Tuesday, 22 December 2009
For mortals like me, the end of a job - even one as unexpected as Beauty Queen - heralds the powerful suspicion that one will never act again. Hitherto an irrational fear, but one with teeth nonetheless.
Vexing, too, is the matter of How To Actually Get Another Job. I wonder how much of a formula others have for this - mine is casual at best, slapdash sometimes and seat-of-the-pants at worst. You wonder how often people need to be reminded you exist, too. Every six months? More? I mean, I forget where my specs are after twenty minutes or so, but I'm not a great benchmarker for memory.
My agent, of course, is beavering away in the background, but one of the negatives of being on tour is that I have been largely unavailable during our partnership. And as I have observed before, I am not as high-temperature as some of his other clients.
And so it goes on. Sending out CV's and 10x8's to local companies, checking the Equity website, bugging ex-employers with a cheery email every now and then. And wondering if there really is a critical shortage of plumbers and electricians...
Touring is an odd experience for many reasons, but the changing seasons is one of the oddest because it's the backdrop for a largely unchanging universe, i.e. the show. Looking back at my Midnight photos there's everything from floods to punting.
Snow, though, being rare, is more memorable. Touring Abs Party in Northern Ireland in Spring 2008, we were caught in a proper blizzard driving back from Enniskillen, and passed stranded and abandoned cars all the way. It's the only time I remember the car being silent - I imagine because we were all praying. In Hamburg earlier this year, the weather changed enormously and quickly over three months, and inevitably it meant that jumpers too thin for severe winter conditions were far too thick once the sun came out the following day.
The coldest I've ever been, though, was picking my way across a snow-filled courtyard in sandals for some Roman farce in King's Cross. Either those Romans were a seriously hardy breed or they wore thermals, because the wind-chill protection offered by a toga is zero.
Sunday, 6 December 2009
- Paul Fields (emergency replacement for Michael Magnet in Wolverhampton Rep 2008) was in a graduate show I saw at the Jermyn St Theatre in 2002. The actor I was actually there to see came originally from...Wolverhampton.
- Janette Owen (Midnight DSM in 2005) was ASM on "Life's a Monkey" in 2002 - a show I workshopped and was offered a part in, but had to turn down because I was visiting Australia during the rehearsal period. This would have been my West End debut three years earlier than - oddly enough - Midnight.
- In June 2008 Abigail's Party began it's final week at Basingstoke's Haymarket Theatre, exactly 29 years after I opened Every Good Boy Deserves Favour there with Oxford Playhouse Company in June 1979 . It was the first venue on the EGBDF tour.
More spook stories as I find them.
The "Beauty Queen" situation knackered the original shoot schedule, and it's been rescheduled for January, which is what I thought he was calling about yesterday. But it seems he's been even busier than me - he's got probable serious funding for his feature about women's rugby, likely shoot next summer. And guess what? Small cameo for me if it can be managed. Love his chops.
Saturday, 28 November 2009
There's a blowing-out-of-cheeks and a wearisome bag-packing goes on; inappropriately hurried goodbyes, too, because family are always there. There's an awareness too that the next person who opens the prop boxes or costume bags won't be you, unless you're coming back, as I was at the end of the first tour of Ab's Party. I haven't been invited back this time - I imagine for good practical reasons.
However, I would love to play the role again with the chance to explore it properly in rehearsal. And I had no idea quite how much I rely on that for what I do on stage. Without it, it's almost impossible to recall onstage and automatically the intentions behind the actions, for example, because much had inevitably been decided privately by me, but not really fixed in rehearsal. So going on stage was always a precarious business.
Without the support of Michael, Alice, Carol, Ben and Alan, it would have been a disaster. That I wasn't slammed in the reviews is a pleasant surprise bearing in mind the circumstances - and I have a brand new epithet to add to my suitcase of mild critical approbation: "...sensitively played...". Lovely.
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
"Mr P Dooley and Ms M Folan are booked in too" she continues.
"What? Please tell me they're not in a double"
"No. Separate rooms"
What's happened at LCT HQ? Has Pauline finally cracked under the pressure of administrating the company and making sure Michael has clean underwear? Has she turned into one of those crazed women in Northern towns who can't separate soaps from reality, and who pelt Steve McFadden with chips in the street? There's no answer from the nerve centre yet...
Sunday, 22 November 2009
Guinness is an elusive beast, but since I'm not risking wine any more in pubs, it's tonight's choice. Alan tests each pint for quality, and winces slightly each time. By midnight we're three unhappy pints down each and heading home with Ben.
And then we spot Crosby's.
It's like a Bosch painting, where there's something gruesome going on in the background wherever you look. There's a group of schoolgirls wobbling around by the decks - no, make that a bunch of women in St. Trinian's outfits. There are even smaller dresses in this bar than Alice wears in Scene 3. Ben is fixated on the girl serving us already, and zones out whenever she approaches to give her a dreamy smile which says "I'm ready to drop these losers whenever you're ready, lady. Just say the word".
By the sixth pint I could be drinking bleach but I wouldn't care. I can't remember the last time I was up this late unless I was putting Jake's duvet back on him. I haven't the faintest idea what Alan and I were talking about, but at one point we laughed so hard and I farted so sonorously that the DJ heard.
Carpe diem, for tomorrow we die. And I'm sure the matinee will be fine.
Thursday, 19 November 2009
Riding around the streets in the buff is one thing - at least she had her long hair to cover her - but doing it in the theatre is something quite else. I've seen a lot of boobs and bollocks on stage over the years, and I've never been entirely comfortable about it. I wonder if anyone is.
There was a show at the Bush Theatre in the 90's called "Killer Joe", I think, set in a trailer park in some godforsaken Midwest town or other. Great show, but the most extraordinary thing about it was that in Act 2, very unexpectedly, the actor playing Joe came on stage in possession of a handgun but no clothes. And he was very impressively endowed. And I speak with a degree of authority because in the front row in the Bush, you're very close indeed to the action.
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
I directed a show set in the 30's a few years ago, and a phone was central to the plot. It took me a little while to understand why all the 20-something actors were going to the phone and miming stabbing their palms with their index fingers. They'd never SEEN a dial phone. Or a record player. I had to bring an album in so they could see it, too, and they gathered around and cooed like it was a museum piece. It was very rewarding until someone said "But who were Sigue Sigue Sputnik?"
Words just sort of failed me.
We're in Coventry now, at the fabulous Belgrade Theatre and we had a storming opening yesterday. The laughs were all in the right place, including some I never knew existed, and I feel like my Pato is finally a proper member of the Leenane community rather than a visitor from Porlock or whatever.
I was here with Michael and Alice back in 2008 with "Ab's Party", the first time LCT visited, and I remember the stakes being very high. Last night felt like more of a consolidation of the work done last time - as long as the play is right, LCT should have a guaranteed place in their programming. Which is A Thing Devoutly To Be Treasured.
Thursday, 5 November 2009
So I'm throwing myself wholeheartedly into mastering the Galway brogue. Except there doesn't seem to be one. Every video on YouTube with a Galway tag seems to have a bloke in it saying "Sure, no such thing as a Galway accent is there, now" or a scene from Riverdance.
So I approach the Zen master of the Galway accent, Alan DeVally, who plays Ray (Pato's brother) and actually hails 20 miles from Leenane itself.
"All your vowel sounds are right there, they are..." he breathes, in a melting tone. I'm listening so hard to his accent I find it hard to hear the words, "...and I suppose Pato would be likely to have met a good number of Dubliners over in London on the sites".
Wednesday, 4 November 2009
Last night, Thursday, was our first without an announcement. Theoretically this put me on a level field with everyone else, which is a good thing but still, it's a significant step and the stakes seemed higher as a result. Like it's been rehearsal up to then.
Act 1 goes off without a hitch, but when I sit down with the letter there's an audible mutter, a faint chunter of disbelief that one of the actors clearly doesn't know all his lines well enough. Not at all pleasant.
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
I wish I could say it wasn't. I felt as though I was an automaton, merely reproducing the rehearsed blocking and barely able to invest the lines with anything but the most basic colour. The best bit was the letter, which I read wholesale.
He doesn't mention the huge dry in Scene 4. He doesn't have to. You can still see the tyre marks on the stage where the truck drove through it.
Thursday, 29 October 2009
The impression I make is of someone who gets up and buggers off early. And of someone who mumbles an as-yet-unlearned monologue to himself at 6.30am. Le Dorney's status of favourite lodger is not under threat...
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
We started talking about the character in terms of damage and distance, but the few notes I've made don't correlate with this at all. There's loneliness, loyalty and poetry in him - he's a flirt and a charmer, too. He stays close.
We re-block it again. Now Maureen and Pato move in orbit, never exceeding a couple of feet or so. It starts to feel flirtatious and gently erotic. The final close contact becomes the inevitable end to the slightly halting pas de deux of the courtship. I really, really like this scene now, but Alice is playing her cards close and I can't tell whether she does.
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Here though, I find myself asking "what did he do?" or "what was his physicality like here?". Surely the only way we can get this on by tonight is if I replicate as exactly as possible what has gone before. It's not ideal, but as Blackadder says, "Needs must when the devil vomits in your kettle".
It becomes abundantly clear very quickly that he and I are very, very different. What came before feels odd to me, like wearing a pair of shoes which don't fit, but otherwise it means going barefoot over the hot coals.
Michael suggests a change, and it's Pato's distance from Maureen which catalyses it. I can't get the changes of gear from intimacy to separation, but as soon as M. suggests I abandon it and play an intention to remain close to Maureen, I feel instantly better. Instantly he becomes a man I begin to understand.
Sunday, 25 October 2009
At least I have a copy of the script, "The Beauty Queen of Leenane", which I bought when I first heard the show was being planned, intending to possibly put myself up. But it wasn't the right time. Ironically I went to see the show in Chipping Norton a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed the bittersweet experience of watching someone else do a part which I knew I would have loved to play. Tangled webs and all that.
Down to work.
Saturday, 24 October 2009
I know something's up when he calls on Friday night after 11pm. Something he describes as "a situation" has arisen on his latest tour. We think the conversation went something like this:
"I may need a fortysomething actor with a flawless Galway accent to step in at very short notice - do you know anyone?"
"No, not really. But what about a fortysomething actor who has watched a lot of Father Ted?"
"That might work. It's not you, is it?"
Sunday, 9 August 2009
Of course, it's a little more complex and commercial than that - you don't raise over £100k by doing sponsored silences and bring-and-buy sales. But I'm delighted to see that the locals have responded to the film crews with the British public's traditional cocktail of cynicism, stonewalling and sabotage. They seem to totally resent the idea of anyone making a living without using yorkshire joints, plasterboard or harmonised wiring.
I've made a couple of films in Weston-Super-Mare, where the attitude to filmmakers borders on the actively hostile. As though putting the place on the map might unbalance some delicate equilibrium or something. When we were filming "Folie a Deux" (which is almost out of post) we had it all - beeping horns, irate passers-by, stroppy cafe owners not to mention a car park full of dog shit. And yet it's precisely that hideous abandoned down-at-heelness which made it such a great location for a film with suicide as its central theme.
Oops. That ruins the ending a bit.
On your own is a different matter entirely.
I found it disturbing that the conversation was repeatedly being brought back to my life story - I suppose one has a natural aversion to boring people about that subject. But of course that was the entire point of the interview. Jo Thoenes stuck to her subject, too, and there was no obvious segue into future projects, for example, and I only mentioned Chalky and "Chop" right at the end.
What's hilarious, though, is the way I sound. Sort of chubby and rotund and chuckly, not how I imagined. Whereas Chalky sounded light and intense, not the big bear character he is in the flesh at all.
Thursday, 6 August 2009
Friday, 31 July 2009
Anyway, Chalky emails me to say that he's been interviewed by Radio Oxford about film-making, and that he mentioned me and that they might be calling. Fair enough. Might.
But he's not kidding. Less than an hour later there's an email from "Jo in the Afternoon" suggesting an interview and asking a whole bunch of questions about "...how you got where you are..." and the like. Are you kidding? Talk about me? It's my favourite subject.
By the time I've finished the precis of my life it sounds impossibly glamorous, which is because I've employed a process the Germans call steigerundenstendenz or leaving out the crud and only mentioning the funky stuff. It actually looks as though there has been some grand plan to the whole procedure rather than the random lurch which has usually characterised it. Whether I can convincingly continue this deception on air remains to be heard - on Thursday 6th August!
Saturday, 4 July 2009
It's extraordinary how much you pick up in these corporate videos and what-not. There's not much I don't know about Fujitsu retail technology, for example, and my awareness of sales incentives and benefits at Marks and Spencer is second to none.
This one's for a new Alzheimer's drug, a topic which is pretty close to home as my 100 year-old grandma has it in its advanced stages - and we're naturally wondering if our genes make us susceptible. Of course, there's a certain amount of comic paranoia about it - what most people call "senior moments", our family now see as proof positive of early onset Alzheimer's...
I don't envy the actor playing the drug company rep, though. Butylcholinesterase? Acetylcholinesterase? Goodnight, Vienna!
Tuesday, 9 June 2009
The last corporate role-play job I did involved flying to Frankfurt to do some crisis training for the Foreign Office shortly before the 2006 World Cup. By some planning disaster my first flight didn't leave me enough time to connect, and I missed my connection and was forced to take a train instead. As the deadline for arriving drew ever nearer I was forced to shave, wash my hair and finally dress in the loo on the train. I arrived only moments before the exercise started and was then dropped at a deserted football stadium in the persona of a German detective, with a German student as my sergeant.
The diplomats had no idea what was going on - they thought they were there for a jolly; but it was kinda fun being difficult and Teutonic and only revealing tiny snippets of information every half-hour or so. They dealt with it really well, unlike their boss, the British Consul, who apparently started screaming at people in the "crisis centre" in downtown Frankfurt and who presumably got a D-minus for the exercise.
Saturday, 6 June 2009
The last time I was at this festival I was performing - in a play called "The Inspiration of G'utor Glynn" - playing the titular sheep-herding poet musician hero. Afterwards, the cast all joined the audience for the adjudication, which was always delivered live after the show for these events.
All I really remember him saying was "...moving on to the cast, the actress playing G'utor was clear and..." and then pandemonium broke out. WHAT? ACTRESS! HE-LLO! I even had my arm around Sian Fiddimore (I think) at the time to reinforce my 15 year-old masculine credentials.
I've played many effete men since, but never actually a woman.
Saturday, 23 May 2009
The final shot of the day is the car chase, which is a first for all of us. The producer, Rob HD, has lent his funky 4x4 for this, and he hands the keys to me with a moist eye but without actually crossing himself.
I had no idea how exciting this would be. I mean, we're guerilla shooting which is always good for the heart rate, but driving up and down a deserted stretch of dual carriageway with Toby flashing his lights behind me is quite alarming - and we only ever get up to about 50mph.
The final shot, when I pull up and get out, then Toby pulls up behind me, leaps out with a baseball bat and clouts me seems almost ridiculously pedestrian in the shooting. Watching the results back is chilling, though. The best bit is Toby's almost silent, ninja-style running with the bat, and the gravel scrape of his shoes as he swings it. Fantastic.
Anyway, the 9.30 am start is looking ambitious as Becky is held up on the M40 in a bus and won't be here for ages, so we all set about catching a few rays. Only our Aussie AD has the real sun-bug though, so I examine the superb manacles and fake machete. The set is great, too. A bleak empty industrial barn with a huge rough table in the middle. It's all very convincing.
My hand, however, is not. I've somehow contrived to move in the mould, and the bloody thing won't lie flat on the table. It looks a bit like one of those hands in religious paintings when a pope of whatever is giving his holy benediction. Awful.
Just as we're putting the gruesome object away, Becky shows up. We do a rehearsal and shoot an establishing shot over the table before lunch, and just as we're unmanacled to go eat, the camera breaks. It's 3pm and we have one shot in the can, and even that may be useless.
Friday, 22 May 2009
Well, Sean's just finishing his fourth feature, "Folie a Deux", so things have moved on a bit. What never changes, though, is the frisson of a the new film project, and it's as strong arriving at the location tonight as it was in Weston all those years ago.
What's evident at once is how professional this is - low budget but high standards. Mike and Martin (DOP and sound) are so slick in their set-ups that we complete interior shots in only a couple of hours. Mike's using a jib in place of tracks - a huge counterweighted arm which gives great variety of movement and superbly smooth action. A glance at the rushes for one of the close-ups tells me that this is going to be a breeze.
Tuesday, 19 May 2009
I've never been very good at the long view, and consequently admire this approach hugely. It's just a shame that shorts are such an undervalued genre. Yes, they do well at festivals and exhibitions but there's limited opportunities for general release.
I love them for a number of reasons. They aren't so long that you lose track of where your character is going, they're completed quickly (both shooting and edit, in theory) and they demand a tense, compact narrative with a distinct situation and perhaps a good twist. Here's hoping.
Anyway, I'm taken at high speed tonight to Maidenhead to the producer's home to have my hand cast in plaster by Paul Robbens, who's worked for Spielberg on Indiana Jones and heaven knows what else. Someone's been on a charm offensive because he, like the rest of us, is working for cost, and for props guys that is UNHEARD of. Anyway, after 15 mins in clammy dental alginate it's done. Just the machete and manacles to finish!
Saturday, 16 May 2009
I haven't made a short film for a couple of years (bizarrely enough, I normally do features) and the last one never saw the light of day, despite being professionally run and having all the hallmarks of potential success. Hitchcock Award winning script, full crew...all came to literally nothing. Not even a screening of the rushes.
Prior to this I did one for LIFS which was madly ambitious and in which I played the lead, an obsessive optician who invents a pair of glasses that can see people's emotions as a distinct entity. This was great except I wore welding goggles for 90% of the action, which tends to muddy things a little. Let's just say it's tricky to convey the full gamut of emotions over protective eyewear.
And before that, I made "Bob" - a film about a fishing trip which was shot over two days, but those days were a year apart. During this time some of the cast had filled out more than a little, the boat had sunk twice and was in dry dock and the lead boy's voice had broken.
Some, you should approach with caution...
Sunday, 26 April 2009
Our disasters start as we enter the terminal building and manage to permanently slow the revolving doors to a snail's pace by repeatedly stabbing the button with a disabled symbol on it. After getting Jenny through these we discover there are no seats within 50 metres, and she's looking white and weak. We beg Information for a swivel chair, which is painfully slowly extricated from behind the desk, by which time Jenny has stopped talking. Slumped on the chair, she says "I'm going to black out" and does so, sliding off the chair into my arms so we look like some bizarre Pieta or something. A doctor is called. Blood pressure taken.
It gets worse. We're almost refused passage by the check-in staff. We're taken to the gate by a nurse (on the plus side, she's so pretty she must have a day job modelling for Armani or something). My laptop is scanned for explosives and Heather's hand luggage is minutely examined before we finally get on the plane.
I look forward to being welcomed back next year as a company.
Saturday, 25 April 2009
I've just been to Flohschanze, and I took my time getting back. I mean, I didn't yomp madly like I often do - after all, I'm not going to walk these streets much longer. There's a lot of things which I meant to write about and to remember which somehow didn't make the cut, or seemed a bit minor or irrelevant to post about, but which contribute to the whole. For example, there's a guy who runs the shop where I buy my postcards who always wears an immaculately dapper pale grey suit with co-respondent shoes. And there's a lady in Nur-bacK who knows perfectly well I don't speak German, but who chatters delightedly to me about how she's giving me a small reduction on the pretzel because it's the last one - I think that's what she says. And I have to confess that I avoid the accordion player on the Hoheluft bridge, but only because she really can't play very well.
The drunks who hang around the tube station late at night are a different calibre to English drunks - one of them wears a flat cap and what was once a tweed suit - he looks a bit like Tommy Trinder. And the phrase "sofort bleiden, bitte" which immediately precedes the tube doors closing seems to defy translation. Our next door neighbours, Marc and Sebastian, let us use their wireless broadband. "Tschuss" is probably the most brilliant way of saying goodbye ever invented. Wheat beer and Schwarzwalder ham are just as fantastic as San Miguel and Serrano, and maybe better. And I never found out how you're really meant to eat a krakauer - I mean, it can't be normal to burn your fingers every time.
I've fallen for Hamburg, and there's plenty to love. It's a charming, easy, picturesque, historical city that just happens to house a really good and well-attended English-speaking theatre. Bob and Cliff have found a winning formula, and in Geoff, Sylvia, Kai, Julian, Vera and Annika they have an amazing (if slightly off-the-wall) team. It's still a mystery why the theatre tumble dryer runs all day, every day (we think Geoff takes in washing), but long may ETH continue.
Thursday, 23 April 2009
When Paul Fields (see posts passim) was called in last year, he had a few days to get familiar with the script, but Kate Glover has had two brief rehearsals and a dress after arriving on Tuesday evening, and she went on last night, 24 hours after she stepped off the plane.
At first the audience was quite restless having someone visibly on book. The usual laughs weren't there and there was a definite tension. However, this dissipated gradually, and by the end of Act 1 (John/Ann) things were the same - but different, of you follow me. Kate's approach is necessarily instinctive, and it's a very different performance because of it. Obviously this means that our attitudes and reactions to Ann are often not as valid; are not based on as firm ground as they were.
What's astonishing is how well they play manages to work despite this pressure. Gurney's evidently a better writer than I thought, but obviously the laurels really go to Kate for pulling it out of the hat so well. She's a wonder.
Monday, 20 April 2009
And like London, there's interesting sculpture on the most overlooked and unlikely street corners. This is in an isolated position just outside the Planten un Blomen on Gorch Fock Wall. Like much of the public art in Hamburg, it's got something to do with WWII but my German doesn't run to what, sadly:It's fantastic. Reminds me a bit of "The Burghers of Calais" outside the Houses of Parliament on Millbank.
Sunday, 19 April 2009
Except they don't have a rowboat, which was our preferred launch. They only have alster kayaks which need paddling, and make it difficult for anyone to lounge effectively. Oh, well. We can pretend we're in Hawaii 5-0. For some reason, all our many years of hard-won caution desert us when we're presented with the boat, and Jenny steps in before I know what she's doing. As the Hamburgers look on, she keeps one foot in the boat whilst it drifts away from the landing stage, and she tries to walk on water with the other. This doesn't work, and she steps knee-deep in Alster water. The seafaring credentials of the English are in tatters.
The Hamburg canals all link up with the Stadtpark lake and the two joined lakes of the Aussenalster and the Biennenalster, which means you can paddle through a variety of landscapes, urban and pastoral, and get a whole new Hamburg perspective. I realise that I've crossed many of the bridges we drift under, but dodging the traffic. It's tranquil and charming.
There's a regatta hapening in the Stadtpark lake complete with Dragon boats, so we moor at a landing stage to eat cheese, bread and black forest ham, and drink wheat beer. It's idyllic, especially since the park, though packed, is almost silent at lakeside. As I've said before, there are serious problems with making a living as an actor, but the upsides can be enormous. Thanks, Heather and Jenny - perfectly lovely day.
Friday, 17 April 2009
Lately, the minuscule mistakes which we'd normally ignore suddenly seem very, very funny. And once they're funny, their comedy potential has a life beyond the mistake. I don't know if this has a name, but it manifests itself in everyone looking at the floor/walls/curtains - anywhere but in each others' eyes, at certain moments in the play. Perhaps character crash would be good, or Heather suggested fussboden moment. Anyway, it's horribly infectious.
Normally these moments appear in rehearsal, and it's usually where someone's said something filthy by accident. I accidentally Spoonerised "Jigger and Nina" quite early on, with results you can imagine, and trying to avoid actually saying that has always been a bit of an open manhole moment for me.
In the matinee today I nearly missed a line, largely because I was fascinated by a teenager in the front row. I suppose there are more offputting things for a performer than someone head-back, mouth open, blissfully in the land of nod, but I can't think of one offhand. Having said that, they were generally pretty attentive - it can't be easy, watching people who are old enough to be your parents going on about how they weren't loved as kids, whilst the sun's shining outside. I'd probably snooze a bit, too...
Wednesday, 15 April 2009
This is a plant of some desciption. I have no idea what it's called, but it is pretty.
This is some kind of Australian creeper. It made me laugh because it looks like a poo.
Ok, that's the brownie points earned. Can I come out now, Mum?
Tuesday, 14 April 2009
What is it about BA? There's this effortless ease, boundless confidence about what they do. The cabin crew are grown-ups and give straight answers. You get food and drinks. You can check in online and choose your seat (why the hell can't Ryanair and Sleazyjet do that?). And we arrived 25 minutes early. How on earth you shave 25 minutes off a 70 minute flight I can't begin to guess.
Anyway, my gorgeous kids seemed to remember vaguely who I am, and I cooked dinner for my lovely wife - well, having missed almost all the previous 9 weeks' cooking, cleaning and childcare it seemed fair. It's that spirit of give and take which keeps a marriage fresh, I find.
And then back on the coach to Stansted for a Ryanair flight back - of which I shall say only one thing. The cabin crew on a BA flight would never, never make disparaging comments out loud about the pilot's skills to passengers, no matter how bumpy the landing. Shame on you, Susanna the Purser.
Saturday, 11 April 2009
That name is a masterstroke of understatement. It is HUGE. A government bunker from the last war, it's been reinvented as a gig venue and music school. When I asked Kai, our SM, why it hadn't been dismantled after the war, he said, in his typical dead-pan way, "Well, it was designed to be totally bomb-proof. That made it a bit difficult to demolish".
Friday, 10 April 2009
Anyway, I stopped for a little while next to a skate park and watched the kids on boards for a bit - I say kids, I mean boys, as there don't seem to be any more girls skateboarding now than when I used to do it myself. I did wonder, though, why no-one was using the half-pipe. I mean, they were all using the low-level ramps and quarter-pipes but no-one was on the half-pipe, and when I was skating it was so popular you had to queue to even get on it. They all looked really accomplished, too.
As I moved off, I got a view of the top platform on the half-pipe, and realised why. There were about a dozen girls up there, reading magazines, swapping make-up and generally claiming it as their territory. Clearly none of the guys were going to even think about challenging them.
Wednesday, 8 April 2009
Or, if you'd rather not be saddled with Sam Bourne, John Grisham and Herman Wouk (!) you could always toddle along to the nearest Oxfam (mine's on Hoheluft Chaussee) and look in there. And what a bunch of smarty-pants Anglophiles we have in our neighbourhood! Or it could just be one expat with a voracious appetite - Life of Pi, Barrytown Trilogy, George Mikes' How to be a Brit (nicely ironic, that one), Ben Okri, Barry Unsworth, Angela Carter and a host of other literary fiction. I'd buy them all, but I'd never have time to read them at home!
Monday, 6 April 2009
A British actor suffered a heart attack and collapsed onstage at the precise moment during a play that his character was supposed to have a heart attack. Fortunately, Steve Dineen’s co-star Alice Selwyn realized he wasn’t faking and stopped the performance of Abigail’s Party to call for a doctor. Dineen is expected to make a full recovery, said spokesman Paul Brunton, but “it was very traumatic” when Dineen was lying on the stage, gasping. “It was almost like real life imitating art.”
And here's another corker from Worldmag.com
Missing a beat
The audience at the Musselburgh's Brunton Theatre in the United Kingdom couldn't tell, but actor Steve Dineen was slightly ahead of cue when he collapsed during the final scene of Abigail's Party. But his fellow actors knew that Dineen's character, Lawrence, wasn't supposed to collapse and die of a heart attack for a few more lines. Dineen's heart attack, it turned out, wasn't staged. Co-star Alice Selwyn quickly noticed Dineen wasn't acting and emerged from character to ask for a doctor. An ambulance arrived in time to take the veteran actor to the hospital, where he is recovering
VETERAN ACTOR! Jesus Christ on a bike, I'm 42!
Sunday, 5 April 2009
It was all very "Third Man". If we hadn't been the worse for a couple of Gluweins by that stage then maybe one of us might have quoted it.
The first signs are at the St Pauli tube. There's a group of four hammered 20-year-olds, and one of them is carrying a crate of strawberries; you know, 24 punnets. I guess he'll work out what to do with them at home. There's hordes of people getting off the tube, and it's Sunday morning. Nothing is normal about today so far.
The market itself runs from 5-9am every Sunday, and it's a boisterous affair. Follow the crowds in the grey morning drizzle and quite suddenly you're there. Dozens and dozens of trucks, sides open, selling smoked fish, fresh fish, pickled fish, fish sandwiches. And that's just the fish. Fruit (mainly strawberries today) and vegetables, tat Hamburg souvenirs, hats, fruhstuck vans and god knows what else.
Everyone eventually heads for the fish auction hall - a huge galleried affair with beer stalls and grills selling bratwurst and krakauer. The Rough Guide talks about German rock being thrashed out in here, but today it's ZZ Top (except they're not doing the difficult guitar solos). It's like Saturday night, we mooch around, thinking about sausages for breakfast (well I do) and try to talk over the noise. Heather says something to me, but at that precise moment everyone choruses "Every girls crazy 'bout a SHARP DRESSED MAN!!!" and we revert to sign language. She points outside, and she's right. This is all too much with a hangover.
I've noticed a feature of audiences here that you don't get at home, and it's to do with their enjoyment of the details of the language itself. Colloquialisms and idioms which would pass unnoticed in a native speaking audience get extra mileage here, I suppose because they have to translate and interpret and then understand. For example, Jenny (Mother) has to say that the play is trouble because "...it's chiefly to do with you-know-who." That's just a phrase to us, but the audience translate it, and then realise who she means, and it gets a huge laugh. It's odd.
Friday, 3 April 2009
Thursday, 2 April 2009
Bad enough. But tomorrow I have to go have my roots done and ask them to cut my hair in a deliberately bouffant 70's style and leave the sideburns. In German. Consequently I'm leafing through every dictionary and lexicon I can lay my hands on to anticipate every conceivable outcome.
I don't want a repeat of the occasion when I tried to check into a Spanish hotel on spec with a friend of mine, and we wanted a twin room. We didn't want to end up with a double bed, obviously, but all my useful Spanish on the topic deserted me, so I found myself asking for "a room for two male persons who are not homosexuals, please".
The Lonely Planet guide calls it an "alternative culture centre and drug-dealing hub", which is something they probably don't put in the estate agent's description when they sell neighbouring flats. Whatever it is, Geoff apparently went to a show there last year and couldn't shake the fear that the whole place was about to collapse about his ears. Just round the corner is another venue which Geoff has visited:
Tuesday, 31 March 2009
However, that's not to say there aren't moments. Rory, in particular, suffers from a type of foot-in-mouth which is all the more agonising for being subtle. He'll mix up names (he has dozens in his speeches) so instead of Harry Blackburn, Marv Watson and Phil Foster we'll get Tony Blackburn, Hank Marvin and Norman Foster. The audience don't notice but we do. Jenny very occasionally forgets the words "cheap and self-indulgent" and will substitute almost anything, from "nasty and selfish" to "I........just don't like it!". Heather's mouth usually behaves, but she makes up for it by tripping down the stairs every now and then, usually when she's got someone in.
How I manage with these rank amateurs is anyone's guess.
Saturday, 28 March 2009
When we got to Herbertstrasse, the closed street which is basically a block-long brothel and which is verboten to any women visitors and men under 18, we did what hundreds of thousands of men before us have done, and walked down it to have a browse.
This, however, was a wet Wednesday afternoon, and we weren't anticipating much talent to be in evidence. How wrong we were. There were LOTS of women there, and some of them were arrestingly attractive.
And herein lies a thorny problem - do you give in to your strong instinct to almost break into a run (as someone did right in front of us) or take a measured and exaggeratedly carefree saunter whilst having no intention of buying anything?
I've only experienced this sort of dilemma once before - when someone bought me a lap dance at a club without my knowledge, and I found myself in a private room with a girl in a bikini. In the heat of the moment, is it worse to flatly refuse, or to allow the event to happen and live with your conscience afterwards? I opted for the latter, ands excruciatingly embarrassing it was too. I was clutching my beer so tightly she had to prise it out of my grip. Never again.
On the basis that this was the first and last time, however, my B-I-L and I took the more leisurely approach, even pausing to add credibility to the exercise and to more amply appreciate the visuals. We then had a stiff drink and talked about nothing else for the next few hours.
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
Aside from that (and the crew banging on and on about scratchcards) the Ryanair flight was notable because it was carrying T-Rex back from Hamburg. No Marc Bolan, obviously, and Mickey Finn died quite a few years ago. But the drummer's the same guy. I think.
I knew they were rockers at once, but only because they weren't exactly trying to hide it - I mean, they seemed to be wearing their stage clothes, for a start. And there was the odd medicinal sharpener - and this was at 8am. And they all wore shades. And called each other "man". It was like Spinal Tap live.
I was sitting two rows behind them when either Rob or Graham (they both looked identical) called the cabin steward over and had a discussion about the wine. I couldn't hear much of it (although I was straining to hear) but I swear I heard the steward say, with an air of finality:
"I honestly don't see how it can be corked, sir - it's a screw-top bottle".
Saturday, 21 March 2009
Pretty yummy. That brown box is the frontline for border control out of Germany.
I also saw something on the flight that I haven't witnessed since my friend Richard tried it on a flight to Nice in 1982 - a passenger invited one of the cabin crew to SIT ON HIS KNEE! He wasn't English, so he carried it (and the inevitable rejection) off with aplomb. And he continued to watch her retreating bum with undisguised interest every time she had to push one of those trolleys up and down the aisle. I confess I sneaked a bit of a look, too...
Friday, 20 March 2009
It's not just me, is it? A display of handguns is kind of odd, yes?
And for all your miniature terracotta brick needs, visit http://www.teenycolosseum.com/ !
This one isn't on Epperdorfer Weg, but it made me laugh so hard it hurt... boy, have I got friends who would like to pay a visit here!
Friday, 13 March 2009
I remember being stunned to learn that the French for pullover is "pull-over" - a word which has no discernible merit whatsoever in English (in my opinion) and therefore one which doesn't really deserve a passport to another language. And then yesterday, amongst the face-parts and clothing items which seem to be crucial in a first lesson in any language, what do I find? Pullover.
Surely, surely, something like woollenitemcoveringshirtandunderclothes would have been infinitely preferable.
Thursday, 12 March 2009
I don't relish being unable to ask for a bucket of water if my trousers are on fire, though, so it's back to the schoolroom for me. I probably won't learn enough today to stand me in excellent stead for "Das Rheingold" at the State Opera at the weekend, but I might just be able to order a glass of wine at the interval. Or rather, intervals.
I've only been to see Wagner once before, at ENO, and I remember calling my then girlfriend (and now missus) Sue at one of the meal breaks to moan about how much longer I was going to have to wait for the "Tristan and Isolde chord" I'd been told about. As Rossini said:
"Wagner - great moments, awful quarter hours".
Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Everyone else has been asked, unbidden, to castings for a German Yellow Pages commercial, and it pays a bloody fortune. I confess it was all I could do not to stamp my foot in rage at the sheer injustice of it, and it was only the fact that I want the others to do well that made it even slightly bearable. Sheeeesh.
I guess the shoe's on the other foot, though. I had a casting myself last week, for a eLearning video. As soon as I saw the breakdown, I thought "Nivea Man" - in other words they want that bloke who advertises razors, deodorant or whatever. Definitely not me. "You go, but you know" as I generally say to myself. And so it was. I expect Mr Chiselled will be filming it about now, if he can squeeze it in between his Handsome Lessons.
Sunday, 8 March 2009
On Saturday, then, I had to go see the doctor. Just my luck, it's a woman. But very, very nice and with great English, and it's not too awful when she asks me to show her what the trouble is.
She takes one brief, confident, professional look and announces "it's a fungal infection". I heave a sigh of relief that it's not some insane disease (my mind has been working like yeast, ironically) and she writes out a prescription for whatever the German equivalent of Canestan is. Then she says;
"You should also try a bath in a weak camomile tea solution"
"A bath? A bath?" I say, "Jesus, how many bags will I need for that?".
There's a moment of puzzlement on her face, then it clears.
"No, not a bath for you" she says, and nods towards my belt buckle, "for him".
Thursday, 5 March 2009
Alas, it cannot be. My penguin suit will remain in mothballs for another year and I'll just have to keep my fingers crossed that I'm still an "outstanding alumnus in the field of acting" for 2010. Boo.
I guess it says something about the egalitarian nature of planning here that you are at just as much risk of having your environment knackered by public transport if you're rich as if you're poor. Can't imagine an elevated railway on Bishop's Avenue, can you?
Anyway, Eppendorfer Baum is very bustling and busy and crammed with shops. There's a great bookshop, in which I felt like a proper ignorant tourist - the sort that cannot even attempt a text in the native language. The staff were not what I was expecting, though. Charming, friendly middle-aged ladies. Compare that with your typical Waterstone's employee (frustrated authors exacting revenge on an uncaring world by being snide to the book-buying public) and I know where I'd rather browse.
Tuesday, 3 March 2009
There's a great play by Daniel MacIvor, the Canadian playwright, called "This Is A Play" where the actors speak their thoughts on stage, interspersed by the supposed dialogue. It's hilarious - the young male actor strides on, thinking/vocalising "I enter with CONVICTION!" and then trips over his own feet. He then agonises about messing up his big entrance. Anyway, somewhere in this someone says "I take up position centre-stage, plant my feet and wonder...what to do with my hands". So I don't think I'm alone.
This morning's show was a bit tougher than they have been. Mainly a school audience and some pensioners, and the young people were a bit restless. Early in the day, hot lights etc. Still, my flares almost got an entrance round, and the scatological jokes got big laughs.
Tuesday, 24 February 2009
Monday, 23 February 2009
"And that, for son John (Steve Dineen) and daughter Nina (Heather Tracy) by no less than her life's happiness, is not tangible in the game level."
I don't think I could have put it better!
When you’re living like we are, basically in student-type flats, you’re more or less forced to revisit student experiences. For example:
- Sleeping in a single bed with flannelette sheets. No Egyptian cotton bedlinen here!
- Washing up by hand - although pans and baking tins ensure that you never really lose that skill, no matter how much you’d like to.
- Eating on the cheap, and consuming quantities of liquid carbohydrates (i.e. beer)
- Cooking on solid hot plates (Nurse! The screens!) with non-stick pans that stick and implements which amply explain why the pans have lost their Teflon.
- Washing clothes by hand or launderette.
This last is the big one for me. I haven’t used a launderette since I left drama school, and as for washing by hand – well, it’s in the mists of time. I do remember emergency washing ONLY THE ARMPITS of my black shirts when I was about sixteen to prolong their life for another day, using that grim green Fairy soap in the downstairs bathroom basin - itself exactly the same shade as the soap (the basin’s still there now). Consequently the pits of those shirts went gradually greyer and greyer, which made it look as though I had dust for sweat and which was infinitely more obvious than a mild case of body odour would ever have been.
Am I also right in thinking there was a soap actually called B.O. in the 80’s? I think it appeared at the same time as Zest, but lasted only a short while – I supposed everyone thought that it caused rather than countered the dreaded whiffy armpits. It also occurs to me that deodorant for men was largely unknown. Instead we had aftershave – aftershave, never “cologne”. The comical Brut 33 (with mildly homoerotic adverts starring Kevin and ‘Enry); Denim (very racy, and designed “for the man who doesn’t have to try...too hard”) and Blue Stratos (my choice). I have still never met anyone who wore the legendary Hai Karate, the absurdly macho Pagan Man or even worse, Jovan Musk (with pheromones!!!).
Sunday, 22 February 2009
I’ve felt more like an outsider today than I have for a while. Sternschanze is one of those places like Camden or Soho, where the locals float around having coffee in their favourite bar and look askance at trippers. I remember doing it myself when I lived in Belsize Park, and I had no idea how unpleasant it is for the recipients.
The local video store wouldn’t let me join – no Hamburg address in my passport – and I could really do with some mindless action thriller to pass the time (last night I watched an appalling dubbed Dolph Lundgren film called “Silent Trigger”, and some alarming amateur German porn which made me blench and, at times, look away in horror). After I left the video store, I had a sort of face-off with some massive geezer in the street. He left me a tiny portion of pavement to pass him, and as I was doing just that – sideways - he cornered me against a shop window, so to get past him I would have had to physically move him out of the way. We stood there in this bizarre tableau until I said “Entshuldigen Sie” and he finally let me pass. To misquote Marwood in Withnail and I “my heart was beating like a fecked clock”.
I know, of course, that it had nothing to do with my being English, nor with his being German, for that matter. After all, we’re not short of gits like that in the UK. But it amplified my feelings of isolation and made me think with renewed wonderment about the friends I have in the UK who just pitched up from overseas and decided to make a life for themselves in a strange country. Especially the ones who’s English wasn’t up to much and who decided to make acting their career. Brave – or rather mutig.
Saturday, 21 February 2009
There's also the trains. There's a U-bahn and S-bahn line within sight of my bedroom window, and I'm a famously light sleeper. In fact, the sound of a phone vibrating on a kitchen table in a flat upstairs has been known to wake me, so I have only marginally less trouble than Travis Bickle getting some shut-eye.
So last night I didn't sleep at all. Nada. Or rather, nichts. I read some chick-lit book called "My Lurid Past" about a PR girl who suddenly finds casual sex with anodyne hunks unfulfilling. I watched the German equivalent of "Quiz Call", which is exactly the same as the UK version except they wear slightly fewer clothes. And I ate rye bread with peanut butter and honey, and tried all the leftover pickles in the fridge. Ugh.
Friday, 20 February 2009
The audience was very generous, too. Some Americans in, I think, but it's difficult to tell because some German people have quite strong US accents. Some of the very parochial jokes got responses, and there were some remarkably young people in the front row.
Afterwards (in the absence of a champagne reception!) we went to Flickenschildts bar just over the road from the Ernst Deutsch Theater. It's dedicated to the German stage superstar Elizabeth Flickenschildt, but it's primarily notable because it's run by the drag artiste Fabian and his partner, whose banter is so authentically bitchy you often wonder if there's trouble brewing. Anyway, a few grosse bieres were sunk and stories exchanged whilst Fabian screeched "I'll tell you vot I vant! I vant to be your vidow!!" whilst storming off to the kitchen. Completely mad.
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Last night was pretty good, and the audience was wonderful. They REALLY like to clap here - I mean, we were called back for three calls and we still felt a bit mean walking off. The action's really starting to fly now, too. Lovely details creeping in. The only slightly disconcerting thing is that the prompter (the what? Quite!) sits outside the living room window and is therefore about two feet away from my face and fully visible when I sit at the desk. Most odd.
We haven't needed too much prompting lately, but when it comes it is slightly comic, as Julian and Kai (our stage managers) have quite strong accents and the plays written in a New York style. So you'll get something like "No, really, muzzer, I voss playink mein own penis" as your line, which really makes me want to chuckle.
Last preview tonight before the big opening.
Monday, 16 February 2009
We had a preview preview last night for English teachers which we managed to muddle through. It got into a dreadful state at the beginning - all around the houses, down to the chemist's and back again. My heart eventually calmed down enough for me to hash up my own speeches in my scene with Mother where I bang on about my penis. They loved that bit, incidentally. Everyone likes knobs.
I suspect we won't see an audience like that again - they got some very esoteric jokes and just adored the grumpy Bradley and uptight Ann. My character and that of Nina, my sister, they were less keen on. They're much less well-written and infinitely less funny than the other two, which is a bit dispiriting, but when you think how few great parts there are for older actors in the normal scheme of things, you can't be miffed for long.
Wednesday, 11 February 2009
- I've been here three days, nearly.
- I'm not getting much sleep.
- I'm experiencing profound culture shock.
We ran the play today and I muddled through Act 1 without the book - for the most part. Looks as though Wolverhampton was a good dry-run for this. The part, though, is deceptive, as I appear to say rather less than most for a few pages and then BOOM! Massive speeches. And i never go off except for 2 pages in Act 2. It's all very exhausting and they seem to have a strong preference for working in the afternoon - like today, we met at 3pm. I got up this morning at 7, and we won't be back at our digs in Kohlcan'trememberthemiddlebitstrasse until 10.30. By which time I will be all done in.
So far it's all been a rather knackering mix of learning lines, getting my hair dyed and having stressful times in shops trying to buy food. Although the checkout girl in REWE supermarket in my street speaks better English than I do. Shamefully.
The fruits of a morning's shopping in a strange city. Pitiful.
More when the pressure's off a bit!
Sunday, 8 February 2009
My wife is being an angel about this. We have yet to break it to Jake...
Thursday, 5 February 2009
I spent the next three weeks eating salad. I've never been in better shape.
Monday, 26 January 2009
Firstly - it's a brilliantly written play, and chocka with great lines. But these lines have to be allowed to b-r-e-a-t-h-e a bit. I've read an interview with the actor playing Ivanov since saying that the language is so rich that allowing every laugh line its space would slow it down too much. Yes, the lines should be right on the back of the laugh, but during the audience reaction? Naah. The sacrifice is too great, especially for the Doctor, who has some of the best lines in modern drama.
The subject - a dissenting individual in an oppressive society - is represented by the neat metaphor of an on-stage orchestra with a discordant member, and through the stark, harrowing but calm reminiscences of the lead character (Alexander) the horror of what happens to such an individual in such a society is relayed. What makes it go tits-up in this version is a prolonged section where members of the orchestra variously play state heavies and victims, the latter tortured and brutalised by the former in a clumsy kind of ballet. OKAY! OKAY! WE GET IT! IT SUCKS TO BE A DISSIDENT! YOU GET BEATEN UP AND STUFF! I felt it completely underestimated the audience.
I also had a problem with the actor playing Ivanov, the lunatic. One of the great twists of the play is that we worry initially at Alexander's being locked up in the same cell as a schizophrenic, but ultimately realise that the biggest threat to his safety and sanity is his own conviction. For this twist to work, Ivanov has to be threatening, and he just wasn't. Curious, genially loony, gently unpredictable, definitely - but there is not even mild peril. When he says "If I smashed this instrument of yours over your head..." there should be a possibility of him actually doing it - his journey is so much less interesting otherwise.
Enough of what I disliked. It really scored on a musical level (ho ho!) and other performances were excellent. The ending was managed beautifully, and the audience were put in a most discomfiting position - with all our hearts we wanted Alexander to accept the sleight of hand of the state, and get better, and live happily with his son, but our heads told us that if this happened then nothing would change. As Alexander says to Sacha, "What about all the other fathers and mothers?" For the first time ever, I think, I wanted the central character to die instead of live, because otherwise his struggle was futile and the consequences for everyone else were so ghastly - the state would win. Again.
Stoppard at the absolute top of his game.
Friday, 9 January 2009
They say as an actor your greatest control over your career (and there's little enough of that, really) is your choice whether or not to take a job - you always have the final say. What they don't tell you is how hoity some people get about you exercising your choice. A guy who everyone seems to have worked for once offered me Prospero in "The Tempest" at his pub theatre in (far) North London, and just wouldn't take no for an answer.
It was mainly the profitshare (for which read guaranteed practically unpaid) factor, but the prospect of providing my own costume and doing six shows a week in front of an average audience of nine really didn't help.
He couldn't believe I was turning it down. "But you've done three shows in a row here - you're just getting started!"