Getting ready for Christmas

I still haven’t got a Christmas Tree at home and thinking about it I’m gonna need a new oven. How does one replace an oven? Are the fittings standard? Is the hob part of it or separate? I’ve got a marble worktop with a hole in it. Any new hob needs to fit the hole. Is the hob part of the oven? I’ve only got a few weeks until Christmas, but I’m gonna need to be able to cook a lot. I’m not doing that with a fucked oven. Shit. Research time.

This is the sort of thing I think about as I come home from the show. Somehow I haven’t got sick yet even though I’ve shaken a lot of hands this season with audience members. The next few days will be busy in terms of working out Christmas stuff, prepping for a meeting, doing an R&D and the relentless march of the shows. But I reckon I’m going to have to learn about new ovens pretty quickly or there’ll be no turkey. Which reminds me, I’ll also need to order a bird. Ach. It begins. Not too late yet thankfully. But time to get on it.

Before the show, Jack and I eat a growing pile of pills. Omega oils, so our brains and bodies are functioning. Echinacea for the good old placebo effect. It must work if it costs so much. Vitamin C in the hopes that some of it gets into our immune system. Sucky gelatine sweets to taste nice I mean to coat our throats. I even find myself doing a vocal warm-up in our little gunpowder closet. Mostly sirening. There’s no room to roll around.

The room we change in was the gunpowder store when our building was a rifle club. If somebody wanted to they could bang us up in there when we were changing and we wouldn’t be found until somebody excavated us a million years from now. If the Christmas revelry in London turned into zombie apocalypse – and let’s be honest it’s always a genuine risk – we might be able to defend ourselves for a while in there. We have stuck advent calendars on the walls. We have done what we can to make it pleasant. Which is more than I can say for my home at the moment which is still woefully underchristmassed, not even taking into account the oven situation.

Rhys is selling trees up in Catford this season so I might go get one. Failing that I’m just going to have to throw baubles everywhere and work out which convenient place I put the lights in last year for easy finding. The last few years it has been achieved by drunk Al and Brian in one evening, alongside whoever else we can coerce. This year I’m thinking I’ll put a friend of mine to use who is staying over on Sunday night. They are, after all, a theatre designer. They understand the game of making a bad room good.

It’s going to be epic. It always is. But it’s time for me to start thinking about it now. And I’ve got all these interesting meetings running interference on my concentration…

And I’ve still got mice.

I also have a lovely accordion shaped decoration from Alice that I managed not to destroy despite having it in my pocket all day…

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Back in the room

Well then. I’ve been home all night watching Netflix and calling it research. We had a lovely house in for Friday night. A few Americans, a diverse bunch of Brits and one guy who had literal brainfreeze when asked the simplest of maths problems. 6+2, I asked the room, and he immediately shouted “Socialism”. I then derailed a number of my other maths problems to be other “isms” ending with “capitalism”. But it was one of those delightful confused and drunk audiences. Up for a good time. Having a good time. Ask them tomorrow where they were and they’ll say “Well, at 4pm I had a j√§gerbomb and then I remember some fellow in a nightie getting right up in my grill about arithmetic or Christmas and it was great.” Thank God we feed them though. Those poor bastards wouldn’t even know their own name tomorrow if we hadn’t given them ALL THE TURKEY. As it is they went home safe and nobody was sick on me.

It’s the Christmas party season. Oh hell. Millions of people across the nation going for free drinks with people they hate who they have to pretend to like. Medication through consumption. Consensus through excess. Mess. Messy messy mess. Walking through Central London is like a Hieronymous Bosch right now. Costumed idiots in large numbers getting consumed up their own bumholes. Shouting, drinking, more shouting, more drinking. It’s a jungle out there. Sometimes I wonder how I keep from going under.

I’m back home and since Twatgate I haven’t seen my new flatmate. I know she hasn’t been murdered as we’ve been messaging and the content is authentic her. She’s with her mother, who I think might be a complicated human. I’ll have the conversation when the time is ripe. I’ve been glad of the space. But now we are open, I’ve got my days back. Hooray. For a month I am THAT guy, your actor friend working in the West End. No booze but late lunches in Soho, walks in the park, oh, shall we go to the museum? Ah Ha an understudy show you say? At 2? Oh how delightful.

I went for lunch in Chinatown with Alice today. We went to one of those places where they rip the meat from a live animal and all the waiters professionally hate you. It was tasty and brothy. I’m still not very good at eating but I made a good shift at it. Alice ended up with the leftovers.

Then to the Curzon for coffee and cake with Minnie. And I ate a whole brownie. D

God I’ve missed Min. Best friends are best for a reason. She’s a mother these days but still a hungry and brilliant actor. She let me back into her life, the details and the ups and downs. I let her into mine. She’s amazing. Being back in the uk is infinitely better now I’ve remembered I can show her the wet parts of my heart and know she understands them.

Then to The Arts for coffee with Marie. We have a tradition of coffee and braindump. It’s a lovely tradition and needed to be actioned before she goes to New Zealand forever tomorrow. We caught twenty minutes. And in that twenty minutes my agent phoned me up with fucking brilliant news of a meeting they had got for me. (Annoyingly hush hush and ndatastic etc). God DAMN I love my agent. I’m a lucky sod, and I know it. Humbug. Bring it. Christmas. Gotta get the job first… Merry Christmas. Humbug.

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Body in the road

As I was walking away from the venue this evening, I noticed the intersecting street was blocked off by paramedic cars. Small groups of people were standing around on the pavements watching. In the middle of the road, somebody was being rolled in what looked very much like a tablecloth. They were in the middle of the road. There was no sign of a fucked up motorbike from my angle, but the road had been cordoned off. I had no idea what had killed the person. But the human shaped thing wrapped in a cloth was very much not an alive person, and it was in the middle of the road. As I walked further I saw a full size ambulance approaching, sirens on.

Fuck knows what happened there. But there was a dead human in the road, right next to my work. There is a structure in this society that covers over death. I’ve never been entirely comfortable with it. Whatever happened to this human, the first reaction was to cover their remains. The road was blocked and a local business lent tablecloths once the paramedic cars had drawn a flatline – unless the paramedics have tableclothlike things. At the time I walked by, the paramedics were rolling the body in cloth. The ambulance came as I was walking away.

Maybe it could’ve been left for longer. Maybe more people could’ve seen the body. Maybe. Because we really don’t get death in this society. It isn’t seeded into our understanding of life when we are young. It should be. But death comes as a shock to too many people. I was young when it took my parents, but there are plenty who are younger and less prepared.

I think we shouldn’t be as protected from it as we are. I think that we should encounter it more closely. Halloween for instance. How much more healthy if it’s about the people we loved who are gone than if it’s about pretendy ghosties and skeletons. These tropes have come out of avoidance. It can still be about ghoulies and ghosties but you can set a place at the table for grandpa in front of the kids or something, and just bring in that helpful thing about memory and the fact that we are not forever.

Anyway, I walked across London today after another lovely show, and forgot to take any photos until I thought I might wait for a bus. The performance space is about an hour on foot from my house, and forty minutes by public transport. I tend to walk back, although it’s tempting to get a bus and write as we drive. Tonight the timings were all wrong though and I was on my own. I wandered past all the huge Christmas lights. Mixed in with all this brightness, young homeless women in supermarkets try to persuade you to buy them nappies. I bought two packs the other day. Why not. Angry eyed men ask for change. Others prostate themselves with signs.

We are into election fever. People are starting to polarise themselves. Liberals are idiots. Tories are sociopaths. Corbyn is stupid. Boris is dishonest.

Fuck the personalities. All I see is the NHS. Life vs Death. I see the American system. I see how extraordinary our system is by comparison. Yes, if you’re rich, vote Tory. They’ll help you stay rich. If you’re not rich though, don’t get sick or you’re dead.

That body in the road. Two paramedic cars. A full on ambulance. Without the NHS, the next of kin would’ve got a bill for actual thousands of pounds. For their dearest dying unexpectedly in an inconvenient place. “Remember when we lost everything because mum died in Mayfair at Christmastime?”

Fuck that. But it’s where we look to be going.

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German musicians

Home again. Nobody but me tonight so far. I haven’t spoken to my flatmate about the sociopath yet. Time will find it’s way. I’m gambling that she doesn’t read my blog. The catchment is deliberately small so here’s hoping.

I went to a new theatre space today to read a lovely play. It’s a three hander – two men and one woman – dealing with musical people from nazi Germany. It’s about guilt and about the things we choose to remember vs the things we choose to forget. It’s a well researched and cleanly written piece of theatre.

I was in a room with two other very proficient actors. The writer was also in attendance as was a director and a designer and a producer. It’s always a ceremony. You get coffee. There are snacks on the table. There’s water. People are convivial. Then, at a certain point, no matter where we are sitting, we start to read.

I am no expert on Nazi Germany. Alma Ros√© is mostly unknown to me. My character speaks her surname the first time it’s mentioned in the script. And there is no acute accent in the script I was sent, so I pronounce it like the flower, only to have the reading stopped for a go-over. There’s a lot of assumption of knowledge here. I’ve spent my life geeking out in other directions than Nazi Germany. I’m not made to feel bad for my ignorance, mind. I’m just made to feel it, as if I should know all the things in the writer’s head by instinct having had no time with the script, sight-reading opposite an actor who has had TIME and laid down their performance, German accent and all. I decided that despite my good German accent I wasn’t going to follow suit as accent would come at the expense of meaning so early in the process.

The reading was a good example of the play as it is right now. It’s in development. People speak at great length and then cede ground to other people who have just as much to say. I found myself partly longing for that sort of work. God. It would be so pleasant for a change. Rather than having to be constantly alert, sweating through hours and hours alert, you could just decide on the shape of the argument and the nuance with the director and then just cookie cut it every night. No need to be awake to each individual audience member. Very few quick exchanges. Easy work…

I enjoyed reading the part. Even though it came to me last minute, it was excellent casting for me for many reasons. But my primary feeling was that the whole part was unnecessary. The play deals with two figures who actually lived, and explodes an imagined interaction between them. My character is a pretend therapist for one of them who time-hops into a made up waiter in a hotel where they were stuck back in the dark times. Both my parts are invented, unlike theirs. If my character time-hops, why can’t it be hers? She should double as the made up therapist and as Alma. It would be tighter, neater and cheaper. Not to put myself out of a part. But part of my job is to make things as efficient as possible and if I can save budget now, I might reap it later. Life is long.

Meanwhile, humbug. Come see Carol. Appropriately, John Hopkins, an old friend, has been on my debt board for five years. He was freed from penury tonight, of all nights, when he is going to press as Scrooge at Bristol Old Vic. Strange convergence. Something auspicious perhaps…

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Here’s a nice review of our show.

We will certainly sell out. I can’t get you comps because of the food. But come play if you can.

Into the run

Well. A calm night at home. No sign of the new temporary flatmate or of her probably sociopathic amigo. So I’m winding myself down towards bed ahead of a read through tomorrow. I’ve got myself home early. I’m already mostly able to sleep, which is good as now we are open I’ve got to start activating my days. I’ve still got the hammer on my bed just in case they show up at midnight fighting in which case I might have to appear backlit in my pants with it casually in one hand like I’ve been doing repairs. “Where are you sleeping tonight, Mark? The tubes stop running soon.”

I slept most of today because I could and because I was awake most of last night. It’s like when I had to sleep in the top bunk above a Brazilian fascist on Camino. I start to imperceptibly vibrate when I’m too close to poison. I can’t shut down easily in the vicinity of a dark personality. I didn’t last night. I ran into K in the morning before I was awake fully. I told her I didn’t want him staying the night again. That’s the best I’ve managed so far but I only had 30 seconds. I care about her enough to not want her to be swept up in his shit. I also despair of her enough to know already that if there’s shit to be swept up in, she’ll sweep herself into it if she isn’t swept. And I’m utterly certain that I’m too old for this crap so she’s getting her notice the next time I can sit with her. But I’m busy. So who knows when that’ll be.

The show was great tonight. It always is. That’s the anchor. We had some excellent notices over the weekend including this one – (although the mulled wine mentioned at the start was only for press). None of the reviews got my acting name right, which is a Christmas Carol tradition – (this time I’m Alexander Barclay). But they all got the show although The Stage were unnecessarily sniffy about our designer, who transformed a horrible impossible shooting range that had never been used as a theatre into a good looking and viable performance space with only a few days on the job, mostly through goodwill. Shitty for her as she did something out of goodwill and it burnt her unnecessarily. And that’s the nature of theatre criticism. All of the opinion, none of the context. The Stage couldn’t know her budget or how long she was employed or what she had time to look at.

You have to have a perspective, an area of expertise, an opinion. I’ve hauled out young actors before for refusing to have an opinion. If it’s all beige, that just makes your work beige. But fuck. Of all the people for them to have been mean about… #stagerage

An old friend from school said this evening “you’re a writer, why don’t you go into theatre criticism?” I told them that if I was honest I’d lose friends, and if I was dishonest I’d lose integrity.

But if I was writing about this show I’d be all for it. It’s a glorious show. “Alexander Barclay and JimJack Witham were wonderful as Scrodge and Merlay. Considering the constraints the design was superb. Everybody is working really fucking hard to make this land. Five stars. ”

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Hammer

My door is always open, and over the years a large number of people have slept on the sofa in my rundown boho flat. It’s a calm place, or at least it’s meant to be. But I think I might have made a mistake in the person I’ve rented a room to.

When Brian moved out I had a message from an acquaintance who was looking for a place. I was in America and couldn’t organise anything very effectively. I agreed for her to move in and she immediately haggled the rent down. Again, I was not in a place where I could negotiate easily.

On Saturday night I got a message last minute to say that she had a friend staying on the sofa. I changed my plans as she said they were heading to sleep and I thought I’d let them have space.

Tristan and I had been planning on coming back to mine for some drinks and a catch-up. We went to his instead.

Last night he showed up again with her and I met him. I didn’t like him. I found his energy quite hard to deal with. Punchy alpha male type, oneupping and playing status games. It never blends well with my energy, that sort of shit. I was heading to bed though so I just welcomed him and called it a bit early for myself. Just because I instinctively dislike someone doesn’t mean they can’t have a bed for a night. I didn’t think he’d be back.

They were gone in the morning. But then when I got home from lunch, he was here again with her.

This time he was angrily cooking in nothing but his pants while she was in the bath. The pants and the cooking – it takes me weeks to get to that stage in shared accommodation. Here he is after two nights sleeping on the sofa happily throwing things around. I went and locked myself in my room while they fought and he made himself at home.

There’s big piles of unpleasant manipulation going on here that I can’t even comprehend.

They had a massive fight and went out. Now they’re home, both in her room next to mine, and the argument clearly hasn’t stopped. The atmosphere is so thick I could cut it with a cheese knife. He’s 56. She’s mid twenties. I don’t like this one bit.

He’s a controller and I don’t want him in my home. This place is and needs to be a calm and relaxing place. I’ve literally got no headroom for this bullshit, but I’m not sure what to do with it short term. It’s close to bedtime tonight so I reckon I’ll have to look at it in the morning, but I’ve brought a hammer into my room and I’ve locked the door because I don’t trust him not to kick off about something and go on a rampage. I’m feeling extraordinarily tense just picking up on their energy. This is no way for me to wind down on my day off.

She has an extreme nervous energy even without him in the equation. With her bringing people like this in here? No way. Just no. I won’t have it long term. Three nights is already too much.

I’m not sure how the conversation will go tomorrow but I’ll need to have it. I suspect I’ll be looking for a flatmate very soon.

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End of opening week

Midnight. I’m home. Likely to be in bed before long. Monday is my day off and I’m looking forward to it. Last week I had a Twelfth Night on my day off and this week has been delightful but costly. My plan for tomorrow is to sleep in and then take it easy. I’m going for lunch with my downstairs neighbour who got flooded out by my dishwasher when I was in America. I still don’t really know how it all fell out but it was a stressful time and I have a strong suspicion that he is going to slap me with a large bill. I saw a bunch of workmen changing his carpets last week. I had told him by email I’d pay to have them cleaned but he went one step further. I wonder what sort of numbers he comes up with…

We are into the run proper now, and there will probably be some notices on Monday to raise sales as we move through the season. Tonight and last night were just joyful. Exactly what we want. Unruly but respectful silly fun people enjoying the story and playing the game. Lots of people exchanging contact details after the show. Not many people being weird. There are always one or two. There was a guy today going on about the portion sizes. He was huge, and had a full plate. The audience serves themselves and each other, and he was surrounded by full platters of food. If he wanted more he just had to give it to himself. But he wanted to have a moan. It’s weird how some people just like to kick off. Jack and I got to sample the food for the first time today as the chef overcatered and there was tons left over. It’s marvelous. Weirdo.

Now I’m home, enjoying the quiet, running a bath and about to watch Rick and Morty. I’ll probably be up for another hour but no more, as I’m engaged in the wind down now. There must be a more efficient way of pulling the adrenaline out, but I’m yet to find it. Time, booze and warm water. Tomorrow I’ll try not to talk much and I’ll try to steam lots.

Now the show is open I’m starting to think about Christmas. The flat doesn’t look particularly Christmassy right now and it’s filled with bricabrac. I’m going to have to dress it up – maybe get a tree – and do the lights and tinsel and all that. Otherwise my workplace is infinitely more Christmassy than my home. There’s a lot to do but if I work out a better wind down I’ll get my days back and then I’ll have time to do all sorts of things.

If you know anyone who will be stuck in London for Christmas, Orphan Christmas is going ahead here with Brian and I. If you know anyone who you think would enjoy Christmas Carol – or if you might – here’s the link for tickets! Hooray / Humbug.

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