Sunday, 18 July 2010

Awol's Inn Conveniences

The other day I received the following text:

Just to let you all know the condom machine should be fixed today. Sorry for any inconveneance (sic)



Thursday, 15 July 2010

Hampshire/Dorset part ii

The last post was a mini-rant amid the Hampshire gorgeousness that is Selbourne. I am heartily relieved when Basso and I make up as I drive off into the dark with only my iPhone for guidance. He is sorry for being in a pissy mood with me for me being in a pissy mood over the enforced filming day that hijacked our day off. I'm sorry for being in a pissy mood in the first place. I try not to be too smug over my absolute lack of pissiness when it transpires that there has been a minor balls-up over the sleeping arrangements and The Dog is not welcome in my accommodation. Fortunately Polish Gran lives somewhere nearby, and The Dog is always welcome there. Hence me, van and Dog disappearing into the dark with iPhone.

Droxford is hosted by some judicial bigwig in his garden, which, were it mine, would accommodate several donkeys and a few goats for good measure. As it is, we pitch up amongst the rose bushes on the softest turf you've ever set foot on. My sun-salutations have never felt better. I wish The Dog wouldn't bite me quite so hard on the bum when I'm doing downward er... dog. I'm not quite sure why he objects to that position, but he does. Big excitement when we arrive, as there is a big blackboard by the roadside advertising the arrival of 'The Rudes'. Now the Rude Mechanical Theatre Company has been using this diminutive for years, but it's great seeing it used by our fans. We instantly feel like a band. Basso designs some T-shirts with this in the slogan. 'Rude Since 1999' is my favourite. If anyone wants one, they're for sale, just get in touch.

From Droxford on to Swanage where we have Fantastical Fish and Chips. I filmed here earlier in the year and felt compelled to find out whether the fare lived up to its billing. Nothing immediately Tolkein-esque occurred but they were so good then that I drag the Rudes down to the sea front to try them. Damn fine. We all fall asleep in the sun. Our show that night is a stonker. We're up on the cliffs at Durlston Country Park. A fine place, and well managed by nice rangers who bring us tea, let me charge up my MacBook and even watch the show. A standing ovation once again. "Thank you Swanage, Goodnight!"

We're so rock and roll.


Friday, 9 July 2010

It's A Family Affair

Stage Managers as a breed appeal to me. I like their extreme organisation and fetishistic love of stationery. However, there is a type of stage manager that I loathe. It's the type that assumes that the actors cannot think for themselves and furthermore mustn't be allowed to think too hard as those thoughts are bound to be naughty and work to the detriment of the company and the show. Whilst some actors admittedly need more managing than others I resent being herded about like a naughty child by someone who thinks that my sole intention is to bollocks things up.

I say this because Basso, love him as I do, is in danger, when he dons his 'management' hat, of falling into the latter category. It's more complicated than that... he's closely related to the Director and is understandably hypersensitive to any perceived criticism of the company or its organisation. Furthermore he seems to have lost sight of how much we all adore the company and the Director, and how far we have all gone in terms of extra time and effort to promote the company's interests. At the moment we're just a bunch of tossers who've been rude to his dad.

Only he's allowed to do that.


Saturday, 26 June 2010

Why Amberley?

There is a tiny village, nestling in the south downs just north of Arundel called Amberley. It has a school, a pub, and lots of picture-pretty thatched cottages. It wouldn't be unreasonable to speculate that most of its voters (and probably also the second-homers who aren't registered to vote there) are blue-er than Bluey McBlue winning first prize in last year's blue competition.

Here's the thing: I do a bit of moonlighting (actually daylighting) as a drama workshop leader in primary schools. So how the heck did I end up being sent to teach in Amberley the day before we have a show there? Two consecutive days. Two completely separate companies. One teeny-tiny village.

What's with Amberley?


Above: my accommodation in Amberley

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Things We Are Unreasonably Excited About

The prospect of doing the next show without my tights falling down. It seems a small thing, but those of you who were once little girls will be familiar with SGS. Saggy Gusset Syndrome. I remember it best from being a child because these days I buy tights that fit me. Those days my darling Mother bought tights that fitted me until I grew. Children never stop growing. Hence entire winters spent with gussets somewhere around my knees. Urgh, I hate that feeling! In the show we have lycra dance tights with stirrups. Mine are a particularly attractive shade of purple. They are the right length but as the show progresses, they slip off my hips and I end up with SGS. So I potter down to the local dance-wear shop that exists by providing sequinned outfits for octogenarian ballroom dancers; and buy a non-sequinned leotard in the same purple as my tights. Genius.

Clarins Fixing Spray. I've already blogged about the clown white we have to cake our faces in. It along with the cropped length trousers, black work boots and gaudy leg-wear contributes to the unique Rude Mechanical style. It's supposed to be a mask, but mobile. It's certainly mobile. It gets bloody everywhere! Costumes, instruments, Dog, audience... but the most frustrating thing is that when it smudges, it not only covers everything it comes into contact with, it leaves your face looking less like pierrot and more like you've been standing looking up at a seagull colony. Powder gives you a yellowish tinge and there are terrible caking issues. So it is with no small degree of excitement that I discover a Clarin's product that promises not only to give you a refreshing spritz of rose-water and grapefruit, but also contains some kind of fructose based polymer that will glue your make-up to your face. Perfect.

Head Torch. Does what it says on the tin. Turns your head into a giant torch. Late night get-outs in the dark? Essential.

My Tour Birthday. It's today! On this tour, everyone, including the dog, gets a tour birthday. Present, card, cake and best of all you get to decide what everyone does in their free time. We are recording the show album today but this evening, I want to do yoga for an hour and a half at the local sports centre, followed by a pint or three of Olympia, a local ale from Harvey's Brewery in Lewes. Everyone is in favour of the latter. Re/ yoga: Sax Chick and Bones are keen. Basso says he will, but only if he gets to work out behind Awol so that he can take the piss. Fiddle Boy visibly blanches at the prospect, or at least I think he does. He has very fair skin so I could be wrong. If the recording over-runs (is Winnie-The-Pooh a Catholic?) we'll probably end up with a curry in Awol's Inn. Happy days.

I was going to finish this post with 'Things We Are Reasonably Unexcited About' but the excitement of the above has driven them from my mind.

Bring it on!


Sunday, 20 June 2010

Rude Mechanicals On The Road

The sun has come out, in more ways than one.

I'll be honest. I found the first few shows a trial. We were under-rehearsed, a condition forced upon us by financial constraints. I was still floundering, lost in an unfamiliar theatrical genre. There was grumpiness as people wrestled with the tent, the van, the script, their own performance insecurities. Every time I came off stage I'll swear that Bones, a Rude Mechanical stalwart, rolled his eyes in despair. My wonderful vintage 1950s dresses were ripping at the seams as I attempted to go from from Janet to Lola in under 10 seconds. And the fricking white face fricking make-up? It gets everywhere. As I came off stage after playing the trombone in one of the earlier numbers, I noticed that my perfectly drawn lips had spread, turning the lower half of my face an unflattering shade of pink.

But then the sun comes out. The show starts to flow a bit better. Lines and cues start to come out in the right order (always a bonus). And the Rude Mechanical Theatre Company plus Dog hit the road for Dorset. Hurrah for rural touring.

First Stop: The Best Pub In England aka The Square And Compass in Worth Matravers. Real ale. Home-pressed cider. A large gently sloping garden where we set up our stage. A rooster with feathery trousers and a loud voice. If any of the audience are underwhelmed by the thespians in front of them, they can look over our heads to the ocean beyond.

After the Worth Matravers show I get behind the wheel of the van for the first time and cautiously negotiate the little Dorset lanes to Chaldon Herring, a village that sounds like a culinary creation from Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall but is home to the first boy I ever fell in love with. First Love lives here with his good lady wife and their gorgeous daughters. The good lady wife is an artist of such talent that I am going to break with convention by not giving her a pseudonym and actually name her so that you can check out her website for yourself. If you've got a few thousand to spare, I would encourage you to invest. She trained at the Slade, has her own wikipedia entry and the prices will only go up. Oh yes, and unlike fine wine, you won't be tempted to squander your investment by drinking it.

This sodding server isn't letting me post a link but the address is:

Punnets Town, Abbotsbury, Child Okeford, Ropley... the tour ticks by like a Flanders and Swan song. There's even time for beach fun. Check out me, Sax Chick and Bones auditioning for 'Baywatch'

By the time we hit Child Okeford, I am seriously exhausted. After the Abbotsbury show (rowdy crowd, mostly St John Ambulance), First Love takes me kayaking at midnight in Ringstead Bay... echoes of when I used to take him late night skinny-dipping in Lumb Falls when we were 15; except that we're wearing life jackets and about ten layers each, obviously. Not quite the same at all, but the spirit is there. On our return, HB, First and I sit up putting the world to rights in front of the aga until the wee small hours. Hence the exhaustion. So when tucked up early in our host's nice comfortable northern Dorset bed I am awakened by Sax Chick, lost in the square mile that is Child Okeford, unable to navigate the 25 metres from the pub to the digs, I am less than delighted. I don't know the address of our digs much less the location of the pub. I grunt something into the phone and fall asleep again.

I love rural touring.


Thursday, 17 June 2010

Awol's Inn

Awol has turned his bedroom into a pub. When I get a text inviting me to the opening night, I think he’s joking. He’s not. He has turned his bedroom into an actual pub. He’s got a fine array of beers, wines, and liquors, not to mention assorted snacks, England flags, a music system and a disco ball. He shows football matches, is not bound by licensing hours and allows smoking in moderation. He is planning themed nights, quizzes, musical entertainment. Sax Chick and I decline his kind offer of free drinks all night if we provide a burlesque show involving the removal of most of our clothing.

Awol himself is a genial host and leans on the bar, tea towel in hand. When I overhear him swapping landlord stories with the grizzled hippy who runs the Square And Compass in Worth Matravers I smile to myself. One of the things I love about actors is how fully we can play out an alternative reality.

I initially eschew the invitation as I have some hefty life decisions to make that I think require a measure of sobriety; but after a futile hour of tea-drinking and soul-searching I join the rest of the company. A couple of generous measures of Talisker down the line I have a late night epiphany that solves at least some of my problems.

Tea versus Talisker? I think the answer lies in Awol's Inn.


Above from top: The Landlord; Bones and Fiddle Boy enjoying a late night drink

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Trouble Comes In Threes

There were three mishaps in the Friston Forest week. One member of the cast drove the van into a gate post. One member of the cast pulled a hamstring when turning a cartwheel for the first time in the heavy work-boots that are standard Rude Mechanical kit. One member of the cast broke wind rather too forcefully and had to change her underwear.

Just for the record, mine was the hamstring injury.


Thursday, 10 June 2010

A fool, a fool! I met a fool i' th' forest...

Our final week of rehearsals begins in Friston Forest. In the Rain. We sit in the tent running lines and songs for Act 1. We discover JB, our work-experience student, shivering under a tarpaulin. We prise the paint-brush from his hand and bring him into the tent to go on book whilst we paraphrase madly. He's confused by the script. Not just because what comes out of our mouths bears little relation to the playwright's vision; but also because of the frequent all'improviso markings where we are actually encouraged to improvise between lines. It confuses the hell out of me and I've been working on it for three weeks. It confuses the Director and he wrote it!

The weather brightens and we gradually lose the wellies, waterproofs and fleeces; and eventually most of our outer garments until we are rehearsing in our underwear. It's hot! Proper bikinis tomorrow. JB's face is a study in nonchalance. I'm impressed with him. He's willing and able rather than surly and incompetent. If I ever had a teenager, I would want him to be like JB.

On Monday I went running with the Dog on the South Downs. They call them Downs but there is an awful lot of UP before you get to go down. I was feeling angst-ridden about a whole load of stuff (not the show... loving the show) and wanted to blow away a few cobwebs from the dustier recesses of my life.

Not to self: This doesn't always work and can make you really tired.

On my way back, I saw in front of me an odd looking man with a page-boy haircut and a rusty jumper, towing a small suitcase. As I ran past him he touched me on the shoulder and said, 'Peace.'

I instantly felt better, loving the universe and moved by the stranger who recognised my turmoil and responded to it.

Later that day I saw the same bloke in Saver buying cut-price toiletries. He didn't appear to recognise me. He initiated a conversation about the merits of generic pain-killers, told me I was gorgeous and then blew lots of air-kisses as close to my face as he dared before wandering off chortling to himself.

Here's the thing: Is my earlier experience diminished by discovering that his reality and societal modus operandi lead me to label him as a bit of a nut-job? Is the healing experience any the less valid? Is the lesson here that you shouldn't judge or is it that you shouldn't rely on first impressions? The man you elevate as a mystic and a healer may yet turn out to be a fool.

But do fools not speak the truth?


Saturday, 5 June 2010

Jesus Is Watching

The other morning whilst we were warming up, Bones said: 'After warm-up let's have a mime workshop.' I thought he was taking the piss and was about to do my comedy Marcel Marceau impression. You know the one, you've probably done it yourself... big face and silly hands? Anyway, the point is, he was serious, and rightly so. My crap attitude just underlines how I am still not really embracing the Mime; and how much I am in denial about the physical precision that is needed in this show.

We open in 6 days time. This is both exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. We went up to Friston Forest yesterday, to erect the tent. See Below. Our last week of rehearsals is outdoors. Thank Goodness! The Methodist Hall is cold and smells of religion. Our Director and writer is a lapsed Evangelist and as a result there are some delightfully blasphemous elements to the show, and I can't help feeling that at Methodist Central Jesus is looking over my shoulder and tutting loudly.

Jesus watching over the choreography. L to R Bones, Sax Chick, The Choreographer, Basso. The poster reads: I alone know the plans I have for you. Plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster. Thank God for that.

One of the brilliant things about working for the circus is that Babies and Dogs are welcome. I am Odd-Mother to Baby T, offspring of Basso and The Choreographer. Breaktime, and Baby T, Dog and I share a banana.

Unpacking the tent at Friston. How many actors does it take to erect a tent?

Erm.... How does it go?

Looking good.

The Team L to R: Sax Chick, Dog, Basso, Lallymaggoo, Fiddle Boy, Bones, Awol.

As you can see, the tent took us a couple of tries and about an hour to get right. Apparently it goes up in about 20 minutes when you get the hang of it. I bloody hope so! In addition to this we have to put up a stage, a fence, position the pageant wagon and cover our faces in white make-up... each time we do the show.

Sax Chick and I go back years. We've done lots of shows together, some great, some not so great. We've toured the arse-end of Germany in a van with some very smelly boys. We've run naked through the Coventry Belgrade theatre. We've laughed, we've cried, we've held each-others hair whilst we were sick but never have we done anything quite like this show. "Stage Management!?"

Nope. we're it.


Friday, 28 May 2010


Today we have mostly been flying. Like everything in the show, it's low tech. No wires or hydraulics, just acting and plain old-fashioned imagination. It amazes me how effective it is.

Flying starts out as a metaphor for realising your dreams and nobody is more surprised than the characters themselves when they are really expected to don actual wings and take flight. Two of my characters fly. Lola is initially afraid:

'Waid a minute! Yo aint really 'specting me to fly? Oh Jeez. That's goddamn dangerous sir!'

To which the reply comes:

'Dreamin' is dangerous. They aint jus gonna roll in whilst yo' sit on yo' ass. Yo' gotta go out there and get 'em!'

Janet Brewster is not afraid. After 20 years of marriage to a well-meaning oaf, she is seduced by the power of dreaming. When she flies, she flies first as a hawk, then as a kite with her husband holding the strings. He can't hold her and the strings break. She flies off as a hawk again.

The flying is quite emotional. It's about how we launch ourselves off the cliff, the freefall, and the moment we realise that not only do we have to fly or die, we actually can. The Director was in tears.

My arms hurt.


Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Oven Must Have A Throughline

Week Two of rehearsals begins with a Pumpkin Pie. The pie knocks the walking stick into a cocked hat. It's ten feet in diameter. It needs to be big to feed the Sufferin' Po'r of Dreamville. At the top of Act II it gets lifted over the perimeter fence and carried to a massive oven. It even has its own number. Debate rages about the position of the oven. Can we place the oven in the audience? If we do this and don't resolve the oven's story, will the audience feel subliminally that they are roasting for the entirety of the second act? The oven must have a throughline! Stanislavski would be proud.

At lunchtime the weather is sooo good that it seems rude not to go for a swim. This is one of many reasons why I'm loving this job.

The Dog, Sax Chick, Bones and I have such a jolly time we nearly forget to go back for the afternoon and turn up wet, salty and breathless.

Back in Dreamville we move on to a factory sequence that is in part an homage to Charlie Chaplin but also manages to reference Donald Duck.

Antonio Fava eat your heart out.


Saturday, 22 May 2010

My Imaginary Walking Stick

It's a glorious sunny weekend. The hottest so far. And am I out lazing in the park learning my lines? Nope, I'm indoors in front of a mirror practising with an imaginary walking stick.

Ol' Mercy Coffin is cantankerous old evangelist bible basher and drunk. She veers between helpless little old lady and full on fire and brimstone preacher with a generous sprinkling of lunatic just to spice things up a bit.

"Yo' are a sinner of the wuss kind. Tainted with the sulphurous stench of hell! Gimme a bottle-a Jim Bean will yuh?"

Someone, Bones I think, helpfully suggested a walking stick. Now normally, I love a good character prop. Spectacles, cigarette, comedy hat = instant character. Brilliant. Not in this show. Everything's mimed. I need to learn to love the mime. Right now I don't.

Here's the thing: You know where you are with a real walking stick. It holds its shape. It is consistent. You can lean on it! If you hit people with it, they say 'Ow!'. An imaginary one is much trickier. One minute it's short, one minute it's long. If you don't concentrate on it you forget it's there and use that hand for something else. How does your hand move when you're holding it? What happens to your body? Which leg is the gammy one?

This is just the beginning. Ol' Mercy has a walking stick. Lola Pescatori (gum-chewing teen) has a car. Janet Sodding Brewster, (Hockey Mom and Supreme Chief of the Dreamville Grand Teepee of Buffalesses) has a whole fricking store! And don't even get me started on the sound effects.

It will be fine. It always is. But right now I can't help thinking that if I'd agreed to elope with the Frenchman who proposed to me when I was 16, I might have continued my education at the Sorbonne, gone on to train at Le Coq and this whole thing might have been a whole load easier.

Tant pis.


Friday, 21 May 2010

Inside Out or Outside In?

There are three main questions that actors ask themselves fairly regularly.

i) Will I ever work again?
ii) How am I going to pay my tax bill? 
iii) Why didn't I save for my tax bill when I was working?

When we are in work, these questions conveniently fade into the background and we can address the more complex issues of process and method.

Method refers to a process based on the teachings of Stanislavski, refined by the Lee Strasbourg studio in New York and beloved of wannabe Marlon Brandos everywhere. Method could be described as 'inside out'. The inner life of the character dictates its physicality.

Commedia and physical theatre work the other way about. Your physicality demonstrates your inner feelings. You work from the outside in. Fava says that the term physical theatre is bollocks and in southern Europe ALL theatre is physical. Yada yada yada. 

I think Stanislavski and Fava can both cock right off, I'll do what works for me, and I'm going to call it the Magpie Method. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. I never thought I'd end up acknowledging a debt of gratitude to my alma mater, but that's actually what they taught us at East 15.

No matter if I'm working on film or stage, the inner workings of a character have to be in place or there's no truth to the world you're creating. Equally, your audience are not telepathic. They read gesture and movement consciously and subliminally. Your body language has to be as true as your thoughts or you're cheating, and sooner or later you'll be found out.

So now you know.


Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The Commedia Dell' Arte Circus

FIVE ACTORS AND A DOG met today in the upstairs room of a busy Methodist Centre in God’s Waiting Room, aka Eastbourne. The Dog immediately singled out the director as leader of the proceedings and sat as close to him as possible; and only growled a bit when the Director stepped on his tail.

It’s a bit blooming complicated, all this commedia dell’ arte caper. Never mind ‘learn your lines and don’t bump into the furniture’… The furniture is for the most part imaginary; and it seems to be ok to bump into it as long as there are sound effects and falling over. What you're not allowed to do is walk through it.

We’ve got knots and lazzi, all’improviso and disassembling, miming the space and all manner of Italian sounding archetypes that according to the Director died out over 200 years ago but which we’re expected to use as the basis for our characterisations because some elderly, foreign clown called Fava says they’re important. Bow three times. More about him later.

What was most interesting was watching the Director demonstrate the axis. All characters are at a different point on the axis, i.e. where x and y intersect. It’s more complex than this but basically the lower status characters are on a low axis with bendy legs and comedy walks; and the heroic ones are on a higher axis, more upright and serious. How you move in the horizontal plane is equally important. Every part of your body has to express something about your character. I tell you, it’s no place for anyone with a lazy disposition.

We’re all living together in a big old house split into apartments. I’m sharing with my dear friend and surrogate brother Basso. Across the corridor is Bones. Upstairs are Sax Chick (another old and treasured friend), Fiddle Boy and Awol (so called because he’s skipping the first week of rehearsals as he’s working in BANKOK?? If he wanted a better pseudonym, he should have been here on day 1). The Dog is loving it, he gets to hang out with a pack the whole time. Work, home, pub; and there are foxes in the park round the corner. Brilliant!

Favourite moment of the day: Basso’s face as I came into the kitchen this morning wearing a towel and handed him a pair of surgical gloves with the words: “Mate, I wonder if you’d do me a huge favour…”

True Friendship. Priceless.