Rehearsal

My living room is full of clothes. I’m back on the sofa tonight. Got to pack for a week in Manchester, but right now I’m stuffed with reduced pork medallions and gravy, and Darren and I are eating ginger biscuits. Rock and fucking Roll, sexy February.

I managed to persuade my bank to return the deposit from the van hire early, and then timed my trip to Tesco perfectly to get all the reduced stuff. Hence the (relative) feast. There’s a .76p packet of bacon for breakfast too. If the reduced Gods hadn’t been kind, the other option for dinner would’ve been too stark to contemplate. Darren woke me up this morning throwing two Pot Noodles onto the bed. “I nicked these at work for ya.” he said. My mouth said “Thanks.” My stomach wasn’t so sure. Although I did a few days on weetabix with hot water and Heinz Baked Beans and still made it to work. Pot Noodles have got PEAS in them. They’re practically a vegetable, no?

Today was another rehearsal day. I walked in through the sunshine. Such a beautiful morning. There were the stems of daffodils poking up in the morning light in St James’ Park. Soon now they’ll bloom, colour will come back, and the cold will be banished again.

I’m still loving this process, which is why I’m not too concerned about coming into rehearsal a lot more than I expected to. James has a great director’s eye, and the young actors are ace. Maria is a Welsh redhead with brilliant attack. Tony is a Scotsman with such an upper body that his movement is restricted, but a gorgeous tenor. They look right together. And she climbs down from the balcony to him, which I love. The songs are taking shape too. There’s some real beauty in this. It’s a funny sparky lot. Lots of different accents body types and backgrounds, but everyone competent. And right now it’s just a load of people in their own clothes in a room. Up in Manchester they’re building a set and sourcing loads of costumes and props. Next week we’ll be airlifted into context with all the production and lights and colours. There’s always a physical shift when I first wear my costume and put the shoes on etc. In my process it informs the movement patterns of the guy I’m playing. Clothes tend to want to be worn a certain way. I’m looking forward to finding out how I can combine this strange messy psycho with whatever they give me to wear.

I took this photo while they were rehearsing “Somewhere.” It’s an illustration of the difference between rehearsal and performance. The song is glorious, and there won’t be a dry eye in the house. But a rehearsal snap out of context is just a load of people standing in a room while more people sit behind a table thinking, or writing notes and emails.

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To be honest, I wrote some good emails too, around the time I took that crap picture. Even got a reply. That’s unheard of!! Sexy February continues…

Chicken

There’s something about a roast chicken. My mum and my grandmother used to do them all the time. I still have their carving knives and their chopping board. They always used to have wishbones drying in the kitchen, waiting for the right wish. If I were to give up meat I think roast chicken would be the last thing to go. Making it at home I’ve got to an almost ritualistic simplicity where I smash it all out and it all tastes divine. I sometimes even make it when I’m home alone. I know it’s not going to go to waste. Today I didn’t have to do anything though, which was sheer bloody luxury.

Flavia roasted one round hers. She wouldn’t even let me do the washing up, so I just chilled out with Ivo and played with his Transformers. He’s into the 1980’s cartoons, and has a toy of “Blaster” who turns himself into – among other things – an eighties style ghetto blaster, complete with removable cassette. Hours were spent incompetently trying to transform him into his various guises. It’s a brilliantly articulated toy, but you need a degree in engineering.

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We all had a very civilised lunch around the table, and then decanted into the living room to watch a movie. “Oh look, Lalaland is on Netflix,” said Flaves. She’s about to go out there. I was thinking I would try to get back out myself for a short time around mid February, but it’s not looking practical for me this year. We put it on. Watching that hymn to that crazy city made me feel the distance. I miss the rescue dogs I lived with, I miss Mark and Laural, the Guildhall and Factory crowd out there, the Brits in LA, the people I met on my little strange excursion.

I could use some of that positivity. Some of that sunshine. Some of that vitamin e. The end of the film is terrifically sad, to me. About all the things that could have been in love. It always makes me weepy, and Flavia was much the same. Ivo picked up on it and started howling. Eventually his mum got to speak and asked him what was wrong. He explained: “I’m SAD. AND I DON’T. KNOW. WHY.” Welcome to February, kiddo. Welcome to February. It does that unless you force yourself to reframe it as sexy.

Darren just got home from working security at a rave. We’ve both been those mashed up kids in the past, but right now the idea of it doesn’t appeal to either of us. “I was looking at them chewing their own faces off and I just thought ‘Thank God I’m on this side of the fence”.

We found ourselves talking about loss. We’ve both lost parents which is hard enough, even if sometimes you inherit a chopping board. But Darren lost a kid, and recently too. I can’t imagine. The tendrils of a loss like that must go deep. I’m glad he’s in my room for the moment. This flat has a peace where people can reconstruct themselves. And Brian is in Essex so I get his bed…

 

Speeding home to kindness

I’ve been reading a lot about “smart motorways” lately. The way they’re being touted, they’re motorways where you will always be caught speeding. “If you drive over 70mph you WILL be caught.” I was driving into the dawn this morning on the M6 and M1, and it felt much like business as usual. People were still passing me at 80. All it meant was that I had a little less focus on the road in front and a little more focus on the sides of the road and my speedometer, looking for those cheeky dangerous little revenue generators and making sure that the numbers were in my favour and I hadn’t drifted over 70 in tune with the empty road. It definitely keeps you alert. No chance of dozing where the consequences of a slip are a fine and an interminable course where some chinless wonder earns his crust by showing you pictures of dead people. There are a lot of cameras now, all lined up on the side of bridges, feathering the nest, buying us guns with the careless-dollar.

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It was a beautiful dawn. I only rarely see the dawn but there it was, unavoidable, directly in front of me for a moment as I came through the midlands. I was spanking it to get back to the van hire in time to return it, but still had time to say “oooh”, before flooring it and turning south. (Obviously I stayed within the legal limit at all times. Rules and laws are very important to me. Safety > people.) I arrived at the van hire two minutes before the deadline and the guy was waiting outside – he needed to pass it immediately to someone else. Charlotte fed me curry last night and I didn’t open the windows on the way home. Whoever rented that van, I’m sorry. Perhaps that’s the reason they haven’t refunded my bloody £100 deposit yet. I gassed their next customers.

I’m lucky to have the friends I’ve got. I get great company AND good food. Farty dinner via Charlotte as well as a warm bed, company and kindness. Tasty breakfast via Emma, as well as cash for food, brilliant company and laughter. I tried to use my last tenner to pay but she wouldn’t let me. Instead she bought me sweeties and thrust some cash into my hands. Damn. I’ll do the same for her before long. That’s how it goes around in this fellowship. When we’re working we help out the ones who aren’t. All these beautiful stubborn low-income kind people with more empathy than acumen. Then I got home, and Brian bought the bits for and made a chili that’ll last a few days.

Now I’m hoping it rains itself out by Monday, as I’ll be back on Ahmeda, my lovely orange bike. Next week, around rehearsal for West Side Story I’ll be talking to a financial advisor (if they’ll take deferred payment) about trying to sort out my whole twisted mess of a situation once and for all. For now I’ll just enjoy this chili, drink no alcohol, watch crap films and hope that I don’t get any letters in the post about this morning.

La Van aux Camélias

I’ve been driving plants. They can’t drive themselves you see.

The morning witnessed me shouting “Are you the gardener?” through a fence into a private garden in Belgravia. She was the gardener, but she had no intention of letting me in. In virtually no time I was surrounded by gardeners. “I’m here to take a camelia,” I tried. “You’re not taking anything from this garden.”

Thankfully a terrifically pompous woman arrived just as I was about to start swearing, and parted the barricade just by naming their names. Before long I was staring at a plant as big as I am, while she folded her arms. “That’s the one. The biggest one,” she said, distancing herself physically from it. “Perhaps you should borrow a wheelbarrow?” She ventured.

15 minutes later, with mud all over my hands and a cut on my knee, the bastard thing was lying on its side in the back of a transit van. Then I swung by home to pick up Tom.

Tom – the mad fool – had accepted a lift back to Manchester with me . Via Sherborne! I suspected I might need help carrying, and I knew I’d need company. The two of us departed, upbeat and singing. The day was bright and sharp. We played car-games and the time flew by. Usually when I’m driving long distance I listen to Radio 4 and go into a thought tunnel. So his company was very much welcomed, and when I arrived in Sherborne I realised how lucky I was to have him. There is no way on God’s earth I’d have got those plants into the van without his help. I’d have had to flag down a car and bribe someone a tenner.

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The satnav then decided that the best route to Manchester was through Bristol City Centre in rush hour. With our van of camelias we started to go batshit crazy. Before long we were inventing characters and swearing at length at each other in them. The time flew by as a result, unlike the scenery. By the time we were out of the city it was dark and I was 4-0 up at Horse, but down at I-Spy. We made it to Manchester without incident, and still just about hanging onto our whatever sanity we had when we started.

The plants I was carrying were planted by Charlotte’s mother – (she’s my cousin outlaw). Periwinkles, snowdrops, love in the mist, a palm and, of course, that damned camelia. I dropped off Tom and eventually staggered up her driveway. Somehow we unloaded the fuckers. Now she has them to remember her mother by. What a glorious organic legacy. Life after death. The snowdrops were in bloom too.

And that is the extent of my day. A little bit of shouting, a spot of heavy lifting, hours and hours of driving in good company, and occasionally a little sad thought. Now I’m sitting post prandial on a sofa with a dog and a camomile tea. Spring is coming. Good old Spring. Life and death and daffodils.

I’m out at 5am to get the bloody van back in time. I’m bad enough in the morning without having to drive 4 hours. I’ll be swearing to myself all the way home in all sorts of different voices, and there’ll be no Tom to swear back. It’s almost eleven. Sleep.

Pets

I’m not feeling it tonight. I’m home now. Brian is away so I’ve got his bed. I’m about to have a bath and get in it. I’m feeling very sober, in the sense that I’m remembering why I drink. It’s this ineffable sense of malaise that creeps up on me and makes me feel raw. And which is completely impossible to maintain when Pickle leaps onto your belly and starts burrowing and purring, as she just has. Now she’s bumping my phone with her nose. She wants attention. I love the bond and trust that we’ve built, this mad tiny cat and I. If she hadn’t blindsided her way in, my life would be the poorer for it. She won’t let me feel sad.

I just showed Darren where her food is kept and talked him through her simple needs for when I’m in Manchester. It’s great that the flat is always full of people. She is much quicker at making friends these days than the scaredy cat we first met. I’m relieved knowing there’s an army of people waiting in the wings to look after her. She came straight to Darren. She’ll still hide if there’s a dog or a child though, which is a shame as there’s a dog in my block that could do with a bit more company. His owner is rushing around sorting things out and can’t get to him all the time so when things are slow I get to walk a dog as well as have a cat. But if I were to bring him up here to my flat – I tried once – all hell would break loose. The hound immediately polished off Pickle’s breakfast, which is no way to make friends. After that she just stared with utter distaste at him, every hair erect, hiding in all manner of out of reach places and occasionally jumping out of her skin, knocking everything over and yowling.

Animals are great though. Both the dog and  the cat are perfectly happy with food and water, a bit of exercise, a soft place to sleep and the occasional cuddle. And here am I feeling all upset and angry because I’ve had a (half expected) knockback. I’ve got food and water. I had some exercise today. I’ve got Brian’s bed. And I get to cuddle the cat. Even when I’m trying to write my blog. Or sleep. Or work. Or go to the loo. Yep, she muscles in if I haven’t closed the door properly.

Pets definitely help us remember that all this shit is transitory. Their simple needs throw into relief our complicated desires. Their example is particularly valuable in these days of way too much choice. They eat the same crap every day. Although some people do too. Tom was walking the dog this morning when he saw a Macdonald’s delivery to a house in Ormond Gate. It was a glorious crisp morning. There’s a Macdonald’s ten minutes walk from the house. And Macdonald’s is worse than horse poo. He said, “Who are these people that live in one of the most expensive parts of London, eat Macdonald’s and won’t even leave the house to get it?”

I’m getting distracted and it’s late. I’ve written some words in order here so the obligation is discharged. I haven’t really managed to put a shape on it, but Pickle can stare at a wall for half an hour without moving so I reckon I can occasionally send out a half-arsed blog. Especially with a long day tomorrow.

It was the first run of Act 1 of West Side Story today. I could’ve written about that. It was ace. But instead I got sad and frustrated and then the cat jumped on me. Here’s a picture of the dog. img-20180208-wa0001281119704.jpgGoodnight. Zzzzz
 

Bedrooms

I know that I deprioritise myself in favour of others. I’ve known it for ages. I’m trying to deal with it. Nevertheless I gave my bedroom to a friend who was in need. And another friend is on my sofa. Leaving me with nowhere to sleep despite having a bed and a sofa in a warm flat. Sometimes I honestly don’t know what the fuck is wrong with me. In most ancient civilisations I’d either be revered as a holy fool or I’d be long dead. As it is I’m still alive and have lots of amazing friends. I’m staying with one now. She’s awake when I arrive but she hasn’t slept for 48 hours because a party happened and then she had to go on a course. We eat some vegetables. She’s barely conscious but she munches them. Then she goes to bed, so I sit in the window and look out over London.

She lives on the ninth floor, overlooking a busy intersection. It’s high enough and glazed enough that the sound comes through the windows dampened. Nevertheless there are sirens and big engines – and there will be all night. Now she’s in bed I have a strange sensation as if I’m staying in an expensive hotel in an unfamiliar city. The muted sound of traffic through glazing, silence and darkness around me, a nocturnal cityscape laid out below me from an unfamiliar angle. Plus the knowledge that clean crisp white sheets wait for me in a bed I’ve never slept in with an ensuite bathroom. She’s a neater host than me. She keeps a beautiful home. It makes me realise that the next stage of sexy February has to be to clean up my living space. That and to stop being so amenable that I end up having to stay here in the first place.

A week off booze though, which feels like progress. Even if I’m still relying on prop beer like Becks Blue. Today I packed my home studio into my little travel bag and it fits perfectly, laptop and all! I took it to a house in Chiswick to do a little bit of voiceover for a friend. My expensive home studio. I carried it across London because my flat is so full I worried I couldn’t guarantee enough silence to record cleanly. It’s hard enough with just Pickle there. When you’re plugged in to a good microphone the world feels very different. You start to really notice if someone has a noisy coat. I had to wait ages for a helicopter that my friend couldn’t hear. We had to get a clock taken away because it was veritably screaming on the track. But we got it done and now I know my kit all fits in one travel bag. I arrived at my friend’s with said travel bag. “You’ve packed well,” she said. I’m here for two nights. I have 1 laptop, 1 microphone and stand, soundproofing, a pre-amp, the script of West Side Story, four unmatched socks and two pairs of pants. Bring it. Here’s the view. Doesn’t do it justice.

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Fronts

Behind a curtain in the Gatsby set there’s a room full to the brim with utterly random knick-knacks. Piles of wood, bolts of fabric, mannequins, dust, boxes full of junk, antique furniture, broken mirrors, empty boxes.

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I’ve been sexily sorting it out all day. Sexily because it is of course still sexy February. Heavy lifting and making money. Both sexy af.

As a child I used to be allowed in the staff area of The Kulm Hotel in St Moritz. My parents would be at The Sunny Bar, which was beautifully appointed and smelt of wood and glüwein. Max and I would play around the velvet curtains, and occasionally Erwin the head waiter would give us errands. “Go to the kitchen and ask Adolfo for more olives for the bar.” I would open a door dressed with velvet and panels and walk into a cracked unpainted corridor full of strange odours. The backstage area of the hotel. Piles of bin bags and buckets of spent oil and mops and cardboard boxes, just a thin wall away from where the Liechtenstein royal family were tucking into Eggs Bledisloe. Chefs shouting and laughing in the kitchen, working to feed terrifically wealthy men and women shouting and laughing just as loudly on the terrace.

The difference between a show and the working of a show is a fascinating space. We all inhabit it in some manner, those of us on social media. There’s Jack and I at the start of Carol tearing the lid off a beer carton to waft the smoke machine that I’m holding in my right hand and operating with my feet, with a remote control in my mouth and keeping a curtain closed with my knee while Jack rattles bolts and groans, and the audience goes “oooh” as if it’s a magic trick. There’s the Instagram “model” swaddled in makeup taking a thousand photos of themselves with a puppy over half an hour, before running one of them through so many filters their mother wouldn’t know them anymore, loading it up with hashtags and eventually captioning it something like “Quick snap of me and my puppy. Heart emoji. Puppy emoji.” There’s me writing this blog, and then reading over it, worrying and changing details, editing out content, adjusting phrases, tweaking, twerking, and finally scheduling it, manicured and pruned from the initial brain-dump. There’s social media: “Oh how wonderful our existence is!” That’s the show. The backstage area of each of our individual existences probably tells a different story.

I found out today that over 60 of my Facebook friends have accepted a friend request from a “catfish” that targets performers. Why have they accepted? Because her shopfront is immaculate and entirely credible, and the woman she’s using in her pictures has one of those “I think I’ve seen you before” faces. But put to the question, nobody recalls ever meeting her. She just… looks familiar – and shares lots of friends. She posts as a liberal creative woman with a brilliant existence, but she could be anyone, anywhere. It has been fascinating watching so many people realise she’s a massive catfish. Shows how easily we can be fooled by a good front.

Which is just as well considering I’m in theatre. Good on her whatever gender she really is, and whatever her reasons are for doing it. As long as she doesn’t steal anyone’s identity or do something craycray. I suspect she might just be lonely and living a lovely fantasy life with lots of glamorous virtual friends. If I can talk to a tennis ball in an entirely green studio, and the edit can show me anywhere you can imagine talking to anything or anyone, then she can put up a load of photos of someone else and write a happy hippy sunny existence with pictures of other people’s kids (until she got busted) then she’s good to dig into the profile of whoever accepts her friend request without checking. Caveat emptor. It works both ways.


This time last year it was the Superbowl