Friday, 11 November 2011

Buxton Autumn

Buxton, meanwhile, is an old friend. I spent a week here in 2005 staying in the house of a woman whose mood swings were so extreme she must have been on HRT. Because there's so much to see, I've been trying to spend more than a few hours here ever since, without success, but at least this time we're here for two nights.
It does seems to be the land of oddball landladies, though. I'm staying with Carol, Anna and Helen in a lodge - a stately, slightly tired house a few minutes out of town. Our landlady has cleared out of the house entirely and is living in the caravan in the drive, which (in a note) she assures us is fine for her because "I have facilities under the verandah". There is also a pungent and delicious smell of frying smoked bacon in the lounge, the origin of which is a mystery.
Anyway, the thing Buxton is famous for is the water, and one of the great delights is filling your bottle at the free fountain which flows directly from the spring - slightly warm because of its volcanic origin.
A Victorian BYOB
I reveal this fact to Malcolm but, tragically, only after he has been to the Co-op to buy some water which has been dragged all the way from Scotland or France or somewhere even more distant. Oops. Shut ma mouth.
The Opera House couldn't be more different from The Landmark. Classic Matcham design, Victorian dressing rooms with elaborate ironwork and thunderbox toilets; and a perpetually manned (or rather womanned) Stage Door, it's a very traditional experience. The rake makes it difficult to maintain your balance as a horse, though, and in the fight call Alan nearly ends up in the pit. We muster 200 on our opening night but that contrives to feel a little sparse, it's such a big room.

Saturday, 5 November 2011


Ilfracombe is - like Huddersfield, Worthing and a few others on our roster - not a place I've not visited before and of course I have preconceptions about it. I'm expecting Weston-Super-Mare but instead I'm delighted to find Padstow without Rick Stein - working harbour, clifftop walks and an absolutely typical and very slightly down-at-heel hotel called the Carlton.
There's nothing conventional about the theatre, though. It's an extraordinary construction, inspired by the bottle kilns which fired the pottery made from the local clay and has the most amazing acoustic I've ever heard;as if the words are being lifted and gently sprinkled around the auditorium.
Madonna's bra, North Devon Coast-style...
I understand it had a bit of a difficult conception, this building, but it really makes a graceful and surprisingly comfortable addition to the landscape. From the warmth of the cafe you can admire the churning Bristol Channel and precipitous cliffs which face it. If that all seems a little tame though, there's an uncomfortable sight a short walk up the cliffs, where this lonely little monument stands:

I'm ashamed to say I can't remember her name, but she was only 14 when she fell.

Friday, 4 November 2011

The Triumphant Return of Big Horse

Jamie's back at nearly full fitness. Our audience will therefore be split into those who saw Big Horse and those who saw the version post-injury-pre-recovery. Like Jeremy Northam taking over from Daniel Day-Lewis in "Hamlet", both good but different. The opinion of the cast is pretty united, although our chorus habits (which had developed during the absence) have needed more adjustment than expected. Still, it's good to have the big fella back again.
Since I last posted we've enjoyed some significant landmarks; our biggest audience (360 at Poole opening night) our biggest post-show audience (120 on the same evening) which was also our first one without Michael; and we could give out awards for most distracting ushers, loudest mobile etc but that would be cruel; not least because one venue sweeps the board in practically every category...

Monday, 10 October 2011

Public Parts

We had a public online review yesterday which remarked that the actors "wander on at the beginning, looking bored and chatting" or words to that effect. It was very positive, mind you, and clearly thought that the preamble was deliberately contrived like that to provide a counterpoint to the rather serious subject matter of the drama.
Like kids, punters tend to cut to the chase with their assessments. Matt and I ran into a man just after the Oldham Wednesday matinee who said he'd see then show, but was rather lost what to say next. He settled for "I liked it more than I thought I would" which leaves you wondering why he went in the first place. And in Huddersfield open market a man said "You were one of the horses, weren't you? The one with the limp?" which suggests that my portrayal of Frank wasn't all it might have been that day.
It was here in Oldham that I made the mistake of reading the audience comment book during "Beauty Queen". There was an entry (also after the matinee) which said "Wonderful. Steve Dineen = English accent!!" which threw me into a maelstrom of self-doubt. If only it had been punctuated differently...

Thursday, 6 October 2011

No Coli Wobbles

Last time I was in Oldham I was smooching it up as Pato Dooley, acting opposite the lovely Carol Dance, who plays Hester in "Equus". Back then they had closed the rail station (hilariously called The Mumps, I have no idea why) and there was all sorts of civil engineering and regeneration going on. And guess what? There still is. There's little discernible improvement in three years, and if the billboards are to be believed, there won't be before 2014. Things have bitten hard up here.
Yet despite this (and despite the local area resembling a demilitarised zone on a Saturday night) the Coliseum rides this out with relish. They just had a considerable hike in funding, there's a refurb just starting, the houses were fantastic and the response superb. Kevin Shaw needs to watch out he doesn't get poached by, oooh, England Rugby? The UN?

Friday, 30 September 2011

The Shoot Horses in Worthing, Don't They?

It's a bloody long drive from Hereford to Worthing, but the Indian Summer which seems to have arrived with us makes it worthwhile. Like the Berwick Maltings and the Lawrence Batley, the Connaught is a new venue for me; although it's the slightly faded grandeur of the Chatsworth Hotel which I find more arresting at first. Not your normal digs...
Although we (well, Kate and Aidan really) cobbled together a solution for the final night in Hereford which went easy on Jamie's injured shoulder, a more permanent solution is essential. So whilst Michael takes Aidan, Matt and Jamie through the new moves, the rest of us are free to explore. Worthing is famous for a few reasons; it's why Jack Worthing is so named in "The Importance of Being Earnest" because Oscar Wilde stayed there in 1895; and's it. That's why it's well known.
Shame really. It's got a cracking pier:
Probably not so lovely in the rain, but still...
and this!
Home of the Brown Derby. Forgotten but not gone.
When we get back, there's a new climax to Act I. I can't remember whether it was Besson or Tarkovsky who compared losing favourite moments from artworks to killing their young, but the golden child which was Big Horse has been murdered so New Horse could be born. Matt and Aidan have both found it difficult to let go, but there's little visceral impact lost in this revised version - and what the audience haven't seen, they don't miss.
It's a great show. Afterwards we mingle with Karen (Michael's partner) and her kids, Paige and Joe. It's the first time Joe's seen the heads since he helped paint them in Colliers Wood and he's well impressed. Paige is more concerned with settling a fashion score with Michael - something which has obviously rankled all night.
"You see, Dad?" she protests, pointing at a chunky girl in a very short skirt and no tights "that's slutty. Not trousers".

Thursday, 29 September 2011

"The One Where Jamie Falls Down The Stairs And Dislocates His Shoulder"

It happens in the middle of the night, and the hospital are shocked to discover that it happened when he was stone-cold sober. As, I have to confess, are some of the cast, but then we are a cynical lot. Mercifully, Malcolm hears Jamie's calls and goes to his rescue (well, after Jamie has had an opportunity to struggle into some underwear). The ambulance arrives when they are still in what used to be called "a state of undress" with the inevitable assumptions made during the check-in procedure at Hereford County.

The patient with one of his eleven co-ordinating slings...
It's a dislocated shoulder - we're all grateful it's nothing worse, but the impact on the show is huge. Big Horse relies entirely on me and Jamie's supporting Matt, and this puts paid to that. With a show that night and several set pieces to rework, we're all called at 3.30.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011


After a while, touring gets a bit like the series "Friends" - places become "The One Where Alice Got A Really Bad Baked Potato" or "The One Where Amy Insulted The Irish Nation In Tesco". My only memory of Hereford from 2008 is it being "The One Where Our House Buyer Tried To Rip Us Off By £8,000", so it's very nice to rediscover this lovely cathedral town. Next to the cathedralitself,as if to reinforce the difference between here and Hudders, is a bronze of the quintessential Herefordian Elgar, looking up at the building whilst leaning on a rather preposterous bicycle. Inside are arty delights by John Piper and the legendary Mappa Mundi, which I nearly reject in favour of TK Maxx because I hear a rumour it's onlya few inches round and so dimly lit as to be invisible. It's not, and apart from being beautiful it's the largest mediaeval map to survive from Middle Ages. Well, it is since the RAF destroyed its only serious competition when they bombed Bremen in WWII.
It's all becoming rather idyllic. And then suddenly, Hereford becomes memorable for reasons unconnected with cathedrals, maps or gazundering...

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Some Art (and some not)

I'm on my way to Huddersfield Art Gallery when I see a crowd watching some Morris dancing in the town square. Now I normally think it's vaguely unsettling, that style of English folk dancing. I mean, it's not exactly flamenco, is it? It has a kind of preciousness about it, too, not helped by the fact that most of the people who do it seem to be middle class solicitors and accountants - and their wives.
But this is different. It's a sort of punky, death-metal kind of Morris dancing. The're all dressed in raggedy black outfits with faces painted like Michael Stipe of REM. And the stick-work is properly aggressive, both on the floor and on each other. It's dead exciting.
In the Art Gallery they've got a Bacon study which was donated by the CAS in about 1962 when it was worth twopence. They must be delighted about that now! Otherwise there's not much except a visiting exhibition including Carl Andre's "Equivalent VIII" - or "the bricks" as everyone knows it. The most interesting thing about this is the furore it created when it was first bought by the National, especially the exaggerations about how much it cost, mainly promoted by the Daily Mirror. Plus ca change...
But the thing that made me laugh today was this bronze of Harold Wilson battling against the wind. We all did that here, too.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Evelyn, not Madeleine...

I'm sure there are many remarkable things about Huddersfield, but for me the stand-out one is the discovery of a high-street Wimpy restaurant - a brand I thought had gone out of business years ago. I wouldn't have exactly mourned it's passing if it had, but when I was 11 and touring with "Every Good Boy..." I ate a dessert called a Brown Derby in the Bath Wimpy with my chaperone, Evelyn Maddock, and I can still remember how it tasted now
Evelyn had been a classics teacher at an all-girls school, and was not perhaps a natural choice for the job. She'd never had to look after a boy, for one thing. But she was a star, patiently dealing with my swollen head, teaching me for the sparse few hours the government insisted an 11-year old needed and then taking me all over the place to country houses, where I learned important things - like how to recognise Grinling Gibbons carving and how to tell Sevres from Limoges.
For a kid that age, going on tour was about the most exciting thing that could possibly have happened, but of course I can remember only snatches now. Getting caught smoking by Yannis Daras, the conductor; locking myself out of my hotel room about 10 times in Harlow; getting them to open the Ghost Train for me on Brighton Pier; and a ring doughnut covered with ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce and nuts. So in memory of EGBDF, Evelyn Maddock and the Brown Derby, here is Huddersfield's most significant landmark:

Sunday, 18 September 2011


When I visited Coleraine in 2008, for some inexplicable reason we thought that going to a shopping mall was a better use of our time than visiting the Giant's Causeway. This is a decision I've always regretted, but despite being fully aware of this I am on the cusp of doing it again when Lindisfarne is mooted. I realise that the root of that choice was probably the same as this time; a jaded head full of wine, beer and Jagermeister.
It's only a short drive though, and I don't think anyone notices my twitching hands and grey complexion. And if there's a better hangover cure than a wet gale on a blasted North-Eastern island I've yet to discover it.
Once we've breakfasted on fantastic sausage sandwiches and great coffee we tackle St. Aidan's Church where there's this amazing sculpture of the Lindisfarne monks taking the remains of St Cuthbert to Durham. Oddly enough we've seen a replica of this piece in the piazza in front of the Gala Theatre.
 Later, when we're battling our way against the elements to the castle itself, I'm delighted to see there's enough  3G signal for me to check in at Lindisfarne on Facebook. Feels like sending an email in the Middle Ages.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A Stable Relationship

It's always a bit depressing to play to a small crowd, especially in a theatre of nearly 500. In Kirkcaldy this is probably not that unusual; it doesn't have a regular theatre crowd and it looks as though the publicity drive hasn't quite hit its mark. However, the first night in the Adam Smith frees us to try new things without the added stress of a packed house.
Anna (aka Kirkie, who regular fans will remember as Sue in Abigail's Party Mk II) and I explore a bit of emotional colour in our relationship, reasonably successfully too. It's complicated, because our appearances in the historical timeline of the play are filtered through the black and white of Alan's childhood memories, yet there probably has to be some suggestion of their relationship before the blinding.
I'm a big fan of Kirkie. As well as being lovely to watch when she's working, she also saved my life during the Musselburgh Incident. If it had actually been a cardiac arrest and I hadn't died anyway despite the quick response, that is. Oh, you know what I mean.
Dora (Kirkie) encourages Alan to watch more telly  

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Sunday Latest

The British Stammering Association started their conference on Friday morning at Collingwood halls, where we're staying. By this morning everyone had registered, ho ho.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Horse Power

Alan (Matt) embraces Nugget (Aidan). Photo copyright Sheila Burnett

Friday, 9 September 2011

And They're Off!

It was a great opening. Everything worked beautifully - the protagonists held the audience breathless, the chorus moved with an easy fluidity and confident assurance, the lighting knit the show together with subtlety and grace.

On the surface it all went swimmingly, anyway, but in the bar afterwards we all gradually 'fess up to our personal purgatories and near-catastrophies. Like Matt (Alan) having to move his hand off Nugget's chest because Aidan's heart was beating so fiercely that it was actually visible. Like me automatically beginning to unbutton my trousers at one stage, offering the charming prospect of Trooper in vest and pants. Like lines dropped in the white heat of fear by almost everyone, including me.

But if that's the worst it's ever gonna be then we're in brilliant shape, and Michael's face was testament to that afterwards. And although today we say goodbye to many of the creative team including Katya, Kerry (our designer), Kris (production manager) and Paul (lighting designer) there is nonetheless a very happy time in prospect. Ave Equus!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Show Report

It's been an awfully long time since I did a show which took a whole day to rehearse for technical - that is, to run through the sound and lighting cues and get them perfectly matched to the action. Most of the shows I've done lately have been fairly naturalistic and take place in a single environment. "Vertigo" was an exception, but since we were touring all the lighting it couldn't be over-complicated, despite all the amazing multimedia and soundscaping that helped make that show what it was.
But that's what we've been doing today in our first full day in Durham; teching the show. And it's jolly complex. The lighting design is closely bound up with the action and it has a huge impact on how that is achieved and vice-versa. After a day we were halfway through the show and by about 9pm all starting to flag, and it's then that it all goes out of the window a bit if you're not careful. The delicately balanced conceit that we are horses was strectched to its limits, I fear, and Jamie's cleaning my hoof out was the final straw. My tippy-toed Trooper overbalanced and the illusion was shattered. Hope that doesn't happen on opening night.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Back in the Saddle

Everyone knows "Equus". At least, everyone knows that Daniel Radcliffe took off all his clothes in it at the Nash in 2007. Men of my vintage tend to remember the fact that Jenny Agutter removed hers in the 1972 film, sometime after she mislaid them in "Walkabout" and before they eluded her again in "Logan's Run". So the play is in the general consciousness for odd reasons, a bit like "Abigail's Party".
All of which is an disingenuous way of getting onto LCT's new tour, in which I'm playing Frank Strang (through a convoluted set of circumstances, more of which later) and also a horse called Trooper. Now those who visit this blog often will know I'm a bit of a master at the old movement game, and that Rambert often call me in when they've hit a sticky moment. But a horse is not in my normal sphere of comfort, as it were. However, with Michael's keen eye and some masterclass work from Aidan Downing, who's playing the lead horse Nugget, the lovely Jamie Matthewman and I are getting there. I am perhaps a hoof or two behind Jamie in my progress, but nonetheless it gets less shaky every day - although I'm sure I can see Michael's finger scrolling through his iPhone favourites for "Stemp, Richard" from time to time...

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

National Express

I don't just lounge around on a chaise longue dabbing my temples with a damp flannel when I'm not working. Oh no. As anyone will tell you, an actor must be constantly in a state of coiled, tensed readiness - as a rubber band on a balsa wood plane or an overwound cuckoo clock. Do not be deceived by the casual emptying of the dishwasher or the languid sorting of dirty washing; the playful nappy changing and the relaxed grocery purchasing. That man is ready.

Except when the National Theatre want to see you, that is. With two days' notice and two scenes from the new Conor McPherson play to "be familiar with" (i.e. learn). Is anyone ready for that?

It helps if you have been able to read the whole play and someone hasn't picked up forty pages of it at Didcot station along with their document wallet. And if it isn't pouring with rain. And if your train isn't delayed. And you don't have another audition the following day. In the circumstances I was an oasis of calm, but as I announced myself at the Stage Door I sounded less like James Earl Jones and more like James Blunt than I would have liked.

But it was all good. I made a good fist of the Irish accent and my reading of the blissed-out intellectual went down well. I got on well with the director. I confidently asked to re-read a section and managed not to read it in an identical fashion the second time. In fact it was very much like the audition I went to the following day - except after the following day's audition they didn't just ask me back for a recall. They offered me a job.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Not The Last Post Just Yet...

I'm sorry I haven't been about for a bit. Blame my acting career. It nearly died - the doctors despaired of it for a while, and it reached the stage where it could breathe unaided no longer and had to be supported by artificial respiration (or "teaching" as it is better known). But five months and one week (plus many confused kids) later the wheels begin to turn and the juggernaut rumbles on. Oh yes.

It's not like nothing has happened. I got a lovely recall from Jill Freud which went brilliantly but which was never going to work out. I mean there's only so much you can do if your character is 28 and you are 44 - hair dye, spray tan and botox notwithstanding. And with Karen Simpson (of OTC, natch) I've been working on a project to take "Vertigo" out on the road again next year which has been bearing some interesting fruit. But overall it's been a bit of a thin year.

And then last week all the buses really did come at once.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Plus Ca Change...

Just another day at the office. Less than 24 hour's notice to learn alternative words for Alice Cooper's sensational 80's rock classic "Poison" and then a trip to London to sing it acapella to camera whilst pretending to drive a car. What could go wrong?

But no, 'tis not to be. The odd thing is, I actually drive a VW Passat.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Long View

It's a mystery, how I managed to get a general casting for Jill Freud's Summer Rep company. Nothing to do with my agent, and I'm fairly sure they don't just work their way through Spotlight. They did Abigail's Party last year, though, and for a moment I delude myself that my portrayal of Laurence was so definitive that they somehow decided to see me because they heard about that. I then reject this as ludicrous...
It's a delightful surprise, though, to get a written invitation to audition, and as I chat languidly in the reception area of the London flat whilst eating a jaffa cake with tea I reflect that once upon a time, perhaps all auditions were civilised affairs like this.
The mystery is exploded when I walk in and Jill holds up my letter from February 2010. I must have just missed the general castings last year, but they troubled to hold on to my application for this year. I don't want to sound like an old fossil, but stuff like that restores your faith that there is a benevolent force in the galaxy.