Thursday, 22 March 2012


I'm in Thailand for two weeks. Yes, I'm checking my inbox every couple of days for offers of acting jobs, but my mind really isn't on the stage or screen and I don't have the energy to blog. In the meantime, here's a picture of a temple in Chiang Mai ...

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Last Night Nerves

Sunday afternoon saw the last performance of The Duchess of Malfi – and the last performance of any production at the Greenwich Playhouse. The final applause was loud and long. When it died down, Alice de Sousa, one half of the duo that have run the Galleon Theatre company for two decades (don’t quote me on the exact length of time) gave an emotional farewell speech.

So did I do well that last day after four weeks in the role? Actually, no, I was less confident of my performance than I had been for most of the run and several times found myself unable to focus on what I was doing. On stage in one scene I was suddenly aware that I had not performed my usual check before entering and my earphone dangled down instead of being firmly in place in my ear. Walking off a few moments later, I forgot to look back at the Cardinal and Julia – a minor point that the audience would not have noticed, but which connects to the end of the play when my character turns against his employer.

Worse was to come. Aware that actors often play tricks on each other off in the final performance, I donned a long black Cher-type wig in my role as a keeper at the madhouse. It had the desired effect of forcing Bruce (Cardinal) Jamieson, Phil Gerrard and Alex Reece (fellow keepers) to stifle laughs, but it also did what Damian Quinn (Bosola) had warned – put me off my own performance. With strands of hair flopping around my head, I could not see properly and found myself undoing the wrong straps on the mad Duke's neck, which meant his collar, not gag, came off. Putting things right took time and forced the Doctor (Barry Clarke) to ad-lib.

My apologies to Barry and the others on stage. I was lucky that none of the actors complained – most enjoyed the joke - but I learnt two important lessons. That no performance is routine, and that some nights I do not perform as well as others and on those occasions I have to focus – to work – harder than normal to bring myself back up to the level that I know I can achieve. In short, this kind of trick is not something that I will do again soon.


So, another stage in my short acting career has come to an end. Thanks to Damian, cast and crew and friends and family enjoyed a glass of champagne on the empty stage. From there we moved en masse to a Cuban restaurant for a raucous – well, without naming names, some of us were raucous, others more decorous – last supper. And then, as must always happen, in twos and threes, we got up and waved and hugged and took our leave. But this is not just a group of actors, it is a family, where many of the cast and crew have worked together in the past and are likely to do so again. I’m sure I’ll work with several – perhaps many, perhaps all – of them again.


Meanwhile, one half of a new agency turned up to see me on Saturday night. Yes, they were disappointed that I did not have more lines, and that I don’t have a Spotlight profile, but still they would like to represent me. At my convenience, could I call the other half of the agency (currently indisposed with illness) to take this further. Of course I can and will....

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Checked Out For Chekhov

To South London earlier today for an audition for a one-man show - Anton Chekhov's On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco. I'm surprised, because it is less likely that directors/producers will look for actors for such productions than actors will look for producers/directors to support them. I'm also surprised because I look nothing like a Chekhov protagonist. But this is part of a longer evening, combined with music and a one-woman play by Strindberg, put on by two director-producers who seem to want something more than or different from the usual one-person showpiece. In other words, I am definitely in the running for the part of this lecturer who has reached the end of his tether.

So, I sit with Carla and I'm-doubly-embarrassed-because-I-not-only-got-her-nationality-wrong-but-forgot-her-name and discuss my acting career, Chekhov and the production before getting up to read (thankfully they did not expect me to have learnt the lines by heart) the two sections they sent me. My first rendering of the opening is reasonable, but in a voice barely audible in the front row. I do it again, this time projecting; it may not be great acting, but it shows, I think, that I understand the play and the character. Then it's time to sit down again and discuss the character of the narrator and the lines and what appears to be a conflicting message early in the piece.

It feels good to be relaxed and opening up the play in this way. I like both interlocutors and as I walk away I have the impression they both liked me. But I was only the first actor they have seen and I would be surprised if they chose me. Still, every audition is a good experience and it's always a pleasant feeling when someone asks to see you. (In contrast with last night when the agent who had promised to turn up to see me in The Duchess failed to appear....)

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

One in the Hole

Last Friday I get a call for a commercial for Paddy Power. One of a roomful of potential scientists, I fill in the application form and wait, am photographed, then told to go downstairs and wait before being pulled into a room with another candidate. In turn we face the camera and state our names, give our profiles and then smirk at the camera while we poke a finger through a hole the other makes with his fingers. I'm confused by the expression and shape of the ring we have to make, while Other Candidate - a short, bespectacled figure with a suitably eccentric appearance - seems to know exactly what he is doing. Within three minutes we are released. Well, that was a waste of time, I tell myself, annoyed that I was not focused and did not perform as well as I should, I perfunctorily say goodbye to Other Candidate and head for home.

Monday lunchtime a message comes through, can I do the commercial tomorrow? I pick myself up off the mental floor. Yes, of course I can. I'm nervous about the fact that I have The Duchess in the evening, but on Friday's form I informed them that I needed to be finished by 5pm, so they have no excuse if I have to leave. Early that evening I tuck myself up in bed (the Other Half is visiting his parents) and the next morning at 5 I groggily get up, make tea, shave and shower in time for the 6am car to Black Island studios in west London.

Although the script that came through to me specified only two scientists, there are five other men in the waiting room, four scientists and one a footballer. One of the scientists is Other Candidate, Andy Bainbridge. There are also several women brought in as pole-dancer and sex bombs. Much talk ensues about what exactly the script tells us and what our roles are and we wonder why three of the scientists did not go through the same call as Andy as I did. None of us are sure what roles we each have.

All becomes clear when we are called into costume, where we pull on white chemical protection suits. Andy and I are the focus of the advert, standing by a machine from which emerges a mysterious metallic ring. Andy watches and reacts as I poke one or two fingers into the ring. In the laboratory behind us, beautiful women parade past stern scientists while in the background a pole-dancer performs in front of a footballer practising his skills in a dog protection collar. (Trust me, this concoction will make sense, once it has been cut and pulled through CGI.)

The morning passes, as such mornings do, with much hanging around and waiting. The star of the show - the ring - requires much work to ensure that it rises smoothly into the air (propelled not by machinery but by a stagehand in an uncomfortable position) surrounded by appropriate clouds (of dry ice continually replenished by two other stagehands juggling boiling water and freezing ice). Andy and I stand and repeat our gestures with various emphases and speeds. Directors and producers huddle by the screen, discuss and come forward with - occasionally conflicting - instructions. Behind us, Aaron bounces his ball, Annabelle gyrates on her pole and Nathalie and companions walk an endless conveyor of exotic femininity.

The ring might be the star, but Andy and I definitely have second-billing. Luck brought us together - the fact that we were taken together in the casting call matched us as a perfect pair. With a foot in height difference between us, with my alien-type bald head and his nerdy glasses and expression, we are the epitome of eccentric researchers. We looked good together and with more luck someone might see us and use us again.

Lunch - a good variety and filling was welcome - and by two thirty we were back on the set for close-ups of fingers and faces and sexy walks. By three-thirty we were finished and I was free to make my way to Greenwich, pleased to have made and starred in my first commercial. Online, not television, and a three-figure, not four-figure payment. That doesn't matter: it's real acting and real money; it's time to remove "would-be" from the heading of this blog...

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Morag Not Madam

There I stand, grim-faced, besuited and earplugged, at the entrance to the theatre as the door opens and the audience flood slowly in; in the far corners lurk the other two Cardinal's Men. Our role is to induce the sinister atmosphere of violence and surveillance that pervades the court of The Duchess of Malfi.

We have been warned that the theatre may be full. Seats facing the stage and stage right are quickly occupied. My job is to keep the last two rows stage left free for latecomers, who are allowed to sneak in at the end of scene one. Occasionally a group or couple tries to squeeze past me. I gently advise them that the seats are reserved and indicate the other side of the stage. They accept the restriction and move on.

Except for two people in their fifties. "Why are you being so hostile?" is their first question and the conversation goes downhill from there. I explain that the seats are reserved for latecomers. They consider that point irrelevant. "We have paid and have the right to sit anywhere." Except these seats, I say. "We need to sit near the exit. We come to this theatre often and we know from experience that we may walk out in the middle." I do not comment on whether coming back to a place where one has been frequently disappointed is a good use of one's time. "We have mobility issues." And so on. Usually the man talks, but sometimes the woman contributes. I say one thing and am told that I have said something different. I do not bother to suggest that I have may have been accidentally or deliberately misheard. It is clear that whatever I say, I will be in the wrong.

I recognise the type. Middle-aged, angry, aggressive, convinced that they are always right and the world is always against them; unhappy people whose hours, days and lives brim over with resentment. Talking to the female half, I begin a sentence, "I'm sorry, madam", to be interrupted in outrage "Don't call me Madam!" I'm sorry, I say, what would you like me to call you? Confusion briefly covers her face as she realises she has not been insulted, as she would dearly love to be. "Morag," she says quietly.

"I'm sorry, Morag," I am about to say, when Jo, our stage manager, appears, summoned by the competent Alex. Jo looks round the auditorium and agrees that the reserved rows can now be freed. Morag and her aggrieved companion plump themselves down in the seats next to me. A few minutes later the lights go down, the metaphorical curtain goes up and Antonio enters to pay his respects to the dead Duke. I have great pleasure a few minutes later in shouting, just above Morag's man "The Cardinal of Aragon!", and we are into the performance.

Later that evening, we lose four members of the audience. One young woman, upset at the violence of the execution scene, runs out, followed by her companion. And in the madness scene, out of the corner of my eye, I catch a movement. It is Morag-and-man heading for the exit. No doubt they will soon find someone or something else on which to vent their anger and to blame the unhappiness that constantly whirls around them.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

What next?

We're into the second half of the run of The Duchess of Malfi and I'm wondering when, or even if, I will get my next part. This is the first time since I started looking for acting work last December that I have not been involved in a play or film. Suddenly, it seems the jobs have dried up.

Without an agent, getting work involves three stages: (i) hearing about a part and applying for an audition; (ii) being called in for the audition; and (iii) being offered the part. At the moment I am only registered on Casting Call Pro, so they are the only source of information. At the beginning of the year many parts came through the system for my gender and age and I applied for a number of auditions.

I don't usually get to stage ii. In most cases, I suspect, it's because I have too little experience and / or my appearance is too quirky or sinister. In the last two months I have been called for audition only three times. Once was for a student film about an aging rock star; having turned up at the Soho pub where the audition was held and read the emotionally immature script, I was relieved not to be offered the part. The other two calls - for an aging con in a playscript and a devious character in a student film - attracted me and when I gave what I thought were excellent readings, I was convinced I would at least be called back, but in both cases it went no further.

I know, I know... Casting is not just a question of talent, but the overall concept of the production, and if you don't fit the director's vision, you won't be chosen. But it's still annoying to be rejected.

(I should also acknowledge that directors sometimes contact me directly. Ten days ago I was offered a small part in an unfunded slasher film. I don't mind a bit of blood and gore, but it has to have some wit and intelligence and maybe even an underlying message. The script I was sent was pedestrian and predictable, so I made my excuses and wished them luck...)

I'm not complaining. Since I started seriously looking for work less than four months ago, I have been given three parts in short films and two stage roles. I ought not to be surprised if I don't get offered work for another four months - and the fact that I will be out of London for a month won't help me. But I'm greedy for attention. I want to go back on that stage or on front of those cameras and stretch myself even more. Maybe you, dear reader, have something to offer me?

Monday, 5 March 2012

SE10, not SE1

Oh yes, my friend says, We're coming to see you in the Duchess of Malfi. We've got tickets booked for April.

Er... there's a problem. Our run of the Duchess of Malfi finishes on 18th March. You've booked to see another production in the Old Vic. How about comparing productions and coming to see me in Greenwich as well?

Embarrassed silence. Well, maybe I'll bump into them near Waterloo...

Saturday, 3 March 2012

On and On and On and On

Nearing the end of the second week of the run, I have settled into my evening routine. At five-thirty I walk out to the bus stop. The five minute ride gives me enough time to go upstairs, find a seat and decide whether or not to open the book I have brought with me (currently Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped) before coming back down into the streets where I become one of hundreds and thousands of human rats descending into the underground to sweep through passages and up and down stairs and escalators and on and off trains. Fifteen minutes later I emerge at London Bridge, to be caught up in other crowds criss-crossing the passageway under Platforms 1 to 6, each hurrying to their destination, subsconsciously calculating the quickest route from point to point without bumping into everyone else doing the same.

I usually arrive early at the theatre, which leaves time to sort out costumes, make and drink tea, greet fellow thespians and crew, chat about this, that and nothing, hearing and watching each individual's eccentric physical and voice exercises as they gradually shifting into character. The five-minute call has us all scurrying to empty our bladders before beginners' positions, leaving we three Cardinal's Men in an empty auditorium, Alex performing his slow-motion martial arts movements, Phil staring into space and I repressing the urge to dance to the jaunty pre-curtain music.

In come the audience, the vanguard inevitably slow and grey-haired. They briefly notice me looming above them before they choose a seat and settle down glasses in hand. There is conversation and fiddling with mobiles for a few minutes until the lights darken, the opening music begins and Antonio (Darren Stamford) enters. I bark out my announcements ("The Cardinal of Aragon" etc) at the appropriate cue, come off-stage briefly, return a few minutes later, and then I'm off for twenty minutes.

Sitting in the office with Phil and Alex, occasionally interrupted by other players as they deposit or pick up props, we chat desultorily, but are more often silent. I sometimes read and sometimes do the Metro or Standard sudoku. Phil has taken to leafing through copies of Spotlight, looking for actors he has worked with, while Alex stares into space.

The longer the production goes on, the more it seems we are silent off-stage. Occasionally there are whispers - as last night when Antonio had problems surreptitiously dropping the letter that Bosola picks up, or when another gaffe, hopefully unnoticed by the audience, occurs - but usually we sit or stand motionless until our cue approaches and we slowly and more or less silently glide into position. In my own case, I am hovering between reality and fiction, not quite myself and not quite the character I am about to play. It keeps me both calm and alert, listening not just for my cue, but the story as it develops.

At the end of the first act, I stride onto the empty stage and take my time to look round the auditorium, briefly staring into the eyes of each audience member before walking off without comment. Then I join the rest of the cast hiding in the office as the auditorium is cleared to allow changes of set and costume. It's a leisurely break - we are all prepared in advance - with time to make coffee and tea and once again to head to the water-closets before we are secluded in our positions for the second half.

The conclusion of the play is much darker and stronger than the opening. It also gives me much less free time. My first appearance is as a masked executioner in the shadows, revealing the wax figure of Antonio and murdered child. Shortly afterwards, we three faceless figures slide silently onto the stage, prepared to execute the Duchess and her maid. It's a slow powerful scene, from which we recover by our change into the comic madhouse keepers. Then it is back to the Cardinal's Men presenting a scary, authoritarian backdrop to the action. Finally we return to the stage for the applause - which always seems genuine - before the rush to get changed and leave for home. Within quarter of an hour most of us have changed and headed out of the door. Two or three times a week some of us gather in the Novotel bar (where the service is abysmally slow), but more often it's the train back to London Bridge and the bus all the way home.

At the end of the day, although my body is tired, my brain is alert and I need an hour in front of the television to numb it to sleep. By half-past twelve or one o'clock, I've crawled in beside the Other Half and almost immediately I'm asleep, pleased with another good day.