Maze

Day off today. I’ve been looking forward to that. Mostly I’ve done as little as possible and virtually not spoken. Towards the end of the day I went out for dinner.

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At the top of my road there’s a little restaurant called Maze Grill. It’s run by Gordon Ramsay. I’ve actively avoided it for the whole of my adult life. As a kid it used to be called Foxtrot Oscar. I loved it then. It was dark and anonymous. I would go there with my parents and have cheap kedgeree or burgers. Torquill and Michael were part of the furniture. My mum loved it so much she’d go virtually every night, and it wasn’t so expensive as to make that impossible. It was an anonymous vibe, where you could dump a bowl full of pasta on someone’s head because they’d written nastiness about you, and then have another bottle of wine and laugh about it.

When Gordon Ramsay bought the place he immediately made it less dingy and ramshackle. He probably knew that in doing so he would lose the people who had built loyalty over time. He probably didn’t care. After all, he’s Gordon Fucking Ramsay. So he opened up the Maze Grill. And everyone in my area got a keyring in the post. The keyring entitles you to 50% off food on a Monday. I ignored it for years. Bastards. Where’s my kedgeree?

It hasn’t shut down though, this Maze Grill, despite years of my grumbling and boycotting. It is still full most nights. And it is extremely close to my home. Today I crumbled and thought I’d make use of the keyring I’ve kept for so long, and see what it’s all about. After all, 50% off food at a place like that means you’re paying more or less what you should be paying, so long as you’re careful about booze. This evening we weren’t careful about booze though because Ollie, who I was with, gravitated to a pricey St Emilion. But it was my day off, and Ollie covered the excess, and I wasn’t going to moan about a good red wine.

I had a rib-eye and it was excellent. As a kid I would frequently dislike my meal at Foxtrot Oscar, but it wouldn’t worry me. Foxtrot wasn’t about the food. We’d have a good time and feel welcome. The price tonight was just about right for the rib eye with 50% off, and when he saw the keyring the maitre d’hotel put us in an isolated booth downstairs, rather than in the window. I’m glad that Gordon Ramsay is making that concession for locals who want to hide. Any other night but Monday it’s a mug’s game though

Affordable food out is a rarity in my bit of Chelsea. We used to have The Chelsea Kitchen, and up until very recently The Stockpot – both on The King’s Road, both places where you could eat without having to sell your firstborn. The whole area used to be cool and even a bit alternative. All of that personality has been crushed by value. The landlords got wind that the area was considered cool and hoiked the rent up so much that everyone immediately moved to Camden or went out of business. Nowadays The King’s Road is utterly boring, homogenised overpriced crap. 20 years of greed. One of the only places that still survives is Al Dar the kebab shop, where they hate you no matter what you want, and make you pay in blood if you sit down. Takeaway Shawarma is still worthwhile so long as you don’t mind being scowled at, and you’ve got cash.

I never go out in my area. Tonight was an exception. But I think I might go out every Monday to the Maze, if I’m working in theatre. It’s the perfect convergence of the actor’s day off and a 50% discount…

 

Tonic

It’s done. Opening week. Done done done. One thing is it has cemented our core team. Jack, Me, Anna-Fleur and Natalie. We’ve been grafting this week. And despite technical fuckery, loo problems, electric disasters and plumbing fails, the four of us have used our physical presence and work ethic and positivity, and we’ve made this show delightful for loads of people, and solved lots of problems that might be considered to be out of our remit. It’s a really happy core team, and we’re making something community based and glorious.

I had lunch with an old friend, Lucy Kerbel, today. I was able to think outside Carol at last. Lucy directed the show on which I met Jack, all those years ago. Twelfth Night, for Sprite, in the long long faraway time. I was Malvolio, he was Feste. It was joyous, and the beginning of a partnership that neither of us could’ve anticipated. Plus it was the start of a new phase in my work – I think of it as my shift to a journeyman. My years working hard for Sprite cemented my craft.

Lucy, since then, has become a strong catalyst for change in my industry. She hasn’t directed much lately, focusing instead on activism and awareness raising. She’s looking at the gender imbalance in theatre, and across media. We are very used to stories that involve more men than women. Most drama schools reflect that in their intake. There were 8 women and 15 men in my Guildhall year, graduating 2002. That kind of balance (imbalance) is what was considered reasonable if you wanted the employment statistics to go in your favour, and all major drama schools want to keep their stats high. But just because something has always been so, it doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. There are plenty of underperformed plays with as many roles for women as men that can be put on without alienating anyone. And new stories can easily be balanced better. More women audition for fewer places at top drama schools. Gender can be more fluid in the classics – (and indeed recently it has moved that way.) But there’s a lot to unpick.

A few years ago I hosted an actor at The Royal Court in my spare room. He stayed, renting for peanuts, a friend of a friend – digs. I got home one night to a cast party. He had unexpectedly invited everyone round with instruments and booze. “Oh shit I didn’t think you were coming home. Well, you’ll get the chance to meet the director – he’s here,” he said when I got home. He had thought I was away rather than commuting. I had to leave at 6am to get to work.

I was totally cool with it. I immediately wished I could cancel my morning show the next day. As he said, the director was there. He’s now one of the best respected commercial directors in my industry. At the time I was torn. I needed to sleep, and quickly. But I wanted to try to make a good impression. Impossible really without joining the party. But I made it totally clear that everyone could have a party and I’d just drug myself – (I sensed very quickly that I had been cast as old moneybags with my riverside Chelsea flat. Everyone seemed to expect me to explode with intolerance.)

Post dose, wishing everyone goodnight as I moved towards sleep, the man I admired stopped me. “You’ve got a ticket to the Tonic platform at The National Theatre.” he said, referring to something propped up on my table from the previous night. “Yes. It was brilliant.” I replied. “You’re a male actor. Surely that sort of thing is lowering your chances of getting work. Why would you support it?” he responded. It was a hard moment. Perhaps he was testing me. I hope so. I said “If that’s a genuine question, I don’t have time for the debate we need. If it’s not, we don’t need the debate. Either way I’m off to bed. Goodnight. Make as much noise as you like, I’ll be dead to the world.” I disengaged. I felt I had to. I was already full of sleepy pills.

I remember the morning after very clearly. I woke up to a delightfully trashed flat with a few people still valiantly trying to play my accordion. I had a great show that day. But I wondered what would have come of that conversation with mister big-jobs, followed through. I wish I’d had time to call him on it. I fear that he meant it.

Damn it was great to have lunch with Lucy and think about things other than Carol. I need my day off tomorrow. Lucy’s ace, and a true friend now. We’ve covered a lot of ground over the years. She’s even ended up on Scrooge’s debt board…

Day off tomorrow. Wahoo.  I took no photos as usual  Here’s Lucy’s logo. Legend that she is. Go sponsor her work. 🙂

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Traffic cop

At the back of my venue there is a cobbled road, Blossom Street. It’s only wide enough for one car but it’s a two way road. Various satnav apps have it as a way of bypassing traffic lights. Which is fine if you’re the only car on the road. But the traffic volume is extremely high. It’s a favourite fighting point on a Saturday night for ubers filled with drunk arseholes. I walked out after the show into total carnage. People arguing with people on the street about who had right of way. Nobody did! When I tried to deal with it, I noticed something that struck me.

I was repeatedly running around a corner and organising cars and drivers. I had a very good idea of the extent of the problem, and what would help fix it. Despite having done two shows and being knackered I somehow decided it was my job to try and sort out the almighty Saturday night mess that had developed around stubbornness and boozed up uber passengers.

What struck me is that, with very few exceptions, the drivers and passengers were unwilling or unable to accept that there was a bigger picture. They were looking at the car in front of them and nothing else. “That driver just needs to mount the pavement and let us through.” insisted mister drunk hipster, having got out of the car to attempt to physically threaten me which went nowhere as he’s shorter than me, a drunk hipster, and didn’t have a handle on the situation. I tried to teach him my perspective, but even though I was just trying to sort it out, he behaved towards me as if I was a rival in some way.

I spoke to lots and lots of idiots over this. All behaving in isolation, crying about their filthy nappies. “I will not give ground. I am me. I have no idea how to sort this out so I’ll just lay on my horn and judge everybody. The things I can see are the only things that are wrong. Nothing is real outside my perception.” There was a whole mountain of other cars round the corner with no pavement to mount and a similar critical mass of fucked up passengers, but they were round the corner. So they weren’t there. This was all shortly after closing time on a Saturday in Shoreditch.

I had a clear perspective on the snarl up and I tried to tell them so. Almost everyone refused to look outside their own narrow view. I sorted it out in the end with help from Natalie, but as I was sorting it, more problems backed up, and I realised that we are fucked as a species and left them to it.

Here we are, almost certainly past extinction point, with one of our world leaders who is so asphyxiated by his own selfishness and greed that he is unpicking what little there is in place to stop us from properly keeping our planet habitable in future. Why?

Because the scale is long. It ain’t us who will die in incomprehensible numbers. It’s unlikely to be our children. It’ll be a few generations. So meantime, we can’t see beyond our immediate shit. I’ve had empirical proof of that part of our nature tonight. As far as they were all concerned, the other car should get on the kerb, irrespective of what’s round the corner, and the bloke who knows what’s round the corner because he just looked – he can be ignored because we can only see the car in front.

The selfishness of some of the people I spoke to was astronomical. All they had to do was accept that by giving ground they would eventually gain ground. But they were happier to remain at loggerheads and honk their horns than to give an inch. I sorted it eventually with my traffic cop routine, in my ski suit, without a whistle. But seriously. So many animals. Angry selfish idiot animals. And it’s hard to even try to teach that there’s a better way when the most powerful person in the free world is an exceptionally dangerous lunatic who wears his animal selfishness like a badge and actively attacks and demeans perspective and intelligence.

Anyway, I had a lovely week. Radio 4 were in today recording the show… Thankfully I don’t think they heard me trying to direct traffic afterwards.

Here’s Jack and I. End of a good week. Comedy partners. Business partners. A whole lot of love.IMAG2829

Nightie

Being on show time is having a noticeable effect on the quality of my blogging. I have to peak at about 8pm. So I’m husbanding my energy in the meantime, and not feeling very creative. Today I was dayjobbing before the show. I invigilated two exams at Imperial. I sat quietly in a concentrated room for 4 hours. I could easily have knocked something out blogwise, but I didn’t feel like it. I don’t tend to fancy dissecting my day until the day is finished. But that means that post show I have two pulls on my attention. 1) I have to write a blog before I sleep. 2) I’ve just thrown positivity haphazardly at a room full of strangers and I feel I want beer to dampen the adrenaline and bring me sleepwards. That and “put the shutters back” “be charming to strangers” “don’t miss the last tube.” etc

Yesterday I focused so hard on pull number 2 (get drunk) that pull number 1 (write blog) was left until I was literally incapable of anything other than wordcolours and vitriol. Tonight I’ve managed to pull myself out earlier. I can still tell which part of my brain hates me and which part doesn’t. But it’s hard to write a blog that isn’t about the show. So it’s another one of those while the bath is running.

I had a twitter friend in tonight. She arrived, immediately commandeered the best seat which I was proud to witness, and sent the chef into paroxysms by being a vegetarian who is allergic to mushrooms. I wanted her to have a good show. Natalie wanted her to have food. The veggie option is mushrooms. Chaos ensued. She got … Something. I hope she liked it. The veg is great anyway.

Gail had been provider of many of the names on Scrooge’s debt board, including Nocturnus Dickpick, the skillful artist who thinks he has hit on the the perfect way to find love, but somehow his works of art are never received quite how he hopes they will be. Despite chaos with food it was good to have an ally front and centre. I had an anchor. And it was another joyful shoq, but to a relatively small house 

Tomorrow there are two capacity shows back to back. This evening’s calm and focused audience was a beautiful rarity, I fear. They really got the show, and the conventions. It’s a strange show for that. I’m essentially under a spell so the fourth wall sometimes clangs down on me like a safety curtain while I get thrown back or forward in time. It’s early immersive theatre – it’s seven years old now. Still works though.

If last week is anything to go by, tomorrow is going to be carnage. My liveliest audience member this evening was lovely and ended up Whatsapping me a photo of Scrooge in Victorian nightie at the window, prancing.

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Since I’ve taken no photos as usual it can be the one for today. If you want context for the shot you’ll have to come see the show, he says enigmatically, knowing it’s pretty much sold out after tonight. Natch.

 

Late night early start

I managed to do stuff unrelated to the show today a little bit. Mostly it was to do with looking at the motorbike I brought down in the van and being told that it’s never going to be worth fixing. I said I was going to walk it out of the shop tomorrow, but that was down to forgetting that I’ve agreed to invigilate exams for the next few days at Imperial College Business School. I hope they don’t mind waiting until Sunday. They’ll have to.

Everything is corroded. It was outside too long. The forks, all the mechanisms, the brakes, everything. Disappointing, really. I’m still not averse to the idea of getting it back on the road, just because it’s the first off the belt. Suzuki might want to have the first one. There might be a deal to be struck. There might be value in the 00000000001 serial number.

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Meantime Jack and I had the largest ever audience for Christmas Carol. And  there were a loads of suits in the audience. But everyone seemed to get it. Apart from one aloof group. The joy of Ebenezer is that if someone comes to me with a concern about their comfort, or their expectations, it’s not my concern. “Mister Scrooge, I’m cold.” “You’re lucky to have clothes. There are plenty of candles. Candies give warmth. What’s wrong with you??” I try to avoid these conversations if they feel genuine, as Scrooge is a customer service nightmare. We discovered tonight that the show works for more people than we thought it did. It’s a spread. I wouldn’t wish it every night. But it’s manageable. And the arseholes tonight all worked for the same company, and were talking from the moment they arrived. They were too bovine to allow themselves fun. Their supervisors were there making sure they didn’t admit they were people. It was whatever passes for a Christmas party in hell. Their hellish demonic supervisors had negotiated a much cheaper price per head than the rest of the audience present, because they told me as if it were a lot. They were egregious, unpleasant, oblivious, entitled, socially fucked arseholes. I was thrilled they left as soon as they’d eaten. I’d only have reluctantly fished their heads out of a puddle of shit had they been drowning in it. If I’d been drowning in it, they’d have casually put their foot on my head and tried to make it look like it was accidental.

I didn’t want to write about the show tonight. But I didn’t write all day and now it’s almost 3am. I’m dayjobbing tomorrow and it’s late. I’ll try and sleep now, but every other word I write is taking away from sleep. If I wasn’t so stubborn I’d just leave it and say that 466 words is close enough to my notional minimum. In fact… Night all.

Pushing loos

I’m off for an early-ish bed tonight. The carnage is about to start. Tomorrow is our first capacity crowd and being Thursday it’s likely to be pretty boozy. It’ll take all our energy for the two of us to keep hold of the reins, and after losing my voice last weekend I want to be well rested and fighting fit.

It finally feels like we are in the run now. We don’t need to lose our days to it. I’d like to see some sunlight tomorrow morning if there’s any to be had. I’ve got a car and a bike to sort out, and a life outside this show to reclaim.

There’s a pattern now to my pre-show. It still requires some time but I know it and it helps me get into the right mindset. It goes like this: Coffee, steam, attach 26 candles to various candelabra, make sure the ring is stuck to the tankard, reset the ledger, place water glass, check tricks, check knife. Do the bloody shutters. Get changed. Check slippers and gown and hat. Light 26 candles. Write new debtor. Check wardrobe door and smoke machine. Warm up further. House opens. Look at audience through secret window. Shift head and internal rhythm. Keep warmed up. Solve whatever random problem happens or marvel as someone else does. Watch out for ghosts. Hug everybody. Mutter humbug. Showtime. Be Scrooge. Keep voice safe. Hit the beats. Look after Jack. Keep track of improv for reincorporation. Finish. Load up a tupperware, eat some food, wind down, go home, feed cat, wash, rest.

This evening’s unexpected delight was to do with portaloos. Two out of the three were clunged up with gak last night. The venue was going to empty them this morning but somehow – oh how we were surprised – that didn’t happen. Instead actors with sticks happened to the portaloos and we all thanked the lord that there were only 30 biological entities witnessing the entertainment, with their inevitable messy human processes.

Amazingly nobody emerged howling from any of the three of them, and the last thing we did this evening as a company was pushed three extremely full cludgies down a corridor to the place where we are optimistic enough to believe that the venue will empty them out tomorrow.

Acting. The glamorous profession. “Where do you see yourself in 20 years time, young Alexander?” “I’m glad you asked me that, Colinbert. I would like to be dressed in a soiled Victorian nightgown pushing a loo full of shit down a freezing corridor in an abandoned warehouse somewhere in the East End of London.”

Everyone is pulling in the same direction. The atmosphere is brilliant. Nobody is using poisonous words like “should”. We are all just coming together and making a happy Christmas show in a weird space. Pushing loos is not costing us anything, and is really just quite funny. Also they slide very well. Although you wouldn’t want to push them too enthusiastically in case they snag on something and fall on you.

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Tuesday

So yeah, I have no idea how but my voice is back entirely. I’m blaming it on the daimoku.

Tonight’s show was a total pleasure. Even if the disaster-cart is still rolling. Today’s disaster was a power blowout 2 minutes before start time, that meant we had no sound. For this show that’s not the end of the world. It was made as an intimate tech free show in the back of a pub so it runs nicely with no sound as long as Jack does a bit more singing. Which he did. Beautifully.

We had a brilliant house tonight. Our biggest yet and they were all there with us. Finally now I can relax into knowing that it fully works here in this improvised space with so many more people. And the food is brilliant. I’ve barely eaten any of it so far. I lose my appetite about an hour before I work and usually don’t get it back until I’ve been down for an hour or two. And then I get ravenous. The last two years, at The Arts Theatre, I would watch disconsolately as all the lovely leftover food got binned. Then I’d cycle home in the drizzle and guiltily stop at Chelsea Bridge.

My mate Joe told me about Chelsea Bridge. He’s a cabbie. He calls it Chesslee Bridge. Apparently he is very used to picking people up late at night from the most expensive hotels in London, who just say “Chesslee Bridge” and nothing else. The way he tells it, it’s like it’s a destination for anyone from the Arab world late at night. I’m therefore assuming that it’s halal. It’s definitely extremely popular. When I wobbled in with my cycle in shitty nights, I’d be surrounded by people who were working. Nurses, doctors, policemen all talking openly about their days, all getting a guilty burger. There’s nothing special about the burgers by my late night drunken assessment. They look like the grey doner van patties you get when you’re a drunk student and you can’t face the meat lottery of an elephant leg doner kebab. They leave you with the slick throat and vague feeling of guilty malaise that is brought on by eating meat like that.

This year I was determined to break the pattern. I’m in Liverpool Street, so cycling back is out. I’ve got to fuck around with night buses. But the uneaten food is available briefly after the show. And Natalie is the perfect person to cook this sort of food. So I bought some sealable tupperware. And I’ve filled out with her grub. Which seemed like a good idea.

But now it’s hours after the show has ended, the food is in a hot nightclub, and Jack, Tom and I are drinking too much. It’s the director’s last night. I’d overlooked that. I’m either eating very late, or not at all. But I know for certain that I won’t be shoving a grey burger from Chesslee Bridge into my face. And somehow that feels like progress…

Here we all are. Back to the fray. I’m done being antisocial.

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