Sunday, 29 July 2012

Time to rest

It went well, the final day of Loss. We had our biggest audiences and our best performances. Genuine fulsome praise was forthcoming, particularly for Barry Clarke and Robin Holden, who were excellent in their roles. (Yes, the praise was genuine; we're actors and we know when other people are putting on a performance and when they are not.)

That doesn't mean that everything went perfectly. There were problems with lights. The theatre wasn't full. My own performance was better than last time but nowhere as good as it should be. There were no reviewers. The agents who had said they would turn up did not do so. The candles I had to light on stage were determined not to be lit. And so on and so on. But yesterday confirmed that these four short plays are a good base for future productions and we would be betraying our own talents if we did not take them further in one form or another.

That will not be in the immediate future. I'm in need of a rest from things theatrical and I expect to spend August on the clear-out of my flat that I have been promising myself for the last four years. Of course I will still audition for roles and there is some work I have to do on my website and this blog (the heading announcing Loss will go in the next couple of days), but for the next few weeks my posts are more likely to be telegraphic than narrative.

In the meantime, profuse thanks to Barry, Robin, Chris Annus and Emma King-Fowler, all of whose enthusiasm for and participation in this project helped me find depths in my writing and acting that I did not know existed. I genuinely (that word again, but it's an important one) hope to work with you all again.

Friday, 27 July 2012

The end is nigh

Less than twenty-four hours to our final performances. We're not sold out, but we are more than 50 percent full. If you've missed us so far, come and see us tomorrow afternoon. A discount if you mention this blog... For details click the poster on the right.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Spotlight on my career

It's a truism in acting that you'll get nowhere without an agent. (It's also a truism that you may also get nowhere with an agent, but the chances of getting somewhere with one are somewhat better than without one.)

To get an agent you don't necessarily need talent. It's enough to have a Look that the agent can sell. And as well as a Look, many agents expect Spotlight membership, because Spotlight membership confirms that you have some history in the profession.

I'm not 100% certain what Spotlight is, apart from a website and - I believe - a printed book listing all its registered actors. To get onto Spotlight you need four professional engagements with speaking parts.

I have been contacting agents for almost a year and for most have that time have been ignored. In recent weeks, however, interest has grown. Agent A has met me briefly, corresponded regularly and told me that they want me as soon as I appear on Spotlight. Agent B turned up at the Lord Stanley on Saturday night, saw my dreadul performance in Angel and told me he wanted to sign me immediately I got on Spotlight - and he would help my application in ways by retroactively casting me in a film.

I was intrigued but not impressed. Agent B talked far too good a talk. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, but 48 hours later a little trawling through the internet confirmed my suspicion that Agent B had form in good talk and poor delivery.

Agent B and I parted company, but he and Agent A were a stimulus to my applying for Spotlight yesterday. I went through the online form listed my four professional engagements (professional in the sense of [a] a speaking part, [b] being paid, [c] a regular theatrical venue). Within a few hours I received a note that my application had been rejected. I was not Amused. I emailed back, politely, asking for an explanation. I am now waiting, patiently, for the explanation to come.

I am a little annoyed, because as far as I am concerned, I am working professionally - to the extent of receiving payment and declaring income to the Inland Revenue. But if Spotlight defines professional by 
West End / BBC / Disney, I am caught in the proverbial Catch-22: unable to get work without Spotlight membership, and unable to get Spotlight membership without their definition of work.

Ah well. Time for my next task: applying for Equity membership. Let's see if they have similarly impossible demands.

Three hours later, we have an update
It was, it appears, a glitch in the system. After some emails to and fro, Spotlight has now confirmed they will accept and process my membership. The West End, BBC and Disney, get out the red carpet, because here I come...

Monday, 23 July 2012


I blanked several times on Saturday during my first two performances of Angel. And when I think back on the day my mind goes blank again. Not because I have forgotten how the day went, but because my emotions are mixed - pride, relief, anger. excitement - and my usual response to any strong emotion is to bury it deep in my psyche. Emotions are essential on stage, but in real life they get in the way. They use up energy and make you think, do and say things that you later regret. Good emotions seldom last and bad emotions hurt; it's better to put them aside and focus on and enjoy the intellectual side of life.

Let me lay the pop psychology aside and turn to what actually happened on Saturday. The good news is that we all, actors, director and assistant turned up when expected. Performances started more or less on time and were completed without major disaster. The audiences for all six shows were small but appreciative. We made money and are on course to cover our costs. An agent saw me perform and told me he wants me on his books.

The bad news is that all the performances could have been better - and each of us performed less well in the second show than in the first. The silver lining is that each was aware of his own faults and  hyper-critical of his own performance. The saving grace is that the audiences on the whole liked us - and not just friends who would naturally be supportive.

I was actually pleased with my first performance - despite the fact that at one point I had to say "I'm terribly sorry, I've blanked" and wait for Emma to prompt me. Angel is a very intense work and I thought I balanced well the relief and the tension, the lighter and the darker moments. I felt the emotions more keenly than I ever had in rehearsal and I thought my expressions and movements clean and effective. After my bow, however, I managed to completely destroy the good impression I had given. Idiot that I am - my left leg is still sore after hours of my right foot kicking it - instead of going off stage at that moment, my mind blanked again and I switched into producer mode, shifting furniture around on set (that's Angel in the picture) while the audience sat wondering whether the show had finished. (My anger with myself returns as I write this...)

My second performance was a disaster. I had spent eleven hours in various modes - actor, tech, stage manager, front of house, friend, writer - and was tired and headachy. Just before curtain up Emma gave me the notes from my first appearance and went on and on and on with more comments than she had ever given after any rehearsal, giving me the impression that what I - and the audience I had talked to afterwards - had thought was a relative success, was a failure. I tried to take in what she was saying  but couldn't focused. Then, as I was waiting in the wings, front of house told me that the agents who were there to see me weren't in the audience and he couldn't find them, so, in the costume of a priest, I had to go and find them myself. My mood well and truly deflated, it was not surprising that the performance I then gave was flat, lifeless, slow and inappropriate. At the end I came off the stage and swore angrily at myself and the whole production. Again, there was a silver lining - the audience seemed to like it and the agent told me that if I could fulfil certain conditions, he would hire me immediately - but I know very well that my acting in those 40 minutes was close to appalling.

It was our own fault. By taking over the theatre for the day and putting on so many performances, we - particularly I, as producer, actor, front of house - had taken on too much, which meant that our core task of acting suffered.

Yet despite all the glitches I am convinced that we produced a series of one-man plays which are absorbing and deserve to be seen again. Barry Clarke is thoughtful and moving in Ben and Joe's and any criticism he and I might have of his performances on Saturday were minor and rightly unnoticed by the audience. Chris Annus recognises that A Sense of Loss requires more work to bring out the full extent of its subtle emotions. And I know from experience that I can move Angel from being a fair-to-good performance to one which truly grips the audience. This is not the end of these plays but the beginning.

Which means that now that I have had time to rest, my residual emotion is optimism. Bookings for next Saturday, our final performances, including Robin Holden in Los Feliz (who, I wrote earlier on this blog, is excellent) are looking good. We started not badly. I think we're going to do very well. Come see for yourselves.

Saturday, 21 July 2012


Three of my plays are premiering today. Will there be heaving crowds, flashing paparazzi and loud cheers? Or just heaving, flashing and jeers?

Friday, 20 July 2012

Not much, too much

A short post today, because there is not much to report. I have been rehearsing Angel at home, at director Emma's home, and in my head as I walk the streets on various errands. I have also spent time at the Lord Stanley with Chris Annus on his rehearsal of A Sense of Loss. This morning I will be back at the theatre for two dress rehearsals of Angel and this afternoon I will finish printing the programmes and tickets for tomorrow's all day productions: two runs each of A Sense of Loss, Angel and Ben and Joe's. In other words, it's all routine and nothing newsworthy.

At the same time, not much is too much. I have had little time to rest and do all the other things that make life enjoyable and interesting - in particular the bookselling business is at a standstill, with sales low and stacks of volumes surrounding me waiting to be catalogued (not quite as many as in the picture). I may be able to act and run a part-time business, but producing even a small event like Loss demands too much time and the business suffers...

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

I've been here before

Yesterday's rehearsal of Angel with Emma King-Farlow was dreadful. Disastrous. Disturbing. Distressful. Diswhatever.

Emma is, of course, far too polite and patient to tell me so directly, but the notes she gave made it pretty clear that I was a long way from perfection - in fact I was so far away from perfection that I'd be lucky to get there some time next year. I just wasn't in the role. The emotions I was portraying were either absent or false. The words kept disappearing. I made long pauses, thinking I was making long dramatic pauses, when all I was doing was making Emma wonder what I was doing. And so on.

I have excuses, of course. We were rehearsing in Emma's living-room and, having had one brief rehearsal in the theatre space, it didn't feel right. I leapt one second from intellectual discussion of the piece directly into character two-thirds through the play without any build up. I was tired because I haven't been having much sleep because several other things are taking up my attention this week, preventing me from devoting as much time as I should to rehearsing this play. And so on.

They're all excuses, of course. None of them should stop me from being professional, both learning the part properly and performing it adequately. The only silver lining I see is that I have been in this state of unhappiness before, particularly during rehearsals for The Lower Depths. So my performance may still be all right on the night (technically, speaking, the late afternoon). But I suggest that when you come see, have  flowers in your right hand and rotten tomatoes in your left and see which you want to throw at me.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Teary Pride

The first performance of Los Feliz, acted by Robin Holden, took place on Saturday at the Lord Stanley in Camden. It's set in a diner in L A, where the curtain rises on a man half-way through his hamburger. A conversation begins with a man at another table, ostensibly about the freeway system in Los Angeles, but it soon moves onto the diner's personal life. First we learn  he is divorced and no longer sees his young daughter, then we hear the story he has to tell about a woman he recently met.

It's a short piece, lasting no more than 30 minutes, with little action except the diner finishing his meal and pouring himself coffee, but it had me gripped from beginning to end. As the story unfolds, we see deeper into the diner's character and his growing need for the woman he meets. Robin's portrayal of the man's conflicted emotions as the relationship develops is masterly, from his almost astonished smile as he glimpses the possibility of love to the confusion and anger that overcome him when complications arise. We do not necessarily like this man - he does not always like himself - but because he opens his heart, we cannot help but empathise with him. And when an actor reveals so much of a character, of his hopes and his longing and fears, my eyes inevitably water.

I know, I know, I'm biased. I wrote the piece. I know the story backwards. But Robin, under Emma King-Farlow's direction, has both given the character life and more depth than I was aware of when I wrote the original story. He - and she - have made me proud to have created him. Thank you both for what you have done. I seriously recommend that if you are in London, you come and see him in Camden on 28th July. If you are not impressed, I'll refund your ticket. (Find time and details by clicking the poster at the top of the column on the right.)

Picture is of models, not Robin or Emma

Friday, 13 July 2012

One Year On

"What makes a man, whose last appearance on the stage was as a sixteen year old, his Private Smith in The Long and The Short and The Tall a lifeless, motionless mannequin, decide at the age of 58-and-a-half that he wants to be an actor?"

That was the question I asked in the first paragraph in the first post on this blog, exactly one year ago. Re-reading the rest of the post, I am not particularly impressed by my answer. Like a lot of what I write, it comes across well on a single reading, but it doesn't hold up under close examination. I claimed, for instance, that I was motivated more by curiosity (can I do this?) than vanity (I want everyone to see how good I am), but when I look again at such lines as

"I do not want people to look at me and remember my name and make me a Celebrity; I want people to see or hear me and to forget who I am, while they are taken to a place that they did not know existed, that opens windows in their minds."

it is clear that my modesty is false and I do indeed want people to see how wonderful I am.

Vanity aside, how far have I got? Well, I have made three stage appearances. The first, as Charles the Wrestler in As You Like It, is best forgotten. The second, as one of a trio of unpleasant and mostly silent heavies in The Duchess of Malfi was fun but neither challenge to nor proof of my acting abilities. The third, Luka in The Lower Depths convinced me that I have some acting ability - although almost certainly less than I think I have.

I have a fourth appearance upcoming - as the Priest in a play which I myself have written (what more proof of vanity do I need?) - but after that nothing. Auditions have been few and far between and when they have come up, have not led to being cast.

A small part of me thinks I should stop now. I have proved to myself that I can act. But at nearly sixty years old, it is highly unlikely that I am ever going to be able to make acting a career. The effort I put into looking for work is always going to be much greater than the reward of low-paid or no-paid stage or screen roles. There are other things I could be doing with my life - spending more time at my online book business, clearing out the cupboards in my flat that have been waiting for my attention for the last four years, studying the languages I still have an interest in, joining the Ramblers Association, and other intellectually profitable activities.

But of course I can't stop now. There's always the hope - almost as futile a hope of winning the lottery - that my next stage appearance will be the one that gets me national attention, an agent and a well-paid role in a play or a film. So for at least another year I'll update my profile on Casting Call Pro (I might even get onto Spotlight) and write this blog and apply for auditions and tweet my professional life in the hope that Cameron Mackintosh or Danny Boyle follows me and you, dear reader, if you have nothing else to do, can accompany me on this meandering journey.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Intelligent Farce

Last night to the Vaudeville Theatre to see Joe Orton's What The Butler Saw. It's a production that has received mixed reviews, with the better-known press criticising it for being too high-octane throughout.

That's not a judgement I share. This farce was perfectly pitched and the high energy appropriate to a world in which everyone who is sane is thought to be mad and those who are mad are the only ones deemed to be sane. From the moment Dr Prentice (Tim McInnerny) persuades prospective secretary Geraldine Barclay (Georgia Moffett) to take off her clothes to the denoument in which - no, I won't spoil it - through various cross-dressings, very tasteful male nudity (Nick Hendrix) and less tasteful references to white golliwogs and Sir Winston Churchill, the laughs never stop, propelled either by Orton's masterful use of language or the physical comedy. The only aspect of the production that grated was the gratuitous display of rubber manhood which not only revealed what would have been funny if it had been kept hidden, but which was so obviously not the manhood of steel that it was supposed to portray.

So why hasn't this play been more successful? (Once again it was a production that the Other Half and I saw on the cheap rather than at full price as the producers tried to fill the theatre.) I partly blame the reviews - which I put down to the fact that critics get into the habit of watching plays from a particular angle and often review what they expect to see rather than what they do see.

But some shows survive the worst of reviews - Wicked is a case in point - and I suspect that a large part of the problem is that Orton, for all his physical comedy and running about, is too intelligent a playwright for the average citizen in the 2010s. The ideas that he throws out in almost all his plays, challenging the prejudices and preconceptions of his age, particularly around sex and hypocrisy, come so thick and fast that you need to listen carefully to understand them. (This is the point at which I should come up with several examples of the jokes but I do not have a copy of the text. Sincere apologies.) Orton combines both broad farce, which we British from Brian Rix to Little Britain do very well, with intelligence, which we seem to find more difficult to bring into comedy. Compare the US, where they have limited success with farce, but where intelligent comedy, at least on television - think Frasier and The Big Bang Theory - is much more common.

I'm thinking aloud, and maybe thinking erroneously. I'd be interested to hear others' opinions on comedy and why Orton is not as well appreciated as he should be.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Not Liam

As I expected, I got an email from yesterday's producers saying how wonderful I was (I'm paraphrasing) but they had someone else who fitted the director's vision better. Who I expect is called Liam. Because that was what they called me in the email. I'm assuming it's not Liam Neeson...

Monday, 9 July 2012

Expletive Deleted

Auditions are hard to come by. Especially when you're in a current or future production and your schedule doesn't allow you to apply for the part that you just know you're perfect for. Or when you're out of London for two weeks and that same part - only now with a £2,000+ pay tag because it's for commercial with worldwide buyout - comes up while you are watching a red squirrel play on the banks of Loch Awe.

So when a part does come up, and when the production company are interested enough in you to rejig their audition time to fit you in, of course you're keen to get it. In normal circumstances. Then, as the audition day draws near and you tell yourself that you really ought to learn a little more about the play and character you've put yourself up for, and you discover that the play is Sarah Kane's Cleansed and your role is that of Tinker who is, to put it mildly, a bit of a nutcase and a sadist who spends most of the play torturing, mutilating and raping most of the other characters, not to mention spouting frequent expletives, and you wonder whether this is the part for you. Is this violence and degradation for the sake of, as most reviewers assumed when it was premiered at the Royal Court in 1998 (from which I believe the picture comes), or is it Deep and Meaningful, as a few supporters of Kane, including H Pinter Esq, maintained.

I'm in two minds about the play when I go to sleep but when I arrive at the audition the next morning, I'm beginning to think that this might be an exciting role and production to be part of as long as the violence isn't gratuitous. When I met the producers and the director and Maria, one of the cast who has already been chosen, my interest level rises. As we wait to be let into the Cockpit Theatre we talk and it seems we get on well and are on the same wavelength. Inside, in the Studio space, we talk and I give them my audition piece - Azdak from The Caucasian Chalk Circle, which seems to go down well. Then Maria and I do a dialogue from Cleansed. For a first reading, I think I'm doing quite well and there seem to be approving noises, comments and glances from the three judges. 

Then I'm not sure what happens. We keep talking and it's all very positive and enthusiastic, but I'm not asked to read another piece, and it's soon clear that the audition is over and I am walking out the door. Nevertheless I'm on a roll, full of the energy I summoned up to impress them and I'm halfway down the street before I realise I haven't asked them when they will let me know whether I have the part. That's when I begin to Have Doubts, replaying the conversation in my mind. Was I not keen enough? Was I too honest, saying that last night I was in two minds about the show, but as time has passed and having met the production team and Maria I am now 99% certain I want this role as long as I can have a little more discussion with the director about the direction she wants to take it? Perhaps that wasn't enthusiastic enough. Perhaps I should have gone down on my knees and begged them to take me. Threatened, rather, because that it's my character's basic stance. But surely I was threatening enough in my acting... 

For the next half an hour I'm both optimistic that I was so good that they can't help but want me and pessimistic that if they really did want me they would have let me know there and then. As I write this, It's less than 12 hours since they saw me, but I suspect that at this late stage in their casting they would have let me know I had the part. Which means I haven't got it. Ah well, never mind. I live to audition another day.

Saturday, 7 July 2012


Today is Saturday. Next Saturday my first play in seventeen years opens at the Lord Stanley in Camden. Los Feliz, a one-man performance by Robin Holden (pictured), directed by Emma King-Farlow. The following Saturday three other plays of mine, including Angel, in which I also appear, are premiered. And the Saturday after that all four are on in one day.

It was in February that I first saw Robin act, a strong, thoughtful, edgy performance in the production of The Duchess of Malfi at the Greenwich Playhouse where I played various unpleasant and mostly silent characters. I had brought in a copy of First and Fiftieth, my second collection of short stories and Robin had taken it home to read.

A few weeks after the end of The Duchess Robin emailed me to say that he wanted to perform one of my stories in the Solo Festival - the monthlong series of one-man plays at the Lord Stanley in Camden. Would I allow him to do so? And why didn't I do one too? And because the stories were so good, Robin said, why not get others involved as well? Part of me was flattered - sure he could use one of my stories and let's involve others - while part of me almost laughed out loud at the idea of me, who'd barely appeared on stage before, acting in a one-man play.

Of course, like everyone else I'm susceptible to flattery and I had no problem with him or other actors putting on work I had written. And of course I could not refuse the challenge of holding the stage on my own for 30 minutes or more. So during the last few months I have become increasingly involved in the challenge of pulling together myself, three other actors and one director to put on three performances each of plays that I have rewritten from stories that I wrote years ago. Plus doing all the other work of a producer - negotiating with the leaseholders of the theatre, promoting the plays, now pulled together under the title of Loss, and trying to bring in reviewers.

All on top of a long-planned holiday in Scotland, crises in the family home in Edinburgh (leaking roof) and my own home in London (leaking bath), my bookselling business and seeking auditions for other roles and trying, still trying, to find an agent. Which means that I am in that state, familiar to many, between stress and excitement, aware of how much there is still to do (including learning my own lines) and how little time there is to do it.

It's going to be an interesting three weeks. (Now the plug: for detailed information about all the plays,  performance times and venues, click the picture top right.)