Back in town

Now I’m back in London I can’t quite fathom that I woke up in Wales. We all had breakfast and played a game of cricket in the sun. “Actors Vs Tractors.” The local team won, of course, despite my corrupt umpiring. I couldn’t play so I had no choice but to umpire. I realised they’d get our innings total almost immediately if I didn’t call their sixes fours. Nobody seemed to mind.

I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I’ve done myself an actual injury of some sort. But I’ve had enough people on my back (figure of speech thank god) telling me to go and get it checked that I’ll get a book and head to a&e in the morning. Now the adrenaline is out of my system I’m left not wanting to move very much at all. Yawning and laughing are out. Sneezes are hell. Thankfully according to the internet, if it’s a bust rib it’s only bad for a few weeks. We shall see about that.

Three of my friends, perhaps mimicking shades of my own brand of home brewed ridiculous blind kamikaze optimism have made comments like “It’ll be valuable for you to have to take things slowly for a while.” Problem is I doubt I’ll manage. I expect I’ll find the right cocktail of high grade pain medication, and trade my pancreas for still being able to jump on tables. Although maybe… maybe I’ll be smarter than that. After all, I didn’t go skinnydipping last night. I made it to the river with everybody else but even in the state I was in a little voice cried “Your dressings are still on you ridiculous moron. And you won’t be able to pull yourself out of the water.” Stupid inner voice. But fair. I shouldn’t take risks right now as my poor long suffering guardian angel is limping around with two black eyes. And skinnydipping in an unfamiliar river drunk in the pitch blackness with a fucked back and dressed wounds technically constitutes a risk.

Macbeth feels good though. Early stages. We are learning and refining the game while introducing new players to how it plays live. The two shows we have had have deepened our shared knowledge. Now we’ll go back to training, and before long I hope I can say that there’ll be some shows in London, on the old pop up basis. Past projects have run in such a way that you can take whatever other acting work comes as all the parts are shared many ways, but if you are free you can put yourself in the mix. It’s one of the reasons there are so many of us. We are likely to go back to that way of playing. The advantage is that we can then pursue our careers outside of this fellowship and know that it’ll be there when we’re free. The concern is that you can never predict who you’ll play on any particular night so inviting family is a crapshoot.

Already at The Willow Globe there was a feeling of shared ownership of the work though and shared connected spontaneous invention. I was glad to be a part of these beginnings. And which other company would immediately think of it as an interesting advantage having a slightly injured actor in a major role?


I only took one photo today. Anne-May stayed in Wales. She’ll be staying with a local family, exploring, and then hitching a lift back to London. The kids who saw the show were thrilled they get to keep her. It’s like when you come to the zoo and your ask if you can take one of the animals home. Here they are, taking one of the actors home. It’s unlikely she’ll eat them alive. She’s a vegan.

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Doldowlod and Macbeth

IMAG1081In 2006, Phil Bowen and Sue Best planted a theatre near Llandrindod Wells. They built it from a living willow tree. It’s deep country, and it’s glorious. Since 2007 The Factory have been coming out once a year to bring something new. It’s a way of breaking in new members to the nature of the work we do. We have a loyal audience who are completely behind the way we work. It’s become a part of my theatre calendar that I’m always sad to miss. Last year I was in Dubrovnik. This year, though, I was free. I came up and played Banquo.

I’m not sure why I’ve often been Banquo through the years. “Doomed nice guy” was my suggestion when I was asked. He’s got edges though. It was lovely to explore those with the guys.

Unfortunately it hurts. I think I might have cracked or broken a rib. I’m in quite a high level of pain most of the time. If I’m honest, it really really fucking hurts. Thankfully there’s plenty of painkillers. I’ve just munched a load of codeine so I’m feeling pretty good right now. And I’ll probably have a glass of champagne on it so comprehensibility is going to be waning from here on in.

The shows were exactly what I love from Factory shows. People working together in the moment to create ephemeral joy. I hid my pain in the first show, and would’ve done so in the second as well, until Maz suggested I just use it. And fair point, it’s real. So Banquo was an invalid in the second show, which informed the fact that he didn’t expect to be able to go very fast on his horse.

Listening to the scenes I wasn’t in, some of the thoughts and arguments in Macbeth are so clear, so concise, so human. It’s an interesting play about the nature of bad ambition. I’m looking forward to digging deeper into it. These shows in Wales are just teething the project. Now we have a better sense of what this piece is we can dig deeper.

Now I’m heading back to Doldowlod Hall, where the direct descendant of James Watt is letting us stay in his mansion, with the continuation of his ancestors industrial revolution lucre. It’s the most beautiful place to stay, and they’re the most beautiful people to stay with. Loads of room, a swimming pool, long walks, sunshine, plenty of oak trees to fall out of. I’m in a minivan full of slightly tipsy actors who have just done two shows. I should probably get stuck into the singsong, as it might be a while before the 27 of us get together and do another beautiful crazy clear spontaneous show. But we will some time.

For now though I’ll shut this down and get on with being sociable. Here’s the theatre. God it’s glorious. And the perfect time of year to be here. Had it only been clear skies tonight, the full moon would’ve been visible and rising directly above the stage just as Duncan was murdered.

 

Taking a tumble

“You see,” says our host. “There’s a reason why, when we get to a certain age we stop climbing trees.”

Dammit. It seems I might appear to be a “certain age”. I will fight it down to the very marrow of my bones. But I did just fall ten foot and land on my back. Apparently at this time of year you can’t trust oak trees. My host continues: “They push their limbs out at this time of year, you know. That’s what would have happened.” Yes. I know that now! I witnessed that in terrific technicolour slow motion. A big old perfectly good living limb came off in my hands. Oooooooo noooooooo nooooooww fallllllllliiiing bang.

When I was 8 until I was about 12 I did judo at school. Classes were almost all about practicing breakfalls endlessly. I used to get so bored “I want to do throws” but I got good at breakfalls “You can’t be thrown until you can break.” I’ve often since then given terrific thanks for that dogma. I’d send my kids to judo. I’ve instinctively rolled safely through terrible forward tumbles. And I always break when I go backwards. This is the best example yet. There’s no skin left on either of my forearms but I still have the use of my legs. And it was a long drop. I now know what it means to be winded. My breath still isn’t back fully yet and it’s been an hour or two. I’m shaky too. I’m probably a little bit shocked.

Thankfully I wasn’t alone up that tree. Will, Carter and Kaffe were with me. Some of the lads had just had a profound bonding chat in an oak tree in Wales. Then I almost crocked myself. My first thought on landing was “Do my legs still work?” As soon as that was established (phew) my second thought was “How do I downplay this?” Pride comes before a fall. It seems it comes afterwards as well.

Will and Carter hung out with me as I lay in a bubble bath and tried to remember how to breath through the pain. I’ve done something very odd to the muscles in my back. I’ll probably curse myself for weeks.

So yeah. Idiot aside, I’m in Wales. Tomorrow I’ll be playing Banquo. Thankfully Banquo has just come back from a war. He clearly took a hit. It’s very useful for me to have my ability to run around and jump up and down temporarily curtailed. Means I can be properly grounded and just let the text work through me. So long as I get my breath back by then.

It’s a hell of a thing, being winded. For a while after landing it was everything I could do to get air into my lungs. I’ve seen people on videos make that noise, but now I know what it means. Ow. Right now though I’m still feeling a bit weird. I had some Ibuprofen and then Caroline told me with the solicitous tone of a doctor “You absolutely mustn’t mix Ibuprofen with alcohol. It destroys your pancreas.” Fuck my life. At least the drugs numb most of the pain. Only the awareness that I’m perceived as being too old to climb trees. Dammit. It’s a lie! I’ll have to numb that with sleep.

I love this place. 25 actors in a stately home. They’re all in small groups right now speaking verse and I’m sitting surrounded by their muted geekiness occasionally interjecting my thoughts on their discussions and mostly getting this written so I can go upstairs and crash. Here’s a photo of the digs taken from the tree about a minute before I stacked it. As far as actors digs go, I’ve definitely been in worse. 🙂

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The Space

I’m wandering through the monolith of Canary Wharf. It’s half past eleven. There’s nobody here but the cleaners driving around on their hoover buggies. All the lights will be on all night as always. All the big screen adverts lining the route to the head office of these companies that have the words “committed to the environment” front and centre on the website. They’ll be flashing away. All night.

I’ve been to the theatre. Surprise surprise. A two hander in the Isle of Dogs at a place called The Space. “Space” is an overused word in our job. You start to think of anywhere with a floor as a “space”. You walk into an aircraft hangar and almost without thinking say “what a fantastic space.” Because you’re always thinking about what you might be able to make in it.

The Space space is a good space. It’s an old church, very close to the marbled corridors of Canary Wharf. They’ve lit it well with loads of smoke (smoke makes nice!) and played a piece in the round. A major theme of the play included liver cirrhosis, which I found hard having watched someone close to me die of it. It was a two hander, a little over two hours long, about dying, loving and friendship. And homelessness and society. It was about a great deal. The cast had worked exceptionally hard over a very short time to get it on. I love watching shows like that. They’re the nuts and bolts. Two actors gushing sweat through every pore, right on top of us, fourth walling it for England, bleeding for us for 2 consistent hours with no interval. For them, it’s a way of serving their obsession, finding joy and getting fit.

For the first time ever in my theatregoing life, someone answered their phone in the seat after it rang lots at a sensitive moment. “Oh er sorry Roger I’m watching a play at the moment. I’ll call in a bit.” Bearing in mind I could easily have stuck my finger into both of the actor’s ears simultaneously without leaving my seat, the call was so egregious as to be almost wonderful. Only in Canary Wharf.

It’s the first time I’ve seen cirrhosis of the liver portrayed on stage. I was glad to, as it’s a horrible slow way to go, and it happens to a lot more people than we care to admit. It’s pretty heavily stigmatised so we don’t realise how prevalent it is. The actor, working on hints in the text, made a good shift of embodying it, even though he was in good shape himself. I found myself thinking back to the old “Surely there’s something I could have done” spiral where my loved one was concerned.

I drink a fair amount even if though I frequently get a handle on it and stop entirely. I sometimes think I’ll just draw a line under it for good and not miss it so much. It’s not as if my existence lacks stimulus. But drinking despite a cirrhotic liver? I can’t fathom it. Most of us assume we’re immortal when we’re kids. But as adults? Life is precious and intensely fragile. Death is a whisper away from all of us, always. And that’s brilliant surely. That’s the best thing ever! We’re breakable and one day we’ll break. But right now we ain’t broken. Right now we’re a mess of ambitions and hormones and hopes and frustrations and joys. And we’re all surrounded by each other, trying to make joy and comfort. All these pictures with sunsets that say crap like “live every day as if it was your last.” They’re clichés because they’re right.

Which reminds me. I’m out the other end of the tube now, and the moon looks almost full behind The Royal Hospital. Phone down eyes up.


Here’s Anne-May and I with the poster…

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Inner Temple

My friend Anne-May is staying in the Inner Temple. This is an ancient place, woven about with the church, the Templars, the Rosicrucians, the holy blood, the San Graal. And lawyers. Huge ancient religious stoneworks, with inexplicable symbolism connected via impenetrable manuscripts to obscure ideas and vague histories supported and maintained by pleasant baffled old men and set about with populist scholarship regarding all sorts. Early banks, Illuminati, assassinations, the location of the holy grail if only we knew or cared whether it was a cup or a womb or a bloodline or a vague excuse to tell stories about secrets and foment exclusive conspiracies that simultaneously unite and divide. Joseph of Arimathea. Mary Magdalene. Resurrected Jesus. It’s one of the convergence points of the Judao/Christian mythos in London.

It’s peaceful here, despite the conflicting stories. Right now I’m stuck inside the Inner Temple.

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I’m probably being hunted by monks who are actually lizardgods. I’ve got my bike so I can outrun them downhill. I’ve tried a few options that way to no avail, but I know that if I go uphill I can let myself out of a door in a huge black fence. I did an acting job here a few years ago and they told me it’s the only way out late. I’ll make my way there before long. Although what if that acting job was the lizardgods preparing me for tonight’s ritual?

If I don’t show up tomorrow morning, it’s because I’ve been caught and used as the virgin in some ancient ceremony involving goats, old men in hats and crap Latin.

For now I’m sitting writing this and it’s beautiful in the dusk. Nobody has come near me. I can cycle home once I’m done.

I’m thinking about gender, after seeing Rotterdam at The Arts Theatre. Go and see it. It’s wonderful. Any piece of art that helps us start to deconstruct binary gender is a useful piece of art. And this is a brilliant piece of theatre. It’s a love story, expertly told, and it deals with sexual identity and gender identity sensitively and thoughtfully. It opens a dialogue, and people talk animatedly after the show is over. It does that while being a tight piece of theatre. This is not a tubthumping reactionary piece. It’s a human story with some deep questions at heart about self identity, tolerance and traditional love. It’s hard to properly understand something we cannot feel ourselves. It’s also very easy to dismiss feelings that make us uncomfortable, within ourselves or perceived in others. This show is an empathy mouthpiece. I have enough people in my life that are not reactionary in general but that honestly and simply know that their sexual and gender identities are unusual. I understand it to be a deep, nuanced issue. I also feel how it can seem like a terrific privilege to even be able to worry about these matters in this country – although they’re life and death in others, and have been here in living memory. I know my own gender identity to be broadly cis but I still spent much of my childhood honestly feeling that I was supposed to have been a gay woman. That was connected to a deeply learned and fully understood distaste for the men I was surrounded by when I was pubescent.

I suspect most of us have complications if we are baseline honest and sift through the shit we condition ourselves with. But for most of us we settle into a calm understanding of our own desires and what they mean.

As I sit here surrounded by the monolith of thousands of years of patriarchy, I’m feeling very peaceful. Nobody has moved me on despite the fact I’m probably being observed through cameras. I’m a white male in a collared white shirt and glasses. I historically belong here. How lucky I am to be able to sit in this gorgeous Inner Temple surrounded by powerful architecture and landscaping, placidly wondering if maybe I’m supposed to be a woman while people have died and are dying for just such thoughts across the world right now.

—–

As if on cue, Ishmael showed up. He’d been watching me on CCTV and was worried I’d passed out. He moved me on, respectfully. He asked me if I was a member, and I lied yes, but he couldn’t fathom my decision to sit on the floor when there were lots of visible benches. “Sit on a bench!” “It’s alright. I’m heading home. I’ve been thinking about gender…” He was up for the discussion. We talked a long while. I’m home now but it’s late. Night porter is a pretty dry job. Good on you, Ishmael. On the surface a very traditional God-fearing man, but able to think outside the frame enough to deliberately pursue a line of thinking he initially found uncomfortable.

I’m so glad to have seen Rotterdam again, in the West End this time after it netted an Olivier for the team. It’s a great blend of story and question. It’s fun, it gently pokes at our gender and sexuality assumptions and it’s produced by Brian who most of you will know by now is a total fucking legend. Here’s the link.
https://artstheatrewestend.co.uk/whats-on/rotterdam/

Mobsters in the Ballroom

I always try to dress smartly when I arrive on set, even knowing that I’ll immediately end up in costume. It’s something I was taught on an early job by an actor I admired. His advice bore fruit today when the wardrobe guy hadn’t brought enough shirts for everyone in the scene so I gave someone my costume shirt and wore my own. If I hadn’t had a shirt we’d have all had to wait while some poor soul had to run to Primark with the company card.

I was an American mobster, at a table after a meal, telling a story. We’ve all seen the shot the director was referencing, because it’s been referenced so many times. It’s an easy film-shorthand courtesy of Coppola to make the viewer understand “These people are mafia.” We pan down the table, behind the heads on the other side, and see the mobsters talking. We end with Brando with those orange peel chunks in his mouth. We didn’t have Brando. Just some dude called Dan. He was likeable though.

The distributor had specifically requested no cigarettes in the scenes. That makes it less fun to light them as smoke makes things look better. But it’s less hectic for the continuity, and less hideous for the actors. In period drama you smoke without filter for authenticity. It’s either “Players” *hack hack hack*, or its Honeyrose. Even the most hardened smoker will go green after a day on set with a big party scene and a load of those filterless Players. I gave up smoking for good shortly after a day like that. Bring your own period appropriate cigarette holder with a built in water filter, and make a case for it, I say. Especially if the AD is saying “guys you need to inhale the smoke or it comes out too thick.” The other option, the non tobacco route, is honeyrose. It sticks together the inside of my mouth just thinking about that stuff. Apparently it’s marshmallow root and bits of rose. It tastes like burnt dog foot and horse shit. I smoked it in a pipe every day for a long summer, and by the end of the job I kind of liked it. Stockholm syndrome. Given the repetition, you can acclimatise to anything. But it’s foul. Surely nobody has ever smoked it for fun.

It’s nice to be back on set, on location. We were in the Rivoli Ballroom today, in Crofton Park out by Brockley.

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45 minutes in the sunshine from home on Ahmetta. It’s beautiful there. Privately owned, virtually untouched since the 1960’s, it’s often a movie set in the daytime and in the evening it’s filled with events and dancing. So it’s still alive and making enough money to not have been sold to Wetherspoons yet. Another of the hidden gems that stud this ancient city. It’s funny how many of these places have been revealed to me over the years during the eccentric course of my work.

On which subject, now I’m off to Shoreditch to throw Banquo around in a beautiful old church with The Factory. Bring it.

Babysitting

There’s something comforting about being read to. We don’t have it often outside of childhood. After work I came round and read to a three year old until he fell asleep. He chose his moment well. The little bear in the book was about to ask mummy bear if she’d still love him after she was dead. I maintained my soporific tone while simultaneously blessing and cursing the writer. Blessing her for subtly preparing young minds for the inevitability of loss. Cursing her for blindsiding me in the process. I inevitably thought of my parents, and my progress on the universal road from innocence to experience.

That’s the first bedtime story I’ve read for years. I’ve always managed to be busy when Ivo needed babysitting in the past. And most mothers wouldn’t let me within three streets of bedtime in case I microwave the baby, get the pajamas on the cat and put the milk out for the night. But it went pretty well. I ran him ragged playing “chase Al round the house instead of the cat.” Then I fed him fish until he was glutted. He can eat vast quantities of fish, it seems. But we got there in the end.

There was a momentary altercation regarding milk temperature. I don’t know proper procedure. I knew I was winning though as his eyes were drooping even as he threw up problems. There was a brief concern about whose job it was to hold the toothbrush. Ultimately I was a fool, a madman and an evil swine for choosing red pajamas. How could I be such a pig. I found blue ones instead.

But once we’d sorted out these important details all it took was a few pictures of monkeys, an emu and a book about mortality in bears. Now he’s flat out and I’m sitting surrounded by dinosaurs. It’s not a bad life being three years old.

I can’t say I remember much from back at 3. Who does. I was in Jersey, in Les Silleries, a little white house on a hill with a big garden. My mother was mostly looking glamorous and my father was mostly looking elsewhere. I have loose happy memories of sunny days in that garden: long grass, butterflies, blue skies and empty space. Occasionally cows would get into the garden from the field next door, which pleased me as much as it angered my parents. If my memories are anything to go by I never really went inside the house unless it was Christmas.

The house itself as it used to be was knocked down years ago and rebuilt as the fever dream of a varnished banker, complete with clocktowers and oozing flatulent piles of architectural guff. The garden was turned into a monstrous folly. Huge sapphic fountains and clocktowers. The bramble path from the road was replaced with a paved avenue lined with lamps. The copper beech tree where my mother dreamed her childhood and I dreamed some of mine was uprooted many years ago to make room for some godawful wank of a statue. I suspect someone who made a fortune in something unkind exists there, oozing a trail of grief and crushed up notes while wetly encouraging his guest to appreciate the life size statue of Venus: “The sculptor was Italian, you know.”

Bear in mind if course that they could have done anything with that house and I’d have been disappointed and vitriolic. Early childhood can be a sacred, safe place. That house as it was will always exist in my memory as a place where the colours were right, and all was as it should be. I’ll still have those innocent memories, and on days like this I can go out and feel the sun on my face and the wind in my hair and vaguely remember that lack of complication.

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Meantime the least I can do is read someone to sleep and make sure they don’t worry while their mum IS GOING TO BAT OUT OF HELL!! She’ll be back soon I suspect. Then we can have some gin.