Wednesday, 23 January 2013


I got an email from my agent the other day saying they were "back in the office after the silly season". Hmmm. I thought the silly season was just getting underway again! The castings have started after the Christmas break and so far I've been in for a couple of commercials but nothing else. I try hard not to be cynical about commercials, but it's jolly difficult to commit the best part of half a day for a few moments in front of a camera AND be sanguine about it. I text this much to a chum of mine on the way in and she replies "you have to be in it to win it" which is an admirably upbeat sentiment, and partly explains why she is one of the faces of the Co-operative Bank and the Trainline. Anyway, it seems that Tchibo and Mr Kipling will muddle through without me this spring, despite my best efforts to look like an everyday Joe.
January is a trying month all around, I find, and Facebook makes it more so. It seems I can't even glance at it without someone I know posting about working at the National or Pitlochry, or even with some funky physical theatre group.
Some days it feels as if you forgot to put your armour on. Do you know what I mean?

Tuesday, 22 January 2013


Here's a list of the things which went wrong on the way to the medical roleplay workshop casting:
  1. I trusted public transport
  2. I trusted a bus driver's sense of geography
  3. I attempted to negotiate the way by iPhone maps
  4. I took a short cut through a recently flooded and boggy nature reserve
  5. I knocked loudly and confidently as I entered the packed room before establishing whether a roleplay was already taking place. It was.
And they were lovely. More than I deserve.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Francis Bacon Opera

"A new opera based on transcripts of Melvyn Bragg's interviews with Francis Bacon" must be among the hardest of hard sells, but nonetheless I went to see that show yesterday and found it delightful. Two singers portray Bragg and Bacon - wisely stopping short of emulating the adenoidal speech pattern of the former in favour of a hilarious shock of black hair and some high trills at unexpected moments. Bacon reminded me of Gene Hunt in "Ashes to Ashes" and the whole things needed a bit more direction, but the singing was full blooded and brilliantly executed and the repetiteur was amazing. It lacked projected images of the pictures being discussed - some sort of copyright issue, I guess - but even so it really worked.

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Hard Sell

My friend Fi (ASM on "Equus") was the one who said that she'd known people make lifelong friends when flyering on the Royal Mile. I treated this notion with mute derision, as that sort of promotion generally makes me feel queasy both as as giver and receiver.
I suspect the quality of your flyering experience depends at least partly on the show you're selling. I heard a guy the other day punting a show he described as "a black comedy about brutalist architecture". Yeuch. And a few minutes later I watched someone dressed in a black wifebeater, khaki shorts and bare feet bound up to a prospective audience member saying "you look like someone who'd enjoy 45 minutes of challenging physical theatre". I don't know anyone who looks like that - not on purpose, anyway.
Our approach is different. We hand out Tunnocks teacakes as an incentive and go out in full costume and, when it's not raining, with the set to give a sort of moving tableau. Goes down a treat.

"Noel Cowards "Still Life" - falling in love right here...
The only problem is sometimes we cause a traffic jam because of a glut of photographers. But as Simon our producer would say, that's a high value problem!

A Funny Thing Happened in Charlbury

Since Edinburgh venues basically charge by the minute there's an enormous pressure to a) cut the show b) have a really pacy show or quite often c) do both. Still Life is probably a 50 minute show really but with minimal set changes and by keeping it slick we have it down to 43-45 mins. Perfect, in other words.
When you're presenting a Shakespeare or a musical though, it's cut or go bankrupt. I saw Sondheim's "Assassins" the other day, which seemed perfectly adapted at 90 mins. His "Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum", however, had been eviscerated to 70 mins by removing all the songs. It was like panto without the dame - and sadly, also lacked most of the humour. Choice of material is a thorny issue when directing young people and this show, with its double-entendres, seaside postcard humour and Frankie Howerdesque nudge-nudge audience interaction just feels a bit grubby when 16-18 year-olds are made to play it. I'm stunned at how only a couple of years extra maturity results in a largely credible "Machinal" from OUDS or, for that matter, "Still Life".

Thursday, 16 August 2012


Not having been to Edinburgh for a few years (OK, twenty) I was keen to take advice from younger and wiser colleagues before embarking on this project. It boiled down to this:

  • don't overrun
  • flyer every day for at least two hours
  • get the reviews in early
Oh God, the reviews. I don't doubt my judgement on my own show, or really care (to be honest I expected a harsher time than we've had) but I regularly seem to have seen a different show than the press. There's healthy debate in the flat, too - Josh (who plays Stanley) has tastes so polar from mine that I should organise my bucket list from his shit-list. Well, except for on the Sondheim show that generated David's troublesome review. There we have solidarity.
Josh Green meets his public
Our early reviews were healthy, but as expected the Broadway Baby/Three Weeks ones were less enthusiastic. They praise the general aesthetic but find fault with the central relationship, which is a problem in the script in my opinion, and Libby Purves from The Times said much the same. Three stars from her was a lovely surprise, although the review was constructed in such a way as to defy the extraction of a pithy quote except "Terrifically authentic hairdos". Not quite the way we wish to be remembered!

Roosting Chickens

Right. Further to my rant yesterday about how I have been misrepresented about my opinions re: a certain Shakespeare interpretation.
My entire cast and I were sitting in the very convivial garden of said company's venue having lunch today when the news arrived that they had received 5* review in a respected online magazine. Cue outraged shock from everyone (even those who hadn't seen it) and much guffawing about the temerity of foreigners doing Shakespeare at all. I get up to go to the cafe for a coffee refill and pass one of their actors at a neighbouring table.
We now need to find somewhere else for lunch.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Ricardo Garcia

It's easy to forget that this isn't just about the theatre. I saw a show last night called "Ricardo Garcia's Flamenco Flow" which just blew me away. Mixing Spanish guitar, djembe and tabla with dance elements including bhangra, jazz dance, breakdancing and of course flamenco, it was completely exhilarating and totally original. I never dreamt such diverse elements could be combined so seemingly effortlessly. Absolute 4*.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

At Least The Kids Don't Have Weapons...

Like Cold War Russia, the Fringe can be a dangerous place to express opinions. David - who plays Albert - is a reviewer for the online magazine Broadway Baby, and posted an entirely fair but tough notice of a youth musical group's efforts with a Sondheim musical. In fact his criticism chiefly centred on the director and MD, partly for their choice of material for such a young cast, but also for their very mixed results with the actors. For this he was pointed at in the street, stared out and subjected to an acid encounter with one of the mothers, vicariously injured by the coverage. Thank God they left after a week.
It's happened to me too - there's a lot of Shakespeare here, and the results are predictably mixed. I came out of a show yesterday with a barrelful of opinions - some about safety but also about some unintentionally hilarious moments - which I casually shared with someone at our venue. After the show today I learn that it's all over C that the "the director of Still Life thinks that show is SHIT". That isn't what I said at all, but still in less than 24 hours that's rumour travelling at a scary rate. If only my opinions about our show moved so fast.

Friday, 3 August 2012


We've fallen on our feet with our venue and flat, which we picked almost at random when we visited Edinburgh in April. C-Aquila has a small studio and a large main space, and whilst it's not as groovy as C-main or Nova, it's a bit less frenetic which suits the tenor of our show well.
Our show is Noel Coward's "Still Life" which is a bizarre choice for Edinburgh in some ways. Not new writing, not out of copyright, and the way we're presenting it, pretty conventional in the staging - no clever reinterpretations or physical theatre and whatnot. Old School Quality Writing may have to be our Unique Selling Point, in fact. We're going after the older demographic in a big way, too, with a gimmicky offer of a cup of tea and a Tunnocks teacake to draw them in (inspired by the phenomenal success of Shakespeare for Breakfast). Let's hope they don't expect anything to match our press junket at the Balmoral, where half a dozen journalists descend on a sumptuous afternoon tea of finger sandwiches, cakes and exquisite scones. Setting the bar a wee bit high...

Thursday, 2 August 2012


So I'm in Edinburgh. The last time I was here as a performer was about 23 years ago and to be honest I wouldn't recognise it. Nothing is familiar, nothing at all, except the Fringe poster from 1988 in the festival shop.
I don't remember flyering at all then - perhaps that's why we had such atrocious houses for "The Elephant Man" and "The Sea". Or maybe the titles were to blame - if I hadn't been involved in them I wouldn't have seen them. Anyway, I remember doing precious little back then except drinking and eating out every night in an Italian restaurant called "Luigi's" or something. No wonder my finances were shaky.
These days it's a very different beast, but for the moment I'll be concentrating of getting our show up. Not just metaphorically either, as the stairs to our space are steep, numerous and we have a LOT of set...

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

New Vic

Newcastle-Under-Lyme has been sitting in the programme like a beacon ever since the beginning of the tour - partly because it's our only two-week gig but also because the space is in-the-round - that is, a 360 degree audience experience. For 28 weeks we've been presenting this play end-on and inevitably there are different demands here, and that's why we're up a day early to re-rehearse.
Enough of that for the moment though. It's a very exciting place to be, this theatre. For a start it's a producing house, and they've just come down with their own production of "Far From the Madding Crowd", and there's all the remains of that show still in evidence, including puppet sheepdogs, discarded scripts and rustic costumes loafing around. Plus they're just going into rehearsal for another show, and the cast of three are getting to grips with the text, so there's lots of chatting over coffee during the breaks and so on.
It feels vibrant and involving and everything a theatre should be. The last time I had this experience was working on "Pera Palas" at the Arcola, where "The Silver Birch House" was in production during our rehearsals and club nights would happen in the studio downstairs. The cafe at lunchtime was a hubbub of creatives, with nervous actors awaiting auditons, designers with portfolios and funky haircuts, and directors maniacally gesticulating in the only way they seem capable of getting ideas across. A lot of wannabees used to show up at lunchtime - actors usually, networking madly and getting their faces seen in the vain hope of an audition or job. Great place to be.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Half Term and Three Quarters Done

I'm the only one in the company with children (except Fiz, and her daughters are both in their 20's) - and touring's not a natural environment for them, or a practical one with school. There have been some lucky coincidences with this one though - the Cork week falling on Spring half-holiday, the Easter week off coinciding with the holidays. And our split week in Wales and Chipping Norton means a family holiday can be cobbled together.
Today we managed to drop in on Fi and Kate at Brecon as they did the get-in with the resident tech crew, and since there's an almost limitless number of things to play with in the wings of any theatre, Jake and Molly find plenty to entertain themselves with whilst the work goes on, especially since one of the trophies removed from a recent theatre happens to be a rocking horse. This was, I think, an exchange for a life-sized cut-out of Sarah Michelle Gellar and I know which I would have preferred. As Sue keeps reminding me, though, it's not about me all the time. Jake has a great time showing the resident techies his Hero Factory model, and to be frank they seem just as interested in that than in rigging the show. Well, they are techies...

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Digging Deep

By the law of averages, sooner or later you're going to play a big hall with only a few people in it - especially if you're touring drama in tough times like these. Very occasionally the punters in a situation like that will pull through and actively enjoy the show, but often they won't be fully able to participate in it. Well, at least so the actors can hear them.
Such has been the case in Middlesbrough. It doesn't altogether help that the theatre's nowhere near the heart of the city, but one wonders whether that would have made any difference, as it's pretty much dominated by shopping centres anyway. We open to 33 and that's our biggest house. As I said, tough times.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Full Circle

The first proper tour I did was as an 11-year old, and I didn't really understand the mechanics of the company or the hierachy. I mean, I spent most of my time with my chaperone, who was a retired teacher from a girl’s private school so I wasn’t in the thick of it much but anyway, it bears reflection.
Most of my contact was with the stage management team – I hardly saw the other actors out of performance. No wonder - why on earth would want to spend their time with an annoying 11-year old? Anyway, I think I preferred the earthy, practical atmosphere of the green room and the SM’s. I now realise that the swarthy, magnetic, guitar-playing, earring-wearing CSM was almost certainly conducting an affair with the pretty, busty DSM whilst already seeing the Production Manager. You have to admire his organisational skills in keeping them apart in the heat of touring. And I had a massive crush on the ASM which I wasn’t that great at concealing, and which she must have managed with tact and sensitivity, because I don’t remember getting my heart broken.
The only actor I was close to was close to was Tim, who played the central character and also my father. Perhaps we had a natural affinity, but I suppose he made an extra effort because it was so important that we were close on stage, in particular in the sections when his character is on hunger strike and they bring his son to persuade him to eat. He used to make me cry every night in that scene and he often spent a few moments afterwards making sure all was OK. A lovely man and a quite brilliant actor.
And here I am 34 years later playing a Dad myself in powerful scenes with an onstage son. My boy Matt “Alan Strang” Pattimore fills my socks with talc and ties my jeans legs in knots when I’m out of the dressing room, and I change his Facebook updates to anti-Liverpool ones when he’s in the loo, but there’s a similar emotional charge to our onstage relationship.
Whether he has a crush on the ASM though, I couldn't possibly speculate.