Despite the tender mercies of ayoungertheatre.com (see below), I’ve decided not to give up and slash my wrists; indeed, at least a couple of venues are keen to have Something Rotten, including one of the nation’s oldest and most venerable, the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, Yorkshire.
In response to this, I’ve been re-designing flyers for a new print run. These ones are simpler than previous – a bit less wording to impinge on the central image.
Got talking to Seth, the guy at the printers, who, apart from his print jobbery, is an artist with a groovy sideline; seems he’s one of the guys who every May, in the run-up to the Brighton Festival, turns those green telephone cupboards (y’know – the ones in the street with all the cables) into painted ads for big shows at the Dome and such. Ah me, had I only the budget for a Something Rotten phone cupboard!
Last night, at the Rialto Theatre, we had the first readthrough of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, which is on for a week in the Brighton Festival come May. Roger Kay has assembled what looks and sounds like a great cast, and by any objective assessment we hit the ground running – or, in the real estate parlance of the play, we’re on the board already!
I’m playing George Aaronow, the most downtrodden and demoralised of the four salesmen, and I noticed something last night which seems to me key to the character. When his colleague Shelly comes in, full of the big sale he’s just made, George is pleased for him – effusively and genuinely so, despite his own recent lack of success (which he knows, in the current climate of sales contests and leader boards, is likely to lose him his job). His other colleagues’ attitude is likewise telling, it seems to me: Roma is also full of congrats, but perhaps, we learn in time, largely because he sees in Shelly’s success a chance to further his own interests; Moss, on the other hand, lately on the same kind of losing streak as Aaronow, is unable to respond to Shelly‘s good news with anything other than bitterness. But perhaps Moss is the kind of character who’d resent another’s good fortune even if he were doing OK himself. It may be that in Moss’s case (to paraphrase the various writers who’ve been credited with the sentiment), it’s not enough to succeed; others must fail.
A couple of days after the fact, I discover that we had a critic in at the Rialto scratch night on Wednesday. Tania Deaville in the Argus described our entry as “very direct and brave”. A pleasant contrast to my last bit of press, a well composed yet deeply shoddy piece of hatchet-jobbery regarding the pre-Christmas London performance of Something Rotten, my one-man show about Hamlet’s Uncle Claudius.
Not lightly do I choose and use the term “shoddy”; it is in fact the phrase that Susannah Shepherd, of ayoungertheatre.com, used to describe my show, in a review which, ironically, was top-full of glaring inaccuracies. I’ve no trouble at all with the perceived shortcomings in my performance (that’s entirely down to the eye of the beholder), but some of her statements about the script are at best misrememberings, and at worst outright lies: most spectacular was the assertion that “Seconds are spent on [Claudius’s] decision to have Hamlet offed in England, whilst hours are spent talking about Yorick the jester.” Allowing for poetic licence re the Yorick “hours” (the show runs barely 90 minutes in total, interval included), the fact is that the decision to dispose of Hamlet occupies not “seconds” but an entire scene lasting some ten minutes.
Aside from all that, the lady in question was several minutes late for the performance. No problem in principle – I’d agreed with front-of-house that latecomers should be admitted, though I didn’t really expect that to have to cover policy towards the press. It should be stated that I’ve done a fair of bit of reviewing myself over the years, and though quite a few people who know me well will testify that timekeeping is not my greatest triumph, I have never once turned up late for a show I was reviewing; if I had, however, I know I’d’ve been honest enough to mention the fact somewhere in my write-up – which the critic here in question failed to do.
And so to the scratch night at Rialto. Remarkable work from Jenny and Emma, all the more so for the fact that it’d been so hard to get them together to rehearse. Having worked with them individually in previous days, I only achieved quoracy for the first time on Tuesday, when we got some rehearsal time at the Rialto; there, in an uncharacteristic burst of ruthless efficiency (on my part) and characteristic enthusiasm (on theirs), we got the scene blocked in little over an hour. Again I found myself thrilled by the leaps forward that can be achieved in a short period of intensive work. Another new experience, as director, was the phenomenon of nerves. As an actor I’m rarely afflicted; if I’m about to go on-stage, I have a pretty good idea of how well I’ve prepared, but, ready or not, I know I have to go on whatever, so as there’s no escape there’s no point in getting alarmed. As a director, though, sitting in the audience at the Rialto waiting for Jenny and Emma to kick off the show, I found myself nervous – dry-mouthed and worrying about about all kinds of things – in a way I never am as an actor. Maybe it’s the knowledge that, if things go wrong, I’m in no position to get things back on course – only those on stage have that power, at least, once the show’s started.
Ours was the first of four play extracts – which extracts would, at the end of the evening, be the subject of a vote by the audience (secret ballot, of course): the victor would be assessed by the management alongside the winners of the previous two scratch nights, and one would be offered a Festival slot at Rialto. I was dubious as to how The Causeway would work in a festival slot – there’d be pressure, for instance, to compress it into an hour’s playing time – but in the end I was to be spared such a problem, for though the ladies played a blinder, we lost out to a piece about a man who makes a Faustian pact to win the Lottery in exchange for his toes. It was funnier than it sounds, and maybe that was key, for our extract from The Causeway didn’t get too many laughs; I’d’ve been glad if we had, for there are jokes a-plenty, despite the murky subject matter (two sisters looking back on a childhood incident which has overshadowed both their lives).
Even so, it was worth the effort – for me, at least, and, I hope, for the cast. When you’re writing a play in the seclusion of your own space, you never really know how a thing’s going to work; you could be the best actor in the world, as multi-vocally versatile as Peter Sellers or Alec Guinness, but still, reading it out at your desk can never be a true substitute for getting people up to do it before an audience.
Monday was interesting. Finally, I thought, I must confront my tax return – or at any rate the task of putting things in order to present to my accountant. So I sat down at the computer and was swiftly distracted by good old Uncle Internet, who showed me that two people I know on Facebook had posted links to David Bowie videos. “What a coincidence,” I thought, and I was just about to say something to them both about it when I realised there might be a bigger significance. And sure enough, I swiftly learned that the great man had popped his thin white clogs. A perfect storm, then, of grimness and sadness – the death of a genius, allied to the painful need to engage in mathematical activity.
Of course, I can be lightly comical about it now (for all my genuine regret at the news), but I’d probably be less so if I thought anyone was actually going to read this blog – for the online reaction to the passing of Sir Derek has been something akin to the orgy of garment-rending that followed the death of Princess Di. One friend who, in 14 years of acquaintance, has never once mentioned Bowie’s name, has now adopted a picture of him as his FB profile pic – and another, a music journo who usually keeps a sensible distance from bandwagons, has re-posted some adverse comments made by Cliff Richard round about the Ziggy period. It’s easy to look back, in McCarthyite style, and rebuke someone with things they said more than 40 years ago, but it’s worth bearing in mind that in 1973 there was no shortage of people saying rude things about David Bowie; pop music had yet to complete the transition from Corrupter of Youth to Great British Export – and, quite apart from all that, here was a man unashamedly exploring his sexuality, at a time when the only acceptable images of homosexuality were those projected in unthreatening light-comic vein by such as Larry Grayson and John “I’m Free” Inman. What looks now like Bowie’s tremendous courage was at the time liable only to make great enemies, and they were never more numerous than in the very same tabloid papers which this week have been paying solemn front-page tribute.
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be”
Spent most of today fine-tuning my overture to Samuel French, with regard to the aforementioned Propaganda. They don’t accept unsolicited scripts, but, as I learnt only recently from my friend Simon Eden (whose fabulous play Albatross 3rd & Main they’re about to publish), they will accept a 10-page sample and then, if that takes their fancy, ask for more later on. Tip for the top! Yeah, except that right now they’re not accepting anything. I rang the Submissions department in pursuit of some minor formatting enquiry, and discovered in the process that they’ve a temporary moratorium on submissions, while they clear the backlog from Christmas. So I really needn’t have spent all day on that task. Oh well, at least it’ll be ready when they open up the gates again.
Meanwhile, I’ve written yet another play. It’s called The Causeway, and a little bit of it is to be heard next Wednesday at a scratch night at the Rialto, in downtown Brighton. I’ve cast two great performers to be in it, but their schedules make it difficult to get them in a room at the same time (the fact that one’s my wife and the other’s one of her housemates makes things not particularly less complicated), so I'm having to rehearse with them separately prior to our all getting together for a precious 90-minute rehearsal in the space next Tuesday. Sounds (it might be argued) like a lot of argy-bargy for a 15-minute script-in-hand performance. Perhaps so, but I attended the previous Rialto scratch night in December, and the bar was set very high. So I rehearsed with Emma tonight – she’s playing Kitty, the younger of two sisters returning to Florida 30 years after a childhood trauma which has overshadowed both their lives. I’m quite new to this directing lark (though I’ve got a short film in snail-like post-production), and find myself excited – well nigh intoxicated – by the way a performance can improve exponentially over the course of just a few readthroughs. When this evening started, I’d thoughts of staging the reading simply as that – Emma and Jenny sat facing out at the audience, just reading, maybe with me in the middle doing stage directions. After an hour and a bit of rehearsing, I knew the thing had to be fully functional. And so shall it be.
A week in to the new year, and little to report, aside from seeing the new Star Wars film and starting this blog. Hate to sound like everyone else, but The Force Awakens is really extremely good – a genuine return to form after so many decades in the wilderness – and in my humble, the drift to the dark side started way back with Return of the Jedi and Emergence of the Teddy Bears (to accord it its full title). Being in Eastbourne for New Year, I experienced this global cultural event, in company with my wife Jenny and our friend Gary, at the Curzon cinema – aptly so, for it was here, in the same upstairs auditorium, that I saw the first two instalments so many decades past. A good time was had by all, though I’m not sure how much the people behind us were engaging with the action. Having turned up late, they spent much of the film making their own sound effects. To be fair, there were long stretches where they were making hardly any noise at all, but they made up for it elsewhere, making a particular impact on the quietest, arguably most poignant moment in the film (a significant moment for Han Solo, say no more), during which they chose to embark on the task of opening the world's noisiest and apparently most challenging confectionery bag. "Oh, for a light sabre," you think – though in truth there'd be no point killing them; you'd just spend the rest of the film feeling guilty.
Robert Cohen – a man in showbiz so stepp’d in that, should he wade no more, to go back were as tedious as go o’er. These are among his musings.