicality, led aptly by Kaffe who has written some great music and requires us to jam along. The more time I spend with it the more I enjoy this play and this process on it. Although I wish I could be in Wales tonight and tomorrow.

Here are four of us, joined at the head like a rat king. We will have to remember to take photos of Katherine, as she is great at taking them of us…