Wednesday, 31 December 2008
It seems that Royal Holloway holds a student drama awards ceremony called the RHOSCARS every year, and this year they want me, "...an outstanding alumnus in the field of acting" to be guest of honour. They encourage me to "...support the event and promote and nurture young talent." Obviously I was on cloud nine about it, and swanked about all morning planning my speech of gentle encouragement and agonising about whether I should wear a square-cut bow tie or a butterfly.
And then I got over myself. There will many guests of honour, of course, and the support they mention I might supply will, I suspect, be fiscal! That said, I have fired off a cagey reply to accept and to try to discover exactly how many guests of honour there are likely to be. I hope it's less than fifty...
Friday, 19 December 2008
For all that, the part of the innkeeper was played with verve and gusto, and there was some excellent skin work from one of the pigs. Jake's performance as one of the three sheep was a masterwork of subtle characterisation which overcame his lack of costume (which had been rejected by the actor at the last moment). Some last minute blocking changes, however, left several of the shepherds looking stranded, and there were just too many guiding stars to be strictly credible. On the whole, a charming spin on contemporary mores; a petite farce aimed more at the heart than the head. 4*
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
I'm doing some good impro with a female actor; nice and effortless, good flow, and my objective in the impro is to try to tell her I love her for the first time. Suddenly I hear myself saying "...you hold my heart in these tender hands, and I know you'll be careful with it."
WHAT! WHAT WAS THAT? Her face is like a poster for "The Agony and the Ecstasy".
I glance at the director and CD, but it's too late. They've heard me. I leave like my arse is on fire.
Saturday, 29 November 2008
What would have undoubtedly undone me, though, would have been my variety of Scots accents - or lack of. No matter how many times I watch "Whisky Galore", I still sound like Fraser in "Dad's Army". Or worse, like Billy Connolly.
I don't much like doing accents for parts anyway. I read somewhere that you expend a huge percentage of your acting energy on maintaining an accent if it's not your own, and that's a terrifying statistic if, like me, you suspect you may be just a trifle underenergised at the best of times. Plus, when I'm in an audience and I know someone's doing an accent, I don't listen - I just sit in a state of fevered anticipation, waiting for them to cock it up. It's like being at the opera when a soprano does that very high solo in The Magic Flute. Everyone just winces.
Thursday, 27 November 2008
Monday, 24 November 2008
I scoped out the competition and it's not all that. But nobbling the shepherds or wise men, or best of all Joseph, will be no easy task. They're closely watched.
But I have found out that the Archangel Gabriel will be played by some bespectacled owl with a wheat allergy, so perhaps some judiciously placed Quavers will help...
Thursday, 9 October 2008
There's definitely a downside to moving along to the conventional sphere - you don't get to see the breakdowns coming in, for a start. In a co-op it's not uncommon to browse the company email every night for the gold dust of Spotlight links and Castweb, and to check what you've been put up for. And although co-ops aren't in the top (or even middle) rank of agencies as far as breakdowns are concerned, they do get some reasonably good stuff. But once you leave you're out on your own. Well, except for the info that everyone gets from PCR or whatever. And that's a shock.
PCR, though, is a real oddity. When you first start out you get it religiously, turning automatically past the "Feature Films in Production" section (yeah, right) and head right on down to Low Budget Films and Fringe and Profitshare, where scuzzers like you belong. Then when you've got areasonable CV and perhaps even an agent you sniffily reject it. Right up until someone you know ends up in the West End doing a new musical or something, and the pronounce they "saw the ad in PCR, darling!" Or the Equity website. Or most hilariously of all, The Stage.
Monday, 6 October 2008
Of course, this is madness. Any 24 year-old woman has probably the hardest time of it getting a casting - it has to be the most competitive age/sex combination imaginable. But it's difficult to remain level-headed when the castings dry up. Dry up, that is, except for my recent visit to the BBC. Coincidentally I was asked in to this by one of the two 24-year old woman actors I know who have decided to go into casting after the acting side just got too much to bear, and who are back on the bottom rung of the ladder again. Now that's self-awareness.
Friday, 26 September 2008
"No, don't know about them"
So I call VSA. Engaged for two hours (my fault for calling over lunchtime) after which a breathless Andy answers.
"Just a quickie, Andy. Headshots. Glossy or pearl?"
"I'm not fussed. Whatever you like. No border or name, though." Background mumble. "Tod prefers glossy. Whatever you like, though. OK? Bye, mister!"
Another hour or so passes whilst I agonise. Glossy or pearl? Would glossy blind the tired eyes of Kay Magson or Suzy Korel? What is pearl? I don't really know. Finally, just before business end, I call Richard at Denbry back.
"Can I have both?"
"Course you can" he says, with the weary air of someone who has long since tired of the caprices of performers.
Friday, 19 September 2008
But I was, and I knew I would be. Partly because I still feel like part of LCT but mainly because it's very, very good. For an opening night show it was remarkable in many ways - some of the detail in the performances, for example, was outstanding; the set is beautiful (and beautifully lit) and the action is very well sustained and rarely flags. There is a pivotal joke in the second act, the payoff of which looks as though it must surely fail, so great is the anticipation - but when it comes it succeeds through a masterpiece of subtle performance. Brilliant moment.
Afterwards it's first night drinks and a bunch of lovely old faces are there from Abs Party - Pete (Autumn CSM), Katja (Costume Designer) and Jeremy Daker from "Pera Palas" at the Arcola last year - but it's difficult not to feel like the skeleton at the feast. And so, I suppose, I should. LCT and Michael have moved on and so must I - we're all enriched by the experience, but I couldn't play Laurence for the rest of my life, nor would I want to.
However, if Michael was casting a nice, juicy Stoppard...
Monday, 8 September 2008
However, that awful sinking feeling that you're in completely the wrong clothing has only happened to me once; I was up for an undercover Fashion Spy in a Ford Focus commercial and I wore my grooviest floral printed linen shirt teamed with bootcut faded jeans (it was 2004, okay?) and chukka boots. Very Boden/Liberty. Except I got there and EVERYONE else was in all black, without exception - they'd taken the undercover thing very seriously - I hadn't thought about that at all. They were running two hours behind, and I can only ascribe my landing the job to uncharacteristic extreme patience and shameless camera-hogging. Haha!
Tuesday, 2 September 2008
As a version of the original it's a disaster (I'm sure Babbs and Donna Lucia don't snog in the shrubbery in the play) but Jack Benny is a revelation as Fancourt Babberley. He's plainly twenty years too old for it, and makes no attempt to hide his New York brogue but he's fantastic. He makes everyone else look as though they're hamming it up in music hall or something, he's so effortlessly and naturally funny.
Sadly, the re-writing is at the expense of Sir Francis, whose love interest (along with most of his role) is sacrificed to give Benny more screen time, so it's fairly useless for me as research material. I guess my audition will have to be another hommage to one of my father's friends, or possibly to my Dad himself. Again.
Thursday, 28 August 2008
I'm glad I looked, though, as Andy had sent through details of a casting with Vienna's English Theatre for Charley's Aunt. This is notable for two reasons - I've been seen by them before and I gave my worst audition to date (and that is up against some stiff competition); and I am being seen for the character of Sir Francis Chesney. I've done this show before, ten years ago, and I played Jack Chesney then - Francis' son (see posts passim)
This is a sort of memento mori, I suppose - I have an album on facebook called "Getting Older in Public" which I sometimes add to, which shows me getting more and more decrepit as the years bite. What next? Falstaff? Prospero? Lear? I should be so lucky!
Here it is: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=17546&l=bb3d6&id=617048310
Monday, 4 August 2008
On the drive back I slip into murmuring my lines and find them comfortable friends now - something I never felt actually during the shows. The same goes for much of the other fundamentals of acting when applied to rep; it's rare that you get to concentrate on the drama as much as you'd like to amid all the prop/costume/blocking worries which never fully evaporate, and that's a terrific shame.
If I've learned anything over the last month, it's this: that rep will expose, cruelly and immediately, any guilty secrets you have as an actor. Whether it's a problem learning lines, fear of long speeches or holding the stage, remembering blocking, a confidence issue or a problem with focus, it will all be thrown into VERY sharp relief with absolutely no chance of resolution in the immediate present (and sadly, that is when you need it most). And that's scary.
Saturday, 2 August 2008
Of course, in all this, we are trying to decipher whether the rep will be returning next year, and if so, in what form. This season is about half the length of past ones, which is a disturbing factor. But the audiences, reception and general bonhomie seem to indicate that the theatre would be greatly the poorer without it. The girls are having lunch with the Friends Chairman, as I write, so perhaps they'll try to pump him for information over their dim sum and fried rice. Marcus and I aren't invited, of course. We don't get asked for autographs at stage door that often, either. It's a gender thing.
The endless, and unwelcome task is clearing my dressing room. I have a small mountain of Thomas the Tank Engine toys which I've bought for Jake, plus a fridgeful of milk and other things that I can't leave behind but can't take. Then I have to decide what bizarre gift I can leave for the next actor. The Russian Ice Stars Andrei C and Andrei B left me a drawerful of Alka-Seltzer. Bless.
In the fridge I have a plain bottle full of decanted Martini Extra Dry which was a "Dangerous Obsession" prop. It looks rather like a night-soil. Perhaps I'll leave that...
As a piece of postmodern criticism, it's genius. As advertising, it's an absolute catastrophe
And here's another corker. Perhaps I'm wrong, perhaps there's something wrong with their oven and this is the only way of describing it accurately. In any case, the guy sitting at the table behind got his comb out imediately after I snapped this...
But here, on the right, is the jewel in the crown. God knows how many local government mandarins and pencil-pushers this got past before it was sent to the signmakers. At least it's pointing towards the right street for the Learning Quarter.
Friday, 1 August 2008
That's not to say that the reception hasn't been warm - it has. Emily's husband Terry said that the sense of ownership and fondness in the audience was palpable last night, and you can certainly feel that on stage.
It occurs to me, suddenly, that I'm totally unprepared for this finishing tomorrow, so obsessed have I (and we) been with getting through it at all. Perhaps this is why people come back - after all, the relationships deserve so much more than you can offer, and next year you get another chance. Maybe.
Thursday, 31 July 2008
It feels a bit like the downward spiral of depression, this problem with lines. Self-perpetuating. I remember reading that someone - Ian Holm? David Suchet? - was so crippled with stage fright from line anxiety that he gave up theatre altogether in his late 20's and has only just returned in his 60's. Nice if you can choose whether to be a movie star or not...
Mortals have to make do wioth whatever advice or solutions present themselves, and I'm not inclined to share the situation with the rest of the cast (don't want to freak them out or throw them off) so I'm trying something I'd normally scoff at - positive thinking and visualisation.
I've done this at auditions before - notably for "Pera Palas" and it seems to work, and I have no fear of pacing the streets chanting and stuff. Well, can't hurt...
Saturday, 26 July 2008
The slightly stop-start run proved that the new show is in pretty amazing shape for three day's rehearsal, but the clothes are going to be a nightmare. Shirt, waistcoat, jacket, overcoat, scarf, gloves and hat - in this temperature. Crazy. But not as crazy as a toga in the Courtyard Theatre for some loony Roman drama a few years ago - that was in February and during our changes we weren't short of hat-pegs backstage, let me tell you.
This is madness. My head feels like a pressure-cooker.
Friday, 25 July 2008
Needn't have worried, though - the loose-lippedness of the opening night (picked up by the Birmingham Post review, unfortunately) has now entirely dissolved, and we've settled into quite a comfortable routine, Paul and myself especially. There are times, still, when I scan the lines ahead of certain scenes (II.2 especially) and just wonder how on earth we're going to get through it, and indeed there are times on stage when it seems endless, but ultimately it's extremely satisfying, if a little chilling, to have to hold the stage and drive the play for so long. Next week is much more of an ensemble piece - Bella is a big part, but most of the truly enormous monologues are mine. These are still a bit of a problem, but the plot is so good that driving it becomes a pleasure, not a chore.
Thursday, 24 July 2008
I find the material very affecting - my character (Rough) basically rescues Bella from the clutches of her wicked husband, and the scenes where he reveals the horrible truth about the husband's identity to her are difficult to play, such is the emotional strength of the writing. Indeed, at times I could see Emily's eyes well up, and I found myself stumbling, lump-throated, over my lines. That has very rarely happened to me - although I'm a hopeless romantic fool and find it impossible to watch the end of "To Kill a Mockingbird" without weeping helplessly - but on stage I rarely feel the emotional charge of music or film. I knew a bit about Patrick Hamilton's fiction before, but I never realised what a fine playwright he is until now. What a joy to finish with this.
Wednesday, 23 July 2008
"Murder without Crime" opened yesterday and I have never felt so unprepared for a first night. It was certainly fresh; there was nothing stale about the sheer panic when the next line/move/scene totally eluded you until literally the millisecond before you did it. And occasionally the millisecond after you should have done it. Thank God my costume has brown trousers.
And this morning we began blocking "Gaslight" only stopping at lunch to do the MWOC matinee, followed by the evening show tonight, then more rehearsals all day tomorrow before the show. And we have to be off book for Act 1. No pressure!
Saturday, 19 July 2008
Incidentally, it turns out that Emily (picture below) almost saw AP in King's Lynn at the end of the autumn tour, but as it was a sell-out she may not even have been able to get in. And I remember that Amy (New Ange) very nearly saw it in Aberdare, her home town, where it definitely wasn't a sell out. As is the case so often, a catalogue of near-misses and almost-saws.
Friday, 18 July 2008
Thursday, 17 July 2008
Our duties are not onerous. In Act 1 we have to smash a pane of glass offstage. In Act 2 we have to walk around the back of the set in time with some recorded footsteps and rattle the french windows at the back of the set. The rest of the time we put our feet up, nibble some bitter chocolate and perhaps read from a slim volume of poetry. Well, I do. Julia has a fag outside.
Julia and self as June and Brian in The Murder Game. Can you tell that's a wig? Her, not me.
Wednesday, 16 July 2008
This sort of carry-on isn't that uncommon. So we have someone performing with a script, and against all the odds he's stealing the show. So let's raise a glass to Paul Fields, and as luck would have it, here's a picture of us doing just that in the Graseley kitchen. Paul's just visible around my enormous snout.
Tuesday, 15 July 2008
Friday, 16 May 2008
The curtain call is our bete noir. We've had audiences up and down the country wildly applauding for a third bow that we've failed to go on for (so they think we're snotty), and very occasionally we've misjudged it and returned to the stage when the audience are practically in the bar (so they think we're divas). We just can't seem to get it right.
The key problem is that no-one wants to go on stage to failing applause, or have it die out whilst you're leaving the stage. I don't know if you've ever been in a long line waiting to get into the wings (say in a musical) but if you're left on stage when the clapping stops it feels like your bloody arse is on fire.
At least we're reasonably well-behaved at our curtain call. I was watching a production at Theatr Clwyd last year when one of the lead actors straightened from a bow, winked at a friend in the audience, made an inquiring "drinkie?" gesture and then "shot" him with finger-and-thumb guns. Unbelievable.
Wednesday, 14 May 2008
The single thing actors complain about more than being unemployed is their agent-either they have the wrong one, or they don't have one, or they haven't had anything for ages from them, or they never call back. Having been on the other end of the 'phone in a co-operative agency for a few years, I know that it's almost impossible to represent more than a few artists properly, and most agents have many more than a few. So it depends whether you're hot or not. And I'm not all that hot.
There's some great stuff written about agent relationships - In Withnail and I, Marwood has an agent called Swamp Betty, and whenever he calls her, Withnail says "he's wasting his time because she won't be there" - not there to the likes of him, that is. And Uncle Monty's agent, Raymond Duck - "four floors up on the Charing Cross road and never a job at the top of them" has an extra resonant frisson because he's based on someone everyone seems to know.
I had a meeting with this agent many years ago, and I was welcomed onto the fourth floor by a simpering minion. He starts by looking over my CV, and then insists on taking down my measurements for reference - he actually refers to them as my "particulars". After hat size and shoe size he breaks off, looks at me with pursed lips and says "I'll guess the rest." I begin to feel uncomfortably hot at this point.
The minion is summoned again, because it's lunchtime. "I usually have an egg mayonnaise sandwich about this time" the agent says,"you will join me, won't you?". I have some trouble with my egg mayonnaise sandwich, and I spill some of the filling onto my trousers - he's up like a shot, scooping up the oleaginous goo from my leg with a bent 10x8 glossy photo.
Just at that moment, the minion enters again with his 1.20 appointment - by a terrible coincidence, the girl whose headshot has just been used as an impromtu shovel. She takes one look and bursts into tears, and runs sobbing down the stairway.
The next day he gets me an audition for the RSC.
Tuesday, 13 May 2008
Monday, 12 May 2008
"Ange, do close your legs - I can see straight up your fanjeeta".
Poor Amy manages to hold it together somehow, but there's serious tension after this and Maria, our company manager, insists that the (allegedly) boozy perpetrator is refused entry after the interval. No doubt the people near her approved, although many would say it's in the spirit of the show and, as Montgomery memorably says in Fame, "We're the pie-in-the-face people, remember?"
Amy (fanjeeta not visible here), self and AnnaHeckles like that are, mercifully, very rare. Alice (Bev) seems to have had her fair share though - invariably directed at the show rather than at her personally. The only heckle I've ever had to field was remarkable for it's aptness and swiftness of delivery. I was playing the terminally wet and tiresome Jack Chesney in "Charley's Aunt", and it came right in the middle of the scene where he explains to Kitty that he'd love to propose to her, but feels he can't because of severely reduced circumstances:
"You see" he says "my father has explained to me that we've lost all our money, and for the next few years at least I'm going to have to earn my own living"
"THAT'LL MAKE A BLOODY CHANGE" says my father, beaming in the front row. Touched.
Friday, 9 May 2008
The textbook "method" answer is to remain in character for the whole 24 mins, and to experience the emotions and other hoo-hah that Laurence does. I bet of you asked Gary Oldman or Daniel Day-Lewis they'd say that.
The Coarse Acting* answer is to go next door to The Eight Bells or wherever, and spend the time a little more productively - 24 minutes is probably enough time for two pints of Beamish. I know a number of, let's say, vintage actors who would recommend that option.
I normally read the paper, eat some bitter chocolate or practise saying the word "Clittingham" if I've muffed it in the first section (see posts passim).
Secondly, what do you do when you re-enter? No divided opinion on this one: go in and draw as much attention to yourself as possible to remind the audience who you are, because they are fantastically fickle and will have forgotten all about you after a few seconds. This especially applies if you have a false entrance like I do (i.e. one where you exit again immediately). So double-takes, mouthing swear words and engineered pratfalls are all permitted. They'll remember you then...
I've just discovered that 24 mins is the optimum time for writing a blog post!
*The Art of Coarse Acting is an invaluable manual by Michael Green and is, some say, required reading at Central.
Thursday, 8 May 2008
There was press in last night, and the incident's all over the papers. My first sight of it is the billboard outside the newsagents, but it's hit the Scotsman, Daily Record and even The Stage. What's heartwarming, though, is the number of audience members who've called to find out how I am, and, subsequently, the number of good wishes posted on the papers' websites. Of course, the story has long since outstripped the reality and I never really get a chance to correct it, but by that time I'm thinking "Enough now." And I'm sure, so are you.
Wednesday, 7 May 2008
Anna immediately gets up and stops the show - first addressing the audience and, through them, Maria and Alex in the box. She asks for assistance from the audience, and over the confusion of whether it's a stunt or not (as some people understandably think) two people appear either side of me, one immediately starts monitoring my pulse and the other my temperature - they speak in a shorthand - "racing", "steady but very elevated", and so on. I'm aware of the cast around me, but the man on my left monitoring my pulse is keeping me talking and holding my attention. The numbness is washing up in tides over my face and I'm panicking, but the calming influences on both sides of me start to work.
The auditorium is clear now, and the numbness and panic begins to subside as the paramedics arrive.
Tuesday, 6 May 2008
After the interval, though, my chest pains worsen and I'm in a very uncomfortable situation. I can't warn anyone that I'm unwell, yet it's not bad enough to take serious action. It is, though, affecting my performance and I really seem to be having trouble getting my breath. The supreme irony is that outwardly, the reality of what's happening is very similar to what happens to Laurence - I'm zoning out, not communicating and not responding, so I know no-one's noticed anything, not even the cast.
However, my one opportunity to communicate comes when I dance with Anna (Sue), and I take it - "I'm not feeling so great" I whisper, "Do you feel well enough to carry on?" she answers, subconsciously holding me tighter and supporting me, "Yes, I think so" I say. And it's done. She knows, and if it gets worse she'll realise.
The next few minutes are a bit of a blur. I say all the lines, go through the blocking and just try to finish it. I remember worrying about screaming at Beverly - will this make things worse? - so I ease off the throttle. But the heart attack can't be done in half measures so I go for it, full pelt, and after I keel over onto my back - that's when the numbness starts.
Then we have from 10am to 1.30pm to kill, and I book a further GP appointment for next Tuesday - six day's time - just to get a chance to mention my symptoms. I'm not a hypochondriac, but we have a history of ignoring stuff in my family which has had reasonably grim results, so I'm careful. That done, I put it to the back of my mind.
Saturday, 26 April 2008
I play lots of these blokes, so I suppose I must look like a bit of a bastard. You find that directors frequently cast you as similar character types if you work with them more than once, especially in film. In Folie a Deux I played the twin of a character from another of Sean's films, and you don't get more carbon-copy than that.
Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses - now that's a part. What a shit that man is! Here's a scarily youthful me playing him at drama school last century:
It can be a bit awkward having breakfast in digs, though, as it's basically someone's house and you can't shake the feeling that you're in the way. I stayed with a couple in Winchester once where the husband insisted on talking to me about his AmDram days all through breakfast, every day, never actually meeting my eye, whilst my eggs congealed and my smiling face began to ache. In the end I just started to eat whilst he burbled - he didn't seem to mind at all.
I had a funny turn on stage last night in the middle of Act I - I suddenly felt dizzy and light-headed. Luckily I have a few minutes offstage to compose myself but it was a very unpleasant experience. Maybe my brain has finally revolted against the repetition of the lines and given itself a sort of negative feedback? My subconscious must certainly be wondering what the bloody hell is going on, with me going to this ghastly party every night and having a thoroughly awful time. Perhaps it's trying desperate measures to get me out - let's see what happens tonight!
Friday, 25 April 2008
I love Travelodges. They're everything I ought to hate - soulless, homogenous, roadside and a transatlantic import. But at midnight you don't want an interesting creaky four poster bed, you want a shower that works and cable telly.
I was trawling through some old photos of a tour I did in 2005 and I came across some pictures of my digs in Wolverhampton. Graseley Old Hall - Joe Cushley and I had an entire wing to ourselves and felt we'd really fallen on our feet. Here's a photo of the kitchen:
And that's one of the reception rooms. We didn't realise how scary it was going to be once the daylight faded and the low-energy lightbulbs were all there was to see by. Creaky old furniture and shadows are a bad combination, and the bathrooms were all downstairs, so going to the loo in the middle of the night, well ...
I wonder where the Wolverhampton rep cast stays?
We're all a bit ropey, and we feel underenergised during the show. Everyone has had insomnia to some degree (different beds, late nights etc.) and some of us have specific complaints (me-dodgy shoulder and borderline IBS, Anna - intercostal muscle trouble ands so on...) all of which is to be expected on a long tour. It's a full house, and we're called back for three bows, though, so we can't be too far off the mark.
Wednesday, 23 April 2008
Michael's here again until after Ludlow (which is a difficult get-out for Maria and Alex, and he wants to ease the pressure on them), and I find him on his laptop backstage. He's already organising the autumn tour (and has been for some weeks) and Humble Boy looks as though it's going to sell very well on the back of Abigail's Party. Nothing in it for me, but I figure I've had more than my fair share from him over the last year! He cast me in Pera Palas at the Arcola in Spring 2007 (being something of a visionary, he managed to see beyond my jungle-cat heterosexuality and cast me as a gay American tile designer), then as Laurence in the Autumn Tour of this, and so on until now.
He runs London Classic Theatre pretty much single-handed, with no funding whatsoever - and manages to pay his actors a decent wage without taking advantage of them. Because of this, he's not going to retire on the profits anytime soon, but that's not why he's doing it. He just loves directing, and he loves working with people in this industry. I dearly wish there were more like him, and it'll feel distinctly odd being out of his stable in the summer.
Tuesday, 22 April 2008
What an awful place to go - and this photo makes it look better than it is. But then I can't think of many dressing rooms I'd like to die in. Those at Buxton Opera House are the original Victorian ones, and if you flush the loo too hard the cistern showers you with water! And at Listowel in the ROI there is no dressing room, you all strip off in the kitchen and enter through the audience.
The most you can hope for is that there's enough hot water for a shower and shave, some loo paper and above all, a plug for the sink.
Although I can barely keep my eyes open, there's a big envelope of scripts for me which I tear open and take to bed. Can't resist speaking some of the lines aloud, imagining how they'll sound on stage and trying to picture the set from the stage directions (French's Acting Editions always have very pedantic detailing of this sort). For me, this is the most exciting and the most worrying moment of a new show before opening night, with a myriad trivial yet crucial questions:
- Do I have the biggest part/funniest lines/best costume?
- Do I have to kiss anyone/appear naked?
- Do I have to die on stage?
And a flick through confirms:
- Yes, in one/Yes, in one/Yes in all three!!!
- Yes in one, but not enough to annoy my wife/No, thank God, but I might have to lose some weight
- Yes. Bugger.
Plus there's a cast list, so I can scope everyone out on the web in the morning. Don't recognise anyone, though, so I probably haven't worked with them. Big sleep, no dreams.
Monday, 21 April 2008
It's early when we arrive and, with a few hours to kill, we mooch down to the seafront and eat ice-creams in the sunshine. There are some drawbacks to this job, but the upside can be enormous.
The downside is that sometimes your hands and mouth don't seem to function normally, and when your moves are being watched by a few hundred people that is a problem. I never intended playing L. as clumsy but tonight he's dropping bottle tops, clouting furniture, spilling ash into food and knocking things over. Plus he can't pronounce "Clittingham" anymore, a word which is an open manhole for an actor at the best of times. I am urged by Michael (director) to "just be a bit better" at the interval and, for once, he may not be joking...
There's a great moment tonight which will never happen again. It's scripted that Tony reappears in Act II and, when Ange asks him where he's been, he says "Southend". They go mad.
Sunday, 20 April 2008
Unfortunately, we've left our show relay off in our dressing room and as Jamie and I loaf around gassing, the half and quarter calls are made and missed. By the time we turn it on it's the five and I'm not even fully dressed. Consequently there's a certain urgent, breathless quality to my first entrance.
It goes down a storm, though, and the General Manager, Caroline, comes backstage to tell us how delighted she is. This is just as well, as she caught us doing the conga before the show to the strains of "We're going for a gang-bang" from Rita, Sue and Bob Too. Not the way you want to be remembered.
Then I catch myself in a shop window and realise that I've accidentally dressed like a decrepit Freddie Mercury. Perhaps I shouldn't be allowed out, at least not during the day.
Friday, 18 April 2008
This sort of delay isn't unusual for low-budget stuff. Most of them never get finished at all, in my experience. But Sean is determined, and thank God, tends not to listen to input from other people in the editing process. This seems to be the factor which derails most projects in the final furlong (well, that and money, of course), and the longer the delay the more the energy leaves the project, like a slow puncture in a balloon.
I think Alice and I underplay our true feelings for each other beautifully here, don't you?
The chances of anyone coming are monumentally slim. You basically have to adopt the same attitude as you would for an audition - competition is breathtakingly fierce so enjoy it for its own sake and try not to worry if it doesn't work out . Difficult, but it can be done. And if anyone does show up, join your castmates in the feeding frenzy to get noticed. That said, Alice's friend Nick from Hull Truck saw the show last night, and we were all admirably restrained meeting him afterwards. I imagine he's often pursued down the street by actors waving CV's and 10x8 glossies so a quiet drink and a few laughs probably made a welcome change!
Thursday, 17 April 2008
In spite of this, it's a great show. Very pacy, very on-cue and technically perfect. The audience are VERY vocal, too - commenting on the action, which I like (and which you don't seem to get down South) and finding some of the broader comic elements very funny indeed without losing the pathos.
Dinner is chips and Tommy K in the car on the way to Wakefield. Living the dream.
Charles in an extraordinary man - he's acted in and produced it all; West End, No.1 tours, films too, I think. As an actor he took over from Laurence Olivier in "The Entertainer", as a producer he has given huge stars their first jobs, and he now runs two of the last authentic summer rep seasons - at Sidmouth and Wolverhampton (I'm in the latter). I've already sourced one of the plays, "The Murder Game", so I speed-read it with a different perspective. There's a character called Brian who's described as "about forty, handsome in a florid way" which I guess is me - I'm certainly not playing Gerry, who "...is twenty two, but looks much younger" unless there's been a ghastly error or everyone younger than 30 is going to be in Edinburgh.
Michael Caine tells a great story about the ageing process of an actor, where you don't notice it in the mirror, but in your stand-ins. I suppose when I read "...he's about eighty, but looks much older, walks with two sticks and can barely speak for drooling" it might be time to call it a day.
Tuesday, 15 April 2008
Getting more work to dovetail with the job you're doing is, of course, the holy grail of any freelance occupation but I think actors feel it especially keenly. The five of us started musing about what would happen once the tour ended when we were still in Ireland (weeks 1-6 of 22!) and as the tour accelerates towards Basingstoke (4-7 June) we become more uneasy. Well, I'm sorted for July but even so, I can't help wondering what'll happen in August - and this feels a touch meretricious when so many friends are out of work.
And we discover we can't go to a lunch party on Sunday because the host has never had the disease! All that my time off has in prospect, it seems, is a sort of enforced quality time with fever. At least I get to watch a lot of "Thomas the Tank Engine".
The pressure of opening night in Swindon is doubly exacerbated by a visit from our producer/director Michael (who often watches when we open in a new venue) and the presence of my family, some of whom haven't seen me on stage since school (many would say my best work, actually). At curtain up I walk on feeling odd, and every gesture and word seems preposterously exaggerated for the first few minutes. This inital clumsiness I feel soon gives way to a cracking show, however, and the audience seems to grasp nuances which normally go unnoticed. It's a big theatre, though, and some interesting details between the characters are always lost in very large spaces.
No Travelodge for me tonight - much as I love them. Instead, the ample bosom of my family acts as a pillow for my vagabond's head.
Friday, 11 April 2008
Still, such glitches are fantastically rare, and it's miles better than the days when every sound cue was on a separate tape, and if you knocked the pile over the actors might get birdsong, bongos or the Beatles, who knew? And there was nothing like the sound of a tape stretching to knacker the dramatic illusion.
In ten years I suppose all SM's will have the show soundtrack on a minuscule flash drive that you just plug and play - either that or they'll be hiring live orchestras again. Watch this space for news...but of course, I'll be replaced by CGI or a hologram long before then. Hmmm.
Thursday, 10 April 2008
Jamie Matthewman - who plays Tony - (in photo with Alice Selwyn as Beverley) and I have a hard time with this. For example, it's stated explicitly in the text that I have a moustache and strongly implied that he has a full set, and the only real option was to actually grow them (falsies don't work well enough and are v. expensive). So we walk around with this hilariously outdated facial topiary which doesn't go with our clothes, the times, or anything else much, for that matter. It's a shock every morning in the mirror, my wife Sue hates it and no-one fancies me. On the plus side, I am in gainful employment, and my two-year old son Jake loves pulling it. It's a poisoned chalice.
Jamie says that he's overwhelmed with offers, though, so perhaps it's just me.
But that's Friday. Today's Thursday, our second day in Stamford (Lincs) and it's the 12th week of the Spring tour of Abigail's Party. Well, it is for the rest of the cast - I've been with this show since August last year and I've clocked up 24 weeks, close to 100 shows and - since I play Laurence - that means nearly 100 agonising, tortured deaths at the end of the play.
Which is a scene that no-one ever remembers from the BBC version with Alison Steadman. Chiefly, I think, because her Beverly character SO dominates the play that it's difficult to remember anything else at all, the detail of her character was that good. It can't have hurt to be married to the guy directing it (although no-one would suggest she doesn't deserve every moment of that screen time).
We have a very balanced show, all the characters are strong stage presences because they're written that way, and also because there are some exceptional actors playing them. And I'm having breakfast with them in about half-an-hour at our Travelodge's Little Chef. Glamour.