Saturday, 17 March 2012

Big People's Shoes

In Bury you find the only functioning Regency theatre in the UK, and what a delight it is, too. It's just perfect. From the macroscopic: the microscopic. Isn't the detail of this script just wonderful?

And there's a nice surprise for us on our dressing room door, too. Although the gentleman in question really requires a "Sir" appending next time someone's passing with a paintbrush.

Hang on a moment, though. Didn't someone else have a stab at this, too?
Good try. But not quite.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Home Town

Our first week back in the mainland is split between Cambridge and Bury St Edmunds, and over the years I've been to Cambridge a fair bit, both for work and for play. I came to the Trinity Ball here when my brother-in-law graduated (in law, as it happens) and I ate an oyster which made me so sick I ruined some picnickers dinner by vomiting on the lawns. Also, it is home to an American friend of mine who lectures here. 

One of the Great Eternal Truths of Theatre is that when you get to my age, friends will only see a show if do it for them in their living room. But then they've seen you in so much unutterable crud over the years that they can't be blamed for being a touch wary. Now this isn't quite my friend's living room, but it's definitely on her doorstep and I confess I'm pretty surprised that she is too busy to come. When your job is showing yourself off in public, I guess you take it personally if people don't want to see the exhibits. However, as younger and wiser friends point out, perhaps she feels the limited time she has is better spent talking to me rather than watching me...   

I've never taken anything to Oxford, my real home town, except when I was a bratty child actor working for the Oxford Playhouse Company. However, I did tour "Dealer's Choice" to the seaside resort where I spent every summer as a kid. The venue had only just been built and had excellent facilities, it was a perfect summer evening and publicity was well in hand. Having played some very small and remote halls, we were looking forward to a bit of a treat.

No-one came at all. I still shudder now when I visit.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012


The Dubliners have never had anyone on bodhran, but since I don't play anything which involves moving up and down a musical stave it's my folk instrument of choice. It's enjoying a bit of a musical renaissance at the moment; there's a young female rapper called MissElaneous who does a bit of bodhran-beating, and when we were in Dundrum the marketing manager told me about a young rapper/bodhranist called Jim McConnell that I finally tracked down. Sadly he died a couple of years ago, but this brilliant footage remains:

RIP MC Lunitic, as he is also known.

That's how you play the thing. Quite how this old fellow I saw in Dublin playing on Grafton Street gets away with his double-beater flat playing style is a mystery.

Monday, 5 March 2012


When I was growing up, folk music was a bit of a joke. I mean, it was the sort of stuff that inspired the Vic Reeves spoof, where bearded men stroll about in tight nylon rollnecks which showed their nipples. There was a  bit of it on telly - the Spinners and Steeleye Span and what not, but it was noteworthy mainly for being hugely inoffensive and safe family viewing. When you recall that this was the era when Jim Davidson was on telly it makes you blench.
Then I discovered the Dubliners, and not the later incarnations but the Original Dubliners line-up of 1966-1974. Just a look at the album cover suggests they're a bit dangerous:

That dodgy-looking geezer second from right is Ronnie Drew and the wild-looking dude in the middle is Luke Kelly, and they were the heart of the group and sang many of the great songs. Then l-r John Sheahan, Ciaran Bourke and Barney McKenna. Hard-drinking, heavy-smoking legends. Bourke suffered a brain haemhorrage on stage in 1974; Kelly collapsed on stage because of a brain tumour in 1980; Drew died in 2008 of throat cancer - perhaps a million cigarettes are why his voice sounded "like coke being crushed under a door". Sheahan and McKenna are in the band to this day. In later years they started to self-censor a bit - the rebel songs like "The Old Alarm Clock" and "Rising of the Moon" largely disappeared from their roster, and for supposed reasons of decency you'll never heard all seven verses of "Seven Drunken Nights" on their albums.
But it's the Original Dubliners you want - the classic quintet - before the politics got in the way.

Fair City

I'm not gonna bang on about Dublin. It's a great city and you've may well have been there, although if it was for a stag night in Temple Bar then it's possible you haven't seen it at it's best. Instead I'll give you a couple of snapshots:

Molly Malone - the bronze (or brass?) at the top of Grafton St
Dubliners are fond of iconoclasm. They happy to nickname Molly "The Tart with the Cart" or "The Trollope with the Scallops", and they enjoy tearing into Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and WB Yeats in a similar vein. An expression of affection really. Although judging by the colour of Molly's boobs, they've been polished rather more enthusiastically than the rest of her so perhaps the affection isn't all innocent.

Dublin has a fantastic art gallery (although it seems to be beyond them to display anything like a reasonable portion of the collection when it's under refurbishment) and the Irish collection is magnificent. Jack B Yeats (brother of the more famous William) is especially well represented, with the Liffey Swim and other key works in the canon. My favourite picture, though, is this one by John B Yeats (father of the more famous William...): 

The sitter is the family priest and Irish language etymologist/lexicographer Padraig Ua Duinnin - or Patrick Stephen Dinneen in non-vernacular talk. Author of the definiive Irish-English dictionary and namesake of your gentle author. Nice looking feller, too.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Trade Secrets

You learn an awful lot about people on tour. I don't know whether it's because people let down their guards or what, but after a few weeks you generally have a suitcaseful of gossipworthy and possibly libellous information on almost everyone, and keeping a lid on it is sometimes quite a challenge.
However, one individual who suffered from astoundingly painful piles was only too happy to share. I heard about these during the first rehearsal week and I may well have been the last to know. We eventually came to regard this actor's affliction rather as you would an old friend.
We asked after their health often. We suggested possible reliefs and remedies.  If their owner had chanced to sit awkwardly on the arm of a sofa during a scene, or there was an unprecedented pause in their delivery we'd all exchange sympathetic and understanding looks which meant "Gosh, we'll be hearing about that at the interval." It all put my own mild IBS quite in the shade.
Of course, if I discover anything on this tour, you'll read all about it here. Names changed, naturally.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

From the Horse's Mouth

I met a group of Dublin actors today who had assembled for a workshop run by Michael on taking first steps in the profession. Mostly aged about 25 but there were three 16-year olds (including one from Limerick) and a lady of 43 with extensive tv and film credits looking to extend her stage experience.
It was a very inspiring afternoon in some ways, and humbling in others. The latter chiefly because the major sticking point for most of them was difficulty in reaching people who can help them find work, and they were saying that Dublin seems to be a rather closed-shop theatrically. Humbling too was the knowledge that they are probably working much harder than I usually do to stay employed, and that by any yardstick I am very lucky.
However, it was inspiring to hear Michael's strategies for maximising your chances of getting in the audition room and what to do when you get there, which have little to do with credits or experience and which buck the overwhelming statistics which send any rational actor into a tailspin. I think it was something that we all needed to hear.

It's a shame Michael can't stay to see the standing ovation after tonight's show; it brings the biggest smile to our faces and is the best way of signing off from Dundrum.Our next stop, Thurles, is horse country (so rumour has), and perhaps the first place where we might get thumped instead of feted...

Friday, 2 March 2012

See What I Mean? Mk II

This painting by Jim Partington hangs in the Mill green room.
The title was a surprise -even to the regular staff...

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Dirty Old Town

I don't know Dublin well - I was here for a week in 2005 with "Midnight", and then we were at the Dun Lagohaire Pavilion in 2008 with "Abs Party" but I scarcely spent any time in the centre, so I'm looking forward to a few days (including a weekend!) in the capital.
Our digs are fantastic, and only a couple of  miles from Dundrum and Dublin centre. My advice - get digs with the director if at all possible. Michael hasn't seen the show since leaving Cork after the first week, and he joins a pretty packed audience for our first night here.
There's a great energy to the show, an almost electric charge. It's partly the very positive response of the audience, who are very giving and enjoy the lighter moments very much whilst affording the darker stuff the appropriate attention. The fact that the show's been enjoying a period of intense development, both from us as individuals and as an ensemble, gives the show a tangible frisson now we're presenting it to the director. What he makes of the work we'll find out at notes tomorrow.