Heineken

Today in 1867, Gerard Adrian Heineken had his sister Anna lay the foundation stone of what would become the first Heineken brewery. It was situated on the outskirts of Amsterdam by blessing of the powers that be, beside the Amstel River. Gerard was an innovative man, who at 22 had borrowed from his mother to purchase the failing Haystack brewery. He very quickly turned it around, pushed out 5000 barrels in a year and needed a larger capacity. This place was his solution. He could custom make it. He brought a bottom fermentation process more familiar in Bavaria over to Amsterdam, was enough of a businessman to make it desirable, and he always had his eye on the international market.

150 years later the brewery is “The Heineken Experience”. It’s the second most popular visitor attraction in town after the Rijksmuseum. People from all around the world were congregating there. Heineken, it seems, is massive in Brazil. It’s pretty big in Spain too. And even Taiwan. It’s pretty far down the list in the UK, comparatively. Heineken wanted an experienced confident actor to dress as an 1860’s newspaper barker and jolly up the room for hours and hours and hours without getting fazed, losing positivity or getting tired. Who ‘ya gonna call?

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I’m knackered now though. Trying to stick myself back together. Mostly I do that by being alone, and so I’m sitting in my own little bubble on a terrace on this glorious summer evening, letting the world wash past me over a glass of Zinfandel. Every time I swallow it hurts. Patsy Rodenberg or not, 6 hours constant barking over a crowd is going to ravage anyone. If someone stole my wallet right now, I’d let them (if I hadn’t lost it already.) I’m not raising my voice for at least three days.

Over the years I’ve loved and appreciated my work for Heineken. They keep getting me back, I am glad of the work. Being a working actor is about exactly this sort of thing while you hustle for that elusive meeting for “that part” that captures the imagination. I’ll keep getting re-employed in these random high pressure jobs, and doing them well and joyfully. That trust and repeat employment allows me to invest time into building things like Beowulf in a flat in Stoke Newington on week days and still pay off Newlyn Bailiffs before they bring the sledgehammer.

Heading to sleep on a friend’s sofa after work, I’m glad to have built a network of friends and allies in this glorious city. It’s not what teenage Al would’ve expected when he came out here to eat space cakes and drink way too much lager. It looks likely I’ll be out here again before long to do some filming. What with Dubrovnik last summer and these repeating jobs for Heineken and its acquisition brands, I’m worried what the ramifications of our vote last summer will be. Right now it probably makes me cheap, but soon it might make it impossible for me to have such joy overseas.

Fagin

I woke up this morning and spent ages trying on different combinations of clothes in front of the mirror. I wanted to look like Fagin, but a Fagin that could be modern. A sort of post-retro-punk-arthouse Fagin. Malcolm Maclaren plays Fagin through Al Barclay. The usual stuff. Last night I dreamt I was Fagin. It’s seeped into my imagination. Auditions have always been thin on the ground so I try to think things through when one comes in, which keeps my hit rate high. And then I fall into ideaholes. This isn’t the first time I’ve auditioned for Fagin. Last time it came close but apparently I was too young. Sad. I still remember the song they taught us in the recall. Now I’m older.

Dressed sufficiently absurdly, yet still looking like I might just be a hipster, I wandered to The Royal Court. I DID NOT AUDITION FOR OLIVER TWIST AT THE ROYAL COURT. That was somewhere else. I went there to see my friend Dan and help with a film he is making. He has installed his equipment in the upstairs bar. Last time I was there I stood on the balcony and listened to two people in twinsets and pearls talking loudly about the show I was watching, having gobsmackingly missed what I thought to be the point. But Dan was there, right in the heart of Chelsea, trying to film young sexy people saying direct to camera why they have registered to vote. I feel honourbound to help him avoid getting nothing but slightly mawkish pompous gangly kids who only stopped calling their father “daddy” a year ago. So if you know anyone who is good to come and spend a short time saying something to camera, doesn’t have a trust fund, and can get to Chelsea, send them today (16th May 2017). He’ll be there from 10 to 5. It’s one sentence. I said “If you’ve ever used the NHS, register to vote.”

Then I went off to Warren Street and auditioned for Fagin. The audition was improv with context. Last time I had an improv audition there was no context, which makes for an impossible situation. This dude framed it very well. And with a frame you are free to range. It’s probably unwise to blog about an audition, because then if you don’t get it, you don’t get it publicly. But I am old enough and ugly enough, and have sat on the other side enough, to know that my ability is not in question. Just my suitABILITY. See what I did there…? Not getting the part once you’ve been around this long is about nothing more than being the wrong age, height, face shape, skin tone – whatever – things you can’t affect. I’ve been involved in casting discussions where we’ve said “He was great, but he’s so short next to the girl we’ve already cast… will it look weird?” There are so many things that come into play. Nonetheless, I consider it a win to have got the director and the producer, who were pretending to be children, to sing the “Fuck you coppers” song that I made up on the spot. The frame was modern Fagin getting busted and different choices he might make to let his ship go down.

Fagin is an interesting archetype – he is so familiar to us. A charismatic man who creates a bubble around him, which he maintains with a mixture of psychopathy and strange empathy. He somehow makes people feel happy to take risks for him, and get little by way of reward. He joyfully does unthinkable things, and makes them into songs and fun (if we are fans of the Lionel Bart’s musical.) The world that he came out of with Dickens must have been such a dark place, where the children of poor families would have ended up alone on the streets because their parents were dead of curable diseases. It’s hard to imagine a world like that where the poor were expendable, and the trappings of democracy essentially an inconvenience to be bypassed. Where even the right to vote was restricted to half of the population. How fortunate we are to be in a place where all of us can vote, and where we have recently witnessed that the process of voting can lead to results that are surprising, and divisive and unwelcome to those “in power” who we can start to think of as strong, stable and inevitable. Make sure you’ve all registered in the UK. Wouldn’t it be great to get a good turnout this year.

 

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More dodgems

I am not sure what to write today. It was exhausting. I ended up working a double shift on an art installation in Southwark for Merge Festival. I’m part of the art. It’s the Dodgems​ of the Mind again. I’m not sure if I’m a psychologist or a carnie. I’m not sure I set out to be either.

Thankfully I love meeting new people and encouraging them to play. Which is just as well as I had to do it with hundreds of people today. And because the whole thing is pretty new it wasn’t running as well as it might have been. So I was point of contact for loads of slightly disgruntled people who had waited 2 hours standing for a 5 minute ride. I was in there for 8 hours without a break, and the music is on a half an hour loop. Now I’m on the bus home but it’s like I’m still in ‘nam. I’m getting flashbacks to the lights, and the crazy sounds. It’s like working a store at Christmas but more psychedelic. And today there was a bit of bad energy from people who were fed up of waiting. Even MY smile starts to wear thin when everyone’s got the hump. It’s a great installation but not if you’re waiting hours. It’s why I haven’t posted the details yet. Not until I’m satisfied it’s found a groove and I can get my friends over without them waiting forever. There’s always a breathing time between the theory of something and the practical reality. Right now this piece is breathing, and we will land on the practical part over time. Although I’ll barely be there for the next few weeks. I’m off back into the random. We will see how it goes.

Only one person asked me today “what’s the thinking behind this piece.” I don’t really know. For me it’s to do with childishness lingering into adulthood, and how we are all very similar in the things we do to encourage or berate ourselves. It’s mostly just an excuse to get in a dodgem car and bang around for a bit in an old fire station with a load of weird projections. I asked one of the guys that made it a while ago. He told me it’s to do with Plutchic’s wheel of emotions. Which helps with the “what” but not really the “why.” Maybe I’m being too stringent. But I think “why” is an important question to be able to answer, even if the answer is just “it’s fun.”

I thought I’d be heading home to an empty flat, but it turns out there’s a mate of Brian’s and mine staying over. I’m totally battered though. Not sure I’ll be switching on the good host vibes. It’ll mostly be “hi, here’s your bed. Zzzz” A hot bath would hit the spot now. Damn that exploding boiler.

I’ve been walking home down the river writing this on my phone. It’s such a glorious evening. At last I’m willing to believe we might be moving towards summer. Which will make it way too hot in these jumpsuits. Here’s a picture of me at work, photo credit to Andrew “Tommo” Thompson. Yes that’s my face.

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Babies and Cat

Babies. Little incompetent people. Over the years, various friends and family members have expectorated them, and then they’ve grown. Some of them have transformed into creatures that I speak with about things. A few of them are on Facebook making their first few posts. But most of the ones I know are more concerned with shitting themselves and howling. I look forward to their music recommendations in years to come. And their political arguments. But for now they are exist-machines.

My best friend is germinating one of these monsters. It’s burgeoning within her. Every time I see her she is noticeably bigger. It’s remarkable and fascinating. She’s been putting up with weird moods, cravings and sicknesses. Something inside her has been trying to make sense of what it wants. This evening the dad turned 30. A load of people came to celebrate.

Since I was early I blew up some balloons.:

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It was great to see Rhys. We raised a glass, even though, of course, she isn’t drinking. A whole new human being is growing in her body, and we were celebrating both that and his decade. Today I got to hang out with loads of people who are important to me. It was a good, and varied day.

It began with Brian’s birthday breakfast. He’s in New York by now, I hope, after a long flight. Rebecca came round, and since breakfast is a tradition in the BarclayHook household, I tried to make a special breakfast. I hope it sent him on his way to America well. I found myself thinking again how lucky I’ve been to spend this year living alongside him. Friendship comes in many forms. Ours is positive and nurturing. We want each other to do well. That’s how all friendships thrive, and it’s a proper joy. It’s great to think that he is taking his show Rotterdam to New York. It’s a beautiful piece, and will be coming to The Arts Theatre in June.

After Brian got on his flight I met up with Hannah – another creative who is very important to me. We hung in Greenwich, and even though it’s been a while since we saw one another it was like no time had passed. She’s living in Eastbourne at the moment and I have to work in town tomorrow, otherwise I would’ve been tempted to just hang out with her in the countryside. But I need to be back in my red jumpsuit tomorrow, doing ridiculous random stuff.

Right now I have the cat on my lap. She is making odd persistent noises, and paddling her feet into my leg. I think she’s on heat, and so did the vet. She is now a permanent fixture here, for better or for worse. I took her to the Blue Cross and she’s not chipped. The posters in the area yielded no results. Right now she is actively trying to have sex with my arm. It’s encouraging, as the Blue Cross told me she might be pregnant and surely if you already are pregnant you wouldn’t think that a human arm is the best source of satisfaction and babies. Time will tell… Goodnight all. I’m knackered.

The memory of cock

15 years ago I was at The Latchmere, a pub theatre in Battersea now called Theatre 503. As I was getting ready to go in, a man slapped me on the back. “I’ve seen your cock,” he said, enthusiastically. By the time I recovered, he was gone. I never got to ask him what he thought of it.

Shortly after leaving Guildhall I came upon a lovely piece of writing by Moira Buffini. The show was called Loveplay. Equal parts male and female without feeling arbitrary. A story about the changing nature of the process of looking for love. It was just before internet dating took over. The final scene would be very different nowadays. It was set in an old school dating agency.

I put the show on at The Finborough, and then for two nights at Soho. Flavia (blogs passim) co-produced it, and I assembled a fantastic cast including my best friend Minnie. One of the characters had to get their kit off. Because I couldn’t pay my actors, I felt I couldn’t ask them to do it, so I did it. At the time it never occurred to me that people would think “He’s the producer. He’s got his cock out. That’s why the show’s on.” But inevitably, some people did. Also I realised I can’t justify producing a show without paying my artists ever again. It’s not ethical. Even if they were my friends in this instance. It sets a bad precedent.

To be honest, it WAS liberating, getting stark naked on stage. It’s a very intimate theatre, The Finborough, so some people were uncomfortably close. Someone could’ve been blinded if I’d got aroused. I’m not in a hurry to strip again (although it did happen in an Odyssey at Wilderness Festival) but it served the scene and it helped me unpick fear very early on in my career.

This evening, I went to what I understand is the first play Moira Buffini’s ever wrote -Gabriel – performed at The Greenwich Theatre. It’s set in The Channel Islands during the German occupation. I lived in Jersey so I’m well versed in the stories of those times. Back when I lived in Jersey getting my cock out in public was a normal day. I was a very small child. Similar to the man in the theatre, people from those times would approach me well into my adult life, slap me on the back and say “I changed your shitty nappy.” We all get that.

It’s a good show. I couldn’t make it in time for the first half, but the second half was tight and considering it must have been written 20 years ago it’s great that it feels completely natural to have more female parts than male. It’s a ratio that’s still rare. Afterwards we went to the pub and sat with Paul McGann, who was in it playing a Nazi.

Paul is a true working actor. An actor’s actor. He’s brilliant, and has weathered storms. When I was at school he played “I” in the iconic movie “Withnail and I”. He played Doctor Who in the Who movie with my dear friend Emma as his companion. Emma was the reason I was there tonight. Moira Buffini was in the pub too. I understood the “Seen your cock” man better when presented with the chance to say to McGann “You’ve taken your clothes off in my bedroom”. I didn’t. But he has. He did “A Little Place off the Edgware Road” and the director was my old mate Tim. My flat was a location.

We had a lovely chat. Apparently his parents had a place in the seventies round the corner, before the prices went crazy. There were people queuing up in the pub with Withnail scripts for signing. Fuck that, it’s been 20 years! It’s funny how some parts stick in people’s minds. Thankfully nobody has slapped my back and said “I’ve seen your cock” for long enough for me to know I’m out of danger. Although I’m sure they still dream about it.

I didn’t have the opportunity to go up to Moira and talk to her. Maybe I could’ve said “Everyone saw my cock because of you.” Probably for the best that I didn’t. Although I would like to have said I admire her work. But so would eveyone. It was pleasant enough to see a lovely show with good friends and to meet a fellow practitioner whose work I admire. As ever I have no photo. I probably should post a cock shot:

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Dodgems

Health and Safety was a lovely thing when it first came into existence. It came out of a world where your sofa was made out of explosives, and everybody was actively trying to set fire to it while you were sleeping. Beanbags were designed to kill people with death fumes. Everything was designed with nothing other than mass slaughter in mind. Thank God Health and Safety took our liberties to protect us from… bad things. Yes  the everywhere bad things. And the killer sofas.

Sofas and the world have both changed since then.

London has been shaped by fire. Arguably it was the Great Fire of 1666 that burnt out the bubonic plague. The Globe burnt down, and Westminster Palace, and most of the landmarks have some history with fire.

Nowadays, Health and Safety is a bigger plague than fire. It feels like H&S completed the work it had to do (don’t make your clothes out of firelighters and then light loads of candles). In so doing it made loads of jobs. Gotta keep ’em. Now like all offices everywhere, it’s people making work for people making work for etc etc etc ad nauseam with only about 20% of the work being relevant.

I’ve spent the evening in one of the many disused fire stations in London. This one is in Borough. A load of people have built an installation upstairs. It’s called “Drive Dead Slow: Dodgems of your Own Mind.” That’s got to be better than luxury flats for Saudi billionaires to rent to our friend’s landlords. This evening was the launch of a bonkers thing and I was glad to be part of it.

It involves some beautiful old 1960’s dodgems. They’ve been refitted with batteries instead of the power line connected to the ceiling. There is a different actor’s voice in each car. It’s based on the plutchic wheel of emotion  You get into a bumper car and you go on a short journey through the inside of your own mind. You zoom around for a few minutes and eventually vomit out through a great big mouth. It’s trippy.

I am working as part facilitator, part MC, making sure everyone comes back intact from this journey into their own psyche. This evening it was packed out. But it’s running for the whole month and, even if I’m doing a lot of other stuff, I’m hoping to be there for most of it. I thrive in this sort of thing. I’ve done it enough that it comes naturally to me. Come play if you’re ever near borough. I’ll try to publish my working hours on Facebook in the near future so if you’re near, you can come play. Right now I’m writing with one eye open after using every spot of energy I had on “press night” for the festival. I’m sure I’m going to write more about it in due course. Right now I’m off to sleep, leaving you with this alluring picture of myself and a charging dodgem. Here’s the link: http://mergefestival.co.uk/merge-events-2017/2017/5/12/drive-dead-slow-dodgems-of-your-mind-collective-of-artists-the-ultimate-dodgem-experience

Hope to see some of you there.

 

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Drama School Auditions

Friends of mine often send people to me. “My niece wants to be an actress. She’s auditioning for drama school. Can you help her?” One time I was out in Finsbury Park with my best friend and two shy girls came up to her. “We both really love your work. We’re auditioning for drama school this year. Can you give us any advice?” Minnie said “You should go round Al’s flat and get him to help you with your speeches.” They asked me “What do you charge?” I did it for a bottle of wine. I usually say that the first session is free and then I’ll name my price. Because I know after the first session if it’s going to be like pulling teeth. If it is I’ll charge £100 quid an hour and if they pay it’s worth the horror. If it’s lovely and they’re interesting I’ll do it for fun and a few bob. Ten years down the line they’ll be playing my kid, or killing me with a hammer or handing me an envelope. The two from that evening were both awesome. One of them got into Guildhall and is in the 3rd year now. The other one went all the way to the last round at RADA but then didn’t quite make it. But she was 22. Hopefully she understood that waiting is better than compromising and going to any old place. Hopefully. But time feels so big when you’re 22, and three years is forever in theory.

I have a strange relationship with teaching acting. I won’t do it unless I feel like it. I’m a practitioner. I don’t frame myself as a teacher. I can attempt to put into words what works for me. It would be hubris to say “This is the way it should be done.” So mostly I just use my instincts and build confidence. I’m very good at building confidence, and I enjoy that.

Because of the terrible school system in this country, a lot of people who teach acting frame it in terms of right and wrong because it’s what people are used to. But that’s ridiculously unhelpful. If you’re going to pay the fees these places expect it’s crucial to know that you’ll be getting a good training. It’s the foundation that means that you get re-employed and recommended when you get the job, which is how I have built a consistent career. Every year drama schools disgorge hundreds of graduates who have shelled out loads of money and expect something back from the industry. I paid for mine with my inheritance from my dad. I was lucky as Guildhall is an exceptionally good place. I honestly had no idea at the time, it was just chance, I had no perspective. I just wanted to train. Anywhere would’ve done. Every year a huge percentage of graduates are going to have a reality check. Even from Guildhall I would be surprised if 50% of my year group of 23 still actively identify themselves as actors, even if others are working loads. A good drama school training gives an understanding, an empathy and a confidence that is valuable in many walks of life.

I once got a call from a friend who was directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream at a college I won’t name. “Al, I’m working with these kids in the third year. None of them have any confidence or voice. It’s desperate. Can you come in and give them some? I’ve managed to free up some money for it.” I went in. I worked hard with them. I found it so frustrating. All of these kids were good kids. They were willing and interesting, but they had been taught astronomically badly, and rewarded for turning tricks. The teaching style had also sapped their confidence. It really was a poisonous place, where obedience was the only thing that the principal craved. They pay over 10 grand a year! After three years they are three years older, thirty grand lighter, and with a worse shot at it than they had before they started. Shortly after I finished working with them, another friend who knew I had been there said “Were there any young northern lads from that job you did?” With no preamble I recommended the guy who played Demetrius, who after weeks of work was showing the beginning signs of agency and self -confidence. I really wanted him to get the part – to work with a serious practitioner – to learn on the job and to go on his way. I sent him to a workshop audition with her. He didn’t get it. Some time later I was driving through Yorkshire with my friend. I asked her how he did in the audition. “Oh, God yes. I remember. Oh Al. He was lovely. But … he just couldn’t do it. At all. He really couldn’t. And we didn’t have time.” 30 grand. He probably never worked once. And he had potential. Ugh. If you know people who are in that audition hell, tell them to be careful. There are some godawful places out there.

I honestly have no idea why that’s where my mind went tonight. I think I was going to illustrate another point when I wrote the first sentence and then it ran away with me.

Today I learnt some lines while invigilating an exam, and then I unloaded a big van full of set dressing into a warehouse in South London, and stood on it triumphantly when it was done. Here’s Brian and I, winning the van unload. Have a great day everyone.

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