Humbuggy day

It’s suddenly so crowded in London. Thousands of people huddled up in coats with shopping bags being physically dominant in empty space and avoiding eye contact. The Christmas shopping weekend. The tube is a battleground for seats and handles. All the angry people are wearing cheerful clothes. I’m going to work. I don’t feel my best and it’s all my fault. I think I consumed the best part of an entire bottle of whisky last night. Thank God there’s no Saturday matinee this week. Two shows would likely have finished me off. It’s evening and I’m angry with everybody just for existing near me. I suspect food would be a good idea but I’m not very good at it these days. I’ll force something in before the show, and then my intention (haha) is to go straight home after the show, cook a healthy meal and to to bed. Now we are officially open it won’t be as emotionally expensive doing the show, so I’ll be able to decompress without hammering myself. That’s the theory at least.

I haven’t been online to see if anyone wrote anything about the show yet. I expect somebody will tell me if they did. So long as we get decent houses for the run then I’ve got nothing to stress out about. I can actually start to relax into a routine for a month or so. Maybe see some friends in the daytime. Maybe do some work or writing. Who knows.

Show finished. What a crowd. Now I remember why we do this madness. The audience was exactly what I remember from previous years. Tipsy fun people, making a lot of noise, getting stuck in but also getting swept up in the story. God I love doing this show. Every year it’s a joy. I’m so thrilled they’ve found a way to get it back on. We had a few people in the crowd who waited around afterwards and told us they’d found us for the first time back when we did the show upstairs at The Arts and I ran out into the actual street. Now I get a face full of fake snow instead, which apparently is still lovely to witness and involves less actual chance of me being stabbed. I need a pot to spit into as I always have to come running on for my final speech with a mouth full of non specific chemicals. The packet just says it is “not toxic when ingested,” which is comforting but I would prefer them to be more specific.

I’m going to love this season. I adore the team. Apparently I adore them so much I came on to one of them when I was smashed last night, which I’m both ashamed and pleased about. It’s not usual for me to think of myself as a valid part of that world, so if drunk Al is trying to get laid again then maybe sober Al can look at some legitimate offers he would normally ignore. Game on Christmas. Bring the Scrooge. Bring the fun. Bring the love. Let’s see where life goes now. I might be a little emotionally volatile right now, but perhaps that’s because I’m alive again…

December starts tomorrow. This blog is going to be very Christmassy, I’ll warn you. Merry Christmas. Humbug.




Press night

This evening, we had journalists. They came to our show. It was a night named after them. Press night.

I don’t know how I feel about such events. I don’t like having my work crystallised through the minds of people who perhaps don’t have any handle on the art. I’d be surprised if anyone was capable of writing something unpleasant about what is one of the most bonkers fun and christmassy things I’ve ever been involved in. The chances are people will be positive. But that doesn’t stop all of my tiny anxieties from magnifying. It doesn’t stop me using all my creativity to establish reasons why THIS EVENING the writer human might find means to denigrate my work, or the piece in general. It’s always up for grabs. This is a marvelous show. Nobody is going to be mean about it. It’s just that if someone writes shit about you it can follow you for years. Based on post show feedback we’ll all have good write-ups. I’m good at my job. Impostor syndrome is just part of the furniture. How is it that I am paid to do what I love?

We had Lyn in – the adored grand damme of theatre reviewing. God knows what she’ll make of it. She cracked a smile. She might not even review it now she’s not full time. But she seemed to enjoy it, and she was surrounded by her industry. We presided over an early Christmas party for the theatre reviewing industry.

It’s weird thinking about Lyn. I mostly don’t know the name of theatre critics. I know hers, because she’s been an exponent of the kind of work I love for years now. She’s become the only theatre reviewer whose opinion I value. I’d be devastated if she hated it. She didn’t, of course. But insecurity springs eternal.

Now I’m home. I’m spread out. I’m happy and warm. I think back to two years ago when the boiler was fucked and I was freezing and sick. I miss Pickle. I still think there’s a share that can be negotiated. Meantime I’ll go to sleep to an empty space. But I’ll sleep well, knowing we did a good job of it. We had a fair few catastrophes tonight with tech – stuff that’s never happened before. Someone stole Jack’s lighter so Fan being a candle became Jack whispering. I honestly think it worked anyway. Maybe there was a spot of lost magic. But we have learnt how to make things fly now. It was a moment of complicity between us, seeing him come on with no fire. We made it work.

I blew out my only candle while acting. The logic of the candle is fucked as I’m lit by birdies. Health and safety has made it impossible for us to properly use candlelight, despite the tremendous loss in atmosphere. Once again I praise every single human involved in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. I know how hard it must be for them.

We only have the few limited stubbies that are permitted by risk assessment. It means lighting is desperately shitter, and there’s no possible solve when one of the crucial candles goes out.

Still, we’ve got birdies and clever people whose job it is to provide alternatives to the lovely thing we used to have. I do miss the truth of fire. I miss the light of candles. But it’s still a lovely space. And such a happy show. Humbug.

I forgot to take any photos as usual. Selfie.


Bad eating habits

It’s 4pm and I just noticed that I’ve eaten nothing for almost 2 days apart from three salmon sashimi out of five, and a mouthful of turkey from an audience member. The lack of predictability in my waking hours means I often forget to eat. There are no “mealtimes” and I’m terrible at noticing when I’m hungry. My friends often know I’m hungry before I do. I started shivering about an hour ago and didn’t even work out that it was hunger for another 30 minutes. I then went to Itsu and pushed around a teriyaki rice bowl but could barely swallow it. Everything tastes like ashes right now. I think I need to go home after the show tonight and sleep long and warm. Thankfully now we are into the run, so I’ll be able to do just that.

I’m on the way in to work, with my costume in a bag. I took it home to wash after the show last night which is always worrisome as I’m liable to forget things like that and we have to do some nonsense at the Christmas lights in Bond Street tonight. I gave myself palpitations in the process of discovering that when it’s wet it looks pink, but then it dries cream thank God. I was picturing a fuchsia Scrooge tonight.

I think I’m basically exhausted so things are magnifying. While I was writing, a woman on the tube shouted at somebody else’s child “Can those dirty feet get off the seat please,” and the rage in her voice made me feel a bit sick. I probably should stop writing and try to have a lie down. I think I’m nervous about this lights ceremony thing. I’m imagining being clueless in my not pink nightie in front of hundreds of people.The reality is rarely as bad as it is in my imagination.

We did it. I humbugged to a bunch of bemused people standing about 20 foot from an improvised stage in Mayfair. Gatsby was there with sound and light. We just talked to them and got them to sing “falalalala” for a bit.

Then we did the show and – brilliantly – Katherine Jono and Kaffe from Twelfth Night were all able to come. Jack even got Jono and Katherine involved in Christmas Yet to Come. It was a glory. So wonderful to have them come and understand this strange beautiful show with me after the months of Twelfth Night. It’s press night tomorrow. I’m finally over press night anxiety, after too much experience of the things. I know it for what it is now – a show with an artificial audience. I’m just going to humbug as hard as ever, and the bit where I find out about them over dinner will hopefully not be too awkward. We will see. Either way I’m going to get a good night’s rest. A little part of me is dreading it, and a little part is looking forward. It’s a delightful show, proven and still alive. We want box office – (I’m not famous enough) – so hopefully the writers tomorrow will help sell the show…


First Scrooge

Suddenly Carol. The traverse makes things a lot harder for Jack and I to keep the string tight between us. I don’t actually have to be in work until afternoon tomorrow thank God because we all went out and decompressed after the show and then I got home and had the first evening I’ve had so far getting to know KitKat who moved in after Brian.

Orphan Christmas will be happening at mine. I’m looking forward to the season. Jack and I just have to switch out the bit of our heads that is finding our light, and remember to connect with each other.

Our opening show was glorious, although not at capacity. The building we are in used to be a shooting club, and our changing room has turned out to be the gunpowder store. I have to put on my nightie in there and then wait by a load of empty gun racks to do the show. Eventually there’s a bit of frantic activity involving torches and smoke, and I get to listen to Jack working the crowd for a couple of minutes before I go on. In some ways it’s my favourite bit – I can get a guage on the nature of the crowd based on how they are with him. It’s my only downtime for the whole show really. They are always a lovely lot, and this evening was no exception. In half a decade this remarkable piece of madness only ever falls down when there’s a catering issue. I’ve not got to know the chef yet, but that’s because there’s a whole team of people headed up by Tristan who have that. This is the closest I’ve ever got to doing Carol as just an actor. It’s testament to the production. I didn’t need to build the set or troubleshoot the catering – it’s all in hand. The only things left that I do on tech are things that have been part of my show so long it just feels natural to do them. It feels like we’ve grown up.

I think back to Manchester with John, having a wonderful time with a much broader show. I think to the few shows John and I did in The Guildhall in York – how the music rang. I’m told I showed up on Good Morning Britain yesterday. It wouldn’t surprise me if the footage was from that counting room. Then we ended up at The Arts, with me running out into Leicester Place to the crowds. Beautiful and bonkers with India operating. Then Bishopsgate and the cold and the celebrity chef. Then up in Sheffield in a space we built for ourselves out of whatever was lying around Deli. And then this year. With a designer and a stage manager. It looks great. Once we nail down the “acting in traverse” skill then we will have a glorious show.. And frankly, we already have it. It needed an audience for us to see what lands and what doesn’t.

Here’s be an hour before opening. Don’t be fooled. Yes I was tired. But I also took the photo with eyes closed. Fake news!


Last Twelfth Night

I’m in an Uber in the rain heading to the theatre. Our last Twelfth Night show happens tonight. We have an extremely busy WhatsApp group for the show which is terrifically noisy right now with final costings and plans for the get out and so forth. Last night was a full house and I boiled. Tonight is a little less sold so I’m hoping it’s not going to be quite so hot in there. I’m expecting I’ll want to raise a glass with the other four post show, so I’m getting this down now. I don’t have that feeling like you’re running off a cliff that you often get at the end of a long job like this has been, because we’re opening Christmas Carol tomorrow evening. I can’t stop yet. Not for another month or so. That calm day with trees and bears in California seems a long long time ago now.

I’ve enjoyed working with these misfits. I’ll enjoy this one last show. But I’ll be glad to have only one show in my head again. Christmas Carol is still in flux, with some tweaks and rewrites this morning. We also have to bring some content to the switching on of the Christmas lights in Bond Street. I don’t think I’ll get to push the button, but I’ll get to say “humbug.” As a result of all this stuff yet to come, my head feels pretty full. Hence the Uber.

The Uber driver is listening to talk radio though, and as I write, the news is filtering in. Internecine bickering from mostly unpleasant political figures, people stabbing people, protests, exclusion zones, elections, Black Friday. It’s dark out there. I’m quite looking forward to going into that tiny circle of brightness for one final time and telling this odd story from the perspective of the “party goes wrong” character in the story. Then having a few drinks and getting home in time to sleep properly and recharge for opening night and a face full of fake snow.

I ended up leading a charge of actors into a tiny little club I’ve come across over the years. It’s one of the last actor’s clubs. Over the years I’ve performed in it three times, I think. It is anti nonsense and pro dive. It’s harder and harder to find places that just let you vanish into a place where nobody wants to talk about what they’ve done or what they’re doing.


I’m sad to say goodbye to this tour. We have had a joyful time. We have seen some incredible places, some of which are restricted for civilians. I know for sure I’ll miss these four strange beautiful humans. But friendships have deepened, and there is no way in hell I won’t walk into a rehearsal room with one or more of them at some point in the future.. That’s just how the industry works. Meantime, farewell Twelfth Night, hello Christmas Carol. No rest for the wicked. Money doesn’t grow on trees. Etc.

Penultimate show

I pulled myself away from the pub post show. Lots of lovely people came in to see Twelfth Night this evening. One more show tomorrow night and then it’s done. I’ll miss it when its gone. One more night. Wow…

I really wanted to do the AFTLS job again after the first time through the job five years ago. Because of all the classes, which were an unfamiliar pressure, I didn’t have much headspace back then to take the time I had and to be in the places I was in. This time I think a spot of maturity worked wonders. I enjoyed the classes almost as much as I enjoyed the shows. And more importantly I learnt how to properly activate my daytimes. In the past if I’ve had an evening show I’ve found it very hard to give my full attention to anything in the daytime leading up to it. AFTLS is the company that taught me how to do that and credit where credit is due. Without having the children that so many of my contemporaries have managed, it’s been easy to just use the mornings to recover from the adrenaline, or failing that from the alcoholic self abuse that can result from the adrenaline comedown. Living with Brian, who will rise by half seven no matter what he’s done to himself – it helped me activate my downtime better. I still can’t do the thing he does. But I’m closer to it. And the pressures of teaching a load of Air Force Cadets to be awake and alert with text first thing in the morning – it wakes you up as well.

I’m home and it’s not even 1. That doesn’t sound like an achievement but it is. The bath is running. I’m winding down properly. I’ll be into rehearsal tomorrow at ten for Christmas Carol. I might have a cup of herbal tea. Or a hot toddy. But I’m on the wind down. Post show I’ll often be the last man standing. My natural adrenaline production is probably disproportionate. I love the stuff, and I get a big old hit of it.

Most of the other guys had family in tonight. I had friends. My friends are my family, of course, and they came up trumps. There were some lovely surprises, some from a long time ago, some very familiar faces from more recently.

The show was a blast. I was uncharacteristically nervous, probably because my head is already buried in the next show so I wasn’t sure I could remember this one. My self monitor didn’t switch off for most of the first half, which is unusual. As a result it wasn’t my best, but I know that the nuances in my view of my own work are mostly personal and based on strange inherited insecurities. The audience had a great time I’m sure. And so did I. I probably sweated two litres. But it was happy sweat.

Now I’ve got dodgy reduced Mac and cheese, a hot bath and a hot toddy. Tomorrow we will hit our last bit of detail work for Christmas Carol before we open on Wednesday, and I’ll have to keep a little bit of myself back in order to be full forward for one more night of Belch. He’s a dangerously addled psychotic for me. I’m channeling my mayhem. It’ll be nice to be able to cut my hair though, when it’s finally done.



Dress rehearsal

Carol dress rehearsal tonight. It’s a very different space. I’m surrounded. Previous shows have given me a powerful spot, where I can exist and dominate the whole room. This time I’ve always got someone behind me. I feel a little sick having inhaled tons of fake snow. I also feel exhilarated to know that we are close to opening and as ever it’s a lovely show.  It’s really joyful. I always forget until I remember. Christmassy Christmas. Oh joys and wonders.

Apparently the fake snow isn’t toxic. I went and looked at the packet as I reckon I’ll be accidentally eating a few tonnes of the stuff before January. We ran the show for a small invited audience, in order to test the structure in this new room. It’s good, of course, and Jack and I have room to enjoy ourselves and tell the story. I was slightly hampered by the fact I was wearing no contact lenses, and it’s very dark in there. I couldn’t see a fucking thing. I think I was mostly talking to Jack, although I stepped on a hat and probably delivered a few lines to a bit of furniture thinking it was a person.

Now I’m home and about to put a chicken in the oven. I haven’t eaten all day and I barely ate yesterday. Kitkat might come home and help eat, but even if she doesn’t I reckon I can singlehandedly polish off that chicken. I’m damned if I’m not going to try. We had a couple of pints after the showing, and I need to teach my body that there are other ways of gathering nutrients than just the bottom of a glass. I might open a bottle of something. But I won’t be awake past ten. Too much on.

Tomorrow it’s Twelfth Night again. I feel schizophrenic. I know that Toby is still in my head somewhere, but I’m cluttered. The good thing is that I got back in time to reset the jetlag. Some of the others will still be confused. Contractually we have to arrive back at least three days before the London shows, and based on my experience last week that makes perfect sense. I’ve never had such lag, but that’s the longest I’ve ever spent in America since I was a wee bairn.

I’m home again, sitting waiting for the oven to warm up. I’ve had a good day and seen some dear friends. I still can’t switch on the telly as I keep forgetting to buy an hdmi cable, but the walls aren’t closing in this time. I’m feeling good. Christmas Carol does that. It’s about meeting lots and lots of random individuals and mining into what makes them happy. It’s the strangest acting job, but one of the most beautiful. I will continue to love this show.


I walked home through Christmas London. I saw beautiful happy looking buildings filled with people whose body language and spirit were totally shut. Open doors in pools of light revealing closed down dark human beings. Everybody left our showing open. That’s the magic of Carol. Bring it on.