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.

Taplow Court

This morning I went with my friend Sue to Taplow Court. She wanted to show the place to me. She used to teach technical theatre at Guildhall, and is mother to my friend Jake. Taplow Court is a country house out in Berkshire.

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It’s huge, next to Cliveden where Nancy Astor held sway. (First female politician, Christian scientist, firebrand.) Former English home to the lords of Orkney and with a host of Grenfells and other loosely familiar aristocratic names, it’s one of those houses with history. There was a Saxon king buried in the backyard. There were probably loads of Saxons here when Normans howled in and made it theirs. It’s in the Domesday book. The Saxon king was enthusiastically hacked out of his eternal rest in the late 1800s by crap archeologists, and taken to the British museum to be taped back together for a slightly different posterity than he had in mind. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.

In the 1980’s the house went on sale, and was bought speculatively by the growing secular Buddhist society Soka Gakkai International, with Japanese money. They wanted a base in the UK. And man they have made one. It’s astonishingly beautiful, well groomed, and peaceful. Thousands of people per week now come to resonate with positive energy and try to improve themselves and their surroundings. It’s a haven.

SGI is pretty damn good as far as belief structures go. It’s asking the adherents to be the best version of themselves they can be, while actively seeking to improve the world around them. It asks for gentle action, for kindness, for turning poison into medicine. There is no ooglyboogly monsterman that you have to obey, with impressive representatives on earth that need your money. There is no overarching authority figure who you must learn to be submissive to. You don’t chant to an idol. You have a scroll, a series of simple tenets, and a very wise man who currently leads the society. He’s called Daisaku Ikeda, and as a lifelong authority questioner, I’m happy to listen to him. He’s got a way with ideas. He’s very clear, and walks the walk he talks. He’s a good leader, and it’s not about him, even if his drive has made the sect international. He’s kept the sect secular.

So I chanted for a good while, and let my mind wander round the things myself and those around me need fixed. It was “kosen-rufu gongyo” and loads of people were “receiving gohonzon”. So yes, there is still a jargon that has to be understood. But even without a full understanding of what I’m chanting, I like the fact that there are people all over the world at all times chanting the same thing at the same time as me. This sort of thing appeals to me, believing as I do in vibrations and energy. Making pockets of the world vibrate in tune appeals to me.

Directly after chanting, and gathering all this positive energy, I went to lunch with Sue. And someone I didn’t expect walks in…

I keep my heart in a box most of the time. It’s nice and safe in there. But I have a bad habit. Very rarely, with little provocation, I reach into my chest cavity, haul out the whole pumping organ, and schlumpf it onto the table in front of someone I’ve only just met. It’s a ridiculous habit. Nobody wants that pile of oozing pulsing veinage squishily pumping on the table while we get to know each other. My hope, I think, is that someone will swap it for theirs. But it’s always a little early. I’m not really sure why I keep doing it. How are people supposed to react? Shove it back into me? Eat it? Ignore it? People have tried all three and it’s never worked out well. I’m learning to stop doing it. I’ve got friends on my case now. “You like her? Ok, don’t tell her everything about yourself immediately. Try and keep hold of some mystery.”

Someone I didn’t expect walks in. I schlumphed her many years ago. She’s cool with it. We have a cordial lunch next to each other. She’s a friend now. It’s lovely to see her. The past is a long time ago. Argh.

I like Taplow Court and the SGI but dammit cosmic vibrations. That was unexpected.

Is it art?

Earlier this week a load of people came in the night and erected a great big tent in the gardens near my house. Rather than fill it with rubber ducks and waltzers, they’ve stuffed it with art works worth more than I am able to properly contemplate. Millions and millions of pounds worth of old masters, all stuffed into a tent near my house. I went for a walk around there today. My friend Helen knew one of the exhibitors. It’s made me rethink the idea of money. Sometimes I was terrified of sneezing on something as I looked at it. Other times I was wondering how I could use a tractor beam or freeze time or something in order to get my filthy paws on so much lovely art.

One of the first things I happened on was a dollar sign. A colorful painting about as big as my head of a dollar sign. Signed Andy Warhol. Priced at £950,000.

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It got me thinking about value. I’ve always liked art that was made for reasons other than money, but to suddenly see the capitalism of art laid bare made me curious. That’s part of Warhol’s mischief.

There were some amazing things for sale in there, and some garish things. I found myself drawn to an ancient Egyptian fish sculpture, made perhaps for faith by an unknown artist. It was selling for 40k, the same as a half forgotten pencil sketch by Cezanne, trying to make sense of a thorny bit of composition. When I was at school one of the boys drew a load of circles on a canvas and sold it for thousands. Warhol knew what he was doing when he painted a dollar sign. Stick a high price tag on something and hold your nerve. Someone will buy. Close to the Warhol was a Van Gogh. What a thing, to live and die so tragically only to pay some art dealer’s mortgage with commission on a sketch 100 years later.

Value in art is as hard to pin down as where art begins where it ends. It got me thinking of the KLF nailing money to things and pricing it low, then trying to sell it as art. Ten grand nailed to a plank for 5 grand. Either buy it and destroy it for immediate profit, or buy it and hold onto it for years while inflation drops the cash value and appreciation raises the artistic value until it’s worth more. Mind you they had trouble persuading the artistic establishment that their “Money: A major body of cash” artworks had merit. In the end they burnt a million pounds in a little hut on Jura almost 23 years ago, and filmed it. That still gets people’s blood flowing. Is it art? Perhaps so considering the arguments I’ve heard about it. Is it wasteful? Certainly in one sense, and more so the less value we place on the action. I find interest in the idea of a couple of lads burning everything they’ve got in vague protest. More interest than in Damian Hurst’s diamond skull that cost 14 million to build.

Trans formation of Ahmed

After work today I picked up my bike, Ahmed. He’s been having some work done. He’s changed his frame. I wasn’t sure if I would know him to be the same bike when I collected him. When we met he had a rangy slim and tattered frame, weathered by storms, bent out of shape, once proud but now on hard times. Now he’s had some work done. He has emerged significantly different but still recognisably Ahmed. He has a shiny orange frame, and a working rear brake. But the same wheels, pedals, handles… I haven’t spoken to him about the details but I think my bicycle has undergone gender reassignment. I’m not clear yet having just reconnected, but I expect it’ll become apparent what to call Ahmed in the near future. Ahmeda is possible but also, absurdly, Wilhelmina is offering itself as an alternative. Time will tell.

Cycling is therapeutic for me. It gets the blood flowing and helps me deal with things that have sat on my mind. I started my journey across town concerned about someone I spoke to on Sunday who, after secondhand information from someone I didn’t get on well with on tour, has always been actively wary of me. By the time I was halfway home I had already arrived at “Why should I waste energy trying to make everyone like me.” I need to cycle more often. We all do. Cobwebs blown.

Then as I got close to home the phone rang. It’s my manager. They want me for some filming, and they’re happy to be flexible about dates around my needs. It’s a small victory, made a little less sweet by the fact that I have an agent AND a manager and they’ll both take a cut of fuck all because they accidentally routed the casting to my agent. But I’m thrilled that Iona has so quickly made good on her word. When I signed with her I explained that I haven’t had anything through my agent for years. I suggested it might be an operational problem and asked if she might find her way round it. She has started down that road, and thanks to her I’ve seen doors open. As an actor I fight as hard as I can, but it’s unprofessional of me to approach certain people unsolicited. Finally I have what I’ve been looking for. A bulldog who is also a friend. A running mate. It’s been a few years since I had someone willing to make personal submissions, rather than bulk submit and then hope for a snag. I think we might be able to forge forward together.

This is just early doors, and as I said when it came in “this is the sort of thing I was up for when I just left Guildhall”. But I am happy to push a reset button. The crucial time I lost to my mother’s dying and the aftermath of her death, just after Guildhall when my first film was in the can – I’ll never make that back. So I’m glad of anything that pays me to ply my craft and remind people that I still exist. I want the entry level jobs. I’m still optimistic and I’m still hungry. God knows how. But somehow I’m still calm that everything is going to be alright and when I’m old and my body isn’t working so well they’ll be willing to let me sit in a chair in every scene as the bolshy posh grandpa.

I’ve been playing the long game for a long time. It’s why I lose sleep when someone has been slagging me off. My best shot has always been to be calm, fun, friendly and reliable, which is just as well as that’s what I’ve got. But I need someone to do the industry side and the bullshit for me because I hate it – even if I’m getting better at it these days. I’ve known Iona since I was 10 and she held my hand when I was crying. Nobody could piss me off like she can and still be my friend if they weren’t the perfect foil to my slightly loose artistic sensibilities.

I’m trying to change my frame from slightly tragic “everybody loves Al” into “you need Al Barclay”. I think I can do it. Everything’s in place. Apart from the gender thing. But I suspect I’ll have to muddle through as a boy. Ahmed has that bit covered for me. Onwards into the summer. I’m going to get back to Ahmed and see if I can work out his/her intentions a bit more clearly.

As I left the bike shop I saw the remains of old ahmed. I’ll miss him:

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