The Amazing Devil

IMAG1458I’m not looking after myself at the moment. My rib is so much better, thankfully, but it’s still mending. I sneezed twice today with no painkillers, and both times it was shit but manageable. But there’s details like the fact that the torn out quick of my thumb has gone septic to the extent I’m on antibiotics. My body can only do so much. It’s trying…

Right now I’m sitting on the sofa beside a box of 100 assorted glowsticks. I’m trying to switch my head into packing for Wilderness Festival, but tomorrow I’m off to Leeds to teach teachers which is a totally different headspace. Meantime I’m still coming to terms with quite how much I hated working at the golf. Plus my septic thumb hurts and the last thing I feel I’m ready for right now is four nights in a tent. But perhaps it’s what I need. It will be relaxing if I let it be relaxing. But I’ve been trying to wind down for days and not really managing.

So I’m sitting at home, missing loads of people I love who are doing beautiful things at Gerry’s in Soho. There’s an evening of sharing, poetry and music, fronted by some deeply lovely people. It will be beautiful. In fact, fuck it. I’m going. Yes I’m working tomorrow. Yes I feel sad and weird and a bit sick. Best reason. I’ve just booked an uber. I’m walking out the door. You’re getting this live, kids.


I’m in the uber. With Abraham. He must have farted just before I got in. Bastard. He was trying to hot box me with it but I expressed disgust vocally (by mistake) and reached for the window switch. He immediately dropped all four windows and guiltily asked “Are you okay?” He’ll still get 5 stars because this is England. If he knifed me and stole my clothes it might drop to 4 stars. 3 stars? Genocide.


I’ve hit Gerry’s. This little tiny glorious underground club in Soho. I’ve rehearsed here. I’ve had bitter arguments here. I’ve laughed here. I’ve sang here. Now I’m live blogging here. They just tried to make me sit in the front row but tonight I am the dude that sits at the back and let’s the sexy people be sexy while I write about them. It’s The Amazing Devil next. New material. This is Maddy and Robbie and band. They were staying in my flat when they put down their first album. Their first album is bloody great. Get it.

They’ve started now. “Give me back my heart you wingless thing.” It’s a highly performative classical folk rock life passion smash act. Maddy is one of the most connected and immediate performers I know, across the board. The gig, even here in this tiny room, is being executed with utter conviction passion and skill. Someone needs to put these guys on a festival stage. My mood is changing. I’m going to let it change and drop my blog until later.


Glorious. I’m still feeling sick but it’s happy sick now. Although a smidgeon too close to nauseous to be entirely comfortable. And I keep sneezing. I’m not particularly well, in the final analysis. Ach well. I have talented and passionate friends. The Amazing Devil amongst them. I just hope I’m not sick in the bus home.


Alice Cooper

Five years ago I lay in a hospital bed for two days with latex all over my face. There was a “Red” camera a few inches from my nose looking down on my features, catching my twitches, and there were loads of lights and reflectors pointing at me. The sound guy stuck a microphone to my thumb at one point. “You can keep it still. I’ve been watching you.” Mostly I lay there. Occasionally I growled something. I was in a neck brace for the whole two days while working. I noticed it affected my voice with sustained use, and thought that for consistency it would be better not to take it off in the breaks. We had one take per shot, two in a pinch. In the bed next to me was a lovely old guy who had no idea what he was saying or when, and occasionally actually fell asleep during shots. Someone was detailed to wake him for takes. It had to be efficient but it never felt rushed. We had a lovely two days. I made some friends who I still see now. Time pressure can bring people together. And all I had to do was lie in a bed and growl.


We were making a short film called The View From The Window. It was written and directed by a remarkable woman – A D Cooper. Alice Cooper, but she’s asked me to introduce her as “A D” because she’s justifiably bored of comments about “Welcome to my Nightmare.” I respect that. I get so many bank jokes. So. Many. Bank. Jokes.

We’ve become good friends. She is from a naval family as I am, so the photos of her dad strongly remind me of photos of my grandad. And the poor woman has a large photo of my face on the door of her home office. It’s a miracle she still speaks to me having to walk past that every day. But she does.

Today she gave me some of her homemade honey to help my rib heal (she keeps bees). She also gave me solid advice about broken bone recovery. She’s probably had a fair few, witnessed a fair few, caused a fair few. She played Rugby for Richmond, and was press officer and organiser of the first women’s Rugby World Cup in 1991. Nowadays when women’s sport is being more widely recognised across the board, she’s a trailblazer. Now she’s making and writing films. She’s a brilliant human and goes out into the world to change it. I rarely take my hat off, but I certainly take it off to her. She also bought me sausage and mash by the river for lunch. Like me she lives by the river. As my naval grandfather insisted “The sea is in your blood. You’ll always need to live by water.” I see that in her.

She’s recently been experimenting with poetic shorts. She did a beautiful one about the River Thames (sea/blood etc), and then won two days use of an Alexa (essentially a very good camera.) She used that time to shoot a gorgeous tribute to the doomed WW1 poet Edward Thomas on it. She employed my friend and fellow Factory member Alex Bartram. I saw it today and it’s beautiful and whimsical, as her work always is. It’s screening again on Thursday night in town at BAFTA.

Here’s the blurb. It’s just a comfort to know someone who is making things because she wants to, and making them as well as she can under constraints.

Workshops lamb and cricket

There are so many transferable skills that we pick up in the line of duty. As often as not, practitioners end up spending more time transferring them that they spend practicing them. The amount of times I’ve had the thought “What is he doing running that workshop, he’s barely ever worked?” There are lots of people I can think of who trade off one big job, or someone they’ve assisted or worked for, to set themselves up as full time teachers of various aspects of the craft. We all need to make money. We all have something to teach, even if it’s just confidence. But it’s noticeable how many people rely on other people’s names to lend their own name credence.

Typically, since starting this blog I’ve publicly hit one of my longest ever spells without a consistent acting job. Hopefully before long I’ll be presented with the challenge of detailing the nitty-gritty of a rehearsal process. But for now it’s continuing the little weird jobs and pushing for TV work, and writing about the strange detail. So if I’m not going to do stuff I hate for cash then I need to start working out where the line is.

I have been asked to teach some teachers. I went to a training session today to run a workshop for them about physical presence in a room. I think I might find that rewarding and be good at it, and it’ll help me focus on those crucial first seconds in the audition room. It’s interesting work. I loved my studies at Guildhall with Patsy Rodenberg, and a lot of it was to do with presence. A lot of teachers feel the need to play a character in order to dominate a room. I’ll be working with young teachers in their first year of training to show them they can just be fully present and not have to restrict to the idea of a “character”, and give them tools to do it.

August is traditionally a quiet time because half of my industry is up at the Edinburgh Festival. But that also makes it easier to get castings if you’re not familiar to the casting director already. All of their tall sad funny clever posh men are at the fringe being funny or sad or clever or posh, so they can fill their spare slot with someone they haven’t met yet. I’ve had a good hit rate booking jobs in August so I’m sanguine something will come if I look for it. But in the meantime it looks like it’ll be teaching teachers.

I’m glad to be home. It’s been a long journey back from the golf, but you need to cover ground sometimes to leave things behind. Tristan and I had lamb with another of the victims of that tournament today. It was a happy, convivial evening with kind people. It left me smiling and extremely relaxed. So relaxed that I’m about to pass out, but I think that might be because I couldn’t resist a cocodamol top-up and now I can feel it beckoning me into the mire.


Tristan and I are watching the cricket highlights while I’m struggling not to fall over from painkiller use. “England’s biggest collapses”. I’m next.


What a horrible drive. Sheets of rain slamming out of the sky. Flooded roads. Vile. I stopped off in Reading in the hope it would get better, but it only got worse.

I know Reading. My parents sent me to university there against my will. They were pulling out all the stops to prevent me from going to drama school. Their correspondence from this period has been largely preserved because they were already divorced so they wrote to each other. And the phrase “until he gets it out of his system” comes up countless times. My brother had been to Reading University on purpose, so mum knew it existed. I woke up one morning and my mother had phoned the English department, which was coincidentally flooded with female applicants, and told them my grades. She secured me a place through clearing. “Three years will be enough for him to get this acting nonsense out of his system,” my father had written. She then marched me to the phone and made me confirm the place. I never forgave her for it while she was alive, but I made the call. It was the source of so many arguments, right up until she died. But I did it. I wasn’t yet mature and self-defined enough to combat parental pressure like that. I forgive her for forcing me to do it now though. She thought she was acting out of love, not fear. And I could’ve walked. I didn’t. She told me I wouldn’t have a roof over my head if I didn’t make the call but that was just words. I could’ve got a job and worked something out but I didn’t. It was all a bit unexpected, which was the main thing. I had it all lined up for drama school but the plug got pulled. But I know from reading their correspondence that this was mutual parental care. They didn’t want this lifestyle for me.

I miss her. She was a good mum and cared about me. I miss both my parents. Dad was a brilliant man and made so much possible. They just didn’t know me as well as they might have, but I was the youngest of many. “Get it out of his system.” Pffft. It was wired in my blood, even then. Still, I ended up at Guildhall years later once university was done and dad was no longer there to fight it. And Guildhall was an extraordinary school, and exactly what I needed.

In Reading I stopped briefly at my (unrecognisable) old student pub, and raised a shandy to my mum and dad for their awkward love.


Then to Castle Street for Sweeney and Todds pie shop. It used to be part of a run of three perfect consecutive shops owned by the same people – a pie shop next to a barber, and a butcher in the other side. So the customer can be amused by the reference to murderers, but know where their meat is coming from (or at least hope they know – the butcher, not the barber!) Now the butcher has gone, but the barber is still there and so are the tasty meat pies… Worrying.

I didn’t think too much about it, I just bought a load of pies, avoided having my hair cut, and missioned back home in the rain.

I’m so glad to be back in London in this flat I only have because of my parent’s passing. I’m working tomorrow in the morning and then slow roast lamb. Omnomnom. In a short time away, I’ve discovered some valuable things about myself and how I keep doing things I don’t want to do, to punish myself. Knowing as I have for years that my lost parents both spoke of my vocation in the same language as you’d speak of a disease has been tricky over time. But that was just their care for me mistranslated. They could never be happy living as I do. I am. But not when I’m doing stuff like that golf tournament. The disease still courses through my veins and invigorates them as it burns when I’m working in my proper medium. There is more to do, more to make, more to write on the wind. More friendships, more beautiful chaos, more joy, more fellowship.

It’s time for me to really focus the beam now, and identify and secure what I need to get into my system. The past is past. It builds us, but it doesn’t hold us. I’ll miss mum and dad until the day I die no matter what battlegrounds we had. Parental love is another thing that never gets out of your system.

When you are old

This afternoon I stopped in Wales and went to commune with the tree I tumbled from a few weeks ago. We were both feeling aggrieved. I’d ripped a good branch from it, and it had kicked me in the rib with a root when I landed. We had a little conversation in the rain and there’s no hard feelings. I’m definitely on the mend and it insists it can grow more branches. Next year if I go to The Willow Globe I will definitely climb it again. I’m the guy that doesn’t learn from his painful mistakes. Or I’m the guy that refuses to be taught to fear despite hard experience.


Concerning my cocktail of drugs, I don’t get on well with cocodamol. I tried some again last night and then wrote that godawful ramble (don’t) and fell asleep halfway through (like you will). I wasn’t even able to stay awake long enough to delete half of it and stick in an arbitrary picture. I had no option but sleep. I need to go easy on things that force that sort of thing on me.

I’m close to home now and the general pain is definitely better than it was. I can sneeze without wishing I was dead. So it’s time to cut back on the painkillers before my colon melts. I’m probably addicted to codeine too now, so worth nipping that in the bud. Especially considering it knocks me flat. I don’t need something that shuts me off. I’ve got too much to do.

After hanging out with my leafy aggressor I went back to The Willow Globe itself. I popped into their International Shakespeare Centre to find Phil, who planted the theatre with Sue. It’s becoming more apparent to me this week that we don’t have to be trapped in London to make beautiful things gainfully. Phil is giving opportunities to young companies to make things and to explore new ideas. His audience gets a lovely show, the companies get R&D time in a beautiful place. And people are inspired by it. Just a few months ago I was chatting to a friend who has made a theatre community in a mill in Yorkshire. He cited Phil and Sue at The Willow Globe as his inspiration. A small group of passionate makers in Wales sending ripples of loveliness to North Yorkshire. That group then made a show in Yorkshire which is now going great guns in London. There’s something to be said for getting out of town and making things where things are lacking. Then they can bring their loveliness to London. I’m taking my mind back to an old idea I tasted a few years ago regarding going to The Isle of Man and building a theatre. It’s starting to appeal to me again.

Although right now I am looking forward to getting back to London tomorrow. To throwing myself back into the craziness.

For now, though, I’m still happily in a quiet place. I’ve made it as far as Swindon and I’ve been sitting in the living room with Tristan and his grandparents. They’re great. They’re both in their nineties. I miss my grandparents, but in their absence I’m glad to borrow his. His grandma comprehensively beat me at table tennis three years ago. His grandpa and I like to sit and talk about Shakespeare. He’s an actor, although at 92 doesn’t get out so much. Michael Beint at Jessica Carney if you need to pay someone handsomely for a short time to sit in a chair and be erudite on camera. He’s been remembering Banquo with me after I told him about The Willow Globe. He probably played it at The National. The man was acting years before I was born. He’s a legend. It’s good to spend time with people much older than we are.

He’s the only friend I have who was doing what I do when I was born. He’s just told me about when he was playing Marcellus for Peter Hall at the Lyttleton three months after I popped out of my mum, and he got the call that he was going on for Dennis Quilley as the ghost and the king. I know all three of those parts and was right there with him. He’s gone into detail about the quick change before Claudius’ first scene, and company politics with Peter Hall, Dennis Quilley, Angela Lansbury and Albert Finney in the 1970s. Delightful.

He’s discovered I’m a diarist of sorts and has suggested I consume Peter Hall’s diaries. “You think you know a man, but then you read all that and you wonder if you did at all. Wonderful.” I’m tempted. Just as he went to bed, we got into poetry. Yeats came up. I’ve just had the most beautiful rendition of “When You Are Old.” I told him I’ll learn it, and in 50 years time I’ll recite it to someone in similar circumstances. Now I’m about to fall asleep in a room full of terrifying Edwardian dolls. Here’s a love poem:

When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Leg breaking

So I suppose it could be said that Tristan and I are “resting.” In the sense that we’re actors and we are not working, even though the job we just finished wasn’t acting work. I hate the whole “resting” language. It’s like the widely known superstitions. I find them hard to honour. “Break a leg”, “Macbeth” whistling etc. They’ve become common knowledge, property of everyone. I’ve rarely met an actor that really cares if you say Macbeth. I’ll honor it with any stranger older than me though. I’m working on “The Scottish Play” with The Factory, and if you’re in it, you’ve got to be able to say it, so I can say Macbeth as much as I like until we’re done. Which might be years if Hamlet is anything to go by. And honestly, I won’t send you out of the room and make you turn three times, spit and ask to come back if you say “Macbeth”. However I’ve met many dedicated amateurs and volunteer stewards and keenly passionate supporters of our industry that care enormously. So I honor it as best I can lest I upset someone.

I will certainly rarely say “good luck” to an actor before they go on, but conversely I will never say “break a leg”. My habit is to say “smash it,” which can devolve into “smashy smashy” or “smashy smashface,” or endless variations on the theme of smashing. I thought I had evolved that as a solution at Guildhall, but I hear it from many sources and I question that it is mine. Convergent evolution? Who cares? These things just spontaneously evolve.

I don’t say “break a leg” because I don’t feel, as an actor, that I have ownership of “break a leg.” It’s a known phrase. People who want to appear knowledgeable tell me “oh, you don’t say good luck do you? Ha ha! You say break a leg.” I respond “ah well I don’t personally, sir, but yes, some people do. I prefer to say I hope you smash it.”

Often people ask me the origins of the break a leg. Nobody knows. I have a working theory.

It is 1717. You’re playing the lead at Drury Lane. As is often the case, you share a dressing room with your understudy, Sam. Sam is your friend. You’ve been on the job a long time. You’re fit and healthy. You go on every night, and it’s a sell out. Five stars across the board. It’s running and running, packed every night for months and months. It’s the making of you. You can’t take a night off, the public want you. Sam knows that. Sam’s happy with the way the cookie crumbles. You see each other daily. You know the details of each other’s personal life. You go drinking together, you hang out. You and Sam are friends. But Sam’s job is to show up and sit in the dressing room night after night. And Sam knows they can smash it.

If there’s an incident mid show, like in 1989 with Day-Lewis having a breakdown in the ghost scene of Hamlet at The National, the understudy (Jeremy Northam in that case) finishes the audience’s show and cements their name in the process. You both know and understand this

So it’s showtime and you’re in costume, and you head on, ready to smash the hell out of it. They’re calling beginners. “Here we go again,” you mutter, ready, and you head to the door. “Break a leg,” says Sam, smiling.

Sam’s comment catches you unaware. You laugh. If you were to literally break a leg, Sam your understudy would play that part. Sam saying “break a leg” under those circumstances is reasonably witty and apposite.

This snarky understudy story works better for me than theories I’ve heard about “breaking” the curtain legs, especially considering the German version is “Hals und beinbruch” Break your neck and your leg. There’s something about the laconic, provocative way that actors interact with one another that makes my theory make sense. We all know we are interchangeable, unless we have serious ego problems. We relate accordingly.

However it all came about, more people who aren’t actors care about it than people who are. The emoji movie for instance. It will affect how people use emojis. Just a few days ago I referenced Withnail and I, which is a remarkable film about actors that has touched the public imagination. There is much that is accurate, and much that is fanciful. But the story has affected the frame people have for the reality.

Having finished that event I’m glad to have some downtime. I’m”resting” from the event despite my distaste. I’m spent.

Rather than sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring, Tristan and I have been driving around Wales actively hoping it won’t. At about 6pm both of us visibly relax because our agent hasn’t called to tell us we need to be at Spotlight for 11 the next morning to meet for a beer advert with 700 people who look just like us. We would drop everything and go back for that opportunity should it arrive. But for now we can continue our meandering peregrination through Prydain. Before long we’ll get back to the stone walls of London. But for now it’s trees, grass, wind and cheap pubs.

I’m in Carmarthen now, an old Roman settlement with the remains of the most westerly amphitheatre of the empire just casually hanging out near the city centre. That was entertainment, back then. As a vocational performer it’s a curious thought that a large portion of one of the greatest civilisations in the world preferred watching terrified naked people being torn apart by hungry bears than the old Homeric bards. I like to make “live experience” work, but I’d like to do it without having my spleen hooked out by some starving tormented brute beast. Let’s get on it. I’m going to bed. Too late. Night. No photo today… X


Thinking the world

I woke up in North Wales this morning and listened to Anil Seth talking about how the brain hallucinates reality.

I’m on my phone as usual so can’t link it normally. It’s a strong talk, delivered with assurance. It chimes with a lot of the work I’ve been doing with myself recently regarding patterns in my life, manifestations and boundaries. I’ve been thinking about the power of our own self-perception. How we can think the world better or worse for ourselves. I feel there’s a lot to be considered in that.

Having grown up with vast privilege, and living in a lovely flat that I didn’t earn, I’ve been consciously and unconsciously running masochism on myself for years which I’m trying to derail. I’ve had so much without deserving. I see other people from similar privilege thoughtlessly making value judgements about people who have not. I hate that, but I’ve come to the conclusion that as a result I’ve been unconsciously doing what I can to make things hard for myself. I’ve been self-sabotaging on a monumental scale for upwards of a decade, since my mum died. This habit has culminated in a week of working in constant pain on something I don’t care about miles away from home. My best friend sat down with me and passionately asked me not to do it before I even broke my rib, and I still went ahead with it. And then I had a horrible time. Plus I repeatedly forgot to bring painkillers to my long shifts, got into a power struggle with my manager which ended badly, and generally did everything I possibly could to make things even harder for myself. Looking at it forensically, it’s obvious I was on a mission to make things unpleasant for myself. I even had work that I turned down in London, and clashed with my agent about being away. Coming off the job, I messaged a confidante to tell her I’d done it again, I’d put myself through something I didn’t want to for reasons I couldn’t fathom. Her response was “That’s what you do.” No. It’s not, any more. Now it’s what I used to do.

As I said previously, if the head is sick the body follows. My unpleasant manager – he was insecure and he made the whole place nastier for everyone working there. If insecure people are at the top, insecurity is the benchmark. If cruel people are at the top, cruelty is the benchmark. Same with kind people. And the kind people have to start fighting. We have to fight using the nerves of the insecure and the entitlement of the cruel, but keeping the compassion that we get for free.

So this is a message to myself and all the people who think of themselves as kind out there: Get into the struggle! You have the tools. You deserve as much as the people you think of as entitled. You can prove yourself as much as the people you think of as insecure. Get in and stick in and use compassion. Get yourself to the head, so the body is kinder. Fight your kind corner. Fight hard and honest. Stand up and be counted. Lead. And keep your kindness while leading.

So that’s where I’ve been at today. Driving through Wales, this magical ancient kingdom, thinking about our identity towards ourself, about the potentialv we have to change who we think we are, about the need for a rise of kindness. Look at the leadership examples in plain sight. Over here, it’s someone panicky and insecure ducking questions and arbitrating. Over there, it’s someone cruel and entitled smashing things and normalising ignorance. Things are getting way too unkind. Kindness can lead, and has changed the world before countless times. But the people at the top get to dictate how things are done and their opinions are going to be determined by their proclivities. So let’s get to the top and be fucking lovely people. That’s how we stop this shit.

As I was having all these thoughts I drove out of a small Welsh village in a 40 mile an hour zone. Glancing in my rear view mirror I distinctly recall seeing a traffic cop with a speedgun point at the back of my car and then look at the top of his gun. “Fuck,” I said to Tristan. “I think that guy just got me.” (Obviously I wasn’t driving over the speed limit, I never break the law. I just don’t like being recorded. etc. This blog is a work of fiction.) Tristan said “It’s a scarecrow, you idiot.” I knew it wasn’t. I had seen him. He was male, and slightly overweight. And he definitely moved as I watched him, to look at his reading. I had only perceived him for a second but I had definitely seen all of that. For certain.

We turned round and I drove back round the corner into that village punctiliously observing the speed limit. This is what I saw:

The brain hallucinates reality. I saw him move. I had an idea of what he looked like. Be kind, play to win on your own terms, and don’t let your own proclivities sabotage your chances of happiness.