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


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


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.


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.