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.

Odd jobs, health and safety and pizza.

Today has been about odd jobs again. A whole load of people busily making things. I love to work this side of theatre from time to time. You realise it’s a lot of work. It helps you be a bit less of a tit when you’re the one the lights are focused on as you have a better sense of the work that’s been put in before you swagger in there with your clean clothes and immediately start moaning about the shape of the door handle.

I hold my hand up, I’m not the most experienced at set building. I have multiple stage management friends who’ve known me as an actor and would blow their coffee out of their noses if they knew someone let me operate a circular saw at length today to cut some blocks of wood and make a tunnel of willow fronds. And yet here I am with both of my arms still attached, and the tunnel hasn’t collapsed or burnt down.

A lot of the jobs today were about Health and Safety. There’s a lovely guy in a really good suede jacket – I think he’s called Tim. He has to come around and take photographs of everything and make recommendations. There were some very stable stairs that we erected yesterday, and this morning Phil and I had to put some brackets on either side of them to make certain they didn’t move. They wouldn’t have moved. Now they really really won’t move and it’s visible. It was a good hour of work for a formality. A lot of the time I think that the purpose of Health and Safety is to make jobs. And to an extent I’m okay with that as I’m being paid by the hour. But to an extent I’m not, because Brian has to pay me. It’s a vast obstructive waste of time for the most part, Health and Safety. But from time to time somebody doesn’t die. The problem with accidents not happening is that nobody records the fact they didn’t happen. We know bloody well when they DO happen, though, even if the audience miss it. “Oh yeah, so we stabbed him in the back hard with a real letter knife instead of the retractable one. But he was Julius Caesar. He didn’t have anything more to say. We carried him off stage and got him into the Ambulance. The audience never suspected a thing.”

A performer fell 70 foot to her death 4 years ago when a safety rope slipped its harness. It doesn’t happen often, that kind of thing. But it only needs to happen once. Perhaps Tim has earnt that suede jacket.

I started looking up deaths on stage. I was curious to know how many of my brothers and sisters have had things dropped on them etc. Mercifully few. A couple of massive fires brought on by pyrotechnics going wrong, magic tricks going south… But the bulk of it seems to be heart attacks, aneurysm and strokes. So as long as you chill the fuck out and stay half fit you’ll hopefully be okay. Which reminds me. Fitness. I’m writing this after my third can of beer, and Melissa just arrived with this…


Year One – Headshots and Mirrors


There’s a tunnel in Waterloo which is a throwback to the eighties. I have no idea what it’s supposed to be called. It’s usually called “The graffiti tunnels.” In the graffiti  the war between creatives and morons is played out in microcosm. One person comes and works hard for hours making a beautiful thing. Then they leave, and some prat calling themselves “Spunz” or whatever comes along to spray their dull tag all over it in twenty minutes before walking away feeling like they’ve achieved something. Spunz has no handle on the distance between creation and destruction – which is a major societal problem but that’s for another blog. This graffiti is all sanctioned anyway. Nobody is doing anything subversive by spraying here. The zone is using up spray paint money and time that might otherwise be used to write political slogans in unwelcome and obvious public places.

I was working in “The Vaults”. That’s the name now. It’s a network of old tunnels in railway arches. I’ve been building-in a show. We were very much on that boundary between creation and destruction. I was helping build “Neverland”. But first I had to destroy the remnants of “Hair, the musical”, which had been left there by whoever was supposed to get it out. I broke a lot of stuff, and threw a lot of things away.

When I arrived on site they gave me a face mask for dust and a fifteen minute talk stating the obvious – along the lines of “If there is a large pit full of spikes, don’t jump into it. Make sure you don’t try to eat the tools. If you have a blow torch don’t hold it to your eye.” The only unusual part of the brief was “There are no fire drills today, so if there’s a fire alarm … um … stay where you are because it’s probably not an actual fire… um … yeah… we’ll tell you…”

A face mask – to wear on site. “What a load of nonsense,” I thought, conditioned by the brief, almost throwing the mask aside. Then I walked into the dustiest room in the history of mankind and immediately attached my mask, thanked God for my mask, and made sure my mask was sealed. Mask firmly in place I helped bang together a load of scaff alongside a bunch of people who had named their company after some Irish mercenaries who show up in Macbeth. After a few hours they kicked off because the job was different from how they thought it would be. I absented myself, washed unbelievable amounts of grease from my hands, found SOME GLOVES and started humping vast amounts of furniture in from vans.

I’ll be back in the next few days for more humping. There’s much to be done. After all the humping we’ve done already I’m exhausted, but I’m happy to hump in the name of good theatre. I can hump with the best of them.

Neverland is going to be wonderful. It already is. It ran in Sheffield for December with exactly the same run as my Carol. I’d love to have seen it. I took up a vanload in November for them, and I read the script with some of the makers before rehearsal started. I heard the songs. It’s a glory. You’d have to be soul-dead not to be moved by it. And there are lots of lovely people (and me) working bloody hard to build in the set on multiple levels, and to make it all magical and beautiful. Plus, most importantly, I can confirm that we have been properly briefed at length about health and safety.

Here are two of us – (both beautiful humans who fearlessly but ambitiously make glorious things.) They’re humping stuff together. Maybe if I put a photo of  two attractive young men humping it’ll get me more followers. I’m told that’s how the internet works.


Visit to the North

Thankfully I like driving.

I arrived bright and early to the van hire in Streatham. I had sent my itinerary to the guys I’ve been driving for, days before the job. They’re friends of mine. This job is a favour both ways. I get cash on a down day, they get stuff moved. The Streatham van hire is 20 minutes from the first pick up when there’s no traffic. I’m budgeting 40 as pick up is in peak rush hour. They know this is my expectation as I’ve sent them my anticipated itinerary. Buggers haven’t read it.

At 8 on the the dot, in Streatham, I discover they haven’t used the logical van hire – the one they usually use, that I expected. They’ve booked it in Kentish Town, in North London, the opposite side of town from where I am AND from the load-up. Bugger.

I’m livid. I angrily fight my way across London at peak rush hour. I’ve never queued so long for a train as I do getting on at Balham at 8.15. How the hell do you guys do it every day? Cattle.

On the Northern Line from Balham to Kentish Town passengers were gaily tugging on the alarm like kids in a steam train. At one point the driver hit the brakes so hard I lost my grip and went teeth first into my neighbor’s arm. Their reaction was one of unruffled comprehension, as if people accidentally chomp on her arm every day and it’s fine. I picked her skin out of my teeth and looked the other way. Then we stood for ten minutes back to back while the driver told us we’d be underway soon. Something had happened but it was all vague but nothing to worry about and another train not us etc etc. I felt like Anneka on a bad challenge. By the time I got out of the tunnel I was dripping with rage. The driver had janked banged yarked stalled and apologised his way through a tourists map of the tube stations I’d have to drive back past on my way to the load up.

I couldn’t get too angry as I was still aware that this is a perfectly well compensated job and part of it involves getting props for Carol, which directly improves my December. But I kind of … did. I was not my usual genial self. Had there been a bat, I’d have bitten its head off.

And yet I knew I had to drive for hours and extra crossings of rush hour London are no fun in a humongous great big monster of a Luton. Rage is no use on a long drive, so I lanced the boil. I actively vented spleen. That’s a rarity for me. I wanted to drive safely so I had to pass the parcel. Sorry to anyone who heard from me in that period and had some ugly dumped on them.

Then I drove back to Gatsby chanting, and loaded some props and fabrics and furniture to take up to Sheffield for Neverland. Neverland is the JM Barrie story, or is it your journey through his whimsical fantasy Peter Pan piratical lost-boy/fairy world? It’s all of that, and a lot more beside. I read the script a while ago and heard some of the tunes. It’ll be beautiful. It’s made by dear friends who know and care about beauty, as they do about whimsy and story. It’s going to be a musical joyful feast of Victorian delight told with style. And it’ll look a lot nicer because of that van load of Victoriana I took up, so I’ve played my part. I won’t get to see it. It opens in Sheffield on the same day as Carol. The designer and lighting designer hitched a lift up in the cab with me. They’re glorious people. This’ll be great.

I picked up some Carol stuff from Macclesfield and now I’m turning in somewhere north of Manchester. We’ve fed cats and rabbits, eaten pizza, and I’ve had the first half of my CBT (Compulsory Basic Training for motorbike.) Then I got to pick my whisky from this arrangement:


Life could be a lot worse. My attempts not to drink could be a lot better. This was a lovely day in the van. And Neverland were thrilled to have the stuff. Go catch it if you’re near Sheffield. It opens on the first.