Outlet

So it begins. The big long journey back to Chelsea. We were in Earl Haig Hall tonight. Another corking show. This project fills me with joy. Wonderful people doing difficult work together. The problem with working the Crouch End Festival is that Crouch End is the other side of the world from where I live. I suppose when our first show was in Pimlico I was lucky. So now I have to pay it back in travel time.

Today was a low responsibility show for me, as far as they go. I didn’t speak for the whole first half. Then I was Lady Macduff and Siward. Lady Macduff has a beautiful self contained scene. It’s a masterclass in writing by the old bastard. God he’s good. We need to care about the “pretty chickens and their dam” to care about Macduff beating Macbeth. So we see a sad mother actively caring for her son, wanting him to have a father figure. We see her as her inner turmoil regarding her husband’s flight causes her to let her personal shit overcome her need to cleanly educate the boy. We then see her son unpacking that suspicious logic. Then there’s an amazingly human, self deprecating messenger. “If you can take a homely man’s advice,” (beautifully implying how utterly stunning lady Macduff must be.) Then she sees her son die trying to protect her, and runs. Her fate is not unpacked but it definitely ends in her death, and Shakespeare takes it off stage. It’s a remarkably crafted short part and a joy to speak.

Then Siward. It was my first Siward tonight. We’ve combined young and old into one character, who essentially works like the guy in The Shining who you think is going to sort it out, but dies almost immediately. It ended up being about me and a Tesco van. By the time Siward came into play we had significantly spilled out into the road behind the hall. As I was about to enter, an actor I know of old clocked me on the street, walking home. That’s Crouch End for you. “Al! Good to see you man!” I am about to go and speak lines I’ve never spoken out loud in context before. I have no time for niceties. I come across as pretty cold.

I end up lying on the road being killed by Maddy’s Macbeth whilst old friends with tights on their heads hold back a Tesco van that might run over my head. As soon as I’m properly dead I stand up with tights on my head too and wave the bemused driver through.

It’s golden, this show. Afterwards at the bar an Irish woman says to me twice (because I blocked it the first time) “You’re actually very good.” I guess she had watched me be silent for the whole first half with tights on my head. The shock of understanding I could speak too had catalysed her into needing to express that surprise. It’s an old bad think, that one, brought on by the way many industries work. “The actors in the smaller parts are somehow lesser than the actors in the bigger parts.” It is of course entirely flawed. But it’s rife. I just told her “I’m glad you enjoyed it.” I couldn’t be bothered to explain. Leila only had about three lines tonight. Last night she played Macbeth and smashed it. 8 women and 5 men tonight. I love this project. You might find I’m banging on about it until it’s done on Friday. Maybe if you’re free in Crouch End Thursday or Friday you could come. Fuck knows who I’ll be playing. But it’s my creative outlet, and it’s about the show, not my specific work. We are all working in the same direction, evenly.

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Hornsey Town Hall

On a gorgeous afternoon, me and some very dear friends of mine gather together in Hornsey Town Hall. Some of us have been meeting like this for years now. We haven’t got a clue what’s about to happen. But we’ve got each other, a work ethic, and a shared knowledge that runs deep. And there’s a whole lot of love in the room. It’s The Factory again. There are many of us. We come together and make theatre. Right now it’s Macbeth.

Crouch End Festival have got us a different venue every night, with no show on Wednesday which suits me as I’ll be in Birmingham training people to be better at peopling and won’t be back in time. This evening we are in the old council chambers at Hornsey. Wood paneling. Beautiful old window weights. Untouched period flooring. Gorgeous old clocks. It’s a stunning old interior that’s about to be ripped out and replaced by faceless cookie cut flats owned by conglomerates based outside the UK and rented to young professionals at just enough over what they can afford that they can never feel entirely free. It’s only the exterior of the building that’s listed. “We can rip out all these nasty old oak panels for you, darling. Put in some good quality chipboard. Lovely.” We are giving the place a last hurrah before it becomes poison.

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I’ve come in a three piece. I’m trying to dress well. I’ve got three of them now. I loved my armour so much I bought more. As a result I end up on the festival’s music stage between acts, wordlessly flanking Leila as she announces the show on the mic. Why me? “You and Maddy are dressed beautifully. It shows we mean business. Wear your sunglasses.” Hilarious. And odd. What of my usual uniform of stained trousers and disintegrating T-shirt? Does that not show I mean business as a “proper artist”? It does to me. But the language of capitalism is entrenched over generations and our instincts are visually wired to this instinctive false-meritocratic tyranny of appearance. If you can afford to dress smartly, people trust you because it’s clear that you can afford to dress smartly. I may as well play the game for a while and see what changes. So I’ll be clean shaven a bit. But I digress.

I’m Banquo again, which is a delight as I know the words deeply without any thought so I can run endless interference on myself and not get discombobulated. It’s why I’m learning other parts, so I don’t get stuck in comfort. But comfort is a lovely place to start this, our first run of Factory Macbeth. It’s gonna be a lovely week.

We ended up on the street. We moved for every act. The show comes alive with the obstacles, and there were plenty of obstacles to overcome, including a huge amount of people who had been watching something else and had to walk through the scene to exit the building, in a continuous stream throughout most of act 4.

I’m looking forward to this week. Lots of joy to come. Crouch End is annoyingly far from my home, but our first show was ten minutes from me so I’ll take the rough with the smooth. Here we go! 7pm every night. Tomorrow (Monday) at Earl Haig Hall. I’ll be doing small parts probably. Tuesday (I think) sold out. No show Wednesday. Thursday Friday somewhere in crouch end. I think a church one night and possibly the town hall again? I’ll find out. Message me if you want to come. Only a tenner.

 

Sports Day

I don’t have one of those things on my phone that keep track of steps but I feel like I’ve walked 500 miles today. I’m on King’s House School sports ground in Chiswick. There’s an international consultancy firm that has an annual sports day. I googled them and the average salary is something like 80k. None of the staff are over 40. It’s like children of the corn. They probably burn out. Work hard. Play hard. Make money. Retire aged 40. Live on a yacht thereafter, hoovering up coke to recreate the feelings of stress that have become a way of life. Die a decade or two later of an overdose in a dark room somewhere hot.

They’re having fun today though. Competitive fun. It’s a big event. Extremely busy. Staff from 30 countries organised into teams competing bitterly at volleyball, touch rugby, 6 a side football and (with highest stakes), 11 a side football.

While they injure themselves and each other they are cheered on by living topiary, unicycle jugglers and Ghanaian acrobats. They have brought their own entertainment as well. Horns, helmets, cheerleader costumes, camel costumes, loads of flags, ridiculous mascots…

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(I have no idea what this guy was even supposed to represent. I pretended I was his biggest fan. He followed me around afterwards asking for money.)

“I feel like I’m at Wilderness,” says Helen, my friend and fellow festival denizen who is working alongside me. It’s because we are exhausted and mildly confused in a field while a DJ plays music and random things occur.

People stand on each other’s heads. A strongman tests his strength with a mallet and rings the bell. Young women hand out free popsicles. “Chilli and Mango or Strawberry and Mint.” Two men encourage us to take pot shots at coconuts. Big ones, small ones, some as big as your head! I need water and suntan lotion. The topiary asks me for a hug. My feet hurt. At some point I think I eat lunch. One of us lobsters in the sun. I’m in a black suit. Everyone not working is in shorts. I’m boiling. Oh look, The Red Arrows. Not for us though.

They are throwing their rubbish all over the place these people. It’s unbelievable. They’re scattered across the playing fields and every one of them is casually hurling their crap into the grass. There’s an army of caretakers litterpicking and we managers are joining in when duty allows, but still it keeps mounting up. Nobody gives a shit. We surround them with bins. They ignore them. They take one sip out of a water bottle and throw it on the floor. If they want more water they get another bottle and do it again.

By 5pm I desperately want a sports massage but the masseurs have been backed up all day. Four of them. They literally haven’t stopped. I go upstairs for five minutes to put my feet up. The door bangs open and in comes Robbie. “I’m the forklift driver. I need the keys to the forklift. Got to get the portaloos out.” “It’s five. The guests are on site until 6.30. You can’t move the loos until then.” He is not happy with this. He wants the key badly, I’m imagining him lifting up loos with clients inside them. My manager tells him no. The venue won’t give him the keys anyway. He gets very physically anxious. I go back on site just to walk around and ask people if they’re ok again as that’s a major part of this job.

An hour and a half later I find the key to the forklift and give it to Robbie. He is almost dancing with anxiety. I assume he’s just in a hurry. He goes and gets the the thing. Brings it round slowly. Then after an extremely uncomfortable twenty minutes where he very nearly upends a cludgie on himself he gets out red faced and sweating. “I can’t operate THAT forklift.” he announces like it’s my fault.

I end up sending him two big lads from the derigging team. They use leverage and bulk to get the loos onto the trailer without anyone getting spattered in anything horrible. No wonder “Robbie the forklift driver” got there so early and so anxious. He wanted to sit in his cabin and Google how to operate that particular forklift. We’ve all winged it from time to time.

I’ve been writing this piecemeal in snatched breaks throughout the day. The sun is almost gone now and it’s starting to rain. People are loading big piles of wood into vans. Brazil won the volleyball. London won the 6 a side, I think. I wasn’t really paying attention. I know Germany won the 11 a side because they all wanted a beer after the match and were asking me for one while the bar staff were shaking their heads and making neck-cutting gestures in my peripheral vision to the extent that I had to shrug my shoulders and fob them off with generic moaning about the arbitrary nature of licensing laws.

I thought to check the forklift and the keys were in the ignition. Apparently this site is regularly broken into at night. I may have just stopped a slew of drunken atm robberies. Although to be honest I doubt drunk South London kids would be able to operate the thing any better than poor Robbie.

When I’m finished I have to decide whether or not to go to a party. I’ve been walking since 7am. I can’t feel my feet. I might still go. Burning out at 40 is for chumps.

I sit and finish this during a snatched break. The cleaners are sitting near me. They’re done. “I’m not picking up any more shit today, we can do it tomorrow. I’ve never seen a group litter like them before. Apart from those South Americans in the yellow and green. They were lovely.” Well done Brazil. You won more than just the volleyball.

 

 

 

 

Giraffes

This morning I woke up naturally at 5.30 so I bounced around the flat thinking about my audition. Had eggs. Chanted. Fed the cat. The audition was in Southwark which was a happy coincidence. I was working there anyway in the morning.

I say working. I put on my ringmaster coat and Scrooge’s top hat, and grabbed a riding whip. My job?

First of all I met two delightful women who were dressed up as giraffes. Back in the mists of time there was a circus in Southwark, and the giraffes lived north of the river in a warehouse. They would be transported northwards over the bridge in the dead of night. Back then the Camelopard was an unfamiliar and intimidating creature and the shadows of the night were considered the best time to move the strange beasts in order to minimise consternation. A few drunken spouses might have returned astonished from late night boozing. “There was a spotted horse thing. With a long neck like a serpent, but with horns. And a black tongue.” “Go to bed dear. You’re drunk again.”

Every year at this time Southwark council spills a load of actors out onto the street with things loosely connected to the district, as part of Merge Festival, in an exercise purely designed to make people smile. This year, for today only, I was the ringmaster. I have now passed the baton, and the costume, to another actor who is more reliably available than I am. I’ve got stranger fish to fry.

So I was on the street with two giraffes. Two wonderful actresses dressed as giraffes. And we were “playing” in the truest sense of the word. We were finding out how to get grown ups outside Southwark tube to behave like children, and positively encouraging them to do so. It was beautiful and surprising. For me the highlight came with Jenny, who must have been eighty and clearly hadn’t had silly fun for a long long time. She sang to the giraffes, who honked back to her. Then they all danced ring a ring a roses. It seemed right. She was so thrilled and confounded and charmed I found it very moving. She stayed with us for ages, grinning from ear to ear. It made my day. All you need is one encounter like that. And we had many more than one. We went from joy to joy. The giraffe-women were simultaneously extremely inventive and remarkably charismatic, and people were drawn to their hilarious costume and endearing behaviours. All I had to do was put on my bombastic idiot hat, and hard-sell how glorious the beasts were, whilst occasionally whipping myself, or gathering people together to celebrate some other aspect of the circus – The best cyclist in the world was fun when the lights were red in rush hour. I have no doubt someone has me on their helmet-cam announcing their prowess.

In the midst of this I changed my clothes and went to a lovely audition, 5 minutes from the crossroads where I’d been working. My first note in the audition was essentially “Shall we try it again without you being a ringmaster?” Oops. We did so. Half an hour after the meeting I was back in the top hat and green tails and whip rolling up the crowds.

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I love my life. More random stuff tomorrow. So much random tomorrow. Must sleep. Zzzx

 

 

 

Beanbag

“When are you going to pick up this giant beanbag? My dad doesn’t like it in the living room. He keeps kicking off about it.”

Sometimes I agree to things and then forget. My friend bought a giant beanbag to lie on between shows. When the run came to an end she had a beanbag, no room in the living room, and a dad who doesn’t like new things anyway. “I’ll take it. The amount of people I have round my flat. There’s always use for a beanbag.” That’s what I said a few weeks ago.

Then I forgot I’d said it, and went to a festival on the day I said I’d collect it. My friend has been keeping it for me  whilst I had forgotten it existed. I wasn’t working today so I zoomed up to Primrose Hill and loaded it into the back of an uber. “What is that thing?” asked Bashir. “It’s a beanbag. Like a big bed cushion thing. It’s really light. But it’s huge. My friend didn’t want it.” Bashir wasn’t impressed. He just grunted. At the end of my trip he shook my hand and said “5 stars, yes?” 2 minutes later I watched my rating drop by 0.03. Bastard 4 starred me. But now I have a beanbag.

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It’s a hit with Pickle. I’m lying on it right now and she’s curled up by me purring like a train. I expect it will be a catastrophe of moulted hair before long. So I’ll make use of it before she claims it entirely.

And now as evening falls I’m lying in my comfy beanbag writing this so I can get on and swot a scene for a meeting tomorrow. Theatre auditions. Should you be off book, or just very familiar? Answers on a postcard. I didn’t actually realise there were sides until today despite the meeting landing a few days ago. I just assumed they’d ask me to look at various sections and talk about them. I’m glad I noticed. Better late than never. It was one of the sections I assumed they’d want to look at anyway so I’m golden. And at least now I’ve got a wide angle on the piece. It could be the answer to the “What the heck am I going to do with my summer now?” question. Although I’d have to weedle out of my obligations at Wilderness Festival. But that’s a fair exchange for a paid August at The Underbelly.

I haven’t been back to Edinburgh for a very long time. I crashed through it in a 5 star show about 15 years ago, and then bounced back a few times as van driver / free ticket rinser / enthusiastic drunk friend. I have wanted to go back for a while now but it’s punishingly expensive. This could be a good shot, and depending on the Showtime I might trial my one man show on the free fringe in the last week, and see if I can get a few rotten tomatoes to cure my festival malnutrition. Of course, I’ve got to get the part first. But that’s just a formality. 🙂

The apparel oft proclaims… (How often do you look at a man’s shoes?)

I’m walking through the streets of Chelsea in an immaculate three piece suit on this perfect summer evening.

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I have a tattered brown canvas bag, a flat cap, and a pair of 20 year old Brasher walking boots, more frequently used for dancing than walking, falling apart, absolutely covered in mud. None of this would have occurred to me to share with you had I not just walked past a woman and wished her a good evening. Her eyes measured my suit, then dropped to the footwear. Her cheeks sucked in and her lips pursed, fixated on the boots. She remained statue still as I passed her. Her disapproval was palpable, unless she somehow mIsheard “Good evening” as “I’m going to kick you.” I’ve got a four pack of beer in my tatty bag. Had I been a split second quicker off the mark I’d have pulled one out and offered it to her, just for giggles. Probably for the best I didn’t. She’d have called the police.

I remember as a small boy a friend of my parents told me by way of a useful titbit : “You can always tell the quality of a man by the quality of his cufflinks.” Aged 12 I stored it in the “How to be a grown-up” section, along with “One day you’ll like kissing just as much as they do in this film,” and “When you’re older you’ll wish somebody was offering you whisky this good.” I do now. Feel free to offer me. Unlike the other two things, that started to make sense eventually, the cufflink thing never did. How can you tell the quality of a man based on something he has voluntarily dressed himself with? But then I started to see how many people never leave school. Binary options. Right and wrong. Enforced over and over again.

You can wear the wrong shirt with the wrong hat. The wrong hat with the wrong watch. The wrong watch with the wrong trousers. Even the wrong branded ski suit in the wrong resort. “This is St. Moritz darling, not Aspen.” Drive the wrong model of car. Walk the wrong dog. Do the wrong exercise. Marry the wrong type of person. Live the wrong type of life. To make sense of the endless palate of choice that we have, people navigate narrow journeys through a flowing cornucopia, and lavish judgement on everyone who does it differently. I was wearing the wrong suit for the boots, I suppose. In the wrong area. And my shirt doesn’t even do cufflinks because I bought it in Primark. If it did they wouldn’t match. They’re all in singles these days. I usually wear a scrabble piece and a silver tiffany. I suppose that means I’m the type of person who doesn’t give a crap about cufflinks. So maybe there’s that…

The trick is to make the thing you do into the right thing to do. Most people who make that sort of judgement – they don’t have much will. Just you wait. In a years time everyone will be going to society parties in a three piece with walking boots and mismatched cufflinks.

Volunteering

Deep in The Amazon, there is a refrigeration unit. It’s hot in the Amazon. Too hot. The unit doesn’t refrigerate properly. It got carried there by a tidal wave. There’s no power. Still, it’s home for some steam. The steam wishes he was an ice cube again. His family is all melted. He is calm, but there he is still he still stuck in his broken fridge home in the Amazon, making the best of it, growing vegetables. Until suddenly an angry visitor arrives… What does she want?

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I’ve been mentoring again, teasing creativity out of kids who might otherwise go unheard by getting them to write plays. I’m being an adult – as far as I’m capable – in their company. Sadly I think this is the last time I can do it for this season. I’ve just booked some work over the writing weekend and I have to prioritise that work. I need to clarify with the guys I’m working for about exact dates, but I think it takes me out of the picture for the writing weekend. Shame. I’ve enjoyed it immensely so far, and I care about the kids now. They’re great, and bonkers.

It’s pleasant to volunteer. It came out of the same thinking that led me to the last few blogs. I sometimes have too much time on my hands. In this feast or famine work it’s either no time to think or endless time to overthink. If you spend that endless time vanishing into bad patterns you can burn yourself out. Two routes that won’t kill you:

1: Obsess about self improvement. “Look at my muscles, I only eat kale now, my spiritual sister is an emu, I’m reading Tolstoy backwards in Russian.” That’s not my crack.

2: Occupy yourself with other people’s stuff, and thus forget about your own bollocks. Spend ages worrying about other people’s shit. Help them out with it. Work through it. Years down the line notice how your previously broken friends are unbelievable zen warriors kicking the world in the balls. End up hanging out with loads of amazing people who know things deeply. Win.

It’s been working fine so far. I love helping sort through people’s crap with them. It’s so much easier than sorting my own. I’ll help do things with others that I won’t do for myself, and I’ll find it easy. So, volunteering is a joy. I want to do more of it. But also as I write I find myself telling myself to remember to try and allocate time to myself too. Maybe I need to go towards #1 for a bit and learn how to break metal with my abs and eat less crap. Especially since I’ve got the spiritual stuff largely sewn up even if I don’t directly blog about it often. Never fear though. No emus involved. And I don’t think I can see dead people.