I’ve always been a sucker for a story with monsters. There’s just something about the human in the face of these things that are big and weird and hungry and simple and cruel. I get swept up in it. I love the monsters as much as the ones that fight them. It’s no coincidence that I played the Cyclops more than anyone when we improvised The Odyssey. I never ran out of ways to be curious about why he behaves like he does. Maybe there’s something in the way I’m battling my own set of demons. We all are. Maybe I recognise my own little demons in these loathsome interesting dense twisted charismatic foul things that others have made up. Maybe I see myself in the little people who set themselves up against them fearlessly. Who take hits and get back up again.
“What are the monsters afraid of?” asks Lettie Hemstock. “They’re afraid of us.” I’m paraphrasing. This is from The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I read the book when I was in Jersey fighting childhood demons of apathy and fear and grief. Now I’m forward from that but still struggling to beat off the wings of the anti-life creatures at the edge of my thoughts. I’m drowning myself in dayjobs or in booze. I need to shift my attack. But tonight for a few hours I went back to that story about childhood. It’s on in the West End. I know the designer, the puppet guy, the adapter and a bunch of the actors and I love the story. Still it has taken me this long to get to it. They’ve been soldiering on through Covid. It was shut yesterday as one of my friends has caught the fucker. I really wanted to see her, but her understudy was on for the first time today and there’s an edge in supporting somebody in that first show that is just impossible to duplicate. There must be a lot of people coming on as last minute cover right now in the theatres that are daring to be open. I used to get employed for that all the time because of my absorbent line learning brain. It’s a rush. You simultaneously feel amazing and terrified. I kind of miss the rush. Haven’t been on stage for too long.
Two nights running now though I’ve been to good theatre. Much Ado was wonderful and creative and cheeky and observant – doing what lo-fi theatre does best and honing in on the clarity and truth of moments that can often get lost in noise when money comes into the equation. Tonight, Ocean washed over me. This came out of The National, and so they have budget for great puppets and long rehearsals and clever people making things. With all the lights and trickery they never lost sight of the human. Another wonderful night in the theatre, and the place was packed. Every seat in the stalls was full and they were seeking wine at a tenner a glass at the bar. Good to see, because these old buildings will end up as flats if the current crop of governmental fuckwits get their way. Stories can be dangerous if you’re a monster. They help us understand that even if we feel small, the monsters feel small too sometimes.
Neil Gaiman’s mythical thinking and the profile he has gained through hard work and consistency – it’s a very good thing for the world of modern stories. I love that a weird little book like Ocean can get enough traction to transfer to the West End from The National. Bloody right. It’s a story about so much. Childhood and fear and freedom and the eternal. The things that we crave and the things that kill us. I’ve had a lovely night and the only thing I don’t want to do now is go to sleep but I have to because tomorrow I’m out of the house at 7am. Buggerit. Good night.