Ack

Today I’ve been doing a lot of nothing. I woke up feeling rancid. I didn’t have to do any work today though joyfully. So I cancelled my social appointments and stayed in to pamper myself. Sometimes that’s allowable. Talking is low on my list of fun things to do anyway, owing to the fact that one of the symptoms of this particular brand of seasonal death-flu is something I’ll describe as “cheesegrater throat.” It’s horrible. Swallowing is no fun at all. But it feels like it’ll be over and done with pretty quickly. Particularly as I’ve had the time to look after myself. Usually I just power through the sickness with my pockets crammed with tissues, doing my random jobs. Particularly if I’m acting. They call it “Doctor Theatre,” and it does work. There’s nothing like a shot of adrenaline to make you forget you want to crawl into a comfy hole and sing sad songs to yourself. You can always turn up for work. A dear friend told me of a time she went to an audition in central London, exiting the train at every stop to vomit. She made it, checked her teeth, walked into the studio, auditioned, walked out, made it to the bathroom to puke again, and got the job. Admittedly the part was a dying Victorian woman. But the fact she did it rings a bell with me.

No such demand today though thankfully. Today I wrapped up in a blanket and watched Ozark, and occasionally crawled back into my bed with a hot water bottle and sang sad songs to the cat. She joined in a bit and then started trying to hunt my feet under the duvet.

I’m definitely feeling better for my day of rest. It came on quickly, this lurgy. Yesterday I was bounding around as always. Tomorrow, maybe not. But surely I’ll be up and running in time for my birthday.

I made a reasonably involved curry for myself. “Feed a cold to starve a fever,” my mother always used to say. Now I’m just going to have to do everything in my power to make sure I don’t snore, lest I wake up spitting blood.

I have two guests at the moment. They run a company making high end websites for luxury item vendors. They periodically come and stay for a couple of nights to drum up business. Normally we have good conversations, but today I’ve been a pretty shit host. I spent the first two hours of the day communicating only in monosyllables while they ferried me ginger tea. A lot of ginger tea. Then I went back to sleep for an hour and when I woke up they’d gone to work. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be able to manage complex thoughts and sentences and higher forms of communication. I might even manage to cook something that isn’t just mine. Although I wouldn’t want to inadvertently infect them. I wouldn’t wish this throat on anyone.

For now it’s an early bed with my two warm fluffy things. Hot water bottle and insane cat. She just ran into my room, leapt on my bed and pounced on my hot water bottle. I think she thinks it’s a rival for my attention. She’d be right. Hot water bottle doesn’t try to eat my feet while I’m sleeping.

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Networking

The idea of “networking” makes my skin crawl. I picture dead eyed smiles and people listing credits and assessing each other’s relative importance while not really having a conversation. It’s surprising to encounter a context in which I don’t hate the theory of “networking” before I’ve even encountered the reality of the event. But an old friend and collaborator of mine this evening did a good job of derailing my habit of avoidance. Ben is just consistently Ben. I haven’t seen him for years but I knew he’d be consistent. He organised a “mingle” this evening. I went to it without a lump in my throat. I somehow knew it would be pleasant. I invited my friend Shama. Ben’s interests cross between theatre and science. So do hers. So do mine.

I first came upon Ben as a theatre maker. He made a strange, challenging and memorable piece called “Lost in Peru.” It was unlike anything I had seen at the time, fucking around with form, irreverent and highly intelligent. I was thrilled when we ended up working together shortly after. We did a show called “Confessions” about the things people are ashamed to admit. The frame and structure we lit upon worked very well, and he deliberately paired me with an actress who was very different from me. I still think that show with that dynamic would be a winner at Edinburgh. Perhaps I’ll make a show of my own for next year’s festival and then see if I can double whammy it and build that one into the schedule. No point doing Edinburgh by halves. And I’m in the mood for dancing. Although I’d have to get canny about funding.

Props to Ben though for being the person that made me abandon my distaste for “networking” and show up this evening. I don’t have business cards. About five years ago, I ordered some on Moo. I organised it all beautifully and then fought with myself on detail: should I put my personal mobile, my agent’s number, or both? I ended up doing both, but calling myself “Al Barclay – Nicola Roberts Management.” Nicola was great, you see. I thought we were going to run together. The very day the cards arrived, she rang to tell me she was retiring. In my memory I had the package half open and in my hand when the call came in. They went straight in the bin.  Networking schmetworking.

Lovely to have actually enjoyed something like that. I’m off now to the “leaving drinks” of a woman I admire hugely. A kind woman, who was a high level agent in this business in this town. Kindness doesn’t seem to work very well in this business, which sucks as she’s as good at kindness as she is at her job. But she feels she has to to get out and I understand. I’m upset to see her go. She represented some good friends of mine. She put one old mate into Game of Thrones. Back in the day she assisted my best friend’s agent. She went above and beyond the call of duty, reading conflicting scripts in order to help with difficult choices.

I want kindness to work in this industry. I hope it’s only a matter of time before the kindvalanche. But I’m l sad for our industry that she is leaving it. She is one of the lovely ones. She’d have done well at the networking thing tonight.

I have no photos. I took none as ever. So here is me and my friend Tim.

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Crazy tour over time

wp-image-1145410512I wrote a blog many years ago as a reaction to a job. It was my first noticeable blog. It was about a tour. The show was Twelfth Night. I knew the play reasonably well, having played Malvolio at Guildhall. It’s a lovely show about love, grief and our expectations of ourselves. James, (now the father of my godson), had been with the tour for a month or so already, playing Orsino the lovesick Duke. Gemma, (Olivia the mourning countess) is now Hal’s mother. They met on that job. Sometimes it works out!

I remember the call well. It was 7/7/07. They’d been open for a while. I was sitting in my car, waiting to pick my girlfriend up from work so she didn’t have to take the tube. Back then I really didn’t like myself much, but I was fond of her. There had been multiple bombs on London transport, and unlike the other day at Parson’s Green, they had worked. I volunteered immediately to drive her home even though everyone was paranoid about some sort of greater attack on the way. She was ace. I’ve never seen London so empty outside of Christmas Day. Driving in was a pleasure. I was waiting in the car outside her office when I got the call: “Do you remember the part of Malvolio from drama school?” “Yes.” “Do you want to play it for money in Eastbourne tomorrow in front of a full house?”

Considering the circumstances, I wanted to get out of town. I checked it with my girlfriend and our “Yes” led to a few weeks of glory. The show got 5 stars at the Edinburgh fringe. We blazed around the country, and I garnered some superb reviews in the name of the guy I replaced. The company was hilarious – full of proper misfits. It was joyful, chaotic and – Fuck it – really really expensive to be in. We were being paid tuppence halfpenny and a kick in teeth on Wednesdays. And the last Wednesday we didn’t even get our kick.

I got back to London totally broke and immediately split up with my brilliant girlfriend because I’d looked at someone else in Edinburgh without acting on it, which meant I had an excuse to act on my self loathing instead and break something lovely because of my idea of principles. Then I wrote a blog about the tour, also motivated by the old desire to do as much damage to myself as possible. And I smashed it for the purpose.

As with this blog I didn’t seek a wide audience. I just put it out there. I called it “Crazy Tour of Doom.” Problem is, I named names. I named the guy I replaced. I named the producer. First name last name. I had never replaced someone before. I’ve replaced people a few times now and I’ve been very sensitive to them if I meet them. It must be hard to be replaced on an acting job. Particularly by a self sabotaging mug like me. But I can say with certainty having reading pages worth of this particular man’s comments that he was deeply and dangerously unwell. As far as I can glean, the straw that broke the camel’s back was when he started delivering lines from the wrong scene, in order, by rote, with gaps. Alastair the director sacked him after that show without knowing how to replace him. He ended up with me. Which went beautifully for the show, thankfully. And I made some lifelong friends.

Meanwhile the guy I had replaced found my blog. He was in the habit of googling himself exhaustively on the weekends at around 3am, and I’d named him. Foolish. He didn’t like that I had replaced him. His usual pattern was to insult a few times, proposition me sexually, anticipate my rejection, insult me further and then proposition again more forcefully. All without any response.

I learnt to be careful what you put online. It has been lovely to write a blog for so long and not feel threatened. I still feel a tingle of concern every time I press publish, expecting someone to start ranting about some topic I’ve chosen.  I’m genuinely surprised that no-one has got the hump with me and started attacking me or my standpoint. It’ll come, I have no doubt. But so far, so lovely. Maybe it was bad luck that it happened so swiftly.

I spent part of the evening with Alastair, who produced the crazy tour of doom back when he was young’un. He is still providing gainful employment to actors now. He noticed when I took the old blog down, and told me he used to use it as a reminder.

This evening he organised 16 actors to come to RADA and try out a script that he might produce. He is the heart of a big community. That first tour feels like forever away.  It was a hilarious mess. A decade has turned and we are still making stuff, and now his actors get more than tuppence halfpenny, and the kick is discretionary.

Dreamland

Underneath Dreamland in Margate is a maze of dusty corridors. Nobody comes here anymore. They were dressed years ago to make a scary maze, with plastic spiders and old wall coverings, mannequins and puppets and old furniture and fake cobwebs. There’s even a cornfield. It feels like a haunted Punchdrunk set. With disuse, the spiders and the ghosts have moved back in. The cobwebs are mostly real. It’s ridiculously freaky here. The hair on the back of my neck keeps prickling. Nobody in their right mind would come down here on purpose…

We’ve been here for hours. The lights don’t even work, of course, so it’s headtorches and the portable lights we’ve brought. We’re filming a promo for “Screamland”, the Dreamland Halloween event. If the result is anything like as scary as the shoot, then mission accomplished. We have spent hours in a ghastly basement in the dark thinking about ghosts.

There’s five of us, and Sandy is dressed up as a woman who was strangled here many years ago. Her ghost still haunts these corridors. The people who work for Dreamland are pretty convinced they’ve seen her ghost in this horrible pitch black maze, or flittering around the scenic railway. I’m jumping at shadows down here. I want to get out, and it’s only 8pm. “Now let’s do some shots with this bath, because it’s fucking horrible,” says Dan who is directing. I have a sinking feeling that when we watch the footage back there’ll be two screaming women in the bath, not just Sandy… If we live to see the footage, that is. Maybe we’ll die down here and in years to come a film crew will come and make a movie about our disappearance and we’ll haunt them and it’ll go cyclical.


I escaped. I’m out under the sky again. We spent much of the rest of the night in Dreamland switching on rides for shots, catching bits of light and angles in helter skelters and roller discos and dodgems.

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They’ve done such a good job rebuilding this place. After the horrible subterranean tunnels, the shiny rides like the waltzers were a merciful relief. It was a calm autumn evening, crisp with the sea air, and under the stars we could see enough not to be dropping lenses and stumbling over cables. We wrapped just before 1am, and now we’re all heading back in the van. A good day of work.

I had no idea this whole day was going to happen until my phone rang at 1pm. I was sitting in my dressing gown recording 10 different germ voices into a 14 second track, naively thinking that that would be the extent of the random for Sunday. Fat chance. I like that people think of me for these last minute jobs.

Last time I worked in Margate the job came as a surprise too. There was something very complete about unexpectedly returning to make a piece of marketing for Dreamland with no notice.

Maybe seven years ago I played the artist Turner and a modern day Margate councillor in a timejumping piece of theatre to do with the need to regenerate Margate – and specifically to reopen Dreamland. We played at the beautiful Margate Theatre Royal. At one point we had a scene where I ended up decrying (in a thick Margate accent that I mostly taught myself by standing in Macdonald’s with a dictafone) how Dreamland was being left to rot. It was a lovely whimsical piece written by the head writer of The Archer’s back then. We put it on just before the Turner contemporary art gallery was opened and perhaps it was part of the movement that led to the rebirth of Dreamland. It was bloody hard work as I never came off stage and had to keep changing character, and I’d only got the call a week before we opened – (the director had sacked an actor.) Crazy week. Thank God for my spongebrain. And what a treat to walk around that iconic pleasure park, and see the gorgeous work that has been done to raise it up for another generation and fill it with colour and light.

London as normal

I’m lying on my back in bed. It’s 1am. Behind me, on the river, a stationary boat plays multiple tracks that all sound identical. Inside the boat a bored DJ is going through the motions, while yet another group of drunk people have the same old party. Between the boat and I, Chelsea Embankment is busy with traffic and sirens in both directions. London is very much going about its Saturday night business.

I spent the day with my dear dear friend Minnie, who is vast with a baby. Her whole being has been stretched to fit this little person. It’s unbelievable. She’s tired and her back hurts despite how fit and yogic she is. The baby might well see the light of the real world in less than a month. What sort of a world will that little spark of life find?

London is a bit paranoid right now as we overcome the fact that some kid got lots of coverage for behaving stupidly. All the news drops into our pocket so maybe it’s easy to assume that things are closer to home. Maybe we’re more likely to let news items affect us personally. Nobody I know in this city gave a second thought about getting on the tube and moving around as normal either yesterday or today. But lots of people from out of town expressed concern. It’s fine. Totally fine. Just lots more cops.

I’m glad I crossed town to see my best friend. Her pregnancy fills me with awe and wonder. She has been stretched. She has a lump that somehow manages to look both incongruous and completely natural simultaneously. It’s massive, sticking out in front of her. In a month’s time there could already be a little new person breathing the world. In two months time there definitely will be one. It’s amazing.

Today Brian and I all went round to spend time with the soon to be mum and dad. We ended up heading to a pub to catch the end of a football match. Not having much of a clue about football, and having driven up so needing to keep pretty sober, I took the football as my cue to head home. I look forward to meeting that kid, but one thing I won’t be doing is watching football with them. I’m still baffled by that game. I’ll stick with cricket. Makes much more sense. But that’s personal to me. Like your religion, you shouldn’t impose your sport on anyone.

As we came to the pub we saw a crowd of people. There had been a fire in the kitchen of the building next door to the pub – (as far as I could tell). When we arrived there was a fire engine parked up on the pavement and a strong smell of burnt plastic. The blaze had clearly been contained but they were waiting to be certain. And they’d drawn loads of people seeking selfies, or just hanging around checking out the firemen.

There’s no concern in this town right now. No panic. Everyone is as normal, no matter what you might read. This is London. Strangers on the tube smile for the camera if you ask them nicely.

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Bed for me. Almost asleep anyway despite the crap music from the boat, and too many sirens up and down the road outside.

Terror monster

When I was a kid, there was this constant expectation that someone would stick a bomb somewhere in London. It was mostly the IRA and occasionally some solo idiot that hated a minority. All the bins were taken out of the underground, and off the streets in the City. If you left your bag unattended it would get reported extremely quickly. My friend Dan almost had his Sega Master System detonated by police at Heathrow and he’d only put it down for a couple of minutes. It was just part of the furniture of living in this city. Watch out for bags. People are trying to kill you.

This morning some moron tried to kill a load of people in the rush hour. On the district line. With a bucket full of crap in a Lidl bag. Shit enough that you have to get the bloody district line into work. Nobody wants to put up with some disaffected twat trying to blow them up before they’ve even got to Earl’s Court. Particularly if you haven’t had your coffee yet.

Problem is that everyone’s conditioned to assume the worst, so there was a stampede as the terrified herd crushed itself into a narrow exit, backed up on themselves and clambered over each other. I strongly suspect that more people were injured in the stampede than in the blast itself.

“Terrorism,” people are saying. If anyone is promoting terror it’s the likes of Dacre and Murdoch, obliquely causing the stampede by dripping a constant culture of fear into the public imagination. Inevitably whichever 27 year old virgin it was that tried it out this morning had been on some chatroom on the darkweb, allowing Daesh to take the credit, the news-terrorists to spread the fear and the legislators to call for more thoroughly monitoring all the people that don’t know how to cover their tracks online and thus don’t need monitoring.

Calling something like that terrorism though… it’s a bit like saying it’s war if you get punched by a German. It’s a shit thing to have happened, and it could’ve gone very differently. But the more fear it generates, the more it encourages other isolated idiots to grasp at the idea that by associating themselves with the object of terror, they can have an impact on a world that isn’t working for them. Engendering fear makes people feel powerful. I’m disappointed that so much of what I’m reading is to do with fear, the terror alert reaching critical, people taking knives onto the tube as if we’re under attack. Our Prime Minister has reacted. The President of the USA has reacted. It was just a shit bomb in a bucket and the guy that made it is public enemy number one for the day. I bet he feels great.

Once when I was about 19 I encountered a scared kid as I walked through a late night common. He had a knife and very actively wanted me to tell him I respected him. I told him I didn’t respect him “respect takes time” but I feared him because he had a weapon and I didn’t, so even if I was bigger than him, he might be able to hurt me. He was just posturing, of course. And he was satisfied when I told him I feared him. Which relieved me as despite being stubborn I didn’t want to have to try to disarm him. He didn’t seem to care that I told him I didn’t respect him. Fear and respect were synonymous to him, and either one was good. He wanted to feel like he could make an impact. That’s all. We’ve all had that need.

That encounter stuck with me though, and I’m thinking of it in the light of today. Whoever made the bomb – and I know I’m speculating the gender pronoun – he made a whole train full of people trample over each other in panic. The papers are associating him with the latest boogie man. People are messaging me to check I’m ok, and people are worrying about going on the tube. This little prat has created a little bubble of fear. It’ll make him feel powerful. Hopefully the papers won’t give him powerful names like “monster” to further add to the problem. But this constant fear of the monsters that wait in the trees just beyond our circle of firelight… It makes the shadows scarier, and it keeps us in the village.

I walked home. Whenever these cracks occur I like to walk the streets a while. I came upon this sculpture. It’s called “love”. That’s the MI6 in the background.

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Shoot

There’s an old cliché about not working with children or animals. I think it’s to do with “special” people who lack immediacy being put into sharp relief by something completely present right by them. It’s hard to marry artifice to reality. We see that war lost when they pump out these staged “reality” shows involving these empty shells who were “made in” Chelsea or Jersey or Essex as they cynically attempt to act out idealised analogues of their own shit lives, and end up looking and sounding like evil ventriloquist’s dummies operated by narcissist stroke patients.

We had a Great Dane on set – Fraser. He’s a big enthusiastic jowly horse of a dog. His attention span made the six year old look like a samurai. His habit was to run at the camera whenever action was called. His trainer had it covered though. Constant application of towel before those pendulous drools snapped off splat onto an actor’s leg. Liberal use of treats, delivered by hand right into his chompy mouthy munchy wobbly cakehole. “Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Good boy. Waiting. No no, waiting ” We got the shots we needed. Jo, the actor by me, had her finger in his collar to help. But he could’ve keelhauled her, despite her being taller than me in heels.

This was a one day community. The job is done forever now. I will never see many of that momentary “family” again. One quick day of my life as a green person. To be honest I’m still green now and I’ve spent ages with pads and lotion so I might be green tomorrow whilst I invigilate exams. I’ve never been very good at getting makeup off. And now I’m diverting my post shoot car into central London for a treasure hunt.

It was a happy day on set today, and for the two kids it was the first set they’d ever been on. Nice for them to start with such a chilled one. The six year old was doing “High five, on the side, up above, down below … too slow” His dad must be more or less exactly my age, or the eighties really are back. There was a brief hiccup where the client worried that the hairpiece I had on made me look like a certain German dictator. But that was solved easily enough. And nobody got stressy. Winning.

Of course I can’t blog any specifics until the footage is released. Not even the brand. And I can’t put up any photos. Which sucks as we got some great ones. So here’s Fraser, just after he was wrapped.

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He was the first his first of us wrapped. Now I’m in my cab home but I’ve diverted it to Green Park so I can run around looking for treasure with Brian and Mel. Which might not be the best idea considering I can barely keep my eyes open. I ended up having about two hours sleep last night. Pickle was being affectionate by jumping on me every time I started dreaming and trying to burrow into my gut with her claws. Never work with animals? I’m happy to work with them. It’s living with them that causes the problems.


We did well on the treasure hunt! We won a load of TFL gubbins. (Transport for London. Crap like mugs, Travel pillows and key rings.)

I persuaded this guy to take a photo with me as my twin. He was totally up for making it work. Thanks to him I won a London underground tea towel…

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