It’s already very late at night. I left the venue early but I couldn’t wind down. My first observed show after next to no rehearsal. Lots of lovely humans in the company trusting me not to be an idiot, and a delightful character to get stuck into.
I’m playing Dilly Knox in 1941. Alfred Dilwyx Knox. A linguist out of Eton and Cambridge finding himself in a position of authority having proved himself as a codebreaker in the previous war. He’s smart as a button but distracted. He’s learnt to play unthreatening alien until he’s become habitually alien. He finds common ground in the life and works of Lewis Carroll – Lewis was introducing cyphers to children around the time Dilly was a child. There’s much encoded or to be deciphered in Alice in Wonderland. Even the trick of printing the beginning of Jabberwocky mirrored was unusual. Sterne was having just as much fun a century beforehand with some of his glorious precocious playfulness in Tristram Shandy, but nobody has really heard of Sterne these days. Lewis Carroll hit the big time and helped open the door to a strange freedom with form that would eventually make it’s way into game books and from there to game theatre and thusly into the sort of thing I’m involved in now, which we were making in 2003 for audiences that wanted to sit still and kept telling us it would never take on.
The paragraph you’ve just read is why I’m well cast. The contents of my head frequently spill out willy nilly – as you might have noticed, oh constant reader. This evening, in this lovely show, I had to try and hold it together. It wasn’t a total disaster. Absolutely nobody died. From here I can start to add detail and nuance. This evening was mostly about survival, and Wednesday will no doubt be the same. Tonight’s audience were invited. On Wednesday the audience will have paid. We aren’t working tomorrow as we have a long week ahead and they’re finishing the build. It won’t be a relaxing day though. I’ve got to organise the contents of my head. I’ve been trying to arrange all my classical references and find multiple examples that argue similar points. Dilly is a benign example of one of those educated fools who assume that everybody has had the same education they have. He isn’t trying to alienate people with his classical allusions – it’s just his frame of reference. To an extent, you can convince yourself you’ve learnt human nature via literature. Rees-Mogg. It’s not practical, but it functions theoretically. Dilly is on that spectrum. He’s widely, slavishly and voraciously read. It’s fun being him but it takes all my energy trying to remind myself of stories I’ve encountered over the years to illustrate whatever obscure points I’m making. I don’t like slipping into patterns in shows like this so I won’t. But my obsession for Roger Llancelyn Green’s potted myth cycles – that ended roughly when I was thirteen. A long time ago now.
Three weeks of messing around with classics and code. Tomorrow is my last evening off for May. I should probably go gathering nuts…
“I’ve forgotten what carnage Dilly’s desk is,” says Beth, looking at what I’ve created more or less by accident in the short space of time I’ve been there… Sometimes I listen to myself in this character and I wonder if I’m the reincarnation of the old chap. That would be my desk if I ever I had an office job – God forbid.