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.