Press night

This evening, we had journalists. They came to our show. It was a night named after them. Press night.

I don’t know how I feel about such events. I don’t like having my work crystallised through the minds of people who perhaps don’t have any handle on the art. I’d be surprised if anyone was capable of writing something unpleasant about what is one of the most bonkers fun and christmassy things I’ve ever been involved in. The chances are people will be positive. But that doesn’t stop all of my tiny anxieties from magnifying. It doesn’t stop me using all my creativity to establish reasons why THIS EVENING the writer human might find means to denigrate my work, or the piece in general. It’s always up for grabs. This is a marvelous show. Nobody is going to be mean about it. It’s just that if someone writes shit about you it can follow you for years. Based on post show feedback we’ll all have good write-ups. I’m good at my job. Impostor syndrome is just part of the furniture. How is it that I am paid to do what I love?

We had Lyn in – the adored grand damme of theatre reviewing. God knows what she’ll make of it. She cracked a smile. She might not even review it now she’s not full time. But she seemed to enjoy it, and she was surrounded by her industry. We presided over an early Christmas party for the theatre reviewing industry.

It’s weird thinking about Lyn. I mostly don’t know the name of theatre critics. I know hers, because she’s been an exponent of the kind of work I love for years now. She’s become the only theatre reviewer whose opinion I value. I’d be devastated if she hated it. She didn’t, of course. But insecurity springs eternal.

Now I’m home. I’m spread out. I’m happy and warm. I think back to two years ago when the boiler was fucked and I was freezing and sick. I miss Pickle. I still think there’s a share that can be negotiated. Meantime I’ll go to sleep to an empty space. But I’ll sleep well, knowing we did a good job of it. We had a fair few catastrophes tonight with tech – stuff that’s never happened before. Someone stole Jack’s lighter so Fan being a candle became Jack whispering. I honestly think it worked anyway. Maybe there was a spot of lost magic. But we have learnt how to make things fly now. It was a moment of complicity between us, seeing him come on with no fire. We made it work.

I blew out my only candle while acting. The logic of the candle is fucked as I’m lit by birdies. Health and safety has made it impossible for us to properly use candlelight, despite the tremendous loss in atmosphere. Once again I praise every single human involved in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. I know how hard it must be for them.

We only have the few limited stubbies that are permitted by risk assessment. It means lighting is desperately shitter, and there’s no possible solve when one of the crucial candles goes out.

Still, we’ve got birdies and clever people whose job it is to provide alternatives to the lovely thing we used to have. I do miss the truth of fire. I miss the light of candles. But it’s still a lovely space. And such a happy show. Humbug.

I forgot to take any photos as usual. Selfie.

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Bad eating habits

It’s 4pm and I just noticed that I’ve eaten nothing for almost 2 days apart from three salmon sashimi out of five, and a mouthful of turkey from an audience member. The lack of predictability in my waking hours means I often forget to eat. There are no “mealtimes” and I’m terrible at noticing when I’m hungry. My friends often know I’m hungry before I do. I started shivering about an hour ago and didn’t even work out that it was hunger for another 30 minutes. I then went to Itsu and pushed around a teriyaki rice bowl but could barely swallow it. Everything tastes like ashes right now. I think I need to go home after the show tonight and sleep long and warm. Thankfully now we are into the run, so I’ll be able to do just that.

I’m on the way in to work, with my costume in a bag. I took it home to wash after the show last night which is always worrisome as I’m liable to forget things like that and we have to do some nonsense at the Christmas lights in Bond Street tonight. I gave myself palpitations in the process of discovering that when it’s wet it looks pink, but then it dries cream thank God. I was picturing a fuchsia Scrooge tonight.

I think I’m basically exhausted so things are magnifying. While I was writing, a woman on the tube shouted at somebody else’s child “Can those dirty feet get off the seat please,” and the rage in her voice made me feel a bit sick. I probably should stop writing and try to have a lie down. I think I’m nervous about this lights ceremony thing. I’m imagining being clueless in my not pink nightie in front of hundreds of people.The reality is rarely as bad as it is in my imagination.


We did it. I humbugged to a bunch of bemused people standing about 20 foot from an improvised stage in Mayfair. Gatsby was there with sound and light. We just talked to them and got them to sing “falalalala” for a bit.

Then we did the show and – brilliantly – Katherine Jono and Kaffe from Twelfth Night were all able to come. Jack even got Jono and Katherine involved in Christmas Yet to Come. It was a glory. So wonderful to have them come and understand this strange beautiful show with me after the months of Twelfth Night. It’s press night tomorrow. I’m finally over press night anxiety, after too much experience of the things. I know it for what it is now – a show with an artificial audience. I’m just going to humbug as hard as ever, and the bit where I find out about them over dinner will hopefully not be too awkward. We will see. Either way I’m going to get a good night’s rest. A little part of me is dreading it, and a little part is looking forward. It’s a delightful show, proven and still alive. We want box office – (I’m not famous enough) – so hopefully the writers tomorrow will help sell the show…

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First Scrooge

Suddenly Carol. The traverse makes things a lot harder for Jack and I to keep the string tight between us. I don’t actually have to be in work until afternoon tomorrow thank God because we all went out and decompressed after the show and then I got home and had the first evening I’ve had so far getting to know KitKat who moved in after Brian.

Orphan Christmas will be happening at mine. I’m looking forward to the season. Jack and I just have to switch out the bit of our heads that is finding our light, and remember to connect with each other.

Our opening show was glorious, although not at capacity. The building we are in used to be a shooting club, and our changing room has turned out to be the gunpowder store. I have to put on my nightie in there and then wait by a load of empty gun racks to do the show. Eventually there’s a bit of frantic activity involving torches and smoke, and I get to listen to Jack working the crowd for a couple of minutes before I go on. In some ways it’s my favourite bit – I can get a guage on the nature of the crowd based on how they are with him. It’s my only downtime for the whole show really. They are always a lovely lot, and this evening was no exception. In half a decade this remarkable piece of madness only ever falls down when there’s a catering issue. I’ve not got to know the chef yet, but that’s because there’s a whole team of people headed up by Tristan who have that. This is the closest I’ve ever got to doing Carol as just an actor. It’s testament to the production. I didn’t need to build the set or troubleshoot the catering – it’s all in hand. The only things left that I do on tech are things that have been part of my show so long it just feels natural to do them. It feels like we’ve grown up.

I think back to Manchester with John, having a wonderful time with a much broader show. I think to the few shows John and I did in The Guildhall in York – how the music rang. I’m told I showed up on Good Morning Britain yesterday. It wouldn’t surprise me if the footage was from that counting room. Then we ended up at The Arts, with me running out into Leicester Place to the crowds. Beautiful and bonkers with India operating. Then Bishopsgate and the cold and the celebrity chef. Then up in Sheffield in a space we built for ourselves out of whatever was lying around Deli. And then this year. With a designer and a stage manager. It looks great. Once we nail down the “acting in traverse” skill then we will have a glorious show.. And frankly, we already have it. It needed an audience for us to see what lands and what doesn’t.

Here’s be an hour before opening. Don’t be fooled. Yes I was tired. But I also took the photo with eyes closed. Fake news!

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Last Twelfth Night

I’m in an Uber in the rain heading to the theatre. Our last Twelfth Night show happens tonight. We have an extremely busy WhatsApp group for the show which is terrifically noisy right now with final costings and plans for the get out and so forth. Last night was a full house and I boiled. Tonight is a little less sold so I’m hoping it’s not going to be quite so hot in there. I’m expecting I’ll want to raise a glass with the other four post show, so I’m getting this down now. I don’t have that feeling like you’re running off a cliff that you often get at the end of a long job like this has been, because we’re opening Christmas Carol tomorrow evening. I can’t stop yet. Not for another month or so. That calm day with trees and bears in California seems a long long time ago now.

I’ve enjoyed working with these misfits. I’ll enjoy this one last show. But I’ll be glad to have only one show in my head again. Christmas Carol is still in flux, with some tweaks and rewrites this morning. We also have to bring some content to the switching on of the Christmas lights in Bond Street. I don’t think I’ll get to push the button, but I’ll get to say “humbug.” As a result of all this stuff yet to come, my head feels pretty full. Hence the Uber.

The Uber driver is listening to talk radio though, and as I write, the news is filtering in. Internecine bickering from mostly unpleasant political figures, people stabbing people, protests, exclusion zones, elections, Black Friday. It’s dark out there. I’m quite looking forward to going into that tiny circle of brightness for one final time and telling this odd story from the perspective of the “party goes wrong” character in the story. Then having a few drinks and getting home in time to sleep properly and recharge for opening night and a face full of fake snow.


I ended up leading a charge of actors into a tiny little club I’ve come across over the years. It’s one of the last actor’s clubs. Over the years I’ve performed in it three times, I think. It is anti nonsense and pro dive. It’s harder and harder to find places that just let you vanish into a place where nobody wants to talk about what they’ve done or what they’re doing.

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I’m sad to say goodbye to this tour. We have had a joyful time. We have seen some incredible places, some of which are restricted for civilians. I know for sure I’ll miss these four strange beautiful humans. But friendships have deepened, and there is no way in hell I won’t walk into a rehearsal room with one or more of them at some point in the future.. That’s just how the industry works. Meantime, farewell Twelfth Night, hello Christmas Carol. No rest for the wicked. Money doesn’t grow on trees. Etc.

Penultimate show

I pulled myself away from the pub post show. Lots of lovely people came in to see Twelfth Night this evening. One more show tomorrow night and then it’s done. I’ll miss it when its gone. One more night. Wow…

I really wanted to do the AFTLS job again after the first time through the job five years ago. Because of all the classes, which were an unfamiliar pressure, I didn’t have much headspace back then to take the time I had and to be in the places I was in. This time I think a spot of maturity worked wonders. I enjoyed the classes almost as much as I enjoyed the shows. And more importantly I learnt how to properly activate my daytimes. In the past if I’ve had an evening show I’ve found it very hard to give my full attention to anything in the daytime leading up to it. AFTLS is the company that taught me how to do that and credit where credit is due. Without having the children that so many of my contemporaries have managed, it’s been easy to just use the mornings to recover from the adrenaline, or failing that from the alcoholic self abuse that can result from the adrenaline comedown. Living with Brian, who will rise by half seven no matter what he’s done to himself – it helped me activate my downtime better. I still can’t do the thing he does. But I’m closer to it. And the pressures of teaching a load of Air Force Cadets to be awake and alert with text first thing in the morning – it wakes you up as well.

I’m home and it’s not even 1. That doesn’t sound like an achievement but it is. The bath is running. I’m winding down properly. I’ll be into rehearsal tomorrow at ten for Christmas Carol. I might have a cup of herbal tea. Or a hot toddy. But I’m on the wind down. Post show I’ll often be the last man standing. My natural adrenaline production is probably disproportionate. I love the stuff, and I get a big old hit of it.

Most of the other guys had family in tonight. I had friends. My friends are my family, of course, and they came up trumps. There were some lovely surprises, some from a long time ago, some very familiar faces from more recently.

The show was a blast. I was uncharacteristically nervous, probably because my head is already buried in the next show so I wasn’t sure I could remember this one. My self monitor didn’t switch off for most of the first half, which is unusual. As a result it wasn’t my best, but I know that the nuances in my view of my own work are mostly personal and based on strange inherited insecurities. The audience had a great time I’m sure. And so did I. I probably sweated two litres. But it was happy sweat.

Now I’ve got dodgy reduced Mac and cheese, a hot bath and a hot toddy. Tomorrow we will hit our last bit of detail work for Christmas Carol before we open on Wednesday, and I’ll have to keep a little bit of myself back in order to be full forward for one more night of Belch. He’s a dangerously addled psychotic for me. I’m channeling my mayhem. It’ll be nice to be able to cut my hair though, when it’s finally done.

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Dress rehearsal

Carol dress rehearsal tonight. It’s a very different space. I’m surrounded. Previous shows have given me a powerful spot, where I can exist and dominate the whole room. This time I’ve always got someone behind me. I feel a little sick having inhaled tons of fake snow. I also feel exhilarated to know that we are close to opening and as ever it’s a lovely show.  It’s really joyful. I always forget until I remember. Christmassy Christmas. Oh joys and wonders.

Apparently the fake snow isn’t toxic. I went and looked at the packet as I reckon I’ll be accidentally eating a few tonnes of the stuff before January. We ran the show for a small invited audience, in order to test the structure in this new room. It’s good, of course, and Jack and I have room to enjoy ourselves and tell the story. I was slightly hampered by the fact I was wearing no contact lenses, and it’s very dark in there. I couldn’t see a fucking thing. I think I was mostly talking to Jack, although I stepped on a hat and probably delivered a few lines to a bit of furniture thinking it was a person.

Now I’m home and about to put a chicken in the oven. I haven’t eaten all day and I barely ate yesterday. Kitkat might come home and help eat, but even if she doesn’t I reckon I can singlehandedly polish off that chicken. I’m damned if I’m not going to try. We had a couple of pints after the showing, and I need to teach my body that there are other ways of gathering nutrients than just the bottom of a glass. I might open a bottle of something. But I won’t be awake past ten. Too much on.

Tomorrow it’s Twelfth Night again. I feel schizophrenic. I know that Toby is still in my head somewhere, but I’m cluttered. The good thing is that I got back in time to reset the jetlag. Some of the others will still be confused. Contractually we have to arrive back at least three days before the London shows, and based on my experience last week that makes perfect sense. I’ve never had such lag, but that’s the longest I’ve ever spent in America since I was a wee bairn.

I’m home again, sitting waiting for the oven to warm up. I’ve had a good day and seen some dear friends. I still can’t switch on the telly as I keep forgetting to buy an hdmi cable, but the walls aren’t closing in this time. I’m feeling good. Christmas Carol does that. It’s about meeting lots and lots of random individuals and mining into what makes them happy. It’s the strangest acting job, but one of the most beautiful. I will continue to love this show.

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I walked home through Christmas London. I saw beautiful happy looking buildings filled with people whose body language and spirit were totally shut. Open doors in pools of light revealing closed down dark human beings. Everybody left our showing open. That’s the magic of Carol. Bring it on.

 

 

Getting busier

I walked past Claire the security guard this morning, wearing my nightie. She’s on the door for “TV Dinners” which is the Gingerline show running next door. She’s going to be security for our show too next week. She also looks after the late night bar crowd. I was part of that. Oops.

“You must be hanging today,” she says to me, baldly. “You were hammered last night. At least you were having a good time. I’m surprised to see you working this early.”

I don’t remember talking to her although frankly I think she’s great. She’s tough as boots, only about 5 foot tall, and could easily beat me in a fight despite being a fair few years older than I am. She’s definitely right too. I think I inhaled a bottle of wine, portioned into large glasses, charged for at Mayfair prices. It was a big night by mistake. I think of it like decompressing after the tour. I was feeling atrocious this morning. BUT it’s the first night since I’ve got back that I haven’t bounced out of bed at 3am thinking it’s afternoon. So I think I might have fixed my lag through liberal application of red wine. Why didn’t I think of it earlier? Ugh.

It’s confusing at the moment. We have an open dress for Carol on Sunday afternoon in Mayfair. Come if you fancy – you just need to ask. We have to run it with an audience -although because the chef is expensive you’ll have to bring a packed lunch.

It’s an interesting version this year. We are playing in traverse for the first time. We have more opportunities for subtlety, but sightlines are a fucker and lighting is weird. But … we have some things better than ever. We had a dedicated designer with actual skill. Our stage manager is a brilliant. Many of the corners we cut in the past are turned properly now.

But I’m confused because I’m still holding Twelfth Night in my head. Sunday I’ll be Scrooge. Monday and Tuesday nights I’ll be Sir Toby Belch. Then Wednesday I’m Scrooge again. And then the snowball, as we roll into the run of Carol, night after night, dealing with the issues of the day. Dare I say it, I think this will be the easiest version I’ve ever done. I won’t be freezing cold. I don’t have to run into the street and risk getting shanked for being a lunatic. I’m hoping I’ll stay healthy. Acoustically it’s so clear in that space – I can speak very softly and still be heard throughout. Haze stays. The smokey bits will hold huge atmosphere so long as the humans who see haze and think smoke don’t start actively coughing.

I’m not going to be the best communicator but if you get this in time and you fancy a Sunday afternoon Carol where you bring your own picnic, we need numbers. It’s 12.30 right by Bond Street station. And if you want to see five clever people make delight with Twelfth Night then that’s on Monday and Tuesday in the evenings. I’m glad to be back in the uk and busy. And I’m off to sleep.

Here’s a shot of it under construction…

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