America Day 08 – Ghost lights

Just east of the golden dome of the basilica in Notre Dame Indiana is Washington Hall. It was built in 1881. It’s relatively old for this area. And it’s riddled with ghosts.

Just 8pm, but we are in a pool of light, sitting on the stage doing a speed run. Vital to identify the bits of bad learning and a speed run will find them. But it’s cold in here. I’m already on the edge of shivering when I look to Claire mid scene. She is turned at ninety degrees to the stage, utterly still, staring defiantly at something in the wings. I turn to look. “Don’t,” she shoots, barely moving. It’s like she’s holding something at bay. “Oh no, the ghost?” I ask her. “Sssh” she responds. My character has just been talking about Satan. I go cold.

Actors are a superstitious lot. It’s well known. I’ve escaped a lot of the superstitions but ghosts… Oh go on then. I get a shot of full body goose pimples. The whole speed run crashes for a few minutes while we all quietly lose and regain our cool. Then we get back on track despite the fact that there’s somebody else in the room. A strange shifting notion of a presence. An observer. Nice to have an audience I guess. I find myself relieved that we’ve outlined our stage space with a circle of light. We sit there, huddled in this huge hall, under the scrutiny of this idea of a dead person among hundreds of empty chairs, and we make another dead man’s words come alive in a ring of warmth and brightness and life.

I remember five years ago when I first walked onto this stage with Scott. The theatre was dark, but there was one strange light standing alone in the middle of the stage. “What’s that,” I asked. “Don’t you have those in the UK?” He said. “It’s a ghost light. And we need it here.” “Does it attract them or scare them off?” “I think the idea is that it keeps them off the stage…” No ghost operas on our stage overnight then. That’s something. But the presence of the light brings the presence of a presence into the tense present. Suggestion is a powerful thing. We are cold from air con. We are tired at the end of the day without much food. We see a ghost – in so much as anybody has ever seen a ghost. I see it through Claire seeing it. Now I have a frame of reference for “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” I can still picture the expression on her face. Challenge mixed with horror. Stillness.

Coming from London, having spent time in York and having lived in a room in Oxford that was certainly haunted (so far as you CAN be certain of that bollocks), this relatively new building is a prime candidate for one of the spookiest places I’ve ever worked in.

It’s an amazing auditorium though and the five of us will fill it with light and joy for three nights this week. We will either banish the ghosts to the edges of the darkness, or we will give them a bloody good show.

Here’s three of us, watched by a ghostly audience. There’s the ghost light and Sydney who gave her time up to be on book for us, and is generally awesome. And who I promised I’d shout out. And who could be a friendly ghost, considering we’ve never seen her outside of the building. But if so she’s got us fooled.


America Day 07 – Day off

We have been here a week. Last night was one of the rare occasions where I just couldn’t write a proper blog. I could barely remember the start of the sentence by the time I was in the middle. Tequila, I lay the blame firmly at your door. We got awfully drunk after the working week, and then we got upsold the expensive tequila and ended up very happily drinking up a chunk of our paycheck in a beer garden in Mishawaka.

Laundry. Laundry and chill. That’s been the order of the day today. We drove to CVS to get detergent and Tylenol. We have a very large vehicle. I was almost sick in the parking lot.


I realised I hadn’t eaten. I put some pasta into me and went and read a book until things settled down.

I’m back in my hotel room, waiting for the laundry to go round, very seriously contemplating the earliest of early beds so we can get up and do two runs of the show tomorrow before meeting some academics and establishing what they want from having an actor come into their classes. It’s not going to get any less busy, I can tell you that much. But I’m learning to take my time when I can get it, even if today four of us kind of lost our day to the night before.

Jonno represented. He managed to pull out of tequila night early, and got a good night’s sleep while we all crammed into an Uber at 3am.

He got up and walked into South Bend and explored the local sights. He sent photos of his findings to the four of us as we blearily pinballed between the shower and the bed and the coffee machine. We could vicariously do the sightseeing through him. Normally I love to see the sights, to find out about places I’m working in. It’s why I love to travel for work when I can. The world is too damn big. I’ll never see it all but I’ll see what I can see when I can see it, and if I can do that and act at the same time then it’s perfect. It’s just the booze that gets in the way… Overdo it and you lose the next day. Damn.

The show is landing. We need to pace it up. We are trying to do it complete and uncut just so we can say we are doing it complete and uncut, but a little part of me wants to get out the big scissors and snip fat now. But I reckon we will manage to tighten it and pace it up. We are a close knit unit now, the five of us, and we want to make this the best we can. It’s why we haven’t stopped. We choose the time we work and that time is most of the time.

First show is on Wednesday. We need to run it a few times. We also need an audience but not until we’ve run it those few times. It’s gonna be great but there’s a mountain between us and the first show. After next week, barring travel, it’ll settle I think.


America Day 06

Indiana is excellent at brewing it’s own beer. We did well from that.

We have kept working, piecing the show together. I accidentally introduced one of my characters as a courtesan instead of a courtier in the associates showing. Oops. Semantics and gender. We are all playing multiple characters and that sort of brainfart can expand. We all must introduce ourselves and the characters we are playing.

This evening the five of us hung out with Scott and Christy and learnt not to put too much on a tab when we got hit with $67 per person in an impossible bill situation. We were basically skinned alive. And we all had such a good night that we allowed it to be a thing. Now I’m just writing the words I have to write to get to the end. Felix Mendelssohn is doing me a favour tonight. I’m enjoying my nightly orchestral music thing.

This week has been extremely positive in terms of finding a place. I’m open hearted. I’m ready to see what comes.

This morning i went shopping. I got stuck into the huge vehicle we have been given and I went to a party shop to buy loud party blowers. We are wedded to a gag where the representative of sensible behaviour goes for nothing.

We will be excellent. I usually exceed my allocated 500. Chances are I’ll leave it short tonight.

Too tired. Sorry. I’m literally gone.

America Day 05 – The Clock

It’s telling that I think of South Bend as a small town. It has 30,000 more residents than the Isle of Man. I haven’t really got out of the little bubble that is the campus of the major university where we are all rehearsing. But somewhere nearby is a seething town.

I’m knackered. We just did a showing to the associates. The people who have made it possible for so many actors from London to explore America for decades. I wasn’t about to  phone it in, so I threw energy at three people with notepads – as much as I would have thrown at 220 people who have never seen Shakespeare. Working on stage is kindest when your energy is sent back to you. I feel like a wrung out sponge.

We all decanted to O’Rourke’s, the Irish pub on Eddy Street, which is the only street we have available, and largely the only pub after we had a dire experience at Brothers on our first jetlagged night, trying to get food. We ate pure salt and were actively punished with delay by the staff, just because we were tired and in a rush.

We are getting notes from Scott who knows this game so well. He watched us work and he has seen so many companies work so many shows over so many years that he can deftly say things about the stuff we aren’t thinking about that are extremely helpful and positive. Before this we got notes from Peter, who knows Shakespeare backwards and forwards and inside out, and Grant who has watched these for twenty years and more.

Someone decided it was a good idea to have tequila during the notes. I’m not sure if it was me. I think it probably wasn’t. I don’t usually think it’s a good idea to have tequila. It isn’t usually a good idea to have tequila, generally, in my experience. But tequila we had. It was lovely but there was a noticeable side-effect in that it made each one of us considerably more drunk than we might otherwise have been. This is the particular skill of tequila. Makeydrunkenfaceness. All six of us magnified. We are all pretty extreme anyway. It got pretty intense, but always positive, as we all got properly drunk in the same room for the first time. We will travel well together, this band of weirdos. Very well. We are different enough to keep trying, and similar enough to keep understanding.

I’m in my peaceful hotel room again, listening to Rachmaninoff with half an ear, and the wet sounds of the four by fours as they squelch past on the main road to my left with the other. I always need to close the door at some point. There are some people I can have on the inside when I close it, but it’s rare to find them. Mostly I recharge solo. That’s the way of it. But we are on the way to something with this show. We still need to tighten. I need to remember that as well as being Toby and Antonio I’m the clock that upbraids Olivia with a waste of time. If the clock doesn’t upbraid Olivia, Olivia will upbraid the clock…


America Day 04 – Rambles and Shambles

Every day I switch off the air conditioning. Every day the cleaners switch it back on. Irrespective of whether or not it’s off at the thermostat it goes on with a bang early in the morning anyway so I don’t know why we bother. We have been in a work / sleep cycle right now, putting the finishing touches on the show, and that air con burst is how I wake up every morning whether or not I want to.

We are very used to being alone together now, the five of us. We have found a dynamic. It works. From the start of rehearsal we have made time for games and warm-ups together and this has gradually knit us into a tight community that understands one other and looks after one another. It’s a very loving room, and a talented bunch.

But we haven’t had time to look at the scenery. Every morning we bundle into a huge vehicle and drive the short distance to Washington Hall. We climb three flights of stairs into a pillared rehearsal room. We practice our instruments, warm up, play four square, and start to dig in to the detail of this remarkable and complicated play, Twelfth Night. We work with just the five of us, stepping out to offer helpful insights when available.

By now we have so many in-jokes. It’s like we’ve been stranded on a desert island together for years. Language has started to change and devolve into all sorts of shorthand borne from necessity and ease of use. All of us love a durational joke. We have so many now. By the end of the tour we will have invented our own unique incomprehensible dialect. It’s already absurd and delightful. And so much of it is inspired by the language of this ancient dead playwright. His mischief. His facility with meaning. His light in the dark. His dark in the light.

I fancy seeing a bit more. The memorials of the town. Every night we finish pretty late but in the evenings we go to Eddie Street and eat in one of a very small number of outlets in walking distance from the hotel. We are in a sort of enclave here, removed from South Bend itself and attached to the university. The campus is truly remarkable, filled with art and sculpture. Eddie Street has two bars and a bunch of eateries where you walk down the line and they try to make you pay extra for guacamole.

Until the end of this week though, we will be working. No time for sightseeing. Tightening moments that need tightening, examining moments that haven’t been examined yet, really plumbing into the depths of what this play with this bunch of minds attached to it has got to say now. And laughing. Lots of laughing.


“You’re English,” said the guy in the lift just now to Kaffe and I. “Is it in a shambles, or a shambles?” “It’s an absolute shambles” we both responded reflexively, jolted back to the slow motion car crash that is taking place with Bojo the clown thousands of miles to the east of us. But embarrassingly it turns out these guys are just asking about grammar. They look sheepish. “There’s an English guy in our team who uses the word is all…” I try to win it back by telling them about The Shambles in York for a bit of etymology, but the lift goes bing. Oh well.

America Day 03 – Education Education Education

One of my duties out here is to work out who is going to lead which workshop. We do quite a number of workshops in the daytime starting next week. It’s part of the deal… We go in as actors – I’ll start each workshop by making it very clear that I’m a visiting practitioner, not a teacher or a lecturer. Then I get them on their feet and get them to do work practically with text. But as Captain Education it is part of my schtick to make certain that the company lead workshops they’d be interested in leading. That makes for better workshops! There’s one on The Iliad, for instance. Jono has told me many times that it’s the best book in the world. I’ve reminded him to be practical with his workshop and get them on their feet, but even if it’s just an afternoon with Jono reading Homer it’ll still be the best afternoon for a thousand miles.


You know me well enough to know I always say “yes” to stuff before thinking, oh constant reader, so it will come as no surprise to you that I just said I’d be willing to lead a workshop for 25 prisoners in Indiana in less than a week. I’ve been to the prison before, five years ago, to do a show. It’s a dark place, and we brought light in with us. I’d like to bring more light in, even knowing that the darkness falls again quickly while we go back to our easy freedom. But it’ll be another of those growth moments for us to go in with the responsibility of running a workshop for people that desperately need light and thought and an outlet – and making it lovely. I’ll have Katherine and Kaffe running it with me so I’ll have their different brains and the thread of trust and connection we have spun already. We will fly and it will be ace. But forever and always the unknown will be unknown. We just have to look at it when we find it. And we will.

I’m in my orange sarong from Camino, sprawled on this huge hotel room bed, listening to the ambient noise and writing. Cars pass by down and to my left – all these huge vehicles, muted by the glazing but still … huge. Things are bigger in America. 

I feel strangely peaceful. I didn’t think I’d be doing the education, but things changed and suddenly logic took me that way. Katherine is perfect as tech. Jono is perfect as travel. I was not going to do blog no matter what, as then I’d be writing two blogs, and besides that, Kaffe is brilliant. Education had been pre-allocated to Anna and when she was unable to come to rehearsal we never really rethought it. Until yesterday.

My previous duty had been social – piece of cake, by mistake. I swapped with Claire as she has enough on her plate and I have space in my head to organise the workshops and make sure everybody is happy within it. It just means … more emails and if there are any horrible sounding workshops I’ll probably end up leading them. Hey ho.

America Day 02 – Round South Bend

We are here in Notre Dame for a couple of weeks. The campus where we are rehearsing is in walking distance from the hotel we’re staying in so we have only got one big car between the five of us for this fortnight.

Three of us love to drive. We love it. We always want to be driving. Even when we aren’t driving, we are still driving. Noisily. Oh dear.

On the first day Kaffe made a rule that we aren’t allowed to talk about anybody’s driving unless we’re in the passenger seat navigating. On the second day he broke his own rule when I was sitting in the back with him. The driver’s seat is going to be coveted between three good natured boys that just… prefer to be behind the wheel. And are still driving when they’re not driving.

Neither Claire nor Katherine have shown any desire to join the mix. I can tell why not. “Put your left foot to sleep!” “This is how turnpikes work!” “Watch out for that car pedestrian dog tree chipmunk.” / “You ran a red light!” “No, it was amber when I went through.” “Not when the back went through.” “What’s that got to do with it – rules of the road!” / “You have to stop at the stop signs.” “There was nobody there!” / “You’re on the wrong side of the road, Al!” …

Yeah Ok. That last one was a useful one. I was so invested in the fact I’d just clipped the kerb and lost some alpha points with the driveyboys that I was in my backwards head worrying about losing driving privilege so I pulled out nice and smoothly on the left hand side into more flak, catalysing people in the back demonstrably belting up. As always there’s a kernel of me making it harder for me to do the things that make me happy. Take the first night drive at peak exhaustion, that’ll be the best way to guarantee they’re comfortable letting you drive lots.

This genial company have found a little good natured squabbleground. Frankly the best solution would be to give the keys to Claire and Katherine and have done with it – take all the testosterone out of the equation.

This company makes me happy though. For five very different humans we roll along very well. We still haven’t stopped working enough to appreciate the fact that we are in America. It’s obvious we are though – you just need to  look at the size of the portions. In England it’s polite to finish your plate. Over here, if you can successfully eat everything you ordered then the restaurant hasn’t served you enough.

We all got driven to a restaurant by Deb tonight, our company manager – we went for a shared meal at The Crooked Ewe. Deb doesn’t drink so she offered to drive us all there and for once we driveyboys weren’t squabbling for keys because alcohol was going to be involved.

We had incredible food in one of the many restaurants that brew their own beers. The breweries don’t have such a hold here as they do in the UK. So many restaurants brew on site over here, with huge custom made breweries visibly working behind the seating area. They smoke their own meat and fish too. And serve huge portions. Everybody had food left over. The Americans didn’t think about leaving food. The British apologised. “It was wonderful,” said Jono, “But I just couldn’t manage all the fries.” “Yeah you couldn’t!” responded the waitress in a celebratory tone. She’d have been disappointed if he had.

Which is all very lovely but WASTE. So much waste here.

We eat hotel breakfast with plastic knives and forks and spoons on plastic plates next to a sign that says “Make a green choice and skip room service for extra hotel points.” Surely washing knives and forks and plates is better than not letting someone turn your sheets over?

Anyway. Here’s a photo from earlier. Katherine takes incredible photos almost habitually when we aren’t paying attention. The knock on effect of that habit is that we will have a beautiful stock of memories.



America Day 01 – Notre Dame

We are all exhausted. It’s quarter to nine South Bend time, which is 1.45am UK time and we have been rehearsing all day. Detail work mostly. We are tightening. The five of us undeniably have a work ethic or a death wish as we could make our own hours and we made these long hours. Now we are off to a pub to get booze and dinner and do line runs. We are in a totally new place and we just haven’t stopped to smell the roses yet. We took a bit of time in lunch break though, and it’s a beautiful day in South Bend. This time five years ago I saw my first chipmunk here on this campus. This beautiful campus.


The squirrels have moved in now, so the chipmunks are marginally more oppressed than they were this time last year, but they’re still showing up from time to time. I spotted one in my lunch break, cute little buggers.

We have decanted to O’Rourke’s. The Irish pub. There’s not much in the way of choice for food. Notre Dame are playing American football vs Louisville tonight. College football is huge in this country and Notre Dame is one of the biggest teams, so even though it’s an away day the city is banging. Everybody is in the bar glued to the many screens inside. We went and sat outside so we could think. Now we are ordering food and every option comes with a raft of extras. Kaffe orders first – the vegan option. Her immediate response is “Do you want chicken with that?”

The two teams are neck and neck. It’s tense in there. We are sitting on the terrace outside away from it all. Most of us still don’t really understand the sport so it’s just lots of big men leaping into one another.

Out here it’s a soundscape of somewhere unfamiliar. The chirr of cicadas mingles with distant music and the occasional roar of the crowd as the match twists and turns. We’re in America! This huge populous place. It’s a culture shock of sorts, with jetlag on top. Little things are different. The sausages are different. The roads are laid out and landscaped unusually. Everybody communicates in a slightly different way. Queues are unfamiliar in how they work. Social norms are subtly shifted. Bars function differently. Ambient sound is unfamiliar. We are a long way from the streets of London.

“Your accent is so cute,” says our waitress in her cute accent.

It’ll take a while to get used to being here. I feel lucky though, to have this chance. There’s world to see here, and places I’d never normally have been to. Once the show is tightened we can find the gaps. There’s a replica of the grotto to our lady in Lourdes here. I started the journey that took me here in Lourdes in September coming up to a year ago. This’ll be a great continuation point, to go to that grotto and to light a candle for those who have passed, and for those with whom I walked all that distance a year ago. Where now?

South Bend Arrival

Nowadays every seat on the intercontinental flight has a screen on the back. In my section, 99 people were simultaneously buried into 99 different screens. It was like some sort of dystopian nightmare. I stood up a few times and they were all on. Barely a book to be seen. A hundred little screens, people plugged into them by the ears, jaws slack, drooling their way through stories as we howl through the sky in a tin can. It’s things like this that make me wonder if I’m just a tree somewhere having a really fucked up dream.

When I wasn’t watching films I was in my iPad. I was part of it. I sometimes struggle to let myself sit and watch a three hour movie at home so I figured I’d get Avengers Endgame ticked off. Then I noticed the woman in front of me and to the right was watching the John Wick movies in order and was just finishing the second one. I put on John Wick 3 as I didn’t want to watch it through her screen first.

The John Wick franchise is ridiculous but that’s the point of it and I love them. It’s a duration exercise. They’re seeing how much carnage can come out of a story about a man losing his dog. And Keanu Reeves carries a film very well. The time flew by. We have just landed.

The only downside is that the guy to my right was going to the loo the whole time to be sick. The cabin crew were bringing him fruit and trying to make it nicer for him. He was trying to be discreet but you could tell that he was having a hellish time and, selfishly, I’m hoping it’s not something you can catch or my first night in America is going to be fun. There was also, right off the bat a rudey mcrudeperson who took vast affront at my suggestion that we rearrange the stows a bit so we could fit other people’s luggage in as well. “Well you should’ve checked it,” she attempted regarding my accordion. “It’s an instrument.” “There are check in desks, you know.” I bit my tongue before telling her some facts from my point of view, or making any suggestions about what she might consider checking. I found somebody less unhelpful who I comprehensively thanked for her understanding and willingness to help instead, and scratched the itch through mild passive aggressive comparative gratitude.

Now I’m in a boneshaker van. There is literally no suspension in this thing, but there are sofas. It’s like a cross between a stretch limo and a bus, but the roads are rancid with potholes. I’m genuinely worried about my accordion in the back, as these hits we are taking are substantial. I’m glad I’ve got it through security though. First time is always the worst. A little bit of passive aggression from a passenger is much better than “Sorry sir you’ll have to check that bag, it doesn’t quite fit in our stupid cradle, and even though you and I both know it’ll fit in the overhead locker I’m extremely sad and lonely and it manifests itself in little acts of malice like this. Thank you for understanding.”

I’m thrilled to be here, burning through the potholed roads from Chicago to South Bend. It’s Labor Day tomorrow so everything will be shut. We can just have a relaxed day finding our feet and making sense of the time difference while working some scenes etc. They’ve thought this through. I guess they’ve been doing it for half a century now.

Arrived safe. Lovely room in Fairfield Inn and Suites.


Off for food. It’s 3.30am. It’s half midnight.

Accordion Shop

There was a storm in Kentish Town, the night the accordion fell. January 2017 it was. A cold night. The Luton van jolted into a flooded parking bay. 2am. The driver killed the engine. The music jolted to silence midphrase, an emotion cut off in an instant. He sat and balefully challenged the rain through his windscreen, all wild beard and electrified hair. Perhaps he could stop the weather by hating it?

But no. “Fuck you,” he muttered, as he pulled up his collar and threw open the door into the flood. He launched his tired frame into the heart of the storm. You would have seen him grapple with the shutters at the back of the van, clawing with his angry nails, all rage and spittle and exhaustion. You would have seen the shutters yield under his haphazard assault. You would have seen the accordion topple soundlessly from where it had been lying against the stubborn shutter.

In slow motion it fell, no faster than the rain around it. It turned a little, as dynamic as Trump on a trampoline. It impacted once, hard. You would have heard the final disgruntled vamp as the whole fucking thing stopped working.

Then you’d have seen the man’s face. What a strange expression, you would think. Almost empty of meaning. A moment of complete stillness as the rain speeds up around him. Too tired and too wet to care, an actor at the end of a job, his beloved instrument unceremoniously killed before his eyes in an instant, at the heart of a January storm in Kentish Town. You’d have seen him shrug, pick it up, drop off the keys and squelch to the bus stop in silence.

“It’ll be too expensive to fix,” Al told Brian. “Have you checked?” “No, but it will be.” “Are you sure?” “Yes, Brian, yes I’m sure.” “Shall I check?” “NO.”

*Your package has been delivered*

A Chinese accordion. Half the size of the dead Hohner. Delivered to my hallway by DPD. Not as loud. Not as versatile. But functional. Scrooge plays it every night throughout the next December. He keeps it in a hard case. When it’s in a van it’s on the passenger seat. He grows to love it. It comes to Oxford with King Alonso. Prospero plays accordion too. He tells the king of an accordion shop in distant Lewisham. “It’s the best accordion place in the world mate.”

This morning I woke up and got a Kapten to Lewisham. Kapten is like uber but the cars stink and they’re all driven by maniacs. Cheaper though. In the boot was the dead Hohner and the Chinese travel accordion. Destination Allodi Accordions. The best accordion shop in the world.


It’s a Mecca. Mr Allodi himself is there, just about to sell a brilliant mini Hohner to Naomi from Northallerton. The conversation in this shop is superb. He really knows his accordions. He really cares about them. So long as they aren’t pre-war. “There’s a beautiful looking old accordion on sale in Barnardo’s Brixton.” I tell him. “Oh yeah, like that one?” “Yeah.” “Pre-war then. What do they want for it?” “About £200. I took it down and it’s completely fucked.” “They all are. That room used to be full of them.


I sold them all to a Brewery for £30 a pop. About 200 of them. They stuck them on the walls in their pubs. Glad to be rid of them. They’re beautiful to look at but…” He shrugs.

He geeks out about my Hohner. “I could’ve fixed this in seconds if you’d brought it right in. Still, I can do it. It’ll just be harder. The wood has warped over time now.”

Shut up Brian. You were right.

He can’t really decide which of us to serve. Me or Naomi. He switches between us. He’s about to screw a foot onto the Chinese one when I remind him that she was here before me and she’s going to spend £500 so he should probably close the deal. Naomi wants to travel with her gorgeous little new Hohner. I covet it. I tell her she’ll need a bag like the one I’m in to buy. She gets one. We instantly hit it off. We add each other on Facebook and she waits for me so we can chat as we walk to Lewisham Station. She’ll be able to learn from my experiences as to the practicalities of persuading airlines that it’s a carry-on.

“Shouldn’t you be packing,” she perceives as I plan my route to Tottenham Court Road to pick up my contact lenses. “Yes.” (Even people who have JUST MET ME intuit that I locate my self-consciousness externally!) Dammit.

I’ll have a handy travel accordion and contact lenses packed for America, that’s certain.

I’m gone till November. I’ll probably have a suitcase containing nothing but socks. I wonder where my Kindle is?