In December 2019 I spent two long days in a huge van moving furniture from a gym in Croydon to a crypt in Bethnal Green. I was helping out some interesting and lovely young humans who like to make theatre. I thought that would be the end of it.
They have asked me to come make something with them, using lots of the stuff I moved. They can’t afford to pay for more than a couple of days rehearsal. So we open on Wednesday with a soft run tomorrow night, and today is the first moment I’ve been given a structure of what I’m doing and even then it’s an incomplete structure. If I wasn’t ridiculously confident in this sort of thing by now, I’d be freaking out.
The first thing that strikes me is what a lovely bunch they are. I’m in safe hands. Right at the director gave a pastoral care announcement about how we should behave within our own physical and mental well-being limits. It was brilliant. I don’t think I’ve ever had it made so clear that production are interested in our well-being outside of just needing to make sure we all turn up for work.
There are lots of little scenes improvised around a bone – a little like the game we played with Odyssey but with a touch less deliberate fuckery and no songs. I met the other actors and we experimented with not being too on-the-nose. There’s still great room for mischief. I’m playing an eccentric Lewis Carroll enthusiast with a huge thirst for classical literature. I have more room than most to say things that nobody understands but me.
In a quiet moment this afternoon I began what should end up as an avalanche of esoteric bits of paper on my desk. I used Vigenère to encypher a translation of the first two dactylic hexameters of The Odyssey, using the accepted anglicised Greek as the key phrase: “Andra moi ennepe mousa polutropon hos mala polla / planchte epei troies hieron ptoliethron epersen.” I had that drummed into me through the course of The Odyssey and I wanted to have a bit of strange magic to link the two shows for me. Dilly would’ve had it drummed in at Eton so it’s perfectly in world – no classicist of the era would last five minutes without a love of Homer. Here’s my cypher, with my workings up above.
The greatest joy is, by cheating the last word “citadel” to “city” I could make the length of the message match the key phrase precisely. You don’t know what I’m talking about. One day, if you’ve got half an hour and some graph paper, I’ll teach you to decode it. Or you could come to the show. I never know if I can recommend something before it’s open but come buy tickets for this. It’s lovely people and there’s no budget. Somebody has to pay their bills. I’m not asking for much but I’m not working for chips. There’s a solid core of diligent, kind and geeky people making this, and there’s also a rare degree of faith in this company. I find it refreshing to find actors who believe in things. There’s a huge culture of atheism in my profession that always feels thoughtless and smug when mined. It’s hard to be an actor with an eye on God. Easier somehow to be Pagan or just love everything like I do. These guys wouldn’t have access to this crypt without that rare breed of properly Christian artists. Today they were talking about Riding Lights. Beautiful company. I have books of theirs on my shelves from my superfaithful days. They make good theatre from a good place.
I feel well looked after here and I want these guys and this show to do well. I should go to sleep though so all the information settles in my head.