Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Off Tour

The vexing thing about a touring blog is that you don't tend to write much when you're at home - it feels a touch meretricious, I suppose. And there's the niggling voice of Noel Coward, who famously asserted that you were only an actor when actually acting - he didn't favour us with what you were supposed to be the rest of the time, but as a raconteur, playwright, diarist, librettist, composer and all round Renaissance man that probably didn't bother him much.
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...


My bit of Oxfordshire has finally succumbed to the weather, and we have a sprinkling of snow on the ground. This is in contrast to most other places, which seem to have a mini ice-age - Facebook is littered with stories of 6-mile journeys taking 6 hours and the like.
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

Small World

I mentioned tangled webs a while ago. I've been sorting out my study (and the Dineen Archive - the sort of thing you can get down to when you're not in gainful employ) and I came up with the following Odd Coincidences:
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

Chalk it Up!

Ever since "Chop" wrapped (and post-production finished, and the premiere happened, which I'm shocked to realise I didn't post about) I've been cast in their next short. In fact, I was asked to do it on the night of the press showing by Barrie, who wrote the script.

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

Taxi for Mr Dooley

Last nights are odd on tour. On single-venue shows there's generally a massive knees-up; I guess that last night party thing is to mark the fact that the show couldn't possibly have been properly explored in 4 weeks - that the surface has only just been scratched; and, of course, that the very intense friendships you have made are about to abruptly end. If you've been raised on a diet of that then you'll be disappointed with touring.

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

You Know My Name

We get to our Travelodge tonight to discover that no rooms have been booked for us. Well, Carol Dance and Ben Sherratt are welcome to stay, but there are no reservations for Alan, Alice and me. It's turning into another Abigail's Party Buxton Incident (when we were all booked in for the day after the show...) when suddenly the receptionist mentions there is a room booked for a Mr R Dooley. We can't believe it - there's a bloke called Dooley in the hotel - what are the chances?

"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

Eleven Drunken Nights

There are two kinds of tours, really. The ones where you drink a couple of nights a weeks to oil the wheels of sociability - businesslike and, to be honest, a bit dull. And the other kind, where you behave as though you were on holiday all the time, as though the money is just to be spent on the here and now, and as though there are no such things as matinees. This is one of the latter kind.
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

Top of the Evenin'...

The unthinkable has happened. I just got an exit round after my monologue. I am finally Irish. Well, Irish-ish.

More Birthday Suits

I forgot to mention that when I was in Edinburgh years ago, I saw "The Elephant Man" where an actress in Victorian dress had to strip off completely. As the final vestiges of modesty were cast aside and John Merrick gazed upon the first and last naked woman he ever saw, the silence was only broken by someone saying "Yum, yum!"

Bums on Seats, Tonks on Stage

Coventry has two famous references in any dictionary of phrases. To be "sent to Coventry" - the origin of which is not certain; and the tale about Lady Godiva riding through the streets of the town as a bargain to secure the building of a Bendictine monastery from her husband Leofric. Now that's what I call a dare.
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

For The Record!

The cracks have begun to appear - the illusion is collapsing. I was sitting in the rocking chair yesterday whilst Michael and Ben "I need some help with my Latin vocab" Sherratt did the lights, when I noticed that the 'phone has been RECYCLED from the Abigail's Party set. What a swizz! It's one of those phones that I grew up with, from the days when they were permanently attached to the wall, so not a million years ago.
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.

The Coventry Evening News...

What IS it with landladies who come into your room when you're not there and do stuff? I got back last night to find that my bed had been straightened, my pyjamas folded and put under my pillow and my bedtime reading had been arranged more pleasingly on my nightstand. Thank God it was only a copy of Private Eye. It's like staying with grandma, only without being told what a lovely shaped head I have.
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

Seven Drunken Nights

I did a show once where the accent required was standard American, and yet one cast member arrived on day one with a broad Southern Belle accent which remained undimmed from the first rehearsal until the last performance. This was on the fringe, where you're sometimes quite lucky if people can speak at all, but you get the point. It was just awful.
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

On Book

In Hamburg we had someone on the book for a week, and although we made an audience announcement every night they still reacted as thought someone had farted audibly in a pause when the "on-book" actor entered.
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 run into Kevin Shaw, the Coliseum's artistic director today. He's wonderful about the first night's show, and mentions that it must be like the old actor's nightmare of being thrown into a show where you've hardly read the script.
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

Just One of the LCT Boys

Elizabeth, my landlady, makes me bacon and cheese on toast for breakfast this morning and tells me how much she enjoyed having John Dorney (Felix in the LCT tour of "Humble Boy") to stay. Again. I've been here two days and she must have told me about his short pyjamas half a dozen times already. That nightwear certainly made an impression.
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

New Moves

We're rehearsing again this morning. One of the things that bugged me last night was that Pato was two people, or rather a half-formed new person still limping around in blocking that didn't suit him. This is what Michael wants to repair.

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

Only if the Cap Fits...

I remember when we started re-rehearsing "Abigail's Party" we strictly and consciously avoided mentioning details of the previous production unless absolutely necessary. And that was a great idea, the new show was totally different and equally valid in a way I never would have thought possible.
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

Beauty has her Way

It's confirmed the following afternoon. The current incumbent will do tonight's show and probably won't continue into next week. Which means I have 48 hours to learn the part which is, well, not a lot really.
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

A Phone Line of Beauty

Ol' Cap'n Cabot can has a very individual way of presenting things. I'm especially thinking of the phrase "I think what this scene needs is better acting from you, Dineen" in a notes session, but there are others, I'm sure.
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

The Husband Obedience Trials

They've been making a feature film in my village lately, which goes by the unlikely title above and which, I gather, has just wrapped. A local journo wrote the script and, so the story goes, the whole community came together to raise the funds.
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.

Off Air

Last time I was interviewed live was on BBC Radio Solent during Abigail's Party - with Paula Jennings and Helen Johns. One of the benefits of doing live radio as part of a cast is the thinking time you get - I remember doing most of the talking, but it was pithy and quite interesting, and anyway, you can bang on about that play until the cows come home.
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

An Altogether More Sedate Music Video

I've just added a couple of links to videos my good friend Graham Instrall shot a year or so back to the great music of Ottorine Respighi's "Pines of Rome". Music Video for the Classic FM crowd...

Friday, 31 July 2009

Local Hero?

It's all gone quiet since the Vienna gig, by which I mean it's the usual mad round of trying to entertain Jakey (it's the holidays) and catching up with tiresome domestic nonsense. What I used to fill my time with, heaven only knows. I believe I used to read occasionally, and I had hobbies.
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

Austria Calling

So the role-play has come off, which my bank manager will be happy about. I'm currently doing some preliminary learning and getting my tongue around some of the trickier medical terminology.
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

Role Play

I have an interview today for some corporate work (which has been set up by my agent), and since touring looks a little thin on the ground at the moment, I'm hoping this comes off.
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

Hard Being a Bard

I'm going to the One Act Plays Festival tonight - well, actually, to the gala evening on which the three successful plays from the week are invited back - with Susi Dalton, who is the chair of the Oxfordshire Drama Network and the busiest lady I know.
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

Night Shoot

The great advantage of true pros in a situation like this is that they are happy to tear the camera to bits and fix it themselves. And in doing so they undoubtedly save the film, because we couldn't have worn a three-hour loss of time. Aside from serious wrist grazing from the manacles and the constant dribbling of film blood - which NEVER dries - into my eyes, the shoot is efficient and relatively uneventful.
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.

Chop Stop

We're on location near Blenheim Palace today, and it's blisteringly hot. Toby, who's driving me, has the most amazing job - he's a product developer for Vtech, the kids toys manufacturer - a job he literally fell into from temping. I'm always amazed at those stories, and I'm tempted to say something like it sometimes, but the truth is I pretty much hated everything I've ever done except this so it's more a question of falling out of all the other jobs until I ended up here.
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


The first film I ever made was shot on a Hi-8 camera that I borrowed from Tessa Gibbs, and my strongest memory is of my good friend Sean Martin doing a tracking shot of me over a polished floor using a wheelchair which had bandages wound round the tyres to stop them squeaking.
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

The Cowley Road Film Club

"Chop" - the film we're shooting at the weekend - is not actually the project which is closest to the director's heart. It's a pragmatic choice of first film to showcase the various talents of the cast and crew, and so that the production team can cut their teeth before committing themselves to either a more ambitious short or even a feature.
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

In Shorts

I've been cast in an Oxford-based short film called "Chop", which is due to start shooting on the 22nd May. There seems to be a whole film collective which has sprung up around the Cowley Road lately, mainly centred around the house of the director Martin Chalk, who is a master networker and all round good egg.
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

Postscript Post

Nothing's ever as squeaky as that ending. There's never a "clean exit with suitcase" is there?

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

Parting Thoughts

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

Reading In

Jenny is comfortably ensconced in a wonderful hospital called "Asklepios Klinik Barmbek", which is only a short journey from Emil Jansen Strasse. Her operation was a great success, and now she only has to deal with the boredom and frustration, which is rather more of a challenge. Heather and I take in the Guardian in every day, and I finish her hospital food for her (very nice - can't have it wasted) whilst we try to avoid talking too much about her replacement, who's been flown in at insanely short notice.
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

Random Hamburg

Rory went to Luneburg yesterday, which is a very pretty mediaeval (I think) town near Hamburg. I've seen enough stately homes and architecture for the moment, though. I saw endless Grinling Gibbons carving and Romney portraits in National Trust properties as a kid.
As a "nature philistine" I prefer cityscapes to countryside, anyway. I think it's the way people live that interests me. Like here in Hamburg you see these constructions everywhere:

For ages I thought they were sewer access points like you see in Vienna in "The Third Man", but no. They're storage sheds for bikes. You can fit about eight in, by hanging them from their front wheels.
Also, it may be a coincidence, but there's something familiar about the lettering on the shop below. And the stuff they sell bears a striking resemblance to the range that used to be available in every town in the UK:

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.

Break a Leg!

I don't know if anyone's said that to Jenny lately, but like the true professional she is, she's taken it to heart! She's having a hip operation today after breaking it last night shortly after I left Emil Jansen Strasse, poor thing. We're seeing her in hospital later today, going armed with the Guardian and grapes. Get well soon, Jenny!

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Making Waves

So anyway, it's my suggestion that we go boating. I've seen craft all over the canals here, and a quick websearch reveals a boathouse very near Saarlandstrasse, where the ladies are living. They bring the food, I bring the beer - as Bradley would say, "it's very pleasant".

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

Cabin Fever

Well, it's either that or we're early demob-happy.

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

Planten un Blomen

I'm a bit of a philistine when it comes to flowers. I mean, I love nature and the whole "red in tooth and claw" thing, but plants cultivated for their appearance leave me a bit unmoved. Actually, they bore the arse off me. I could never understand why my mother and grandma would spend hours wandering round our garden at home discussing the flowers. But in the spirit of the second chance (like trying rice pudding and rhubarb, which I love now) I thought I'd better visit the big open park here near Hamburg Messe.
Like the Fischmarkt, you smell it long before you get to it. And when you do get there, it's remarkable how attractive it is - there's half-naked sunbathers everywhere. I remember Clive James commenting on how some Europeans seem to fling off their clothes at the first glimmer of sun (although I think he meant the Danes) and it really was very, very diverting. So diverting that I almost forgot to look at the flowers - it wasn't a fair contest, really, as the flowers weren't in bikinis.
The botanical greenhouse was the best thing, I thought. Divided into sections like tropical, equitorial and temperate, the plants there are exotic and unusual, and more my thing. I even took a couple of photos:

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

BA Heaven

I flew back to the UK at the weekend again for 24 hours or so. Since the early Sunday a.m. Ryanair flight seems to have been discontinued I was forced, forced to fly with BA for hardly any more money.
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


Hamburg's great for a flohmarkt and every Saturday there's a big, busy one in Feldstrasse. Jenny and I went there today, and it's the first time I've seen English people in any numbers here. They seemed to be everywhere talking on mobiles and holding plastic bags.

Amongst the usual market tat there were some interesting things - a few bits of Whitefriars but nothing which blew my skirt up. And whilst most stalls were anything and everything, there were a few that specialised. One seemed to have a job lot of surgical instruments of every conceivable type (including a whole range of speculums which must have made every adult woman shudder when they passed), and then I came across this:

A whole stall devoted to old lab equipment? Stills, retorts, test tubes, bunsens. It's all there. Anyway, we didn't want any pyrex beakers or benzine droppers, so we headed out and passed the entrance to the DOM, which is right next to this edifice, called the Hochbunker.
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".
Good point.

Friday, 10 April 2009


I've just been out for a walk - it's Good Friday and gorgeous - and everyone's out on wheels. Cycling is BIG in Hamburg, there are cycle lanes on all the pavements. And you've never seen a Hamburger properly annoyed until you've seen a pedestrian stray into the cycle lane - the air turns blue. Plus there's buggies, unicycles and inline skaters (some of whom were men in their forties, oh dear...)

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

Emergency Literature

I posted a while ago (during the Sternschanze episode, in fact) about reading things you wouldn't normally pick up/have time for/notice in a bookshop. Each of the flats has a selection of books which reflects the tastes of hundreds of ETH actors, and sooner or later you're gonna run out of things you read out of choice, and pick up one of these gems. It's like flying to Australia - eventually you'll be reading the print on the sick-bag.
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

Finally, the Story Outruns the Truth

I found this on an American website (the italics are mine):

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


God, they know how to do fairs here. We have a fair in St Giles' in Oxford once a year for two days. In Hamburg they have the DOM three times a year for a month each time. And it's great.
And I'm speaking as someone who doesn't like rides much. At the Oxford fair in 1981 I was violently sick after riding "The Cage" (all because my mother forced me to eat an omelet before I went) and I've never forgotten it. But I will do Dodgems and Ferris wheels and stuff. There was a good deal of machismo from our SM Kai at the mediaeval axe-throwing contest (he was beaten by a girl) and we all did the archery, ghost train and log flue. But the highlight for me was the Mouse Circus.
I don't think I was actually expecting mice taming smaller creatures, or on the trapeze and what-not. Actually what you get is hundreds of mice belting around the place climbing over stuff. And it makes you smile much more than it should:
The Ferris Wheel is not to be missed, either. At twilight you get a sensational view over Hamburg, and the DOM itself is the brightest thing in the city:

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.


This is a Hamburg institution - I mean, it's been going since 1703. And you feel that old when you pitch up at 7am - any later and you might as well not bother.
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.

Saturday Night

Last night was one of the best shows we've done, and definitely the best audience we've had. They were incredible. An amazing sense of warmth and enjoyment just washing up on stage in waves, and an insane number of curtain calls, and some people even standing - although they might have been late for their trains, I suppose. No, let's say they were standing and leave it at that.

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

'Nother Notice

"Steve Dineen as John (the "troublemaker" in the family who insists on bringing up issues) transmits John's persistence as being his character's virtue but also his vice beautifully".

How do you like them apples? Cheers, Hamburg Express.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Haar Here

Ages ago I posted about how ghastly it was having to sport a 70's moustache in 2009 (or 2008 as it then was). The subject would always come up when I was having a haircut - you'd see it in their eyes, a kind of quizzical "He wants a normal haircut but has THAT on his face? Does he know?" so then the story would come out..."You know Abigail's Party? No? I'm surprised...well, it's quite a famous play that's set in the 70's and...."
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".

Return to Sternschanze

One of the places I visited with my B-I-L last week was Sternschanze, and I had a chance to look at it with fresher eyes than before. I still wouldn't want to live there - too noisy - but it reminds me strongly of what happens in some London areas when they become gentrified - the good and the bad which characterise it are swept away in favour of the safe and middle-class.
Geoff, our SM, told me that the fabulous Wasserturn or water-tower was lately converted into a luxurious Movenpick hotel, but in the teeth of protracted local opposition. The residents didn't necessarily want to do anything else with it, but it seems they objected to it being exploited for financial gain on principle. Guests arriving at the completed hotel had to be protected by security and police for some months after it opened, such was the strength of feeling.
The same local activism has successfully prevented the wreck of the Flora Theatre (now called the Rota Flora) from being renovated - here's a picture of part of it:

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:
What was the show, "Stig of the Dump"?

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Slips and Blips

It seems to be an absolute aeon since I wrote anything about the actual SHOW, which is why I'm here, after all. That's because it's going well, with very healthy houses and not too many hiccups. Not the stuff of entertaining blogging.
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

Boyz 2 Men

My brother-in-law left yesterday after a crammed two days. We drank beer at luncheon on show days and drank LOTS of beer on school nights, raced go-karts at the DOM fair, ate pretzels, hung out in Sternschanze, did the art galleries and, of course, trawled the Reeperbahn. Well, as Bradley says in the play, "It's there, he's young, so I gave him my blessing".
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

Flug mit Fame

I've noticed this bizarre tendency with some of the "value" airlines lately - the crew on the flight deck seems to have new responsibilities. On Sunday, the captain was telling us all about the tempting range of baguettes and paninis, for God's sake. I kept thinking "Look at the instruments, man, not the menu!". I bet they love having to do that - like Paxman loved doing the weather on Newsnight.
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

Flight 435

I'm doing my third Ryanair Lubeck-Stansted flight to see the wife and saucepan lids tomorrow. It's a flight which I'm certain has been specifically designed for English party people who have been "giving it large" all night on the Reeperbahn. You can imagine the state of some of the travellers at 8.55am - at least they sleep most of the way. But it works fine for me.
Lubeck airport is not much more than a cow shed - it's almost as bad as the NZ airport Bob Downe describes as "a runway made from a couple of paddocks and a caravan for the terminal". Here's a photo:

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

Mad Shops

It's finally sunny AND warm here, and consequently a pleasure rather than a trial going for a walk. I trolled along the canal next to Hoheluftbrucke and had a charming song sung to me by a tramp for one euro - including text. Further along I came across a youth theatre which holds its performances in a huge old boat. And all along the canal there were canoes left abeam on the bank, held in place by saplings. Extremely trusting. And nice.

I emerged a long way up Ependorfer Weg, which is our main street, where I have never been before and where I saw the most bizarre collection of shops. See what you think...

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

Lingua Germanica

I'm loving the German habit of sticking words together to make new ones. I guess it makes it a bit cumbersome, but it's very effective. They also love pinching English words - especially to use for new technology, it seems. They call a mobile a "handy", and no-one seems to know why. It's just a word that fits the object well, and that's a good enough reason.
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

Mother Tongue

Jenny, Heather and I are taking the plunge today - we're going to German lessons. Rory has decided to rely on his trusted brand of "Old Man Charm" as he calls it, and will continue to select the youngest and brightest shop assistant in the hope that they speak good English. It's an approach which usually works...
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


There's a great bit in Nigel Planer's book "I, An Actor" (written in the luvvie persona of Nicholas Craig) where he complains about an actor's lot - it goes something like "...and here's muggins, me, and at the front of the queue yet again for another portion of shit cassoulet". Moments like that are mercifully rare, but I had one today.

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.

Rant over.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

A Little Trouble

We've all been suffering a bit from skin dryness and rashes, and we've generally been putting this down to climate/water/terrible cheap shower gel. But I seem to have suffered rather more, and especially in one particular, umm... arena.

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

No Red Carpet For Me, Then...

The RHOSCARS (see posts passim) are on this Sunday, and it seems my suspicions were totally unfounded. I was to be one of only three other VIP's - along with a cabaret artiste, a costume designer and someone who didn't pop up on Google - and there would have been some pomp and ceremony. To wit - they wanted a biography for a welcoming introduction to the assembled throng, and they asked if I would mind presenting an award. Mind?

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.

Spoke Too Soon

Can you imagine what the staff are like in here?

Shank's Pony

It's got to the stage where I'm in danger of only seeing my flat, the tube station and the theatre. So this morning I took a little walk to Eppendorfer Baum, which I've passed on the tube on the way here from Barmbek.
The route takes you along a wonderful, wide, tree-lined avenue which was once pretty impressive and rather expensive, judging by the grand houses on either side. I say "once" because the elevated section of the underground goes right down the middle of it.

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


After God knows how long in this business, sometimes I still have no idea what to do with my hands on stage. When I'm not talking, I mean. When you've got lines then you gesticulate and emphasise and drive home salient points, but when you're listening then you either have to hope you have pockets or just stand there like a peculiarly inanimate ragdoll. I'd love to see a speeded-up version of my performance - it must look like a carefully choreographed ballet for hands. I hope it does - I do give it a lot of thought, after all.

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

Little Things To Make You Smile

I collect stuff. Not any old stuff, but a little glassware and some ceramics. And touring is a great way of expanding your collection, because you end up in places you'd never go normally and find junk shops and flea markets that you'd never dream existed.

I've found great (and quite rare) glassware in Perth, King's Lynn, Glasgow and loads of other places I've completely forgotten. And now in Hamburg. Here's what I picked up yesterday.

It's Whitefriars, which is an English art glass factory that shut in the 70's. Consequently it's quite collectable. And if you bought that in England you'd probably see no change from £30. Price in Hamburg? Five of your lovely euros. I'm so glad that my endless drunken evenings with my friend who works at Sotheby's weren't entirely wasted...

Monday, 23 February 2009

The World Notices!

This is what the Google translation of Die Welt's review said:

"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!!!).


You don’t see much graffiti where I live in the UK. We’re far too middle-class for that in Oxfordshire. And perhaps it’s my imagination, but there seems to be much less in London nowadays? But the normally lawful Hamburgers like wall art, and if Sternschanze excels at anything (like Wolverhampton’s misspelled signs – see posts passim) then it’s graffiti in all its variety. Some of it is extraordinary:

But of course, where you get that you also get this:

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Lonely (A Bit)

In the normal scheme of things I’m pretty self-reliant and upbeat, but today I confess I’m having one of those blow-out-your-cheeks days – you know, the ones when you say “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear...” like Hancock does in that sketch about Sunday afternoons.
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

schlechte Bewegung

OK, here's the thing. Sternschanze is basically the Brixton of Hamburg - very lively, very busy and crowded and loud, especially at night (and most particularly on Friday and Saturday). This would be great if I were 25, sharing with someone and didn't intend spending many weekend nights asleep. But I'm 42, on my own and fond of my kip.
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

wo meine Reinigungsfrau ist?!!

I have just washed my underwear and socks in what I thought was laundry liquid, but what on closer inspection turns out to be starch.

First Night

Last night was our premiere, and for the first time it really flew. Rory (Bradley) was on great form, and delivered a beautifully judged performance. Jenny (Ann) managed to tread a very delicate line between frosty and warm, and our scenes were joyous to do, especially the very tender one in Act 2. And Heather (Nina) and I got the warring/loving nature of our brother/sister relationship down pat - I'm very comfortable in that long, wordy scene with her now.
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

Home and Away (From Home)

Looks as though I'm moving house. ETH have three flats here, one in Hoheluftbrucke, one in Barmbek and a third in Sternschanze, where I'll be staying as of Friday. This is very generous of them, as it's basically to accommodate our partners (and, in my case, kids). Perhaps experience has proved that actors have a better chance of keeping it together if their loved ones visit occasionally - like soldiers at the front or whatever. It was, I believe, common practice up until the Crimean war for wives to accompany army officers and perform duties like nursing and running errands. Pretty ghastly, though, I should think. Maybe they want Sue to man the first-aid station - I'll have to read my contract.
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

It's Not Much, But It's Home (Away From Home)

Kaffe Kultur

The cafe on the way to Hoheluftbrucke station by the frozen canal - the nearest one to our flat in Kottwittstrasse - has a discreet sign outside saying W-LAN which in noticed by chance yesterday, so I've been in here for well over an hour having coffee and surfing without hassle or the ever present time limits you get normally. It's very civilised.
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

The Cocktail Hour Commences...

Ok, so it's Wednesday - which means three things:

  • 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.

Everyone is lovely, and obviously I'm very popular for stepping in at the eleventh hour. Rory, my flatmate and playing my dad, is particularly pleased I've arrived because he says it takes the pressure off him not knowing his lines.

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

Ich Bin (Ein) Hamburger!

Well, they say this business can turn on a sixpence and here, for once, is proof. That job I turned down (see posts passim) has just become live again. The director emails me on Friday night at gone 10pm to tell me that there's something's happened, they don't now have an actor playing John, and do I want to step in? I reiterated my position, there was a wee bit of chinwagging with my agent today and BANG! I'm on Lufthansa flight 4795 at 7.39pm tomorrow, and I'll be in Hamburg until the 28th April playing the lead in "The Cocktail Hour" by A.R. Gurney.

My wife is being an angel about this. We have yet to break it to Jake...

Thursday, 5 February 2009


I have put on the most astounding amount of weight recently. I only realised when I shaved and saw I had a double chin, and then I pulled out (or perhaps I should say "dusted off") one of my headshots and realised, as Blackadder once observed, I have turned into a pie shop.

This is very annoying, because I had convinced myself that my metabolism had altered and I was now one of those people who remain whippet-thin no matter what they eat. I now realise that my body-image is based on only looking at myself in the mirror when it's slightly cool (and my skin tightens up with gooseflesh) or when I get up in the morning when I haven't eaten for at least 12 hours. And I'm usually sucking in my tummy, too, as a safety net.

I used to get a lot of stick from people, especially porky people, about the whole dieting thing. Granted, I'm naturally tall(ish) and athletic(ish) but I do put it on when I'm not careful. One very chubby friend of mine used to berate me for going to the gym, but as I pointed out, no-one was likely to ask him to take his shirt off at work, were they? And as Charles Dance once observed, sooner or later someone's gonna as you to do that, and when they do you'd better have something to show them.

This was brought agonisingly home to me during rehearsals for "Pera Palas", where we debated what my character might be wearing when he re-enters after suffering extreme diarrhoea in the bathroom.

"I dunno - maybe he's had a shower?" I said. "He'd probably be in a bathrobe".

"Or a towel?" said Michael, the director. And that was it. Five minutes later Sheila Burnett arrives to take production photos, overhears the plans for the scene and immediately knows what shots she wants. And here, featuring the lovely Alex Giles, is the result:

I spent the next three weeks eating salad. I've never been in better shape.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Down in Town

I saw EGBDF at the National the other day, and it was an odd, dispiriting experience. Odd because I was in the revival in 1978 at the Oxford Playhouse and known the play VERY well; and dispiriting because I wasn't mad about it.
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

Turning Down Work

...is ALWAYS a nightmare. I was offered a job yesterday for a theatre company based abroad. That's impossible at the moment for a number of reasons, so I had to call the guy this morning and let him down. At least he took it well.
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!"