Saturday, 28 May 2011

Greetings From The Haute Vienne To Tamil Nadu


I'd like to welcome Sri of Chennai to my blog. I like that I have an international readership. He introduced himself by way of a comment on my post "Thank Goodness For Friends". He appears to work for a scaffolding company, so if anyone is building in the Tamil Nadu area, check out his site:


Check out what Paul is doing to the wall in my courtyard:

This is the party wall between my courtyard and the garage/storage area next door that belongs to an unspecified woman in Montpelier. At some point I plan to make contact and charm her into selling me the garage, which I will turn into a walled garden.

There has been a lot of debate amongst friends as to whether this opening, which used to contain a saggy old chipboard cupboard, is in fact a well or a bread oven. I have asked Paul to retain the curve of the top rather than just concrete the whole thing over. One thing's for sure. It's not going to be a bloody barbecue, which is what Aussie John is lobbying hard for. Erm, hello?? I don't even eat meat! I love barbecues. Just not at my house.

This is what it looks like from Mme. Montpellier's side. She ought to feel very kindly towards me as she is getting her side of the wall fixed for free.

FINALLY: All acro props used in this photo shoot are the builders own. If I was building a skyscraper in Southern India, I would definitely use Sri at Chennai Scaffolding.

Have a good weekend y'all.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

MARLENE: Matters Sartorial & Theatrical

The suit is finished. It is a triumph. I confess I prefer it without the jacket, which has turned out a little boxy, but a triumph none-the-less. However, all pales into insignificance beside the Marlene dress, and the COAT.

I've been forced to capitalise the COAT because nothing else will convey the immense scale of this extraordinary garment. It's worthy of a programme biog in its own right. White (imitation) fur, high collar, full length with a train so long Parksy has to walk a full 10 feet to turn it round. She manages to bully it into submission for three numbers then she loses it and you get the full effect of the dress.

"Don't tell me I got a great voice. On the contrary, I sound like a duck shoot on a salt marsh in Siberia. Why do you think I wear the dress? So they forget the voice!"

Apparently she was forced to adopt undergarments for the London shows at the Café de Paris because it was thought that the royal family might attend. How times have changed.

In the final scene, as we make our slow, dignified exit, she turns to me and says:

"OK sweetheart, let's see if we can fool them one more time..."

We pass out of sight of the audience then run hell for leather for the quick change area, shedding shoes and garments as we go. Christ knows how, but by the time the announcer's said:

"Mesdames et messieurs...Ladies and Gentlemen... Ce moment que vous attendiez... the moment that you've all been waiting for.. Mademoiselle Marlene Dietrich!"

there has been a miraculous transformation. She's in that get-up and I'm safely tucked away in trumpet corner in my white tie and tails (a big nod to 'Morocco') giving it plenty of grandioso on the intro to La Vie En Rose.

Theatrical magic.

At least the invited audience that came to last night's dress rehearsal thought so. Let's see what the good folk tonight think, who will have parted with their money for the privilege.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Meanwhile Back In The Haute Vienne...

Paul has been busy. The downstairs is now unpartitioned:

The cupboard in the corner that used to house the loo has gone. No more embarrassing audio overshares from the downstairs toilet, on the subject of which, I am going to digress for a wee moment.

Do you remember the post about the open sewer running through my house? Well, Christophe-le-Plombier's dear boss sent me his bill.


Now I greatly appreciate the speed with which Christophe came to my aid, and the toilet, for the month or so it was in situe, was a joy to use. However... call me crazy, but I feel that €500 for replacing a bit of pipe and putting in a new loo is a little on the steep side. The loo alone cost nearly €150. It's a thing of beauty, but in my impoverished state, I'd have been perfectly happy with a budget bog from Mr. Bricolage. I email M. Carreau and make this point, also asking him to give me a breakdown on Christophe's hourly rate and the number of hours he worked. 6 apparently. At €40 per hour. I shall not be using them again.

The lovely loo is being moved upstairs to the bathroom, where Paul has discovered a fireplace. Like you do.

Isn't it fabulous? Trouble is, it interferes with the layout for the bathroom. The options as Paul sees them are to change the layout of the bathroom, or accommodate the fireplace within the bathroom, which may involve rebuilding the side of the fireplace. I'm not sure. How can I be? I need to be there, to look at it and scratch my chin aimlessly for a few hours. I need to contemplate a corner bath, decide whether I really hate them as much as I think I do (with apologies to my brothers Leo and Giles in whose corner baths I have spent many a contemplative hour) and think whether I'm prepared to sacrifice the 170 cm bath I've already spent €120 on...

Suggestions gratefully received...

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Rehearsals Week Two And A Half: THE SUIT

I promised an update on the suit. It's amazing. Ossie Clark eat your flipping heart out.

OK here's the thing: Imagine an intricate paisley pattern on a fabric that wouldn't look out of place on a sofa. I'm not really selling it, am I? Bear with me. Then imagine this fabric in a suit so beautifully cut it makes you want to weep. Jennie, our wardrobe mistress is a genius. Her pattern matching skills are second to none. She's even been considerate enough to avoid placing the more... erm... vulvaic elements of the pattern in my groin area.

The jacket is long-line double breasted but fitted, the trousers are high-waisted and boot cut (flares are so much more flattering when given a modern twist) and the waistcoat is delightfully trim. OMG, happy? I think this is possibly the most fabulous costume I have ever had in my entire stage career. And so perfectly apt! I scream 1970s when I make my entrance. Not literally of course. That would be silly and anyway it's not in the script.

Vivian, my character, is a writer. She has her own career, is successful, articulate, yet she chooses to drop everything to come and be with this capricious old bag who is twice her age and treats her like a servant. Yesterday in rehearsals we were finding the graph of how she comes to recognise this but actually doesn't care. Marlene says:

I ask all the time favours from loving slaves

Vivian is a loving slave, but there's more to it than that. Marlene needs someone like her, she can't have strangers in the dressing room but she doesn't suffer fools. Vivian's role in Marlene's life jumps between protegée and dogsbody, but she never knows which she is at any given moment.

Vivian is an amalgam of various female personal assistants Marlene had in her life. Marlene collects writers and intellectuals, and the assistants fit into these categories. Vivian aspires to becoming a permanent fixture in the mould of Ginette Vachon, a Canadian writer and sometime olympic champion who was Marlene's 'companion' for quite some time. She's even prepared to give up her work, abandon her new play that is due to open on Broadway in 6 months.

What kind of person would do that? More importantly, how compelling must Marlene be to inspire that kind of love and devotion from a woman half her age?

Damn I love my job!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Rehearsals Week Two And A Half

It has just occurred to me that I have posted nothing about how rehearsals are going since my somewhat melodramatic post on the weekend terrors a week and a half ago. For those of you unfamiliar with actors, I'd just like to point out that it was an exercise in exorcism. Not to be taken entirely seriously.

For the record: It's not disaster, I've been rather well cast in the role, my American accent is perfectly fine and as for my portrayal of an intellectual lesbian writer... Come and see the show. Leave your expectations at the door. I'm not wearing dungarees and sensible shoes. In fact, I'll update you on the suit situation when I've had my costume fitting today.

So given that I'm not (and never was) about to be fired, what else has been happening in rehearsals?

We are starting to pull a story from the words on the page and bring it to life. Lucky that really, given that we open a week tomorrow! We are at that lovely stage in rehearsals where we know who we are, what we are doing and why we are doing it and can just get on with the business of communicating and reacting.

The music is starting to sound like... well... music, as opposed to a cacophony of wrong notes interspersed with "fuck","sorry" and "bollocks!". That's a very myopic view, obviously. Richard NEVER makes an unintentional mistake and whatever Rebecca plays sounds gorgeous to me, but I'm in awe of anyone who can make a pleasing sound from a wooden box and 4 lengths of cat gut. However, we are starting to sound like a band. Which given that there are only three of us is a testament to our skill and Richard's clever arrangements.

I love love love the trumpet parts, which are at times subtle and at times 'poco grandioso', which in the musical world is Italian for playing loudly and showing off quite a bit. A lot of the 'poco grandioso' sections are quite high and they need to soar. I'm practising my 'whisper tones'. This is an exercise where you blow so gently that the metal only just vibrates creating a sound not unlike a glass vibrating when you run your wet finger round the rim. It's a very good exercise for building stamina and high notes. So says Wynton Marsalis. If he's wrong, it could end up being 'poco flatuoso'

Meanwhile, on stage, Parksy is giving it the full-on Marlene. Since my last post we've been joined by Bev the choreographer and between them they have brought Marlene's last concert to life. Not that I have much time to pay too much attention. I have to concentrate on the conductor. If my gaze wanders, Richard is liable to bring me off without me even realising. Quelle horreur!

On a more serious note, we had some very sad news this week. Our author, playwright Pam Gems died on May 13th. I guess that solves the question of whether or not she's coming to see our show.

I was in two minds about whether or not to point you towards the obituary in the Guardian as Lynn Gardner (affectionately referred to by some directors I know as Osama Lynn Gardner) dismisses 'Marlene' as being among Pam Gems' least convincing plays: "no more than biopics for the stage that provided star turns for star actors".

Now she tells me! And I thought it was a love story about Marlene and a woman half her age. But hey, it's a free world and one thing you've got to say about Lynn Gardner is, she calls it as she sees it. However painful it may be being on the sharp end of her pencil, you've got to respect her for that.

So: Pam Gems RIP and Lynn, if you come to Scarborough, feel free to be as brutal as you see fit. That is your job after all.

Monday, 16 May 2011


Firstly: We Rocked. Think Pink Floyd live at Pompeii, then scale down the budget and relocate to Shoreditch.

Secondly: More respect due to GG and his total fearlessness when confronted with a strumpet with a trumpet. The usual band on-stage hierarchy involves lead singers/guitar-heroes and their egos at the front, horns and backing vocalists at the back. So when GG asks me where I want to play, I'm assuming he's asking whether I want back right or back left. I'm not that bothered.

He puts me at the front. It's a new experience. And let me say, just for the record, I definitely play better at the front. Grant himself, looking like a mad professor who has just emerged from a wind tunnel, flanked by the Strumpet and on the other side Fiddler Harris*, with his equally mad hair and Byronesque bowing. Bring it on!

To be fair to the others, you simply can't put a cello on the front row. They take up too much bloody room! Ditto drummers. I think if Jari had been on the front row with her accordion she'd have been sick, keyboards are a trip hazard, and as for theremin players... they just look plain weird. Everyone is rocking out on stage and then there's this guy with a box with an aerial standing absolutely stock still with his hands a metre or so apart. He can't move. If he even breathes, he changes the pitch of the theremin. Fascinating, but a breed apart.

Thirdly: We rocked. Did I already mention that? You should have been there.

* He's a master of the art of violinnning. Not a dirty old man. Just thought I'd clear that up.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Moving House

Why do I need digs? I should've just put the little house on a lorry and brought it to Scarborough. Then I could've parked it outside the theatre and had painting parties between shows on matinee days.

NOTE TO STAFF: check width of junction before attempting turn

Monday, 9 May 2011

Seven Musicians In A Very Small Kitchen (and that's just the ones that made it today)

I'd like to take a moment to give respect to Grant Gordon, composer of 'Century':

" ambitious, experimental total theatre experience. Acoustic and electric instruments mix with samples, sound effects, archive news reel, and project specific speech interviews from witnesses of the events"

That blurb is not what inspires respect. The respect is for this:

Me: Grant, don't you think this might be a case of 'less is more'?

Grant: No, Lally. More is always more in my book. I want as much trumpet as possible.

With an attitude like that how could I fail to have an utterly fantastic weekend? Aside from the deep joy of making music with loads of mates, some old, some young new, how amazing to be working with a man, (what's more a twanger of strings!) who blatantly does not fear the mighty horn. Bring. It. On.

He has also been completely unfazed by my lack of availability for rehearsals. Mind you, having listened to the rehearsal CD non-stop for 11 hours in the car (6 hours down, 5 hours back), I probably know it better than he does himself.

Over the course of this weekend, Grant and Jari have had in their kitchen the following: Cello, electric bass, bongos (in lieu of proper kit, the ONLY concession to the neighbours), accordian, amplified acoustic guitars, fiddle, 2 keyboards, a mini cinema and of course my trumpet.

For those of you that are free, the gig is next Saturday, for one night only, at Rich Mix in Shoreditch. It'll be an amazing concert. Come if you can. If you book in advance it's only £8. If you're a last minute Lionel, it'll be £11 on the door. I was blown away by what we did today. I'm almost sorry I'm in it, as it means I won't get to be in the audience. But you can be, follow this link:

Be there or be a triangle

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Weekend Terrors

It's all a disaster. I've been hopelessly miscast in the show. My American accent is terrible. My portrayal of an intellectual lesbian writer unconvincing and sometime today, or tomorrow, or even Monday morning, I'm going to get a call from the director (he's a nice man, he'll do his own dirty work) saying that they're really sorry but they've made a mistake and they'll pay me to the end of the week but they'd like me to leave now as my replacement will be arriving to be measured to see if she fits the fabulous Ossie Clark suit they've found on ebay for tuppence.

Can they do that? Can they only pay me til the end of the week? I reckon they can, but they'll have to bypass the equity agreement and go straight for trade misdescriptions: Your agent said you were good and you're so not. "Excuse me m'lud, this actress is blatantly not fit for purpose..."

I won't be able to pay the mortgage, the Little House will be re-possessed and will stand empty for 25 years until the xylophene protection wears off and then it will be eaten alive by capricorn beetles and woodworm.

I dreamed last night that it had a huge swimming pool and I was tying myself in knots over how to maintain it. Won't be my problem now though, will it? All my teeth are going to fall out so I can't even play the trumpet, my family friends and agent will all disown me for being useless and I will end up sad and lonely in the workhouse.

Or I could just get over myself, take the dog to the park and learn some lines. Hmmmm.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Rehearsals Week One


Having a job and all the associated joy that comes with gainful employment, to wit self respect, paying the mortgage, eating...

The staff at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. My they're a jolly bunch! People take tea breaks at the same time and make cake for each other.

The 'Marlene' team. Like them all immensely. The Musical Director I know of old. When I was in Keswick giving my Hedgehog and Fox in 'Wind In The Willows' he taught me to play poker. He's also a fine instrumentalist, composer and arranger but stuff all that. I'm hoping that this summer will see my texas hold 'em skills honed to the point where the Man in Black, the Ginger Annihilator and the Guerilla Gardener are shaking in their Corrèzian boots. Bring on the winter tournament!

Special mention for Sarah Parks who is playing Marlene and is going to be BRILLIANT! Ably supported by moi as Vivian, her manager/lover. Book your tickets now! And yes, we have to kiss. Get over yourself. Stephen Joseph Theatre

Having the third and final member of the cast in place. They have been looking for the taciturn 'Mutti' for a while now. Did I say taciturn? Perhaps 'Trappist' would be a better description. However, now we are overjoyed to be joined by the lovely Rebecca Jenkins, whom I worked with in the West End several years ago. I have managed to erase all details of that particular show from my head and replace them with memories of jolliness in Groucho. Such was the trauma of Sweeney Todd. She'll join us next week with her cello.

Ozzy Clarke Suit: As a proper American intellectual lesbian in the '70s, the designer has drawn me in an Ozzy Clarke suit. Oh yes. I'm not kidding myself that the budget of a repertory theatre in these straightened times will stretch to an original, but still... In my head, we're doing a play called 'Vivian'. I am wearing the suit and Marlene's dress comes from Primark.


The amount of practice I am going to have to do on the French Horn in order to sound half decent. When Marlene does her concert at the end of the show, I play in her band. Trumpet I was expecting. But think about the cello and the horn in glorious counterpoint and understand that I will do what it takes.

Paying £45 to get my car stereo fixed. This car has its gear box welded together and the engine is patched with polyfiller, but that little citroen has taken me from Leeds to London, to St Germain-les-Belles and back, and up to Scarborough. And now the stereo works, so bring it on!

How little work I have done on Grant Gordon's epic musical "Century" in which I am performing a week on Saturday at Rich Mix in Shoreditch. Check it out, if you fancy it, come along. If enough of you commit, I'll up the ante and do some practice, promise! ;-)

How much my boobs are hurting at the moment. Sorry if that's an over-share too far for those of you not familiar with my blogging style, but they do!! And they have been since I left France. Maybe it's psychosomatic.

How much colder here it is here in Scarborough than the Haute Vienne. I know, I know. I'm several hundred miles further north, but still... Last Friday, I had dinner at this amazing little auberge in La Porcherie, OUTDOORS as the sun went down. Sigh.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011