Monday, 27 February 2012

The Field

I'm told that it's not compulsory to go out drinking every night after the show, and having examined my contract that seems true, but it's damned difficult not to. Especially in Kilkenny, where there are six bars in a row directly opposite the theatre and dozens within a few minutes walk.
I may be generalising dreadfully, but in my experience a weekday night out in Ireland is incomparably better than one in the UK. Tonight we found ourselves listening to "The Briars" in a hurling pub and joked with the band, got bought drinks, spoke to a man called John who looked like D'Artagnan and pogo'ed with a guy called Nicky who was the bodhran player's brother - and who was more drunk than any man I have ever seen still standing. Maybe it's because we're visitors; perhaps being the sole man in the company of three young women in their early twenties doesn't hurt, but "there was yet no animosity no matter what persuasion" (in the words of the Dubliners), and a bonhomie which seemed genuine and inclusive.

Nicky strikes! The perils of being young and female in The Field.
Later Helen and Kate join the band for a farewell chorus of something forgettable and we end the night standing for the Irish national anthem. As you do. My penance will be a substantial hangover and a swim tomorrow morning, and a night "off the jar".

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Clothed Horses

And so to Enniskillen, which was a controversial stop in the past, and not for the reasons one might imagine. In 2008 this was the site of Cheesegate, where a conglomerate of cheese producers showed up at the venue to take some publicity stills of the cast of "Abigail's Party" with their cheeses, playing on the tenuous pineapple and cheese connection in the show. Only problem was they hadn't really cleared this with anyone first. A cheesy standoff ensued and slightly spoiled the day.
Today we arrive with the prospect of doing the show without the nudity, which is the first and only time this will happen on the tour (Lisburn cancelled their date because the Artistic Director refused to accede to demands for a clothed version of the show). The discussions which have led to this outcome are obviously far too detailed and prolonged to go into here - it is a fait accompli and whatever our artistic feelings about it, we need to respect their wishes - after all, they have booked and paid for the show.
Would it be a good thing if ultimately it doesn't matter? After all, it is a very small percentage of the action. Is it possible that in the final analysis, the nudity isn't all that important to the success of the show?
When the curtain falls, of course, it does matter. And it's reassuring that it does - for all of us who claim that it is justified in the context of the drama; for the two dedicated and brave professionals who disrobe publicly on a nightly basis (something which is the stuff of nightmares for most people); for the hundreds of people who have watched those moments with us and have seen how they throw the story into even sharper relief. Naturally I'm disappointed that the paying public of Enniskillen couldn't share those moments with us last night. I'm disappointed that they didn't get the "Equus" that perhaps they expected. I'm disappointed, too, that they might suspect for a moment that it was a creative decision. However, we go to Kilkenny, Dundrum and beyond with vigorous confidence and empirical proof that this is a story which is best told as we have been telling it - unveneered and unvarnished.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

See What I Mean?

No, I've no idea either. Nice clothes for 3 year old girls though....

Friday, 24 February 2012

School Trip

There's no missing the Giant's Causeway in favour of a shopping mall this time, although we're nearly derailed by an outlet village in Antrim on the way. We seem condemned to visit these monumets (eg Lindisfarne) in crappy weather, and we schlep along the footpaths to the stones in drizzly rain, variously grumbling about it (me) and striding out manfully (Malcolm).
It's a quietly spectacular formation. Seeing them from a distance is a but like one of those moments in films where you realise there's a higher intelligence at work - the columns seem so incredibly regular - but as you get in close and clamber over them the variations of shapes reveal themselves and pentagons, hexagons and a myriad of others. The legend is that the Irish giant Finn MacCool built the causeway to reach Scotland to fight his arch-foe Benandonner, and at Fingal's Cave on Staffa Island there are some similar formations.
Looking up at the Organ Pipes or Giant's Harp
There's a very tactile quality to the structures, and climbing all over them only adds to the enjoyment. I always think it's a shame when you can't get close to structures like Stonehenge, or touch sculptures like Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, where that has clearly been built into the design. In fact there are some very Moore-like rocks lying around which have been weathered over the millenia, but by the time we reach them there's only time for a quick pose before we really have to head on back for the show.
Stuart as Finn MacCool, triumphant over Benandonner

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Set Text

We're not usually free on a Tuesday, and it's only thanks to a cancellation by Lisburn that we have a chance to go to the Lyric in Belfast to see "Uncle Vanya". Fi knows the DSM there and we planned this a week ago, and by extraordinary coincidence we also ran into a couple in Dan Lowrey's on our last night in Cork whose daughter Orla is in the show.
It's a cracking show and a fabulous ensemble. The set's been pared down to a minimum, with none of the furniture and associated set dressing that normally accompany Chekhov. Afterwards, in the bar, Orla joins us for a drink and we discover that this paring down happened during the previews, and since a number of lines refer to the furniture, they had to be cut last-minute, too.
On shows like "Equus", where the set is non-naturalistic and the props minimal, when we come off stage that's pretty much job done for us. This isn't always the case. When "Ab's Party" opened we used to spend well over an hour packing up the bottles, glasses and other set dressing ready for loading into the van, because it just wasn't feasible for the stage managers to do it as well as the very intricate set. As the weeks wear on, though, the propping becomes so efficient that you can usually halve the time spent on it. By the time I joined the "Beauty Queen" cast I ended up staying out of the way and just did costumes, they were such a well-drilled unit.
There are limits to what a cast ought to attempt during a get-out, though. The "Vertigo" touring floor was constucted from huge sheets of plywood and massive scaff bars, and you can imagine the damage to life, limb, property and street furniture that used to result from dizzy actors wandering about with such things.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Up North

We're on the move again, after a fantastic couple of weeks in Cork, and Lisburn is a long drive into Northern Ireland. Two things happen after we cross the border - we instantly start checking our phones for home signal; and we start seeing signs for places which have strong resonance to people my age - like Derry, Enniskillen and Armagh.
It's a fact of theatre that you'll work with people of all ages, and I'm constantly astounded both by how little I know about popular culture and how quickly relatively recent history becomes clouded or forgotten. Stuart, who's in his mid-20's, admits to not knowing much about the Troubles, and Jamie and I suddenly find ourselves attempting a hamfisted potted version which skirts dangerously close to reinventing history. We lurch from trying to explain the Orange Order, Bloody Sunday and the Remembrance Day bombing to remembering how Gerry Adams had his words spoken by an actor on TV for years. I don't suppose we're the first to realise that a dot-to-dot approach doesn't work with a subject as prolonged and complicated as the situation in Ireland, but it's a humbling experience nonetheless.

Friday, 17 February 2012

The Rising of the Moon

Surely there can be no more unsuitable job than this one for a father of small children? Even when I'm around I disappear shortly before the bedtime hour - which requires Peace Process-levels of compromise and negotiations to get the bairns into their beds, and which is not to be tackled alone if possible. It also makes it terribly tricky for your missus to get along to see the show.
Cue the arrival and intervention of The Master Distractor and Entertainer of Small Boys, also known as Helen's boyfriend Bez - who has flown in  for a few days and is rewarded for this gesture by being saddled with my kids for a night. Not really, he actually volunteers and boy, is he qualified. So whilst he and Jake discuss matters like the relative merits of Megatron and Bumblebee, and whether it would be cooler to a) be invisible or b) have an eye on the end of your index finger, Sue is able to slip out for her first and probably only night at the theatre until July.

Bumblebee. The legend in Lego.
She sees a great show. Not quite as spectacular as the one the following night, when we get a standing ovation, but a solid, slick, pacy performance, variously highly charged and full of subtlety. Afterwards we're able to go see some diddlee-dee music at the Corner House and share a table with some really friendly Corkonians. This is the first time she's spent any time with me on tour since 2005, and obviously it's not entirely an accurate picture of what goes on, but it must be good to meet the people I work with and know basically what I do.

Just don't tell her that I normally get up at midday...

Thursday, 16 February 2012


It's like a outing for a very dysfunctional family, our trip to Blarney Castle. The sensible parents are Malcolm, Fiz and Jo. Sue, Matt and I are somewhere in the middle and way down below Jake and Molly are Kate and Fi, who have come armed with a football and a determination to be very silly indeed. In understanding the needs of children on holiday they are absolutely unequalled.
It's a place rich in history and which trades heavily on matters magical and mythical, but which is basically famous for one thing and the ritual which surrounds it. The path to the Blarney Experience (as it would be called in the US) is a steep and challenging one, but this doesn't faze Jake and Molly, who explore the dark passages in the lower reaches of the castle with chuckles of delight, and emerge into the roofless upper halls with squeals of discovery.
Kate gives Molly a cwtch whilst Mrs Dineen examines the likely drop zone
God only knows how a chubby tourist manages to make it to the top, where the fabled stone is built into the castle wall. The stairway is barely wide enough to admit me, and the view from the arrow-slits is dizzying. Like most monuments of this type, the actual experience threatens to be a gigantic anti-climax, but there's an unexpected significance to the final moment which even the constant monologue from the kissing assistant can't ruin. We all pucker up for the rock except the kids - even Jo, who has kissed it before and has a slight fear that a second kiss might reverse the process. Jake almost does, but settles for a photo at the last moment:

Elsewhere there's a Witch Rock complete with offerings from all over the world, a Fairy Glade and some Wishing Steps, where Fi persuades both Molly and Jake to descend backwards with their eyes closed so they can make a wish. At the foot of the steps there's a pool formed by a waterfall, and in a moment of poetic inspiration Jake suggests this might be the wishes tumbling over the rocks. Maybe there's something in this Blarney flim-flam after all!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Family Ties

Sorry about the break. That's what happens when you throw a family into the touring mix!
Just prior to Sue, Jake and Molly arriving I spent the afternoon in Charlie's bar listening to an impromptu session of trad Irish music. I love the Dubliners, and I was hoping for some classics along the lines of "Seven Drunken Nights" and whatnot, but with no vocalist the repertoire tended to sound a bit similar. That's not to say the musicians weren't accomplished, but without a structure the centre doesn't hold.
Anyway, that's my application to be folk critic for NME done. Wide-eyed, wired kids arrived accompanied by their long-suffering mother on a turboprop plane at 6.45pm, and were pushed out straddling an airport trolley by  same a few minutes later. Lovely to see them again. Once we get to Vienna Woods and they meet potential playmates Kate, Fi and Helen it only takes a few hours to get them to go to bed...

Friday, 10 February 2012

Cork Notices!

I buy the Evening Echo (from the guy in St Patrick’s Street who calls “Ech-oh"!) and there’s a great review from Liam Heylin, saying it’s the best marriage of play and production LCT have brought to Cork. In particular it singles out Malcolm’s expert portrayal of Dysart, and it possibly works even better if read in a Cork accent. Try the following sentence and you’ll see what I mean:

"Malcolm James gives a fine performance as he offers himself as our conduit for the teenager's agonies".

One of many reflective moments. Photo by Sheila Burnett

Beautifully phrased. Malcolm gets mentioned and praised a lot, and along with Matt he really is the beating heart of the play. There’s not a single scene he’s not centrally involved in, and the prospect of tackling his monologues makes brave men blench. An injured shoulder wouldn't be a problem, but quite what would happen if he dislocated his tongue, no-one wants to think about.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Travelling People

I have a bit of a Cork history in my family. Dineen’s a very Cork name, and when we were here in 2008 we made much of this to promote the show - even to the extent that we invented an address and career (firelighter maker) and for my great-great grandpa John James Dineen. Well, details were sketchy…and it made for interesting copy.
Although there’s no Dineen bar in Cork to visit, there are several businesses with the name, and one of these, Dineen Crash Repairs, is on the way to our digs. Well, the cottages at the Vienna Woods Hotel aren’t really digs, they’re too luxurious for that. I’m sharing with Fi (DSM) and Kate (CSM) so consequently there’s a fair bit of drinking, late night dancing and drying underwear everywhere, but that’s no great hardship. In fact, as I write Kate is making a fantastic-smelling chilli for later so I’m not going to entirely waste away, either.
As usual there’s a young house (Helen, Stuart, Jamie and Matt) and a calm house (Malcolm, Jo and Fiz).  Since Jo and Fiz have the lion’s share of the new lines to learn and most of their scenes are with Malcolm anyway, this works out well.  And Stuart has a filthy sense of humour and enjoys working out, so he’s a perfect fit, too.
In fact, they all fit amazingly well. The dress rehearsal goes swimmingly and the first night, to well over 300, is almost flawless. There’s press in and expectations are high (we’re victims of our own success up to a point, I suppose) but for tonight, it’s Murphy’s, congratulations and swapping stories in Dan Lowrey’s Bar next to the theatre. Sla├Čnte!
Silly not to.

Monday, 6 February 2012

I'm a Rover (Seldom Sober)

Life doesn’t stop when you go into production week. It just seems to. You still have your monthly debits going out, junk mail arriving and so on at home – you’re just not there to see it. Or deal with it. If you’re me, you’re lucky enough to have a lovely if overworked partner handling all that. If not, I suppose it just piles up until you can’t open the front door.
This is doubly true in production week on tour, and triply (if that’s a word) on tour in the Irish Republic. The keenest loss is the freedom to contact home at will, which is something we iPhoneys are all used to in the UK, but it’s a habit you have to break if you want to stay even remotely  solvent.
Anyway, update. The Everyman Palace is our first stop - in the gorgeous city of Cork. It’s a bit dilapidated backstage – but the staircase is papered with show posters going back decades, and they’re fantastic reading. Local heroes featured here include the legend Frank Kelly (Father Jack in “Father Ted”) and Anna Manahan, the Grande Dame of the theatre, for whom the part of Mag in “Beauty Queen of Leenane” was written.  There’s a velvet chair in the ladies’ dressing room with a tiny brass dedication plaque to her on it. There’s also this:

I was here with Jamie in “Abigail’s Party” in 2008, and Sean from the stage crew immediately recognises us and says how much he loved that show. There’s a framed poster in the corridor to the dressing rooms, too, and these combine to cause a small degree of pressure. I imagine Michael feels it, too. However, there’s no time for that as we’re called to stage and begin our first run under the horseheads since November. 

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Chiswick! Fresh Horses!

So on Monday "Equus" started rehearsal again with a partially new cast. With only a week it's going to be a tall order (for "Abigail's Party" in 2008 we rehearsed for three weeks) but with Fiz, Jo and Stuart largely off book already, things are looking very positive.
Recasting these roles was always going to be a challenge, and none more so than the stallion Nugget. Whereas Aidan was dance trained, and this largely informed his performance, Stuart has a puppetry background including playing Joey in "War Horse", and so brings a wholly different angle to the part than we're used to. Especially in the horse sounds, which are arresting and are beginning to have a real impact on the stable scene. Whether the rest of us old nags can keep up is another matter...