Life and De’ath

My Labour candidate is called Alan De’ath. He’s an awkward looking gangly twerp, but that’s the political class. His leaflet was terrible and his photos worse, perhaps to demonstrate that he’s spending money on more consequential things. His campaign had so many delightful wordplays, all of which are absent – even from his bone dry Twitter feed. “Old and poor? Vote De’ath or get death.”  “De’ath first.” “De’ath: Two parties. One word. What a difference an apostrophe makes.” “Vote De’ath for a better life.”

I’m not as well informed about the future economy and the secret intentions and capabilities of people I’ve not met as many people seem to be. I voted instinctively for the human being I disliked least, assisted by notions about the NHS and what I had found trustworthy from the vast swathe of reading material had been funneled to me by my echo chamber. Apparently both Corbyn and May will destroy this country in some way. May will sell the NHS to the devil and dance on old people’s graves, killing poor people with dead foxes and feeding ivory to Trump. Corbyn will force us to dig a tunnel to Syria with our bad teeth so his ISIS friends can take more than we earn from us and fertilise a magic money tree that will only get nuked by his IRA mates while he does and says nothing as he’s too busy deliberately ruining the economy and painting everything beige. That much is clear.

Voting itself was quick and easy. I was outnumbered by staff in the polling station in Chelsea. It’s a cricket pavilion. Of course.

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I hope there were queues earlier but it was just me and three staff members when I went at half ten. I don’t really think anyone is happy with the political system but it’s the only one we’ve got for now and a voice in it, even a spoilt ballot, helps. But most people agree it doesn’t help very much. The system has been around so long it’s deeply entrenched. How do we overhaul it properly short of revolution, when so many jobs and expectations are on the line? I honestly dreamt I was part of an “electoral reform party” last night, with candidates in every constituency and a really smart proposal for how it would all work, and we won. I also dreamt I was skiing before an avalanche. I didn’t sleep well last night.

After voting I went to Factory Macbeth again. Good to have had the consistency of that positive group to glue together a week where work has been scarce. Something every day.

Now I’m heading home to let Tom into the flat. He’s my sofa guest tonight. He builds websites for high end jewellery brokers. We’re unlikely friends, but he’s stayed a few times and I always enjoy his company. The doors are still swinging from Charlotte last night, who came and filled the place with flowers. I’m going to cook ling and perhaps raise a post election glass of something. But I’m hoping for an early bed and no more dreams of avalanches and landslides.

Fishpeople

I spent the morning in a basement with a blue floor. I met two people who speak entirely in jargon. They’ve written a load of “behaviours” on a piece of paper. They want the words to ”resonate out through the acting.” They want it “the cheesier the better although the surveyors in asset and regen don’t like cheese so maybe not that cheesy.” “It’s about internal comms, raising awareness of behaviours, cross purpose communication issues.”

Making corporate theatre is hilarious. They were lovely, but it was like meeting two fish that had taken a load of courses on how to be people, and were being tested out in the real world. I wouldn’t want either of them to be my boss, even if I suspect they’re lovely at home. When they’re with their old friends, they’ll turn back into people. They were there, hiding somewhere under the fishiness. But they didn’t want to be seen. So they “did people.” while I wrote all their words down. Looking back over what they said, they didn’t really answer a single question. They didn’t really know what they wanted. Just something. We can do that.

Spending too much time in the wrong office environment can, I suspect, make you forget how to do the people thing. Particularly with strangers when at work. It seems they’re trained to conceal the truth of themselves under all these buzzwords and this signalling.

Which is why they want us to make a piece of theatre addressing what they call “unhelpful behaviours in staff members.” Coming from us hopefully it will be more palatable to the staff being trained. The alternative would be a dry PowerPoint lecture in a strip lit room, shuffling papers, checking watches, watching a talking fish read the words on a slide out loud, before clapping for exactly five seconds.

After the meeting this morning I caught up with an old friend. We had a string of cosmic coincidences. I haven’t seen him for years, but clearly I should have. We walked and talked until I ended up at The Factory rehearsal and on a whim said “Just walk in confidently and sit down for a bit. I bet nobody clocks it.” Alex clocked it within five seconds. “I don’t think we’ve met.” Still, he stayed for a bit and we got into nitty gritty about Malcolm. It was a room full of people who were attempting to express themselves in the best and clearest way possible. It was people being honest about the fact that they’re people, knowing that people are flawed. I liked being in that room much more than the one before.

I got thinking about these fish people that pay me to help teach them human behaviour. People who have trained themselves to conceal their own truth. People who are motivated partly by fear of their own humanity being seen. And I thought that I see that in one of the candidates for election. One of them is a fish, refusing to admit they’re a person. The other one very much a person, with warts and smelly bits, hoping to move forward despite people shouting “But you’re a person!” at him.

Recently we’ve seen that voting has an effect. We’ve had two surprises. A hundred years ago half the uk population couldn’t vote. Now we all can and half of us don’t. Let’s hope we have a big turnout tomorrow.

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Babies at The Factory

I’ve been back at The Factory today. Nothing like a bit of rigour to recalibrate the brain. This is a company that has been front and centre in my life for years now and has helped shape how I think about my craft. It still feels like a living challenging room, and the people in it are changing and growing and breathing with the company.

Right now we are looking at Macbeth. Bearing in mind it took two years from inception to first performance with Hamlet, it might be a while before we are popping up ready with a show. But we do have to find something to show people in Wales on July 8th.

Some of the work I’ve seen and been part of with the company over the years has been some of the richest of my career. There’s a challenge and a joyful work ethic built into the very makeup of the group. It’s trying to work without ego, as fluidly as possible. I’ve built wonderful friendships through this work. Watching and playing over the years, I’ve seen so many unrepeatable moments. Some of the funniest and also some of the most poignant spontaneous happenings I’ve witnessed or generated have come out of that mixture of deep rigour and yet playfulness at the heart of the work. The fixed and the flowing.

Today one of our Macbeths brought her baby to training. One of the many things that people say about actors is: “Never work with children or animals.” I call bullshit on that. Never work DESPITE children or animals. They are completely present and spontaneous, so if you aren’t they show you up. But if you are too then things can happen. The baby was a gift to the rehearsal. She kept us honest, whilst all of our focus was on keeping her safe.

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I remember a marquee show in Ripley with Sprite, about this time of year some 6 years ago. It was directed by Alex, who still runs The Factory. The audience had been moved into a big tent because it was gunning down rain. It was coming to the end of As You Like It. I was Silvius, and a little girl in the audience was howling – going at it for all she was worth, all six lungs, tears, the lot. She sounded like an air raid siren.

My job in the scene was to tell Ganymede what it is to love. I came to the girl and told her “It is to be all made of sighs and tears.” Just to see if talking to her helped. It did. She stopped. By the end of the scene she’d got me to pick her up, and was rapt at being involved. My choice was “act despite her, or act with her.” Acting with her worked in our favour that time, and gave everyone a beautiful moment. It could’ve been disastrous: “Mummy who is that horrible man, get him off me. Aaaaaaaaargh. You’re not a shepherd. You smell.” The beautiful thing with the Factory is we play for those moments, they come, and sometimes when the girl tells you you smell that’s a gift too. And then we move on. I remember Hamlet getting beaten up by a kid. “Who calls me villain? Breaks my pate across?” “I DO! *bam*” Fair play to Stefan. He actually asked the question. And it was a beautiful moment too.

At some point Macbeth will happen, and there will be many beautiful moments. Until then we will keep meetingr regularly, this large joyful community of makers and players. Damn It’s good to be back in the room. I’ve got Anne-May in my home right now actively trying to gas me with my own Palo-Santo because my phone screen “can let in spirits.” Best put it down…

Wrecking Ball

I’ve not had the best run of it lately. It’s started to wear on me.

I had a positive meeting with an agent that led to me shaving my beard. Then I had to go clean shaven into a casting where they wanted beard the day after the agent u-turned on me. Then I went in for Fagin, again beardless, and was told I was too young. Then I went in for Henry Higgins, who speaks in my voice, is my age and whose mother lives, essentially, in my flat. Again I was told I was too young. Meanwhile I opened my heart and discovered how much that can hurt.

This evening I’m going for a casting to play “Middle aged man 1.” Sexy. I’ll probably be told I’m too young. I don’t feel too young right now. I feel like I’ve been banging my head against this wall for a millionty five years and I’m older than Satan. It’s going to be the wall that explodes, not my head. But it’ll be a close run thing.

Not that I don’t have loads to be thankful for. I’m safe and have a roof over my head and tons of brilliant friends. And I get to do thousands of bizarre random things with zillions of gorgeous interesting people. I’m just still “seeking the bubble reputation e’en in the cannon’s mouth.” Along with so many others. It’s constantly about hope, and staying positive in the face of knockbacks. And dear God I’m still an optimist. I’ve been doing this madness for long enough that absorbing and converting energy is almost second nature by now. But it still sends me spinning when I let myself hope. I wanted to go to Frankfurt and work on the words of Bernard Shaw. I’d have been bloody marvelous too. But someone is really happy about getting that call. Let it rest there.

I’m off to The Factory now for a few hours to throw some Macbeth around in a beautiful positive challenging room full of similarly robust similarly geeky actors and theatre makers. Some of us will be going to a theatre grown out of a living willow tree in the heart of Wales in July. We go every year, and use the period before as a chance to deepen our own craft and availability on stage. I’m in the mix for Banquo, but in keeping with the company values nobody is guaranteed anything so I might not go to Wales at all. Somehow that doesn’t bother me. So why am I upset about not getting three months in Germany? I suppose the lure of a new city, the interest of the part, and the rare guarantee of three months worth of digging out of the debt hole. Shaw is great dense fun text to mine. Poo.

Too young to play my own age is better than too old. I’ve clearly been doing something right all these years. I’ll just use my youthful vigour to keep slugging. There’s something round the corner. The wall is cracking. My young head is harder than granite by now, and somehow my insides are still squishy. Bang. Ow. Bang. Ow. Bang. Ow. Crack.

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Mouse Trap

I had a day of tidying and cleaning. I was supposed to be going to a festival, but the whole thing somehow didn’t appeal so I stayed and tidied and sorted things instead. I still have too much stuff – especially for someone who is an instinctive traveler. How the hell have I accumulated all this stuff? I was sorting and cleaning, but before it was all finished my friend Flavia come round with her 3 year old.

A friend of my mother in his late 70’s recently forwarded me an email telling me of the death of one of their and my friends.  I read the chain attached to the email, and it was just a string of grief. It made me realise how lucky I am. Right now most of my friends are marrying and breeding. For this guy, his friends are dying and many of them are dead. This existence that we all take for granted – it is so fleeting, so smashable. We have to clutch at the offers of happiness we have. Everything goes so quickly.

I’ve been remembering how to feel recently. It’s not pleasant, but that’s the human condition. I did the best I could to protect myself for years, so putting myself back on the line is a good thing for my sanity. And at least my current issue is to do with whether or not someone loves me, rather than my best friend dying. That’s all to come, and I’m happy to wait, thanks. But I’ve been feeling weird the last few days. So it’s good to just hang out with my old friend. And Ivo.

Ivo is 3. We exist to serve him. If he is not having fun, the world is coming to an end. Fortunately, fun can comprise of putting things into other things repeatedly for hours. We have the Mouse Trap board game here. Ivo spotted it almost immediately and wanted to play with it. It’s an incomprehensible game with loads of fiddly bits, but it looks exciting for kids. He’s a good kid, and we play well together. So I tried to construct the thing, around his attempts to disrupt me by walking on the board, stealing the bits etc.

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He found a box, and was happy with just putting things into the box for ages. It reminded me of myself with the earlier version of the same game back in the 1980’s – It’s about building the traps more than it is about playing whatever idea of a game they’ve structured around them. I suspect I was an annoying little bugger to babysit. I know that one of the women who used to get that job still refers to me as Damian from The Omen.

We spent hours repeatedly flushing a plastic loo and guessing which hole the ball would come out of. It was great fun and no different from what the majority of people do in offices every day. At the end of the evening, Ivo had to be gently parted from his box for putting things in. I thought there’d be a tantrum, but somehow at the 11th hour I swapped it for a Kinder egg Disney Princess and the chance to go down in the exciting old fashioned lift that he’d have gone down in anyhow. Now they’re home and I am relieved to be back in my own space, not having to put him to bed, but also not having to put up with the pain of a growing cancerous tumour, or a broken hip, as all of the emails I saw today were talking about.

Get out there and make positive change. It turns into sludge so suddenly, and then we just fall by the tracks as the rollercoaster keeps rolling. People keep killing themselves and others for ideologies. It’s a weird world right now. I take my hat off to the likes of Flavia, bringing a child into this madness. Let’s all keep forging forward fearlessly.

 

 

London violence

Shortly after I walked through Borough Market and over London Bridge, it appears that once again some improperly socialised cocks have caused horrible chaos. Problem is the papers will big them up and give them powerful names.

I’ve been celebrating love, at the wedding party of two unutterably brilliant hearts. I did As You Like It in Yorkshire with Alan many years ago, and Janey is a writer and actress that I admire hugely. They’re a beautiful couple and nothing but goodness is going to come from that union. I was very happy to be there, as the helicopters scrambled overhead and sirens howled.

I’m walking home now, through the mobilised streets. I’ve been told that the white van is still at large, “trying to kill people.” Some idiot with a messy ideology. I hope, for once, they take him alive so his powerless morinicism can be paraded. We need to stop calling these vacuous idiots “terrorists.” That’s how to make more, by empowering slugs.

Today I’ve been working. I didn’t want to, but it seemed the best idea. I went back to the Dodgems to keep myself busy for the day. To prevent circular thinking. Best to be busy. It was lovely, and I brought people together and shared joy and made laughter. Then they all went back to their lives. I hope all those people are okay – we were right by London Bridge. My final group was two women who arrived just at the deadline. One of them had just experienced heartbreak. I ended up in accidental group therapy with two strangers. I sent them on their crazy Dodgem ride and afterwards they stuck around for a drink and a chat. “This is the first time I’ve laughed for days,” one of them said. That was about an hour before the shitstorm.

Meanwhile London is totally unchanged. The same melting pot of language and culture. The same casual thoughtless space-taking. This city still belongs to that confused aggressive human mess of bravado and love that means business as usual. But again people have died. Unstoppably. Who can predict that a virgin with a driving licence will feel small enough to try and make some adjectives in the tabloids.

Is extreme Islam the given reason for this? That’s the assumption, but it might not be. The reason is simply idiocy and hate, whatever frame the hateful idiots seek. But the more legitimate their hatewank is made, the more powerful these shitbeetles appear. And they’re nothing. Like that pathetic little turd killing kids in Manchester.

I have no eloquent conclusions here. I’m angry that once again, just before our election, people have died while going about their business. I don’t want it to drive people apart further and make them think that isolationism is the correct vote. If the timing has been orchestrated, it’s been orchestrated by people that understand that the more legitimate it is to isolate and make factions, the easier it is to peel off idiotic young men (always men) and use their bad social skills to radicalise them. Tomorrow morning the papers will all be shouting horrors about these idiots, and empowering them with adjectives. They need to change their style. “Pathetic loser attempts to make a splash by killing people.”

Thank God I had such an evening of love. I feel buoyed up and optimistic as I cross town. London has weathered worse storms than this and will continue to.

I’m not going to schedule this. I’ll post it now so I don’t need to tell everyone I’m fine. This is my photo on Southwark Bridge today, past Cannon Street rail bridge to London and Tower.

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Sandal Horse

It’s the first time I’ve worn shorts and sandals since I’ve been back in London so of course the heavens have opened. There’s thunder, lightning, sheets of rain, I’m hoping for fish. Although that might slow the buses down. I’m trying to get across town.

Having spent the glorious part of the day in a dark church hall talking about regicide, now I’m stamping through the damp gloaming on my way to a caravan in London Bridge, where I’m going to watch a short play. I’m already cold and wet. You forget that the action of putting on shorts in London actively summons The Rain God to come punish you for hubris. Still it’s good to have some skywater. The sense that water is coming from the heavens to wash away the sadness. If I was alone, I’d take all my clothes off and run around in the rain howling. I was doing that once in Italy on the veranda of our digs, when some friends unexpectedly got back and, to their credit immediately joined in. Matt and Dean. Somewhere there exists a photo (Sarah). It’s great fun if there’s enough rain. I heartily recommend it.

These “Caravan Shorts” are the brainchild of my friend Robin. She’s repurposed a caravan as a performance space and it’s been parked in Southwark for the month. Very small audiences get a very short show. Last week I went to see my friend Olivia do a beautiful piece she’d written about Lizzie Barton, The Mad Maid of Kent. I know it’s only a matter of time before I end up in there, in drag talking about death or something. Now I’m hoping to get there in time to see whatever is the 6.15 show.


I did. It was the wonderful “dame” Helen Ryan (she’s not a dame. We just call her one.) At 77 she’s still up for doing a piece in a caravan about, as it turns out, how old people might be treated in 2080. It’s called “Citizen Recall: Mrs Helen Stridgen.” There’s free cake. And it’s about extreme socialism. It’s a thought provoking piece, and the third of these caravan shorts I’ve seen. It was a dark future piece, where people who are too old are forced into a “pleasant” euthanasia. Told of course from the perspective of someone who was avoiding the machine and trying to die naturally. It was presenting a socialist hell where living beyond 100 makes you redundant to the state, and you are humanely disposed of. I found it interesting to contemplate. And also rare to watch Tory theatre, even if I’m not sure it was intended as such.

Flipside I’m scared that, being on sporadic income but never signing on, the self employed will be victims when they kill the NHS. There are already many forums where my lack of a guarantee of regular payment queers my chance of being taken seriously. If I had health insurance, I couldn’t make my monthly payments month in month out, but then suddenly I could downpay for the whole year. By which time they’d have already cancelled. I’d need to be lucky about when I got sick.

All that aside, as someone said “It’s great to hear an old lady swear.” And Helen was brilliant. As it turns out, it was the last caravan short of the season. So muggins here ended up taking the caravan back home. I was a horse for a while. I make a good horse. Right now I kind of wish I was a horse. Far less complicated. Neigh.

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