Thursday, 31 July 2008


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.