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.