Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Dear Me

I got the most bizarre letter in the post this morning (almost as bizarre as a pen-and-ink sketch someone sent to my agent once, with a suggestion that it was worth £10. It wasn't!).

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

Happy Christmas from the Dineens!

She's a great little mover already!

http://elfyourself.jibjab.com/view/puigqAkEK9alPS5w

Early Doors

I was at Jake's nativity play this morning. What a farce! The story had a vaguely familiar ring, but sadly they'd made no effort to place it in a modern context. I mean, there's a single mother who's not sure who the father is; there's a tax review going on; a housing shortage. Couldn't be more 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

And...

I forgot to mention, the director said he'd be in touch when they'd finished seeing people IN FOUR DAYS! Work must be thin on the ground.

Loose Lips

Sooooo......I'm at this casting for a short film at LFS the other day. I haven't done any film since early 2007 because of touring and all, so it'd be very good to get in front of a camera again. Anyway, a friend had suggested me for it and you know, it's going OK.
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

Accent Grave

I forgot to say, too, that my accents are the kiss of death. I did an impersonation (or rather an hommage) to Alec Guinness a few years ago when I was playing Herr Ringleman in "Clockwork", and the day after I first tried it, the poor man died.

Accent-uate

Ah. Not being seen for Pitlochry this year, then. Shame, because I am now an expert Bodhranai and can croak my way through two (count them, two) musical theatre baritone songs.
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

Another Humbled Man

On this day, at shortly before 4am, my lovely wife gave birth to a baby girl at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. No quips or smart talk. She's an angel and we're calling her Molly Elizabeth.
That's all!

Monday, 24 November 2008

First Steps

Jake's been cast as a sheep at his pre-school Nativity Play. A SHEEP, for Christ's sake! Not even a shepherd!
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

Flying the Coop

Oh dear. I've just heard that a guy who left my old co-op last year amid a blaze of bunting and celebration has "all but given up" on his new agent after no castings for the whole of 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

As Cast

As I'm sure you know, nothing compares to the sheer unalloyed joy of hearing how well your friends are doing. And I accept that it's most irrational to be envious of a twenty-four year old actor who's a) female and b) whose forte is musical theatre, but there you are. I am a bit.
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

I Oughta Be In Pictures

God, there's nothing like this business for making you fret over details. I ordered some repros from Denbry yesterday and they asked whether I wanted glossy or pearl finish. "What do you think?" I asked. "Well, a lot of big agents are going for pearl now - ICM and people - they don't show finger marks and glossy seems a bit passe. Who's your agent? Maybe I can tell you what they prefer?"
"Vincent Shaw"
"Who?"
"VINCENT SHAW"
"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

Humbled Man

On Wednesday I was at the opening night of "Humble Boy" (you know, the new London Classic show that there's no part for me in and therefore I am not jealous of) and I was determined not to be jealous. I practised not being jealous in the car on the way down, and, just in case jealousy feeds off dehydration or hunger, I drank water and hasd a snack shortly beforehand.
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

Casting Crises

There's a couple of phenomenons at auditions which I haven't thought of names for yet. One is that silent certainty you feel when you see someone on the tube who you just know is on their way to the same casting as you; the other is the heart-racing fear you get when you experience the above with someone who is infinitely better casting for the role you're up for. I had that last crushing experience only the other day at the Charley audition - he knows who he is...

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

Charley's Aren't!

I've failed miserably to find my script of CA - but since it's somewhere in twelve unopened boxes of books I feel less of a failure than I otherwise would. I also failed to lure my friend Steve, who's auditioning for Brassett, to my house for a "dry run" of the casting; i.e. an opportunity for me to have a look at his script. So instead I dig out the film version which I videoed years ago, and it's an undiscovered gem.
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

Home Calls when Abroad

Doesn't checking your email on holiday just feel wrong? Our hotel in Venice had a free internet point so it seemed churlish not to have a look at what had come in, but it felt like being briefly transported back to the UK. Most odd.
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

Gathering

And so the season closes with a barnstorming Sat mat and slightly less assured evening show. I very nearly deliver my last line pronouncing "horrible as "hoggible" but control my wayward mouth at the last instant. Which made me think how unmemorable some last lines might have been if the actor hadn't been concentrating, viz: "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a suitable friendship" etc.
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

Arrivederci Wolver

The goodbyes have started, even though we have two shows still to do. Su, our director, left on Wednesday (although she may visit this evening) and there were many fond cheerios at the friends evening on Tuesday, where CV himself made a short speech (after addressing the crowd at the show, too).

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...

(sic)

I guess every town is famous for something - Bill Bryson talks about small towns in America which are famous for doing great grits (We're REAL proud of our grits, man! YEAH!). Don't know what Wolverhampton is famous for, but it leads the world in bad spelling on signs. Bejesus, it does. Here are some of my favourites:


There's a sort of classical beauty to some of it, and a breathtaking irony too. See this one on the right:

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

Tempus Fugit

Nearly a week since our Saturday stagger-through, and last night (Thursday) was the first time I think any of us have felt anything approaching comfortable on stage. Me especially. A casting director friend of mine said once that it's impossible to do too much work for an audition and I think this definitely applies to performance. In weekly rep, if a performance is completed it seems almost to be in spite of the (limited) preparation rather than thanks to it. Plus "Gaslight" is a properly written play, with nuances and shades of meaning and characterisation, and a multi-faceted set of themes and relationships which is in direct opposition to the rather two-dimensional dramas which have preceeded it.I can't help but think it deserves better than we can give it in the time.
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

Lines

I've dried both nights this week so far, so much so that I had to be rescued by Emily, and I hardly slept last night for sheer worry about doing it again. I couldn't stand the house this morning - I couldn't slip on the mask of ease today, so instead I've come into town to escape to my dressing room. It's the only place I can really be alone at the moment.

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

Too Darn Hot

God, it must be the hottest day of the year. We ate lunch (pie and mash for me - well, when in Rome...) by the canal, where we were also coincidentally right next to the ring road and the railway line and it still contrived to be really gorgeous. Inbetween a run of "Gaslight" and our matinee of MWOC, this was. We're pretty done in, all told.
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

Managing Stress

I posted a couple of days ago about first-night stress - a phenomenon which is only surpassed, in my experience, by agent-night stress. Andy from VSA came up last night to see Paul and myself in MWOC. It's the first time he's seen me in anything since he took me on, and the first time he's seen Paul for some while, so the atmosphere was a little, ummm, heavy, not helped by the muggy weather.
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

Noticed at Last!

The Wolverhampton Express and Star give us a good review for MWOC! I am singled out as being "suitably irritating", which, along with "gives it tolerable substance" and "does as much as he can with awful dialogue and a plot line that goes nowhere", I can add to my suitcaseful of useless epithets. Huzzah!

Jewel in the Crown

We've just staggered through "Gaslight" (first run after blocking and working) with some pretty impressive results - Emily (Bella) and Marcus (Jack) have a great on-stage relationship already - they did some work on this prior to the season so perhaps that accounts for some of it, but it's in excellent shape for such an early stage. Bella is a mammoth part, but Em's well on top of it.

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

"Acting? Wouldn't Tax an Embryo!"

Muggles quite often say to me "God, it must be hard doing what you do" - to which I usually say something jokey about it being nothing compared to working the coal face or lumberjacking or whatever. I mean, showing up an hour before the curtain goes up and floating about saying lines and doing moves you've done dozens of times before isn't taxing is it? But weekly rep, whoa! That's a whole different ball game.
"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

Richmond Road Revisited

The Abigail's Party set after some reprogramming with chainsaws and sledgehammers. RIP.


I've just got off the blower to Captain Cabot, who's finished casting his autumn show, Humble Boy (see posts passim) and is off on holiday soon before rehearsals begin. Can't help feeling a twinge of envy about all this - some shows are literally a line on your CV afterwards, but some are much more, and the ripples they cause in your life are felt for much longer. One of the reviewers towards the end of the second tour of AP said "...poor old Steve Dineen has been Laurence since September" as though it was some terrible burden to inhabit a character and be part of a company for that long, but I honestly never thought that for an instant.
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.


Stop Press!

For the first time this week the gun has worked properly!

Friday, 18 July 2008

Dead Letter Perfect

I've always been the sort of actor who hates being on book - I used to put the script down as soon as possible, usually long before I was word-perfect. This was not a popular approach with some directors; even less so with writers (but they're at the bottom of the food chain so who cares?). So I've been learning lines accurately in advance of rehearsals for a few years now. But every now and then a script comes along which defies all your attempts to get it off pat. And Murder without Crime is one of those.

God knows how many hours I've spent on this. I remember opening some champagne when I finally finished looking at it pre-season, it was that much of an ordeal. And with a few days to go, it's still an absolute monster. At rehearsals Tony, our DSM (who follows on the book), shakes his head like a Parkinson's patient during my speeches, which is a bit of a worry.
I wish I was like Emily, who is not only spot-on with her lines but seems to be able to articulate the full stops properly. She's onstage at the moment wearing nothing but a small bikini, which has caused a bit of a stir among the Grand faithful. Here's a picture of her and me in "The Murder Game" where I am doing my generic look of concern from The Art of Coarse Acting.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Aunt Julia and the Sceneshifter

One of the undoubted joys of rep is the chance to ASM for the show which you haven't been cast in. After the highs of last week's starring roles in "The Murder Game", Julia (ingenue parts and general young crumpet casting) and I (miserable old character actor and borderline homosexual casting) are on ASM duty this week for "Dangerous Obsession".

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

An Actor Despairs...

Earlier this spring, when I first heard of the casting for the season I posted my excitement at being cast as Mark in "Dangerous Obsession" - partly because NJ Crisp was a great contributor to TV shows like "Tales of the Unexpected". Well, things moved on and there was a casting re-shuffle of mammoth proportions which took me out of that show (the phone call coincided nicely with my setting down the script having learned it) and putting me in "Gaslight" instead. Marcus too over my role, and he was in turn replaced by another actor who then baled out the day after arriving, and with only four days to go before opening night.

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

Bless me, Father...

...for I have sinned. It's been two months since my last confession. Although that's partly due to my laptop finally grinding to a halt (is 15 minutes really OK for a boot-up, Mr Sony? I think not!) and a frenetic bout of line-learning for Wolverhampton.

The rep season is in full throat now - "The Murder Game" opened last week and closed on Saturday to mixed reviews - mainly criticising the play for being a creaky old fossil (which it is, I suppose) but taking time out to have the occasional pop at my Brian "...a little lacklustre to begin with" for example. The rest of the time I was not lacking lustre, it seems. And the Bridgenorth Journal was lovely about me. Marcus, playing Gerry (Brian's nemesis) gets great coverage all round, and deservedly so, it's a very nicely judged portrayal - and if you take a gander at the picture on the right, you'll see why he doesn't have to try quite as hard as some of us to get noticed by the reviewers. Some of us have to rely just on talent! Ho ho!
Tomorrow we start rehearsing "Murder without Crime" which has been re-christened "Murder without Plot" or "Murder without Redeeming Features" so more of that soon.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Calls to Order

We've just done our second show in Hereford, and we've had yet another debacle over the curtain call. I had to almost lift Kirkie (Sue) back onto the stage for a third set of bows, and this got so confused that we ended up all in the wrong order - reading R-L as you look at the stage it was me, Kirkie, Jamie, Alice and Amy. So Jamie led the bows and had his "moment in the sun" as Alice called it (tiny diva poking out there?).

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

Personal Management

I've been trying to get through to my agent for a couple of days, as yet without success. It's nothing terribly pressing - just how to handle the Musselburgh thing ands whether my contract for Wolverhampton has been sorted out - it's stuff that can wait and clearly that's how they feel, too.

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

Only In Essex...


...the spiritual home of Ab's Party, could this happen. We're in Chelmsford on a hot and sticky night, it's a bit uncomfortable under the lights but nonetheless the first act is bowling along nicely. Then, perfectly timed, and placed precisely in a pause, a voice from the front row modulated exactly like Beverly's says:
"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 Anna

Heckles 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

Time Out

Laurence is an oddity in "Abigail's Party" because he's the only character who's offstage for any significant period of time - about 24 minutes, in fact. Of course, this happens in other shows but nearly half-an-hour is a very long time in dramatic terms, and it presents problems. Firstly, what do you do during your time off?

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

Aftermath

The next morning, with a clear chest X-ray, ECG and blood tests to my name, Michael calls to check I'm OK. Maria called him just before she and Alex came to relieve Anna at A&E the previous night, and, aside from his obvious concern, he needs to know my condition and whether I'll be fit for tonight. I feel better than I've felt for a while, so for me the question hasn't even arisen, but I'm in sweet ignorance of what's happened.

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

A & E

It starts in my chest and works its way down and up, this numbness and tingling, like very strong pins and needles. I keep my eyes open because I'm scared to close them, while Amy and the rest of the cast continue with the scene, but I can tell by her voice that she's not comfortable with what she's seeing, nor with Anna telling me to keep on breathing. As it reaches my face I suddenly think "Christ, it's really happening. I'm going to die here. How ridiculous" and at that point I suppose survival takes over and I say "Stop it, please stop it" through this deformed, almost immobile mouth.

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

Casualty

At the show opening in Musselburgh I'm not feeling 100%, and I can't join in the pre-show light-heartedness. To be honest, I just want to get on with it and get it done, and I never feel like that normally. So something's wrong, I know from the start.
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.

Doctors

Prior to the new week (and a strenuous travelling one at that) I consult my GP (well, GP's nurse actually) about some mild chest pains I've been having and she runs a routine test or two and sends me off to Alnwick, confidently assuring me I'm not suffering from anything terminal. I always get a bit of the esprit d'escalier about doctors, and very soon after I think of dozens of symptoms which I should have mentioned, but of course now it's way too late and we're halfway to Northumberland. Anyway, we do a very good show and stay with a thoroughly lovely New Zealander called Paul, who cooks a mean breakfast and has a pop at Amy for skipping hers (leads to diabetes, apparently). So it's business as usual.

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

Being a Bastard

I've just started making character notes for Brian Hamilton in The Murder Game and this is what I've got: Ex-racing driver; drinks to excess; vain; misses being important; weak - easily swayed; dubious morals - content to live off wife and betray her trust whilst doing it.

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.

There's plenty of meat on these characters, at least. My nightmare roles are romantic leads - I played Jack Chesney in Charley's Aunt, years ago - drippy, insipid and uninspiring. In post-show discussions I'm always telling students that you can't do too much work for a part, but I confess that parts like that floor me.

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:

Groundhog Day?

I just can't resist breakfast in a B&B, though it's usually a lonely business because Amy (Angela) and Alice (Bev) don't eat until lunch, and although I sometimes see Jamie or Anna, often I'm alone. Alone except for the cereal, juice, eggs, sausages and so on, because I have everything. Can't help it - it's compulsive.

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

More on Digs...

By the way, a much older actor told me many years ago, that you should always have a quick butcher's in the Visitor's Book wherever you stay, and if anyone's has written LTD, then the landlady's up for some late night slap-and-tickle. I've never seen this written, but I do know someone who had an uncomfortably close call in Dartford with a middle-aged lady and two of her drunken friends. Enough said.

Travelodge - We Don't Do Much, but We Do It Great!

It's another Travelodge tonight - but this one seems to have a dry stone wall cladding to fit in with the local architecture. Very nice.

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?

No More Kendal Mint Cake...

I'm in Kendal much earlier than the rest of the cast - Maria (production manager) had some emergency root-canal work and was too zonked to drive the van, so Michael does and I drive his car. Our production crew obviously ate too many sweets as kids - Alex had some emergency treatment at some rustic backwater called Virginia in the ROI, where the drill was still operated by a foot-pedal, but she pulled through OK. She also has a hernia, but that's because she's moving huge bits of set around single-handed.
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

Captain Cabot

Full tonight, and the front row is composed of teens (it's on the curriculum) and their response is very interesting. They revel in the more blatant sexuality and broad comedy, but completely miss the sideswipes about marriage (as one would expect, and hope). However, there's no childish response to the bleaker moments - they're even more attentive than those for whom death is a more immediate concern.

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

Dressing Room 3

...at the Roses Theatre, Tewkesbury is where Eric Morecambe died - or at least, experienced the heart attack that killed him. He came off stage and had a coronary; I have one on stage and then walk away. Gave me a bit of a queasy shiver.

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.

Tewkesbury

Tewkesbury Abbey is outside my bedroom window! But there's no blind in my bathroom, so a tall person can see me on the loo. Ying, yang.

Invitation to Some Murders...

Arrive home after Westcliff stupidly tired to a cold and empty house - beautiful family is in Oxford at my parents' as Jake's back at pre-school tomorrow.

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

Romford-by-Sea

As expected, our one night in Westcliff at the Palace Theatre is going to be busy - Essex being the spiritual home of "Abigail's Party". Mike Leigh states that he set it in "Theoretical Romford" but I've run into people exactly like Beverly all over the place, and I used an Oxford friend of my father's as a maquette when working out what Laurence should be like. So it's pretty universal.

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

Norwich

Tonight, our only night at Norwich, is a sell-out and that always raises the stakes somewhat. Plus my in-laws, Cherry and Jeremy are here with friends so I feel the pressure a bit more than usual. I always think that if you can convince your family to lose themselves in the action whilst you're onstage then you're doing a good job. So I start my warm-up early.

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.

Reality Bites

I'm walking through Norwich today, looking for a tapas bar that Sue and I ate in about a year ago when I pass four teenage girls. Moments after, I hear one of them say "That bloke's got grey hair and a brown moustache". There's a pause, then her friend pipes up "Yeah, but he's old, isn't he?" Apparently age means I'm no longer culpable for my grotesque appearance and inconsistent hair colour.

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.

Culture Vulture

Just as I'm beginning to despair of Wakefield, I walk five minutes out of the city centre and find the Art Gallery. It's not much bigger than a large house, but they've bought or been given some

brilliant stuff. Great Barbara Hepworths and Henry Moores downstairs, with some really cracking Victor Pasmores, a Lowry and a Bridget Riley or two upstairs. And they were all bought within a year or so of being done, so they originally cost tuppence ha'penny and are now worth a fortune. Great Modern British collection.

And George Gissing, who wrote "New Grub Street" was born here. Doesn't say how long he stuck around for, though...


Friday, 18 April 2008

Folie a Deux

Just before I leave to do tonight's show I get a very welcome email from my filmmaker friend Sean about his latest project. Filming ended (for me, anyway) in 2006 and it's been in post-production ever since, but after lots of re-shoots and pick-ups, and ADR (extra dialogue) it's approaching completion.
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.

Self as Product

Spend a bit of time this morning on a publicity drive for Basingstoke - it's arguably near enough to London to attract the odd casting director/director, especially if they live nearby. In 20 minutes I manage to get 25 postcards ordered with a show photo on them plus a caption for less than 20 quid. The first time I did this, to publicise a film I did for Channel 4, it cost £50 in a print shop. The internet is fabulous. This is the shot I used:
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

The Joys of One-Night-Stands

We drive to Mansfield on performance day, which means we are there in time to have an early supper, set the props, do the show, strike and not much else. Some places just don't have a great theatre-going tradition - hence these one-nighters - and since Mansfield seats 500, of which we sell about half, any longer wouldn't be viable.
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.

Turn down the gas!

Not in "Gaslight". Boo. But cast in the other three plays in cracking parts. Yayy! Get this information from Charles Vance lui-meme, who calls on Wednesday a few moments before I'm due to leave for Mansfield.
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

The Dogs Bark, and the Caravan Rolls On...

I get news, finally, of my next job (which I landed courtesy of my new agent, the saintly and preposterously youthful Andy Charles). It's a proper rep season at Wolverhampton - four plays in four weeks - and they're all murder mysteries. It culminates with the wonderful "Gaslight" by Patrick Hamilton, which is very Victorian and melodramatic, and with which I would love to be involved. The casting details won't arrive for a few days, but having read one of the others already and knowing a third, it does seem that there will be good meaty parts for everyone.

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.

A Pox on You...

Sunday marks the start of a very generous three days off, and this would no doubt be relaxing if Jake hadn't just contracted chickenpox at nursery. When the first case was reported there was an unseemly rush by his chums' mums to get them all infected, which seems to me an absolutely barbaric practice when there's a vaccination on the market. Anyone who thinks it's a good idea is, I hope, brought up short by the sight of their little darling pustulating all over the place and throatily unable to sleep because of the agonising itching. Poor blighters.

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".

Transport and Delight

It's a long drive from Stamford to Swindon, made slightly longer by having no music in the car. This is my only grumble about our tour waggon, a huge silver 1999 Mondeo, but other than that it's been stoical and reliable transport. In the Republic of Ireland, when things did go awry, it had the good sense to break down on a day off rather than abandoning us, say, in heavy snow (which we saw later in Enniskillen) or during a monsoon (Cookstown). And as we sat broken down outside Listowel, about a dozen of Kerry's finest sons stopped to offer us help (although several admitted later that without Alice, Amy and Anna in the car, Jamie and I would've been left to our fates).

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

Farewell, Stamford, and sorry about the sound...

Oh dear. A few technical difficulties tonight leave poor Alice (Bev) with a silent record player, so she has to float about the stage writhing to imaginary music whilst she prepares nibbles for the party - and this section opens the play. Things worsen when the volume climbs to absurd, distorted levels during the Elvis and sinks unexpectedly low later. All we can do is sit there pretending it's not happening whilst our Stage Manager (SM) Alex struggles with the sound desk, forty rows of seats away.
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

It's tough having a mo' in 2008

Just had my hair cut by a lovely woman at "Beyond the Fringe" (no, really) in Stamford who mercifully remembered the 70's and so didn't ask why I was wearing this stupid hairdo. Which is exactly what someone asked in Cookstown, Northern Ireland a few weeks ago.

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.

One day to go...

...until my family see it in Swindon! First flutters of nerves when I think about them being there.

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.