West Side Story

I’m sitting in a rehearsal room. This is unexpected. I’ve been shown a load of pictures of my costume.

imag3021687534902.jpg

My New York accent is currently all over the shop but I’ll work it out. I’ll be off to Manchester from the 16th to the 24th February to do a short run of West Side Story with full costume, production and orchestra. I love West Side Story because my mum loved it. She slapped me when I told her a joke I’d heard in the playground: “Which wood doesn’t float? – Natalie Wood.” Then she sat me down in front of a VHS and we watched the Jets and the Sharks and Natalie Wood being beautiful and looking a bit like mum. I loved it and she cried and I think I did too.

“And step and hop hop step step hop clap spin.” That’s what they’re saying right now. The constant noise of a dance rehearsal.. Nuts and bolts of the moments that will look like magic in the playing. I’m sitting in a comfy chair watching the bouncy people bounce. The best thing about the part I’m playing is he doesn’t participate in any of the dances so I don’t have to put myself through that and a one and a two shit. I’ll certainly join their warm-ups in my quest for fitness though. They’re all sorts of body types, capable of all sorts of monstrosity.

My part – he comes in, takes his space and power, says loads of racist crap and leaves. Then he does it a few more times. His name is Schrank. Maybe he’s bruised, maybe he’s bad. I’m yet to work it out. It’s the sort of part where I could give him a twitch or a limp and get away with it. I probably won’t. But I think he’s almost certainly a psychopath. But I’ve only just met him. This all happened very quickly.

I just said to the director “I’m looking forward to working out what his body moves like, but right now I need to work out what the fuck I’m saying and why.” So as I’m enjoying myself working out the little details and experimenting with centre of gravity, a load of virile young men and women are bounding around in trainers singing songs I’ve loved since I was ten, and I’m feeling nostalgic hearing the riffs.


How lovely to get thrust into a project like this. Well over 50 people, making one of the best known musicals in the world, and making it properly – no fucking around. Okay – for most of them it’s a learning job. All I can do is be my positive self. But there’s a validation. Because we are making fucking West Side Story. In Manchester. With everything. There is not a single human being who will emerge from this job without having done something fucking big. It’s a rare opportunity. “You’re never alone. You’re never disconnected.” Yep. I’ve been doing this shit for long enough. I’m not alone or disconnected. I just got a text. “Are you free around the 16th Feb?” And now this. It’s a week of work espousing a horrible worldview in a masterpiece.


Year one – Views and Vikings

Hungover

Quiet day today. Brian had a migraine and I had a hangover. Going to Vault Festival is always lovely as I get to see loads of glorious people who live in the industry I live in and get tangled up in the similar tangles, but are mostly clever enough not to try to find words for them and post them online. They make shows out of them instead.

I got drunk with James and called him Tom. That happens a lot. He didn’t seem to mind. Good old long suffering Tom. There was quite a lot of wine. It definitely had an effect on me. By the end of the night, it’s entirely likely that I had an animated conversation about something with any one of you, and that now I’ve completely forgotten I even saw you. You could probably get away with pretending you’d lent me some money. I regretted it in the morning but it was a good night as far as I remember. Mostly laughing. Eventual falling over.

img-20180124-wa00021425361037.jpg

One of the people I was out with doesn’t drink. I always get drawn to that. I frequently stop entirely for long periods. I am so aware that the livers on my mother’s side are not strong. I don’t particularly want to keel over until I’ve had more fun. And sometimes the fun and the alcohol are all tangled up together. But you can have fun without booze. Oh it’s a thorny one. Best have a glass of wine.

This evening I went to a monthly meeting in my Buddhist district. When it was all kicking off with the car in Jersey, my district leader sent me a WhatsApp asking how I was. I responded “stuck. Help. Chant!” She did, and we got unstuck. Whether or not the two things are related – (I like to think they are) – I still wanted to thank her. This year in Nichiren Buddhism is called “The year of Brilliant Achievement” and I’ve already shifted agents, plus booked a short film and a lovely wee theatre job, and sorted things out in Jersey. Life is pretty damn good. Next up fitness, which I’ve been talking about for a while without doing much to back it up. If I keep putting it into this blog eventually I’ll be ashamed enough at my own inertia to build a new habit. For now though, this cup of wine.

Going to The Vaults got me thinking. Robin has given me a chance to write something for performance. She is generating work for herself and others. I might put my new-found scribbling habit to good use and do that. Brian, obviously, makes a lot of work gloriously possible for a lot of people. JamesTom keeps making work for himself. There’s plenty of stuff I want to put into a work of art. When I get back from teetotal gym with my washboard stomach and my lovely girlfriend then I can write with one hand while painting the flat with the other and changing the carpet with my tongue.

Dammit – I just checked out last year’s blog and I was waxing lyrical about daily yoga…


Year One – Yogaworks yoga works

Finding Neverland

I’m off to Neverland. It’s in The Forge at Vault Festival. It’s the show that I didn’t cut my arms off helping to build. I’m really looking forward to it. The writer, the designer the composer the Brian and the Al Barclay, plus about loads of other people – we all read the script out loud in an abandoned open plan office board room in Liverpool Street two months ago. Now a bunch of people are going to cram into an underground tunnel and – hopefully – we are all going to be transported to Neverland. Maybe even literally. I’m putting my play hat firmly on. No worky. This is for funz. I’m told that, in this week of previews, the most helpful thing I can do is be a willing audience member while the cast recalibrate in the unfamiliar space. If someone says “come over here” and I’m not sure it means me, I will behave as if I’m sure it does mean me and show willing. I’m planning on having a brilliant time, even if that fucking rubberchip catches fire and the mezzanine collapses.

I’m writing this now because I have an inkling my coherence will have suffered a blow by the time I’m close to bed. Brian sorted 4 tickets because of my hapless few days of learning new tools as a “helper” at the get-in: “A glue gun?! Wow! That’s amazing. How does it work?”.

Robin, Avril the VR director I met the other day, a friend of hers who I’m hoping won’t be stiff as a plank, and yours truly. All going to Neverland. Brian’s proviso was “yeah I can sort tickets, but you have to get the drinks.” Thankfully Imperial College paid me 100 quid. I was expecting a bit more, but it looks like I’ll have to wait another month for that. Buggers.


All done. What a kind strange night. Some lovely people did some lovely things. I had a beautiful journey through the show. It hatched some old wounds around loss and identity. I found myself mourning the death of my mother. Shortly thereafter Hook made me write a childhood memory and then destroy it. The memory involved mum. I got to thinking about where I am now versus where I was/where I’d like to be. I miss her, that vast force that called itself my mother. With her ungodly early departure, it’s hard to have perspective. The show is about lost mothers, and it’s made by people I adore. I loved it but I cried a lot. Because it’s human, and honestly delivered. Also it’s a piece of work that is connected to the joyful sunny summers we spent in Yorkshire, making Shakespeare with Sprite. God they were happy times. And this is a happy piece of “yes”motivated work. It will only deepen with time. Neverland. At Vault Festival. If you’ve got a face, use it to watch that show. But only so long as the face is attached to a heart… Look for beauty and you’ll find it there. That’s an order.

Processing yesterday

Today I went to the old Scrooge’s Parlour (Above the Arts) and saw my old mate Johnny read a strong complex literary monologue about Michel de Montaigne. He was a forward thinker in the Renaissance. He was a diarist and willing to expose his guts. Maybe he was the Renaissance equivalent of some prat who blogs daily, airing his spleen in public, exposing the gap between reality and pretend.

His wisdom is unmistakable. “When someone says “I’ve done nothing today,” I say “What? Haven’t you LIVED?” This life is hard, strange and unpredictable, but miraculous. It was lovely watching John work. And someone bankrolled a couple of glasses of wine for me, which were very well received. After Jersey I’m on the wire. Every card I have is maxed. But I’m sanguine that change is gonna come.

My hands hurt. My body hurts. Last night was a trauma – (If you fancy joining the trauma just read yesterday.) But outside of that shitstorm it was lovely to be back in the island. It’s funny how one negative experience can take over memory. There was a lot of joy.

I don’t spend much time with my brother Max. We used to be one single organism. We scavenged through gardens and worked the world out together. We rolled and punched and laughed and loved and attacked one other. We had deep running shorthand. We still do. Codes. Fine tuned understanding. All of that is still there, but life stops us from remembering. Releasing the car from yesterday’s shitstorm is an example of our shared spirit. It genuinely looked impossible. We both embarked on it hopeless. We took strength from each other, tag teamed with each other, and emerged messily victorious through mutual galvanisation and hard painful work in the face of the unknown. I see a similar fellowship in two of his three kids. I certainly see myself most in his youngest. I don’t see those kids often enough though. They’re great. And Sasha, Max’s oldest, is a molecular biologist about to finish his PhD and is just a marvelous human.

I love my bro. He’s done well. Even if life has thrown a lot of shit at both of us over the last couple of decades. shit is relative. We aren’t in Gaza. But for sickeningly privileged white people in London, we have had enough shit to help us towards perspective instead of hardening us into our personal “Osbourne” prism of experience. Now we are sorting through the wreckage of our lucky childhood. It was huge to go back to Jersey. The sun came out – I would say “for us” but it was a coincidence, It wasn’t for us. The weather gives no shits about our petty bullshit. Lucky to have a nice day though. Every other day has been rain, we were told. I’m trying to imagine how we’d have coped with the car last night had it been raining.

In a few hours we did a lot. We dug with our hands into our mother’s grave to put three Daffodil bulbs in. We disturbed worms in the process. “Careful of the worms, they’re kind of family.” Who knows what the verger will make of it.

Then we hit the beach at Green Island. Here’s Max, looking triumphant., where we used to clamber on rocks as kids. We clambered on rocks.

imag3002898265760.jpg

Despite car horror, it was a good day. Lovely to go back home, even for such a short time. The island has definitely shrunk since I was 10…


 

Year One – Interviews

 

 

Digging Cars

“Lovely day in Jersey”, I said. “Old friend of my grandparents”, I said. “Nice walk on the beach”, I said. “Perfect weather”, I said.

imag3012_11677687861.jpg

People, you were about to get one smug bastard of a blog. You were going to get me being all sentimental about Jersey, the rock where I spent my first decade. Ahhh Jersey. The scent of the sea. The taste of the food. “Happy highways where I went.”

I went through the happy highways in a Dacia. (Don’t worry, I didn’t crash it. It’s something else.) The happy highways in Jersey are very very narrow. It’s a tiny little island. And as the old friend of my grandfather told me “There’s 50,000 more people than when you were here.” Business concluded, grave visited and flowered, and Max and I went to El Tico for “local” crab linguini. Being Max he saw a claw and said “it’s local in that it’s local to South East Asia. It’s a swimming crab.” Tasty though. We used to go to El Tico when it just sold coffee and cake and had a mynah bird out back in a cave that could swear like a sailor. The bird is long gone but they’ve made it great there. We were having so much fun. Oh such joy. But it was dark, and two hours until the flight. “May as well go to the airport early”, I said. “Then I can have a beer.”

Brmmmmmmm brmmmmmmm

“Oh. I think we’ve taken a wrong turn. Look it says ‘Private Road’”

“It’s too narrow to turn. We might as well go down and turn at the end.”

“No it’s a big Private sign – they obviously don’t like it. I’ll just turn here…”

Oh Al. Al Al Al. Oh oh oh Al. You fool. You mad fool. Reverse up the steep verge? Sure. Now turn the wheel. Roll down and … *bump*. A drop. Oh. Oh shit.

Max and I find ourselves looking at a little white Dacia utterly jammed between two steep verges, completely blocking the road, right in the mud front and back. Driving it is impossible. After burning the engine a bit we give it up as a hiding to nothing. We have no movement whatsoever. We need a crane. 1 hour 45 minutes to departure.

Thankfully there’s a breakdown service on the island. He’s still in the office, just. It’s almost 7pm. I describe the situation. He doesn’t have a crane but he knows a man that does. He’ll call me back.

Phone down. Assess the situation. 1 hour 40. The verge at the front is lower than the one at the back. Explore explore. Ok there’s loads of rocks. The front of the car is wedged up against a huge bit of shale embedded in the bank. *Dig dig dig* This job feels impossibly big. We’ve got no tools. Hands. Nails. Dig dig dig. We are digging into the side of a big mud bank with our fingers. I’m shaking with nerves. The car stinks of rubber. 1 hour 20. He hasn’t rung. We’ve made little visible progress. Both of our hands are bleeding. My shoulders hurt. I grab my phone. *Ring ring* “Oh hi – yeah I’ve got Damian’s number. He’s my boss. He’s got a crane.” “Can you text it to me?” “Um… no. Just … just take it down. It’s easy.” “Okay. Fine. I’ll remember it.” “Great. It’s 07855cvjxxxxxcthuluFTAGN0999.” “I think I’ve got it can you just repeat to be sure.” He repeats and then keeps talking. “Mate, you’ll have to give me that number again and then I’ll immediately hang up.” He does. I ring it. “Narrow lane you say? We’ll have nowhere to put the crane supports. I could come and tow you?” “You won’t be able…” “I’ll come anyway. Maybe I can tow you sideways. Where are you? … … Oh I’m the opposite side of the island. It’ll be a while “ 1 hour 10 to departure. Dig dig dig. Dig dig dig. Breaking shale with other rocks. Levering with sticks. Dig dig pant pant pant dig dig dig. 1 hour until flight time. “We’ve dug round it but it’s not moving. Let’s kick the rock.” Kick kick kick. Ow. Kick kick smash. “That knocked a little chunk out. Dig dig kick kick dig. 55 minutes. Pant pant pant kick kick FUCK pant pant pant kick kick dig dig MOVEMENT. “It moved it fucking moved it moved.” Digdigdigdigdigdigkickkickkickkick pant pant aaaargh KICK. Finally. Loose. No room to get it out past the front of the car though. We have to dig room for it. For God’s sake. I’m a mole with bleeding fingers. We both are. We are both covered in mud. We don’t care. We have to do this. Thank God it’s Max I’m with. We are both as stubborn as mules. Neither of us talking about what should have been done. Neither of us waiting for daddy-breakdown to fix it for us as daddy is long dead and the buck stops here. Dig dig try try dig dig try dig dig dig. We get the rock out! It’s HUGE. Weighs a ton. All my muscles are spent. Glad we ate that linguini. 45 minutes left. Tick tock. All that work for about an inch of room. Easier to point the car the way it was facing before. One inch forward. Handbrake. One inch back. Handbrake. Repeat ad nauseam with fear sweat and bleeding filthy hands on the wheel mumbling “nam myo ho renge kyo” to myself like a crazyman. Eventually eventually eventually we are back where we started. Hooray. Max gets in. We drive down the private road. No choice. There’s a turning space at the end. A man comes out of his house. “Sorry,” says Max. “We got lost.” “There’s a sign. It says private road.” says the man. Max keeps his cool: “Yes. Yes – we saw that.”

Brrrrmmmmm . 40 minutes to departure. Twelve minutes to the airport. We are there in ten, looking at the front. I take my shirt off, squirt the last of my water into it, wipe the mud off the hire car. “There’s scratches.” “Nothing we can do. Let’s go.”

They let us through security despite the mud. There’s nobody at the airport – we are the only visible passengers in security. We make the flight just as it’s boarding. All the staff are laughing at us. I wash my slashed hands. We made it.

I’m writing this on the plane. I just bought a £4.50 can of Punk IPA. My fingers hurt. I’m still shaking from sour adrenaline. I wonder what the car hire charges us for the scratches? Maybe they’ll be nice. Also I wonder what the mardy guy will think in the morning when he sees we’ve tunneled a huge hole out of his verge and thrown bits of shale all over the place.

They say that unexpected obstacles come just before breakthroughs. Max and I need a breakthrough. And after that experience, I reckon it’s a shoe-in. God. I feel sick, and thrilled that Max and I dug the car out. I rang Damian from the breakdown and told him we were out. I apologised for wasting his time. I said “You’ve got my number. If you feel I’ve wasted your time just message me. We’ll sort something out.” “Nah mate, you’ve given me a good laugh.” he said. Bastard.


Year One – It Never Rains in Southern California

Grey River and Stream of Consciousness

I’m off early tomorrow morning to go to Jersey. The island of my birth. It’s a little granite rock in the English channel. I spent my childhood there in a house on top of a hill. Usually I only go back for funerals but tomorrow I’m going back to see an old friend of my grandfather’s. His brilliant eccentric chain-smoking wife was my godmother but she’s been dead of emphysema for twenty years or so. He’s still going, but he’s slowing down. He might be able to help me with some stuff I don’t understand. Here’s hoping.

Today has been another day where I’ve stayed at home with the cat and the central heating and entertained myself for free. I’m writing this uncommonly early. It’s just gone six. I’ve cracked open a can of beer and I’m looking out at the grey streets and thanking the gods that the snow didn’t settle. The flight is out of Gatwick tomorrow morning, and if a single snowflake falls in this city then everything shuts down at once and there’s panic in the streets, fire, screaming, death and pain.

imag29821464969538.jpg

Hopefully it won’t snow in the night. I wanted to go by boat in my brother’s car. But a ferry was going to be about £250 before petrol, and the journey would take the best part of a day. Last minute flights for two plus car rental and a train to Gatwick – it’s much cheaper than the ferry all in plus we can do it without sleeping over. And the flight is an hour long.

A year ago I was at the Women’s March in LA. Hard to believe that it was a whole year. Such an optimistic event, and things have shifted in Hollywood since that day, even if not in The White House. There were people I connected with out there but never met – (too many people, not enough time, who’s this guy? I’m busy…) This evening I impulsively joined a writer’s group with two of them on Facebook. These are friends of a friend.  But I’ve always enjoyed reading/watching the stuff they put out there. It seemed like the right thing to do to muck in. The theme was “status quo” and what that means to us. At the end we had to write stream of consciousness for seven minutes and then share. Here is my unstructured rant related to status quo. In order for it to have full impact, just imagine you’re locked in a cave with me and I’m wearing nothing but a loincloth and covered in filth and woad. You have a weapon. This is what I’m shouting:

“STATUS QUO: I wish I could land into something familiar that repeats – the sense of a status quo seems almost impossible – beyond the possibilities of the frame that I have stumbled into for myself. Status Quo – it’s a band in the eighties that shouted with guitars, and it’s a conservative dream of the way things should be but for me is it anything other than an idea – that there is a platform to leap from… I keep leaping and finding out my feet are in suet. I don’t trust that there can be a kind status quo – I want there to be such a thing. We all want stability and a platform that isn’t made of suet. I want to stand on a stage like the hairy guitarists in the eighties and leap from it knowing that there will be people to catch me in the crowd but usually it’s just a faceplant on concrete. If my status quo has been chaos for so long what can it be for people who are less lucky than I am – I have a home and I have warmth and food. Is that my status quo> That and the cat and the friends I have picked up over the years? How can we be satisfied with the things that we disempower when we frame them as normal? Maybe the things that we take for granted are status quo, and maybe we must accept that we are all jumping from a stage made out of suet and work out how to cook the suet into a nice hard pudding that can take the impression of out wandering feet and guide us to whatever it is that we think we need to be happier. Status Quo. Stability. Ground. Footing. But also to me it speaks of the way things have always been, and is it not time for that to change? To revolutionise ourselves internally, so we are ready to bring our internal revolution out into the world and be avatars of a new shining personal status quo where people can be drawn to the possibility of personal change and see that it can lead to a possibility of global change where these ancient monsters that have always lurked at the edges of power can be overthrown by millions of people like us leaping from our beautifully cooked suet pudding spotted dick platforms of currants into the current. Why do we seek you, quo? Why do we use the language of an imperial culture that trampled on art and killed gladiators for fun to express an idea of stability – yes they built out of stone for posterity, but they crucified and tore and ripped and we use their words to speak of stability? I would sooner have a rock band.”

Let me know the nature of your weapon, and at which point you would have employed it. Good luck kids! There’s a prize for the correct answer. You get to live the experience!

 


 

Year One – Liberty and Trump

Rambo

It’s Saturday night and I’m sitting in my warm flat. I’ve barely left the place all day. I’m down to my last few pennies. The upside of spending all my money on a boiler is that now I have a comfortable home to lounge around in.  The downside is, no fun-budget so I have to stay home.

I just watched John Wick. That’s the  sort of mood I’m in. John Wick is a movie about Neo from The Matrix killing a cohort of people because Theon Greyjoy stole his car and killed his dog. It’s probably the stupidest film that I could possibly have found, and exactly what I was in the mood for. Although the first 12 people died so suddenly I still found myself wondering about their families and ambitions before I switched off the empathy. When I was a kid my dad let me watch Rambo 2. 

maxresdefault (1)979423322..jpg

Before the film he told me “don’t forget that all the people he shoots are just pretending to get shot. That’s their job. They’re just actors.” Considering he didn’t want me to be an actor that was perhaps a mistake. Rather than having that naive impressionable boy freaking out about “Rambo’s coming for me,” he instead had the same idiot child watching all those low paid maniacs throwing themselves backwards and thinking “That looks like fun! And that’s their job?!” Although to be honest I was already lost. That just confirmed it.

You get asked to do some strange things. I’ve touched on that before. Close friends of mine have turned down action movies because they glorify gun culture. But for me there’s such a breath between a story and an influence that I can’t make sense of that concern. I enjoy watching Keanu Reeves. He doesn’t interfere. His breath is in connection with his body, and he doesn’t try to telegraph anything. I watched him pretend to brutally kill 77 people (2 more than Rambo in that early “grown-up” VHS). It doesn’t make me wish I could go out and jump around with a gun, even if someone stole my car and killed my pet. If someone stole my car I’d be thrilled – I’m scrapping it in the next week and if it got nicked I’d get a bit more cash. It’s only worth about £300 anyway but I’ll get half that for scrap.

If they were to hurt Pickle though… Well then I might have to go rogue. “Chelsea based maniac in sustained rampage: Jobbing actor Al Barclay was finally apprehended whilst trying to wash a Barbour jacket with carbolic soap. He had been on a rampage in the Kings Road area, throwing wax into vintage fur, spraying cheap aftershave into people’s noses and, tragically, shouting the words ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ at a meeting for the PTA of Hill House School whilst tearing up a copy of the Daily Mail and wearing a black tie with a navy blue jacket. 77 people are known to be dead of outrage, and auntie Phyllis has been caught in a ‘…well I … well I … well I…’ loop for 29 hours with no sign of it abating. The police are patrolling the area with megaphones shouting “You can ignore him, he’s just an actor” but the damage is done. Reportedly a staff member in Peter Jones who had been in the vicinity at the time of the incident returned to work and knowingly oversold an electric kettle to a young couple from Bath. She will be executed by electrocution on BBC1 at noon on Sunday.”


Year One – Augurs and Antipodeans