Friday, 17 December 2010

Jo Heaton (nee Maxwell-Muller)

In one of those rotten twists of the great cosmic plan, shortly before I mentioned her in that last post, my lovely friend Jo died unexpectedly.
I met her when I was training - in fact she worked in the Student's Union as the permanent secretary. She was an unexpected choice - a bit off-the-wall and apparently rather ditsy, but this concealed a sharp intellect and keen sense of humour, together with a strong aversion to pomposity and pretentiousness. Well, there was a bit of luvviness, how could there not be? But it came from a different age, an age when the Spotlight Directory was one slim volume and everyone started their career in rep. A time when it was a bit tasteless to do commercials but you'd consider "Play For Today". So when Jo said you were a "supportive actor" she meant you had good stagecraft and generosity to other actors, and it was a quality she considered essential.

She was most famously cast at Christopher Plummer's insistence as Ophelia in the BBC's "Hamlet in Elsinore" co-production with the Danmarks Radio Company, when only 18. Her breakdown is described as "a memorably deranged rendition", but the film itself has never been released. As Alice's sister in Jonathan Miller's "Alice in Wonderland" one gets tantalising snatches of her talent, but I suspect that her greatest work was on the stage, that most transient and temporary of arenas, and certainly the only one she would have considered worth bothering about. When she first saw me on stage she visited me afterwards, put her hand on mine and said, in a sympathetic and regretful tone "Oh dear, I'm afraid you've got it". She didn't mean talent (although she sweetly thought that too), rather that I had the bug which would bring both great happiness and frustration - emotions she'd experienced sharply herself and which had meant a bumpy life.

RIP Jo darling. And as Jane Lapotaire remarked when we went backstage to meet her after a show, "You were better than all of us".

Friday, 19 November 2010

Other People In My Shoes

"Abigail's Party" was on telly the other night, and I watched a goodly chunk of it. It's odd - before, all I could see were the faults and the things we did differently, but fresh eyes are a great thing. I mean, there is some howlingly hammy acting - the bit where Laurence comes back in, realises he's forgotten the light ales and exits again was straight out of Norman Wisdom, but otherwise it's amazingly fresh - and I speak as someone who's seen it at least 200 times. Alison Steadman is amazing - massively OTT but totally believable (take note, Steve McFadden), likewise Janine Duvitski. Elements of grotesque caricature but so carefully done that it's entirely credible. I watched Laurence's "talent" speech and was almost moved to tears, it's so sensitively delivered.
The matter of watching other people do parts you've done/were up for/feel you should be getting is a vexed one. Apparently one of the other recallees from "Vertigo" lives so near the OTC base he could have seen the dress rehearsal from his bedroom, but he didn't, and I don't blame him. My dear friend Jo says one of the big things that made her leave the industry was having to watch other people playing the parts she wanted - and she was Ophelia to Olivier's Hamlet at the embryo NT, for God's sake. But the necessary public posture is much like the one you have to adopt when a friend tells you they've landed a job at the RSC. You smile and nod and all that, but a little bit of you wants to hit them with your shoe...

Friday, 5 November 2010

The Sprinter Beckons...

Pete, Sophia, self and Dan, all in protective get-in gear the day before the tour started. Adieu "Vertigo", and thanks for all the good times x

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

So Here We Are Then...

One thing today's venue, Carterton, has in common with the JR is that it's a venue OTC haven't visited before, and last week it was reported that it wasn't selling very well. Which strikes fear into you for a last night - I mean, a bang not a whimper, not the other way around, right?
But Vertigo isn't destined to close under a cloud. Despite many potential drawbacks (including the news that there won't be any booze on sale - which is mistakenly announced just as someone starts uncorking wine in the bar...?) a good crowd gathers and we set about doing everything for the last time.
Of course it's emotional. It's an age since we first landed the parts back in May, and we have all been gently considering how to play them - making decisions from the limitless number of possibilities - up to and during the rehearsals and run. There were certainly moments, scenes, which could have been played differently, possibly better. Over the next few days I, for one, will be seized by the fear that I was inadequate, that more research, more enquiry might have improved the performance.
Tonight, though, we relish what's left. Act II is a dream, everything is high stakes. The laughs are better, the silences more electric, the emotions more raw. At the end, when I look down at the twisted curtains on the stage and beg Ballard "May I kiss her?", I completely break down - experiencing, perhaps, a tiny shadow of what the loss feels like.
My friend Ali once wondered whether ending a play was like a mini-bereavement, and I've always thought it too trivial for that, but today it seems to qualify on such terms. There's talk afterwards about whether "Vertigo" will have another life - and yes, it feels as though we barely started - but experience and reason suggest it's unlikely. Thank God it happened at all, I say.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Infirm at the Radcliffe

The last time I was in the John Radcliffe Hospital my grandmother was very ill. The time before, my missus gave birth to Molly; when I was a teenager I was treated for what I self-diagnosed as a brain tumour but which was more accurately discovered to be bewilderment and angst. So to say it feels odd to be doing a show here, let alone one with the subject matter we're tackling, is an understatement.
Our contact, Ruth, is charming and chatty and all smiles and enthusiasm, though, and this demeanour lasts right up until she collides with some scaffolding Pete is carrying, whereupon she leaves. Possibly to go to the neurological department to have the lump on her head seen to.
After a start like this you'd be forgiven for expecting the worst, but as the Oxford Playhouse are in the crowd tonight, together with Karen and most of OTC, it can't be the worst. It sort of has to be the best, really.
We're up against it, though. The room is a badminton court, there's a huge wall hanging of a pink gangsta elephant dressed in a doctor's coat facing the stage, and even though it's October it's hot enough to grow orchids.
It's a nervous start, and with phones going off, watches beeping and the side doors opening every now and then, the audience must be having trouble with focus. I have forgotten my show pants, so I'm forced to wear a terrifyingly large and baggy pair of y-fronts which are period but massively impractical. As I remove my PJ trousers under the towel after the dunking scene, I feel the accursed underwear slide over my bum, gangsta stylie, and the audience nearly get an eyeful. Not the way I would wish to be remembered.
 In Act 2 it really starts to fly, though, and there's some great work from Sophia, Pete and Dan. And perhaps me, but of course I couldn't possibly comment on that...
Afterwards I talk films with Chalky, Si Porritt and Baz in the foyer. The top secret film on rugby lines has been put back a couple of months and will be shooting in the Spring. Exciting casting developments talked of, too. My parents watch all this with interest  - and my mother, I believe, has a tear in her eye. My father is very enthusiastic, and despite inadvertently mentioning that I've been "wooden" occasionally in the past, clearly loved it. Good times.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Shouting Distance

If ever there was a mid-scale touring venue which inspires love and hate in equal measure, it's Hemel's Old Town Hall. The plus side is that it's within reasonable reach of London so your agent/casting director/family and friends/famous celebrity chum (in Peter's case) might come. The minus is that the get-in's a monster. Just ghastly. There's a spiral staircase for God's sake. Madness.
The other minus is that ironically, the pluses tend to inspire a certain edginess because of the pressure to put on a good show. If you're feeling jaded in the middle of a long tour this can be good, but we're not and I think the show falls somewhat short of our barnstorming gig on Saturday.
It's amazing how different this audience is, though. They're knowing and savvy; they like the broad comedy less; they pick up on totally different things than we've been accustomed to.And by gum, they're close.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Chewing The Scenery

I sometimes wonder what our promoters make of us. They're usually there to welcome us and sometimes they stay for the get-in and out, and it's then that we slip into a sort of theatre slang generally centred around the shortcomings of our set. Manfrotto stands become Man Fridays and then morph into Frangipanis, we'll audibly hunt around for the Stage Right Flappy Thing, The Piece of Wood That Does F*ck All and The Pointless Support Under The Upstage Step. Interrupt us during the laying of the floor and you'll wonder why we rub the edges vigorously with candles; come in when the windows are going up and the Fatties and Thinnies conversation may puzzle you. You'll need a clue to discover why the ladder's called Zach (he's an a-frame) and why the door lintel is called Fellini (he's number eight and a half). That's not even mentioning multicore, socapex, DMX, phono cables, DIN and spiders (all Colin's domain and therefore not to be tackled lightly. Or at all if you can avoid it).
Later on you get the whole thing in reverse, with Colin bellowing for Fascism, T-bars and Soft Things To Stuff In The Shelving Unit. It's worth the entry price without seeing the show, I can tell you...

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Easy, Now...

Leadenham is not a prepossessing name for a village, and the place looks asleep when we arrive - a feeling reinforced by the sophorific atmosphere in the pub. However, at the hall we get the warmest welcome yet, along with tea half-hourly, and the most fantastic smells coming from the kitchen.
Here they've chosen to add a buffet to the beginning of the evening and consequently it's a sell-out, with an audience of dangerously full and contented punters - one wonders whether they'll manage to stay awake for the full 75 mins of the first half.
But we needn't have worried - they're with us all the way. It's our best show yet, for me certainly, great on cues, lots of fresh things happening in the characterisation and so on. In fact it belts by, carried along on a wave of enthusiasm, appreciation and good humour. This continues well into the get-out, where we're invited to hoover up what remains of the buffet, glug some wine and depart with a carrier bag of pork pies. Fantastic.
The pub where we're being put up tonight stocks 700 whiskies, and we sink a couple along with the late night pints. Just as we're contemplating retiring - at about 2am - local Colston Bassett Stilton is brought out by the landlord, and the night owls invite us to join them. Mad not to, although we may feel bilious over breakfast. Oh, what the hell. We live once.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Breakfast Business

It's two nights in a Travelodge for us here in Nottingham, and there's a pub next door which opens for breakfast. Colin and Dan are already there when I show up, and are tucking into the maximum possible breakfast available. We're all losing a bit of weight because the tour's so physical, but there's something about Stage Managers and their metabolism - I mean, Colin ate seven KitKats the other day without incident.
Next to the order point there is a display of cheesecakes of such obscene dimensions that is makes me queasy. They are covered in Aeros, Dime Bars, Twix and so on, and they're all at least a foot high. As someone who's attitude to food is "cram as much sensual gorgeousness into your mouth as you can" not much throws me, but the sight of this, coupled with the carvery along the counter where someone chooses that moment to pour about four gallons of gravy into a tureen makes the knees buckle. Ugh.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Loose Lips

Both Sophia and Dan have London auditions this morning (for Shrek, Avenue Q and Journey's End), so it's a depleted van which departs for Nottingham. I did check my voicemail for messages from Trevor Nunn and Steven Spielberg, but they're probably still making their minds up. Me or Colin Farrell - tough choice.
Anyway, Grange Hall is the polar opposite of yesterday in terms of capacity, and it's a busy night again.
The show's well bedded in by this stage (although we've only clocked up 12 performances) but every now and then we'll get the odd reminder of what a fragile and unpredictable medium live theatre is. The odd dry and fluff is to be expected, and there are more than a few of those tonight, perhaps accelerated by the presence of visiting directors and a video camera (along with our peripatetic director!). My only gaffe is to substitute one word for another, but when it's "heroin" instead of "morphine" it provokes an audible gasp and bang! Roger's a druggie from "Trainspotting". Oops. Karen's very kind about it, but I guess she'll video again tomorrow... 

Wecome to our Village - Beware Livestock.

We have some trouble finding East and Botolph Claydon, and when we finally arrive and set up, the stage totally dominates the hall. They're sold out, too, so the audience is only a few feet away from the front of the stage. The performance which follows is necessarily detailed and intimate - more that ever before, I think.
Our confusions with directions means that by the time we leave we're comically low on diesel, and despite our efforts the return journey turns into a mini-drama all by itself with wrong turns and lost GPS signals and, at one point, a sheep with a gammy leg standing in the middle of the road. It's totally impervious to horns and shouts, so we get out and try to encourage it to the side of the road. The sight of a human makes it freak out, and it's all we can do to get it to stop on the verge whilst the van slips by, running on fumes and not much else by this time...

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Jacket Potato and Quiche*

After a while, tours get into a routine. We always have a tea break after we've constructed the floor and before we erect the set; Pete and I are always forced to shave and smooth our hair in the public loos just as the audience arrive; Sophia and Dan always manage to squeeze in a cigarette milliseconds before the half is called and Colin always manages to get himself trapped behind something very heavy during the loading procedure. It's rather reassuring to have these firm planks to rely on.
I wasn't expecting Karen to be so omnipresent in our out-of-county dates - it's very unusual to see so much of your director at this stage, and hugely welcome. And not just for notes and updates on how the show's going, either - the Robertsbridge ladies are well and good, but there's nothing like a Karen Simpson (and sometimes her well-muscled husband) for speeding up the get-out.

*Our default supper in rural venues!

Friday, 15 October 2010

"Have you ever seen this before?" The past catches up with Renee...

Young Guns (Go For It!)

The most charming man greets us at Marchington, which is the first of our two Staffordshire dates this week. He's not the contact name on our list, but after a heavily deviated journey the tea he makes go down well. When our contact Julia does arrive, she reveals that he's on day release from the local open prison at Sudbury. Whatever he was in for, it wasn't because he couldn't put a brew together, and I don't remember any actors disappearing in this area lately....
In the more rural venues, the audience is generally my age or above, but we're buttonholed by two embryo actors tonight who are in their teens. It's difficult not to try to distil many years' experience of training, fringe, touring, etc into a five minute conversation, so we look for signs of eyes glazing and try to hold off the more abstruse details. My conversation with the father is very positive, though, he's clearly behind them 100% and not put off by the prospect of having to bail them out for the next, oooh, thirty years or so.

I should probably give him my Dad's phone number.   


We played Church Lawford last night to a sell-out crowd, and we're in a Travelodge overnight - this one's not in an industrial estate next to a Little Chef, though. It's next to the Lady Godiva statue in Coventry city centre.
I've blogged before about the crimes which have been visited on Coventry, but this unexpected visit sort of distils the joys. The Travelodge staff are hugely friendly, and encourage us to eat our dirty kebabs in the bar (which stays open until 2am, God be praised). They must know we're going to trail salad and chilli sauce all over the place, but they don't mind. The Tempranillo's pretty good, too.
In the morning I visit the market and have breakfast there amongst the traders and shoppers. It's so bustling and active and good-natured that it leaves me with a huge sense of well-being. This is soon cured by a hilarious and diverting jaunt around the ring road...

Thursday, 7 October 2010


Apparently last night was a triumph - OTC had a bunch of movers and shakers in, all of whom seem to have been favourably impressed.
That won't make any difference to where we're going today, Robertsbridge being out-of-county and one of a growing number of national dates on the roster. It's pretty brave programming when you consider that lots of Oxfordshire venues thought the show too unpredictable to book, despite being a local company and sporting a local actor (i.e. me).
After lunch we spot this church near the pub - it strikes us as very reminiscent of the church in the show - "out of proportion...the tower's too tall, and it leans..."
Anyway, there's a great sense of community in the local hall, from the effort that's gone into preparing our supper (wraps, sandwiches and some pretty spectacular cookies) and the after-show glass of red, to the human chain of ladies helping us with the get-out. I mean, it makes me shudder to see them shouldering 12-foot lengths of scaffolding outside to the waiting Colin, but they won't be stopped. I bet the chiropractor is busy tomorrow.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010


There's a palpable thrill in the van today, because it's Chipping Norton and the last theatre proper for a while. I saw LCT's "Beauty Queen" here shortly before I was asked to take over, and also their "Caretaker" earlier this year, so it's almost my local theatre.
I'd forgotten the bizarrely high stage, though, which means that even on the deck you're at least two metres higher than the eyeline of the stalls audience. On our 50cm raised stage, we are on an eyeline with the balcony. Our set could have been made for the width, though. It looks gorgeous, and it doesn't creak...

Of course, the boys naturally gravitate to the Ronnie Barker dressing room. The theatre desn't seem to have any particular connection with him, though - as far as I  can make out, his antiques shop in nearby Deal is the extent of his affiliation with the area - but it's a nice touch, and a good deal less macabre than the Roses in Tewkesbury and their memento mori dressing room plaque to Eric Morecambe.  

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

School's In

It's the first of our school dates, and the first of a four-day run which is both exhilarating and worrying, because even with Karen helping us out on Saturday we were four hours get-in and two hours get-out. Just too long.
At Wheatley Park we can't really set up until after school finishes, and comically there's PE going on in the harsh, echoey hall anyway. However, once the set's up it's truly extraordinary how much it transforms the most unprepossessing arena. We're held up by waxing the edges of our floors (to stop the interminable creaking which tends to wreck the tender moments - few as they are) and we complete cabling by 6.30pm, not even an hour before beginner's. So it's caffeine-rich cokes and coffees all round and a quick sit-down.
What follows is an eye-opening experience. A house of about 80, mainly students, provide the most attentive and rewarding audience so far. Naked flesh doesn't perturb or embarrass them, they don't get bored or answer phones or do anything except give us their full attention. I remember giving Michael Pennington such a hard time during a school trip that he stopped the play to bollock us, but there's only respect and overwhelming applause here. Fantastic.
Still two hours to get out though, and we're all knackered. Dear Me. 

Monday, 4 October 2010

Running Away with Me

Yikes. It gets away from you all too easily! So we opened on the 25th in Didcot, played our second show three days later in Henley and then a third in Botley, Oxford on Saturday last, the 2nd October.
Didcot's Cornerstone is a great new venue, only a couple of years old, and a superb place to open. Good crowd, big studio (if anything a little too big for our set) and we responded well to the anticipation, despite a gruelling get-in and dress that afternoon. The press was there in the shape of the Oxford Times (actually in the specific shape of Angie Johnson) and for the last time, the entire creative team.
Afterwards we're allotted a 15 minute furlough in the bar to meet friends and receive plaudits but we spend a good deal longer than that, so much so that by the time we're backstage again half the set is down and in the van. Even so, it's a long process - and with five extra bodies helping it doesn't begin to resemble a get-out after a normal show. Back home buzzing at 1.30am.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Not Long Now

It's Thursday of tech week, and this is really the first chance I've had to sit down and write anything. When the show's as busy as ours, with such rich soundscapes and visual effects, the technical rehearsals take some time. And we're taking advantage of this to repeatedly run sections of the action in costume and usually at full performance pitch, so it's pretty draining.
It's a delight to see others' performances taking on lovely, vibrant colour though, as they do the fine brushwork on their characters. Sophie's characterisation of Madeleine is an ethereal, gorgeous creature, exactly the "romantic moving picture" designed to capture Roger that Ballard talks about early on. And when contrasted with the earthy Renee of Act II, the truth of their twin identity and motivations should keep the audience on tenterhooks until the very final moments. Pete's character was in pretty fantastic shape in week 1, but it's continued to develop and flesh out beautifully. I've also never seen such focus on stage when others are working - it's a masterclass in supportive acting, and I rely on him enormously.
Dan's ability to create a washerwoman by wearing a towel, or a dopey rural shopkeeper who steers perilously close to "Two Soups" territory (and is all the more hilarious for it) is endlessly creative. The only danger is the likely corpsing of the rest of us, but hey. That's our problem.
Today we'll finish teching, do a dress rehearsal and then another for a small invited audience of kind and generous guests. And tomorrow we pack the van for the first time...
Oh, and here's our fab set, freshly painted. Let's hope it all goes in.
Rear views L-R - Jake (Lighting/Visuals), Colin (SM), Karen (Director), Ivan (MD)

Friday, 17 September 2010

That Was The Week That Went...Quickly

Ilmo visits again this morning with his therapist partner Hazel, and this coincides with us running the last quarter of the play.This means that the first thing they see is the illustrative movement for Roger/Renee's physical relationship. It's a wee bit toe-curling in front of people in the psychoanalytic dodge.
The rest of the act bowls along reasonably well, though, and they're very insightful during notes afterwards and entertained enough to watch Act I too, which they clearly enjoy. Their practical notes about the hypnotism are, as expected, incredibly useful and we incorporate them into the first full-blown run of the show this afternoon.
During this I get a true handle on how tiring it's likely to be. It doesn't help that we've already run most of it today before we start, and I'm a bit fuzzy during the final couple of scenes - probably because there's a lot of notes from Karen and Heather to take in; Sophia says she feels the same. We overrun grotesquely to finish just as Laura, the designer, and her team start painting the set.
We open a week tomorrow. Sobering thought to go to the pub with.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Medium of Dance an area where I've never been truly happy - I don't so much dance as check all my limbs are in working order (as someone once observed of Ricky Martin).
The presence of a great choreographer will ease the troubled birth of movement even for me, though, and Heather Douglas has been wafted in from dance paradise to fill this role. Now, if you're over 30 you probably walked into a lamppost whilst gawping at a photo of Heather in the original cast of "Chicago" in the West End. I think I still have a bruise from that.
On the page there's not much to keep Heather busy, but on its feet there's plenty. We spend a hefty chunk of today getting the (quite dangerous) leap into the Seine right, looking at the vertigo moments and working the Madeleine death, working on a movement montage illustrating World War II and cracking the vexing issue of how to demonstrate the nature of Roger and Renee's relationship without actually demonstrating it, if you follow me. During this process there are casualties: feet - trodden on; fingers - trapped in moving parts of the set; the bed - clearly not designed for two people to descend on together at speed. Back to the drawing board, IKEA!

Expert Witness

When I did "Abigail's Party" I remember there was a big conflab about whether we should employ 1970's CPR or contemporary CPR for maximum realism. With the hypnosis in "Vertigo" we have a similar dilemma about hypnotic technique, so we were very interested in what Ilmo, an experimental psychologist working at the University, would have to say about it.
It's rare that the input of experts changes the entire landscape of your understanding of the show, but Ilmo's insights were global, and relevant to everyone. The most dramatic for me was a possible hypnosis echo in Roger's treatment of Renee, which gave me goose-pimples, but his observations about Renee's possible desire to purge herself of both her guilt and her terrible life experiences added a really strong motivation to the complicity she shows in allowing herself to be groomed as Madeleine.

Poor old Roger. Doesn't stand a chance really....

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Under Fire

We're very much at the "build it up, smash it down, recycle it" stage of rehearsing, where stuff which seems to be polished and ready gets scrutinised in the light of changes elsewhere and comes up wanting. Sometimes this results in favourite moments being lost, more often it's awkward or eggy moments that get ironed out. The Roger/Renee relationship came under some heavy artillery today. Tempting though it is to apply a thick veneer of romanticism, the reality of people damaged by war, tragedy, loss and the grim fight for survival means a stripping back, a whittling away to reveal the truth of the liaison.
Dan auditions for Little Britain whilst I fail to keep a straight face...

Elsewhere there's more wonderful work going on. Dan's facility to make character snapshots colourful and memorable is extraordinary - sometimes with quite unprepossessing material. And if all else fails - which I doubt - he has a long career as a pantomime dame in front of him.
Pete's psychiatrist, Ballard, is a gentle and sympathetic portrayal, qualities of which there is very little on the page, but which detracts not at all from the showman, the circus barker almost, which forms the bulk of his part.
Pete stands ready to catch him should he fall. Or over-act.

I mean, acting is a serious business and all that, but today Karen, Heather, and I were all helpless at one of Dan's imaginings, and as Karen pointed out, it will need a bit of comedy.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

No Pun Intended

I've just found this quote about Roger that I jotted down ages ago - "One of those people who hate mediocrity without being able to scale the heights". Ha ha!

Friday, 10 September 2010


Today, after reworking the scenes with Roger and Gevigne, we go throught the rest of Act I - which we haven't really looked at for a week. And a very foreign country it feels, too. Some of it has been visited briefly with Heather, our choreographer - for example, she and Karen have reworked the climax where characters climb to the top of a church tower and the rescue from the Seine - but chunks of it haven't been touched because we've been busy with Act II. Then we run Act I after lunch.
I'm disappointed with what I do in this. Even in the scenes with Dan as Gevigne, which were shaped and polished this morning, I seem leaden and awkward. And the joie de vivre we worked so hard at getting into the part yesterday seems to have all but evaporated.
There's a lot of pressure to move seamlessly between scenes which doesn't help; just remembering what comes next is a Sisyphean effort at times but it's the looseness of the characterisation which bugs me most. There are moments which feel great - my character's near-stalking of Madeleine goes well, and our taxi scenes feel good. But overall it's a bit of a C-minus. Must Do Better, and See Me After Class.
But we're all off book, there are no serious pauses and only a couple of dropped lines after nine days' rehearsal. Maybe that's why we get sent home early - on condition we do our homework!

Post in Haste

God - the days are just tearing by. Which is why I find myself sitting at the kitchen table writing a post at midnight whilst lovely partner and MiniDineens are in the land of nod. My call's at 9.30am so this will have to be quick.
Spent a lot of time with my trousers round my ankles today, trying to perfect the art of clumsily dressing under a towel. I manage to do this with adequate clumsiness on a daily basis - heaven only knows why it's so difficult in rehearsal. The speed of the action in this show is just becoming apparent, and Dan (Gratin) and and Pete (Ballard) now resemble obsessive-compulsive furniture movers, as they create the scenes seamlessly whilst Sophia (Madeleine) and I drift about in them, occasionally jumping into taxis made of armchairs or strolling behind trees made of actors. All this and they also have huge speeches and many, many characters. Yikes.
One creative dude I haven't mentioned is Ivan Stott, who's our MD and who spends his day watching us intently (even when we're messing around) and furiously tapping away at some complicated electronics. Every now and then, he'll stop everything and fill the hall with some haunting melody which instantly adds colour and depth and sometimes foreboding to the scene you are playing. I've never seen this approach before, and it's so present, so beautifully tailored to the developing of the show that the end product will be astonishing.
Jo, the marketing guru, took some rehearsal shots today, so Karen drifted onto stage rather more than she normally would(!) and we all struck some creative and thoughtful poses. At least I hope so - some of my lines are so elusive that my face probably looks like a poster for "The Agony and the Ecstasy".
Up at the coal-face again first thing - Gevigne/Roger scenes. Speak soon.    

Friday, 3 September 2010

Love Is Where You Find It

We had rather a disjointed day. An hour's work on blocking this morning followed by a visit by the author, Jonathan Holloway, who heard a read-through (with minor changes) before lunch. Then costume fittings for most of us including a marathon for Sophia of about six separate outfits. Then an hour or so of blocking before end-of-day.
Very interesting talk with Jonathan after lunch. He has various firm convictions about the story which are based on close work on the novel - an example being that Renee never has any feelings for Roger save guilt and his usefulness as a financial support. This was originally my instinct also, although both Karen and Sophia argue that there are moments in the script which suggest that Roger and Renee are codependent, and there is definitely something in that. They are both damaged but they've survived, and whilst their relationship doesn't contain anything I would call love, there are probably many different ways of expressing and recognising love that don't conform to any romantic Hollywood notion. It's all Roger/Madeleine/Renee on Monday, so I'll take my Freud along. Or maybe my Charcot...

Thursday, 2 September 2010

And Then There Were Four

After a day and a half of the atmosphere on stage being soggy with testosterone, we finally get to Madeleine's first speaking entrance. This coincides with the off-stage dunking in the Seine I mentioned a few days ago, and the vexed question of her subsequent state of undress has been very sensitively handled. Downstage side of the hospital screen, however, there is nowhere to hide, and poor old Roger has to make do with a towel like a flannel postage stamp. I sincerely hope this is a temporary situation - it's meant to be Vertigo, not Nausea.
Our convention that the psychotic episodes are played out using only the props and costumes in the ward doesn't apply to the imaginary Madeleine, and consequently Laura, our designer, has a sheaf of costume designs for her. The wall in the Green Room looks like a 1940's edition of "Vogue" - with a very small men's section!

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Roger, Roger!

I thought I knew this play (and the originating novel) well, but I spent large tracts of today wearing the expression of a man who has just set light to his trousers. There are so many layers of reality, and there are so many characters being disingenuous that it's often difficult to keep track. I mean, at one stage Dan Copeland's character - Nurse Gratin - steps into Roger's imagined scene in a Marseille hotel, takes on the character of a Moroccan concierge whilst Roger questions him about Renee (who is not present as far as Gratin is concerned but whom the concierge can see), and he then briefly morphs into a parallel version of the concierge who reminds Roger that Renee cannot be Madeleine because the latter is dead. Uh-huh.
Led by Karen, we picked the Gordian plot of Act I apart this afternoon as a prelude to putting it on it's feet tomorrow morning, and I feel a great deal more confident about that prospect now.
The creative team's plans for what it will look and sound like are beyond exciting, but more of that soon. Fantastically tired...

Monday, 23 August 2010

Quiet Month

Hell's teeth, that was a really quiet month. One casting for a bank training film and a couple of film castings - I'm not going to get fat on that.
Which is just as well, because the hard copy of the script arrived a while ago and there's a moment in the action when Madeleine and Roger get absolutely sodden when he retrieves her from the Seine. Now, in the rosy tint of my mind's eye, a damp and breathless me equates exactly with Colin Firth's emergence from the lake in P&P, but the reality is very different. It's a great moment both in the novel and on screen, but the mind boggles at how it's to be staged. I can't wait to see the model at the read-through.
That's the moment when it all comes alive for me, to be honest. Those tiny, painstakingly created versions are at once amazing and terribly exciting. When Jeremy Daker unveiled the gorgeous model for "Pera Palas" I had a lump in my throat, and it managed to survive in the guys' dressing room for a couple of weeks before someone sat on it or something, and like everything else it went into the garbage on the final day. A minuscule memento mori.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Doc Shock

Except possibly courtrooms, there are few settings more inherently dramatic than the hospital, and of these surely the most unpredictable and intense is the psychiatric clinic. The basic premise of Vertigo is that Roger Flavieres is hypnotically regressed in Ballard's clinic to demonstrate his phobias and their causes, so the story is told in highly animated flashback - but with the added spice that Madeleine/Renee can be seen by the audience, but by no other character on stage save Roger.
I did Stoppard's EGBDF as a young actor, most of which takes place in a Russian psychiatric clinic. It was disconcerting to step from the safety of the schoolroom area to approach Ivanov, the lunatic, as he posed as the Doctor. The superb Mark Penfold, who played Ivanov in that Oxford Playhouse production, also appeared in some of the Tricycle's Tribunal Plays in the late 90's. I ran into him there whilst I was doing some marketing, and I decided to say hello. "Do you remember me?" I said, "I played Sacha in EGBDF in 1979".
"Noooo, no no no no." he said. "No no no. You can't be. NO! You're a GROWN MAN! Oh God!" 

Monday, 19 July 2010

Night Sweats

I had the most peculiar dream last night. I was hosting a week-end garden party - all very Noel Coward - and my agent was staying. This unlikely scenario was compounded by his having bright red hair (he doesn't), and his refusal to talk to anyone whilst he wrote down notes (unlikely, he's very charming and gregarious), and his complaining that there was no clean towel in his room (sadly all too plausible in our rather haphazard household). I awoke braced for the "Dear Client" letter!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


There's a moment in the Hitchcock film when Jimmy Stewart complains to Miss Ellie from Dallas that his "damned acrophobia" prevents him from even climbing kitchen steps - I've never noticed this exchange before.
Not for the first time, it turns out that I've been labouring under a mistake - acrophobia is the term for a fear of heights, not vertigo - that's the sensation of dizziness or spinning which can be associated with almost any phobia. You probably get vertigo if you have acrophobia, but it's not a phobic condition as such.
However, Vertigo has now become common currency as the term for a fear of heights, almost certainly thanks to the film.
These sort of global assumptions aren't rare. When we were doing Ab's Party a remarkable number of people would say, "Oh, yes? And who's playing Abigail?" Cue long tedious explanation and gradual glazing of questioner's eyes. The same thing would happen when I was doing "The Importance of Being Earnest", and even when I'd try to jolly it up by saying "Well it's terribly funny really, because Jack and Algy are called Ernest, but then of course they're not, and..." people would get really quite narked.
You feel like a pedant doing this after a while, so I'll let the vertigo thing slide. Instead here's the wonderful poster design, courtesy of and copyright OTC.

Monday, 5 July 2010

From Amongst the Dead

My script for "Vertigo" arrived last week, so I've spent a happy few days leafing through it. I watched the film and read the novel (clumsily titled above) as preparation, and I was very keen to see whether there'd been any easing of the rather unpalatable Flavieres character for this adaptation (as Hitchcock clearly felt was necessary for Hollywood).
If anything, Roger's situation in the play underlines how serious his psychological state is - he's hospitalised under the care of Dr Ballard (a very minor character in the book) and as such is an oddity, a freakshow for Ballard's audience. Looking at my notes for the recall, they were of a damaged, compromised person, short-tempered and mercurial - but this is really him before he meets Madeleine. Afterwards he's emotionally destroyed by the experience of loving and losing her, and without much hope, tries to reassemble himself with Renee. Of course his hubris is to try to remodel her, and do a better job than he could have expected.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Corporation Acts

Corporate video - the first one I did was for M&S when I worked there in about 2001; a spoof of various films which would probably have prompted a hefty lawsuit or two if it'd been more widely seen. It's possible I now own the sole surviving copy of my recreations of Hannibal Lecter and Renton in "Trainspotting", and trust me, that's a good thing.
By contrast, the PriceWaterhouseCoopers vid I shot this week had all the hallmarks of filmmaking - high production values, great production talent and a very tight shooting schedule.
Originally I was up for the maverick, off-message non-PwC type with a brash tie and Rolex, which is a part I tend to get seen for a lot. But when Tod called me on Tuesday, there'd been a volte-face of mammoth proportions and I was instead offered the experienced, aspirational PwC executive - basically a paragon, an archetype in a very crisply-ironed shirt. These parts worry me, because playing someone perfect is much harder than playing someone flawed. And the audience is not likely to be very forgiving in their assessment of how you're doing in the job they want.
Anyway, the whole process was made delightfully bearable by the crew, my co-actor Nina Voelker and the director Sacha Damjanovski. Like almost all video directors, he is an independent writer/director/filmmaker. Unlike most, he has just released a truly great-looking feature called "Dance With Me". This, in a gorgeous Small World way, stars Adam Napier, who I worked with on "Cornelius Crow" and "Folie a Deux" for Sean Martin - check links right.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Total Recall

Not everyone does recalls, but most do. Captain Cabot does them, but he doesn't expect actors to perform in front of each other (for which he is devoutly adored). A similar approach happened at a casting I went to for "Actors of Dionysus", but there the unlucky ones were surgically excised during the day, so the parts went to the last men standing. Strangely invigorating though.
Plently of directors do want you to exhibit in front of your peers, though, and although this process sounds like torture I honestly think it's a very effective means of raising your game, and it's worked for me in the past - "Midnight", most notably. Plus you get to see how good the competition is.
Trouble is, though, it's damned good. There's at least five of us, including me, up for Roger Flavieres (the lead); two for Ballard (the psychiatrist) and about three for Gevigne/Gratin/Leriche. The first Ballard kicks off and he's prepared so well, done so much work it's practically at performance level. The applause is genuine and enthusiastic, and the next contender jokes "follow that" - which is what we're all thinking.
As I watch the other Rogers I'm filled with conflicting emotions - each take is very different, and a way of doing the character that I hadn't considered. But I stick with my character choice - world weary, compromised, mercurial. As the afternoon wears on, my emotions crystallise and clarify. It's not that I didn't think of these other approaches - I don't think I could have done it those ways. They're not parts of myself I could recognise and use. I've gone with my instincts, and I've done more work than I've ever done for an audition before. I can't ask more of myself.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Despite my best efforts to the contrary (like very obviously forgetting one of the audition panel's names on the way out) I'm up aganst the big guns on June 9th.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Loving May

I'm not famous for my abilities as a self-promoter - this much is known. However, when "Loving April" came to my local venue even I realised that calling the Artistic Director and seeing if we could meet would be a good idea. I was seen for "The Firebird" at OTTC some years ago and also Chris Wallis (of Watershed) suggested her as a contact - so the lines of potential contact were established. All I had to do was pick up the 'phone.
Now this takes some balls, deep breathing, ready access to water and careful timing. But "screwing my courage to the sticking place" (if it's sticky why does it need screws? Surely overdoing it...) I make the call and have a very productive chat with Karen Simpson. She's doing Vertigo in the autumn and promises to look a my CV for it.
That was in April. Today, at the London Welsh Centre, is the fruits of that labour.

Sunday, 25 April 2010


Richard Talbot, who died last week, was the first person I met when I joined the Arena agency in 2004. He interviewed me in the manner of Frankie Howerd, and of course, won me over instantly.
He was a brilliant conversationalist with a mine of stories about celebs which you were never quite sure were really his - until he'd send you a photo of himself with Judi Dench, that is. He was criminally underused as an actor, but one who got great notices for his stage work and who had a superb radio voice. A mentor to many young actors, he was always entertaining, flirtatious, wise, loved cooking and also found it impossible to be serious in agency meetings. He'll be sadly missed.

Saturday, 17 April 2010


So that's it - the ad is in the can. All told it's been a pretty civilised shoot, and it was very entertaining having penguins knocking about all day today - they've been greenscreening them into the set and having stuffed ones making eye contact with us and what not(I've no idea what the live penguins make of their upholstered friends - they don't give anything away). I've never seen animals being used on set before - it's a sort of organised chaos.

It turns out that Steve Hudson, the director, is responsible for some of my very favourite ads - including the NHS one where a girl talks about her father's lung cancer. It's so compelling and ghastly and touching; looking down his CV he also directed the Boursin ad with the "du tracteur" ending. What an instinct for real comedy and tragedy - and in a medium which often seems to prefer you to sail the middle passage.

Friday, 16 April 2010

I think Nicola, my make-up artist, is in love with the footballer...

Shoot Days (still)

Because of the nature of this ad - "Amazing HD" - extraordinary things have to happen to us on the set. I mean, it's not just us sitting around talking about soap powder or whatever - if a footballer does a scissor kick in the front room, they actually get him to do it in front of us for reference (even though they get the shot itself on green screen). We've had them all - WWII soldiers under fire; ballroom dancers; vampires fighting.
It's the SWAT team crashing through the living room windows which causes the biggest stir. There's nothing like the arrival of some stuntmen dressed all in black, and intent on detonating some explosives to cure a jaded shooting palate...

Shoot Days (cont'd)

One of the games we play on set (Mel, Michael and I) is trying to work out who's who - not the crew, that's obvious, but the agency and client people, of whom there are an awful lot.
It's a little disconcerting, especially when quiet words are had with the director and new notes emerge, or you're asked to do something completely differently as a result of a huddle. Fair enough, though - it's their money and their concept, and they know what they want.
We find ourselves opposite a groovy-looking agency guy at lunch and subtly try to get some info - he's the writer, it turns out, and has been monitoring things very closely. He saw our audition tapes and knows us rather well, and he's very positive about our contribution. Good to hear. It's also good to hear that the amount of money that's been poured into this pretty much guarantees it'll be broadcast....
As we finish our lunch, the vampires arrive.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Shoot Days

Lily Allen is apparently shooting a pop promo in the stage next to ours - the thundering bass gives it away. Luckily there's no dialogue on our shoot being recorded today, or I imagine Howie, our sound man, would not be quite so good-natured.

She's sighted at lunchtime though, in the big canteen which stages 1 and 2 share, and I, like everyone else, do a wee double-take whilst in the (enormous) queue. It's enormous because there are lots and lots of background artists, most of whom are exceptionally pretty and chiselled, and I sit opposite two of them whilst they both demolish a substantial lunch. They're playing mannequins or something, and they negotiate the tomato sauce on the chicken expertly without damaging their very detailed make-up. They have been here since 7am and haven't been used yet.

When they get up to leave, I see they are only wearing pants. Michael's eyes nearly pop out of his head - he's 12 and plays my son. I bet he can't wait to get to school on Monday.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Ad Nauseam

As the below suggests, it's a while since I've done an ad and I've kind of forgotten how they work. The last one was for Ford Focus (see posts passim) and when it was released I was all but invisible in the final cut. No, rewind that -I was invisible - not even I could identify myself in it. This didn't stop them buying me out to show it in Dubai, the Far East and all sorts of other territories, though, and we ended up with Ford Focus carpets, a Ford Focus dishwasher, etc etc. Good Times.

This ad, however, features a family watching Virgin Amazing HD on telly, and since I'm playing the Dad it may be tricky to totally excise me from the final version, no matter how much they want to. During wardrobe call my on-screen wife, Mel, tells me that she bought a holiday and all sorts of other goodies on the strength of a buyout not so long ago, and they just dumped the commercial completely. So for the moment, the sat nav, the garden shredder and the i-phone will have to remain lonely and unloved between the laminated pages of the Argos catalogue.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The Same, but Different.

Ads are so different from the normal run of things that they seem almost alien. Take wardrobe for example. I mean, I've been lucky enough to do some great theatre work with great costume designers, but at no stage do they help you into your clothes during your fitting, like the wardrobe assistant will do for a commercial.

Similarly details like transportation. I'm on the phone to Tod about Thursday, when we're due to start shooting. I'm discussing my journey to Black Island Studios from my brother-in-law's gaff in Dulwich when he asks "Wouldn't it be more convenient to be picked up from home, or would that disrupt the family?"

Home? Oh, God, yes. Of course. They send a car. I knew that. I did actually know that. Yeah.

Pull yourself together, man.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Advertising Fairy...

...will occasionally, if you have been very good, pat you on the bum and say "well done Stevie". Although when this happens don't tell anyone, because she is just as likely to put her cheque book back in her little fairy pocket and decide the concept was all wrong/you are now all wrong/the timing is all wrong and not make the ad with you, if at all. So you'll get your BSF and nowt else. You see, it's a good idea to keep a sense of perspective.
So last Friday, when Andy called me to say that I'd been pencilled for an ad, I found it relatively easy to be phlegmatic and balanced about it. I just celebrated the pencil for what it is - mild approbation. By 5pm I was resigned, because by then they are working their way down the list of "also-rans" after having secured the services of their first choice. And when I saw his number calling at close of business I'd prepared an upbeat response just to show what a darned pro I am about all this.
So I was a bit shocked to get it.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The Impossibility of Unemployment in the Mind of an Working Actor

Has anyone had this Damien Hirst-ish thought before? It's a funny old thing, 'ain't it, and I'm not sure I'm any better at dealing with it at 43 than I was at 23. It seems to be a kind of cushion, being in work, which smothers your facility to anticipate being out-of-work.
I've never been famous (leaving aside my brief experience in Musselburgh, of course) but I understand you can similarly anaesthetise yourself against being unknown again quite successfully. My friend Matt played a regular character on "Brookside" for six months, whereupon they suddenly wrote him out. Just like that. No sooner had he started dealing with girls buzzing around him in clubs , than he had to get used to them buzzing around someone else instead.
Another friend of mine used to play with Rugby Club band-of-choice "The Macc Lads" (he was by far the most polite member of the band), and the end of this period in his working life was, apparently, very abrupt. No opportunity to prepare for it. One day famous, then not. I asked him how he dealt with it, and he said he didn't. He never recovered properly at all. Then I made the mistake of asking whether he missed it at all, and his look instantly told me I'd asked possibly the daftest question of my life. "Every day" he replied.
I've forgotten why I brought this up...oh yes - because I've been looking at some comically ancient photos of myself growing older on stage over the years, and I had a bit of a memento mori. Enjoy it, whatever it is. It doesn't last long.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Round the Halls

Whenever casting directors or whoever ask me what I've seen at the theatre lately, I usually cough in a mildly embarrassed fashion and apologetically mumble "...well, it's difficult to find time when you're on stage so much yourself, but..." and then trot out my prepared answer.
Last week however, to my lovely wife's delight, I absented myself at bath-time to see THREE shows.
"Beauty Queen" was, of course, a delight. And surprisingly un-agonising to watch yet another very fine actor doing a proper Irish accent in the role of Mr P Dooley. It's extraordinary how the same play, with the same words and largely the same blocking can be so transformed in the hands of new actors, but it was an enthralling two hours. I think Alan DeVally has actually morphed into Ray - it's scary.
Then Friday to the Oxford Playhouse - where I made my own stage debut in 1978 - to see Ben Warren (Tony in "Abs Party Mk I") in Theatre Alibi's "Ministry of Fear". I'm ashamed to say that there was a time when the term "physical theatre" would have made me scrunch up the Guardian and draw my knees into my chest, but that was before I'd actually seen any. It was breathtaking work, and worth every penny of...whatever they charge for it.
But the surprise, the unexpected gem, was "Loving April" at my local village hall. Small-scale touring outfit OTC really pulled it off with a gorgeously simple drama about a deaf girl (the remarkable Sarah Thomas-Lane) who's an object of pity and abuse in the local community, but who ends up teaching others rather more about honour and respect than she ever learns from them. Lovely ensemble and multi-role playing in a tiny, tiny space.

Thursday, 4 March 2010


My grandma died today. It's not really an appropriate subject for this journal, but I mention it because she was an enthusiastic performer herself.
Because I was a "late entrant to the profession" as they say, by the time I was working in the West End she was very old and had already succumbed to Alzheimer's. So sadly, she never saw me there, or on TV or film, or on tour with LCT, or anywhere except some small fringe venues. However, she was very proud of her grandson - "the ACTOR" as she'd tell anyone who would listen - and the world is a much poorer place without her. She was a lovely woman who never tired of telling me what a lovely shaped head I have, what a funny name she thought Jake was and how very much she loved me. Good night, God bless x

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Deja Entendu

I'm driving back from London today, listening illegally to my mp3 player in the car when Josh Rouse starts up and I'm transported, instantly, to Perth Theatre and the first few shows of "Abigail's Party". Extraordinary, to mis-quote Noel Coward, how potent house music is. And how enduring.
Even a run as short as "Beauty Queen" leaves its mark - I can't watch that bloody Thomson holidays ad without the shudder of excitement and apprehension that "Welcome to My World" used to generate over the tannoy. And although I'm never likely to hear the original music from "Midnight" in a shop or restaurant for obvious reasons, a few bars of Jonathan Day's jazzy intro and I feel the lack of a kimono immediately.
What's odder is that I can look at those show posters and souvenirs without a pang - it's just the madeleine of the music which does it. Like visiting, very briefly, someone you were once much better friends with.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Wrap Day

Josh is cooking lunch (even though he's the sound designer), Flo (sound recordist) is reading yet another Viking romance, costume designer Ilishio is repairing 1st AD Raz's jacket. And Amin, Loveday and I are trying to come up with the dialogue for the final scene.
It seems bizarre that the closing seconds are still up in the air, but it's rather consistent with the whole process, this collaborative aspect. The issue of John's redemption or otherwise is resolved in this final scene, and being responsible for the clarity or muddiness of these final moments is a worry, as Amin is inevitably called out to frame up shots with DOP Matt.

As you'll have gathered, it's a busy set. One geezer hanging around that we really don't mind at all is Lucca Messer, who is taking some fabulous stills of the action and of the off-camera moments. He manages to be unobtrusive and yet catch the crucial action beautifully, whilst recording the days in reportage style.
Of course, I have too many fajitas at lunch. Thank God this isn't a two-week shoot. I'd have to get my trousers altered.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Location, location

Mercifully there's been no exteriors on this film - that last thing you would want in February is to be outside in the snow on, say, Worlebury encampment in Weston-Super-Mare. You know who you are...
Instead we've been variously shooting in toilets (better than it sounds), hospital wards and corridors and now, for the domestic scenes, in a very plush converted barn. Very nice.
What's setting this apart from the films I've done lately is that it's actually film. And that makes a big difference.
The stakes are always higher as ideally you work on a ratio of 2:1 or at worst 3:1. Ideally, of course, it should be one take but well, that's the Holy Grail. There's also the incomparable experience of actually hearing money being spent as the film stock runs through the camera, coupled with the audible groans from the crew when a plane goes over or you muff a line.
On the flipside there's an amazing focus that you don't seem to get when you're shooting digital, coupled with all the cool paraphernalia that goes with film, too. Exciting.

The Way I Like It...

...was the original title for the film, and in its first incarnation it was a very different movie indeed. It might have been called "Georgia, Peter, Mrs Perry and ummm, John" for all the impact my character had on the story. But by the time the casting happened it was quite different, and it's had several drafts since. Amin, the writer-director, hasn't been an English speaker all that long but he has a very singular turn of phrase which I really like.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Doctor in the House

It was the holy trinity of castings - a corporate, a theatre job (understudy - boo) and a film. And I got the film. Exit Steve Dineen, unemployed actor and handyman bitch...enter John (surname to be decided), consultant heart specialist, breezy charmer and control freak.
Come to think of it. it's all film at the moment. I've just been sent a script for a completely top secret feature that I'm not even allowed to speak about, or discuss the plot of, or speculate about which names might be in the frame for which part.
Luckily I'm a discreet sort of a chap. Unlike someone I did a sabbatical year with, who was contacted by a certain government department and invited in for a cosy chat with some gentlemen who were known only by their initials. He instantly told all of us about it, of course. Sure enough, next day, he had a second, steelier phone call cancelling the appointment

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Casting Diversions

Last week my agent got me three castings.

I just want to let that sentence hang delightfully in the air for a moment...

My everyday opinion of Andy and Tod is that of one who flings himself under Shiva's juggernaut; on weeks like this, though, I truly wish to immolate myself on their flaming pyres. The death of all three of us would halt my career pretty sharpish, though, so I'll just confine myself to ardent gratitude. Cheers boys.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Opus Day

The Work - as Christopher Wren modestly called St Paul's - is a workshop on Voice which I've been asked to run with a local AmDram group in Wantage; and I have committed about the same time and effort to this enterprise as I did to both my degrees combined.
I ran one of these puppies last year for the Oxfordshire Drama Network - a sort of support group for AmDram companies throughout the county - and that time I tackled it by thinking of a really funky title and then writing something around it. I used to do this a lot for my MA, like "Was Aristophanes' Comedy Just For the Birds?" and so on.
But a whole workshop on one topic? And voice? The most nebulous, subjective, contentious subject of all?
Too late now - I'm off to nail jelly to the wall. Fingers crossed no-one's read Cicely Berry too closely or the game's up...

Thursday, 14 January 2010

A Possible Explanation for the Difficulty I am Experiencing in Writing my Grand Opus

"There is no more sombre obstacle to great art than the pram in the hallway"
Cyril Connolly

Audition, Schmaudition

In the pantheon of auditions, it was somewhere in the middle. No-one said "Wow, you just blew the others AWAY! That's it! I've found my Hamlet!!", but then no-one stopped the audition to call security or Equity.
It was certainly not in the same ball park as the one where I was invited to " yourself physically, like a...well, yourself physically, you know?" or the one where I had to show up in my dressing gown because the CD was incapable of just picturing people in dressing gowns.
Sometimes they're special for other reasons, like schaudenfreude - I did a workshop audition once where I watched someone (infinitely more suitable for the part than I was, too) gradually talk himself out of a job. Extraordinary. And once in a commercial casting, I left the room, realised I'd forgotten my water and re-entered just as someone said "Well, I just LOVED him!".
This was one of the ones when you close the door, put your papers in the bag and chalk it up to experience. This position is becoming ever less tenable the older I get.

Back in the Sticks

Good God, I need to go to a few more auditions.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Down in Town

I've just laid down the script to "A Village Life", a show I'm being seen for tomorrow. I wouldn't normally dream of posting before the event (out of superstition, I suppose) and the puritan in me has guilt about not staying up late to read, re-read and make notes on the script, but I'm not twenty any more. Suffice to say that I've read it plenty, researched the company and the director and I'm probably as right for it as thirty or forty other actors my age - some of whom I'll run into at Spotlight tomorrow, no doubt. Wish me luck.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Next Big Thing

I see that Toby Stephens is playing Henry in The Real Thing next year at the Donmar. Normally the vicissitudes of who-gets-cast-in-what don't bother me too much, but I confess this news fills my head with scorpions - and not cuddly scorpions, either.
You see, Henry is the role in which I first acted - I mean properly acted. There's a line in the play where he talks about something responding " a raised blind" and that's exactly how it felt to do that part. I'd never seriously considered acting as a career before that show; afterwards I knew I'd never be really happy doing anything else. The experience has, I suppose, committed me to a working life of shocking uncertainty and wildly oscillating mood.

This isn't a coherent post. I'm not saying that I could be a serious contender to star in a Stoppard revival at the Donmar, I'm neither egotistical nor deluded enough for that. But being the right age for that part when it's being revived is a watershed moment for me.
That's enough now.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Brum Fun

To Birmingham to see my chum Alex - who's also also Jake's godfather - in "The Gruffalo", which I think he's been touring on and off for about three years. He and I worked together on Midnight in 2005 and found a mutual love of Daily Mail Quizwords and sabotaging stage props - which he would then have to find or repair in time for the show. Only fun for me really, then.

I saw this show before in Milton Keynes, where it somehow managed not to be swamped by the size of the theatre, but at Birmingham Town Hall they're up against it. It's a cavernous and soulless place with no raked seating and poor acoustics. In fact you could put "Miss Saigon" in there and it would still feel tinny. They're a great company, though - here on temporary posting from Australia (cheaper to fly them over than rehearse UK actors) and due to return in early January where, bizarrely, my nephew will see the exact same show with the same actors.
Alex is great as the predators - he's not my casting age or type so I don't mind him being good - and Jake and his friend Sam love it. Although they love flipping their seats up and down more...