Sunday 22nd January 2017
Now is the time for fairytales, they have let a monster into the White House, a friend said to me at the beginning of this month. Well surely If this is possible we can believe all our wildest, most beautiful and creative dreams coming true.
With all the bad elements of fairytale terror and weirdness infiltrating real life you can ask yourself legitimately, what is real? The old bad smells of prejudice, fear, hate and disrespect are returning close to home, ignorance is rife, isolationism acceptable, and an epidemic of intolerance, fundamentalist zeal and easy violence has infected large parts of our planet. Morality has been side stepped for corporate and economic gain, hypocrisy and compliancy seemingly know no ends with the people we elect to lead us. Integrity is danger of becoming an endangered word and the phrase humanitarian crises has become so widely used as to be barely noticeable in a news report anymore as widely used in fact as that ugliest new word in the English language, the appropriately terminal sounding Brexit! Oh I'm so angry that our ever so poorly, in fact chronically badly managed country is lining itself up to jump off a cliff, and our only supposed lifeline is a madman who is intent on destroying us all in a spiteful tweet! Makes me ashamed to be anything to do with this country.
And on top of all this John Hurt has died, beautiful voice and one of the actors who's inspired me most from first being transfixed by him in his tiny role, that for me was enormous, in Midnight Express. I remember doing some extra work years ago when I worked at Granada tv, I had to play part of a gaggle of press swarming around him, and I had to keep flashing a camera in his face. It was the morning after he'd punched a photographer for invading his privacy. He'd recently just done Scandal, where he played Stephen Ward, who was hounded to suicide by a ravenous press in the wake of the Profumo affair, and the part as was clear in his beautifully judged performance had understandably affected him. Anyway when the camera stopped rolling after flashing him in the face till he was blind, smiling, he mimed a playful punch in my direction!
In my little world, I still don't have my own place to live and no light in the world of acting work opportunities and I can't get an agent for the cliché of not having any gaps in their books.
Dreams of acting success are a fairytale and seem more of a far fetched one than before I entered the drama school that I left 20 years ago this year. Oh I have fun, I mostly keep positive, Toby Belch and Captain Hook kept me out of trouble last year. But I still have to convince myself I am an actor by googling myself on Spotlight and having this website and I'd be too embarrassed to admit how much money I earn from acting in an average year, even to myself as I know no one else will read this.
I'm not going to go on whinging about acting disappointments, but my point is that my personal fairytale is, although self centred, at least a good, creative even. It is the Billy Liar-like dream world of that, my favourite film. Billy as played by Tom Courtenay, who was very much associated with my theatre of dreams, the Royal Exchange Theatre early on. My Billy dreams of a major role in Manchester's real theatre of dreams. I have always believed because of huge emotional attachment to this theatre, that I'll never feel I'm a proper actor til I get to work there, but maybe in itself that is fanciful.
The Exchange might as well be a fairytale castle, that just happens to look like the Apollo moon missions lunar module. I have for 30 years dreamt of conquering but frustratingly beyond mention I am only a tourist, there. Late last year I mounted a mini campaign that looks just fanciful now, to try and get seen for their Twelfth Night this April. I contacted the director and caster innumerable times, but I knew all along that I was just playing out a fanciful hope. My only way ever in there is to be previously known and well thought of both by director and caster. But I still allowed myself to be carried along in my Billy Liar dream world, fairytale, actually believing I could get seen. I even imagined climbing up to the top of the lunar module and refusing to come down if they didn't see me!
I guess It's like the boys and indeed girls who dreamt of being astronauts but who only ever saw the Kennedy space centre, except that they grew up, got over their disappointment. I know I'm skilled enough to be allowed onto that craft, I've done my training for over 20 years but it's still just orbiting my earth and I might as well have to do a space walk to even get a look in. I'm fuming rocket fuel frustration at what I have to do to get seen. Not just by this theatre but a host of other prominent employers.
With Acting you walk a fine line between being in your own optimistic and isolated bubble, (which this vanity website wholly represents), and the very real realisation that your chances of even getting seen for tv and regional theatre are akin to winning the jackpot in the lottery!
Of course it's hideously unfair, but you get yourself in your space bubble and almost gleefully temporarily forget, before you come crashing down to earth again, and you never learn, or want to!
I may have been to Mars in a recent short film, but the Royal Exchange is still a universe apart!
Meryl Streep was right it is a privilege to act, it's actually more than a blessing, it;s a miracle that someone will pay you to do what you love. Having Sally Wainwright, Terry Gilliam, Mike Leigh or Sarah Frankcom, want me to work with them... that would be like me lying in a liquorice fountain with mermaids reclining on sugary sherbet Edinburgh rocks and my mouth watering with the taste of kisses from their cherry lips!
My biggest faIrytale dream has always been the most common, love, many, many times it's got in the way of and at times completely disrupted me giving it the large with acting, sometimes I even feel I might have even been wonderfully successful by now, if I could've set it aside.
Real love took me a long time to recognise and I was in love last year for the first time in ages.
I should know, I've had more crushes than a.....? A world record crushing car crusher! I read once that if you go on having feelings for someone after 4 months it must be love, I always thought that "As soon as I wake up, any night, any day, I know that it's you I need to take the blues away" but maybe that was just Madness!
My niece said today when I was talking about monsters with her, that we're only early on in this particular fairytale and I thought that's right, the darkness before the light returns, fairytales traditionally play out well and already we're seeing people positively mobilise and come together as they generally do after a big shock!
Really what we need is to see our beautiful hopes realised like little chinks of sunlight, burning through the mist in all our little worlds.
And if I didn't believe in the prospect of those hopes I'd climb on top of the Royal Exchange's lunar module tomorrow and attempt a space walk! x
Sunday 9th October 2016
I was reading a silly piece a few months ago that suggested that Hollywood has ruined method acting as reported excesses like Jared Leto as prep for playing The Joker in The Suicide Club, gave used condoms & dead animals as gifts to his fellow cast members. The suggestion in the piece was that this was more a cynical marketing tool than an aid to performance.
I perfectly understood why Daniel Day Lewis slept with his rifle in his excellent Last of the Mohicans and why Christian Bale lost so much weight on The Machinist. Of course Robert De Niro famously gained a lot of weight for Raging Bull, (incidentally I love De Niro of old for never being pretentious. never trumpeting his prep for a role, it was the film company who did but this to.. you guessed it, market the film!)
Whatever helps you and I don't like talking about prep either. So yes if helps him and more importantly if it helps him be fucking brilliant in it. Course just like life you've got to be careful, considerate, if you're playing a selfish bastard, make sure your fellow actors know what to expect and also that you're not just wanking away for affect with a total disregard.
Of course you've got to be aware of the funny side, that excesses are sometimes questionable and laughable. A teacher at drama school told me about Mike Leigh insisting his actors all lived their roles for the whole duration and a woman secretly rushing into a supermarket to buy her cat some Whiskers and Mike Leigh suddenly appearing behind a stack of tins to say , NO...you're character doesn't have a cat!
Of course arguably…no not arguably..definitely… you can't even ever get near Heath Ledger's brilliance in The Dark Knight anyway for the psychotic/homicidal approach to the Joker, maybe Jared should've gone for a completely different approach, like not nuts, but a comedian without a sense of humour, a bit dour, deadpan like.. I don't know Rich Hall?
The desire to genuinely immerse yourself in a role is a great one, believing if I believe myself I am a poor, grumpy farmer, would be poet from County Monahan haunting Dublin's pubs, everyone else will. So you do your research, I absolutely loved playing Patrick Kavanagh. Research is fun. I really, really love researching a real life character, meeting people who knew them, walking their streets, getting into their skin. or if fictitious you look for clues, base them on people, imagine their life.
Also you practice their accent until it sounds like native and make sure all pronunciations are the correct ones. What you wear is key I think, really vital for me and many's the time I've bought my own clothes for a show. Many's the time I've bloody had to, or wear nothing anyway!
It's really exciting to do all this, often much more of a buzz than actually the giving the finished performance, allowing yourself to be completely transported off on this dream world. Prep isn't always fun though. I did a solo show about a man who had been kidnapped in Iraq and was being held in solitary confinement contrasting in his own mind the family tragedy that brought him
to work in Iraq with the predicament he was now in. I became my most lonely self, imaging all the people I missed, from my dad, to a dead friend, to lost loves. I immersed myself in regret and self imposed isolation and found the Cat Stevens song 'Moonshadow' that was used in the show enormously helpful, so much so that I have difficulty listening to that beautifully haunting song
today. The piece although only about 3 quarters of an hour long did effect me and I became very down and negative, so after initially being sorry that the short run at Theatre 503 was done, it quite quickly became a relief not to dwell in despair any longer.
So anyway I was watching all the Shakespeare 400 commemorations this April and dreaming that Will Shakespeare would hear my wishing that I was in a Shakespeare play this year, that he'd have a bit of influence or my dear dad, who I strongly believe watches over our family and helps when & if he can!
I do love me Will Shakespeare, but of late it's been extolling his worth as tour guide in Stratford and in London, rubbishing the Oxfordians and inflicting a but of Prospero or Henry V prologue on my captive audience on the coach. It's been almost 10 years since I did a Shakespeare and then another 10 years before that, so Will Shakespeare has been denied to me despite auditioning for lots!
So I saw an open air tour of Twelfth Night for the summer is advertised, that could potentially rescue me from my seasonal tour guiding.
Funnily enough I'd been reflecting on Twitter back in April how Twelfth Night was not only the first Shakespeare play I ever saw, but also my first time in a theatre to see a straight forward play, that wasn't a Christmas panto. It was at the fabulous Royal Exchange in Manchester, my Royal Exchange! I gush about this theatre to anyone who will listen and will continue to gush about it until the end of time. The best Shakespeare I've ever seen there from that earliest Twelfth Night in 1977 or 78? to this years King Lear, far, far superior to anything I've ever seen at the RSC. Always feel I'll never be a proper actor until I get to work in Manchester's true theatre of dreams.
Anyway I remember finding the actor playing Sir Toby Belch hilariously funny, even overshadowing one of my all time favourite actors Tom Courtenay, who was Malvolio in it. Didn't understand a word of what he was saying. ( If I'm honest I still don't even now after working on him for over a month! ), but found him just brilliantly funny. I'm looking at the programme I kept in front of me, he was an actor called Wolf Morris and God love him (he died in 1996), he probably more than anyone else made me love Shakespeare. Never did Shakespeare in school, (thank God) nor had seen a Shakespeare movie or tv dramatisation up til then. Him then and the Royal Exchange Theatre ever since brought Will Shakespeare alive for me and I'll always be grateful for that.
SO THANKFULLY my wanting to be in a Shakespeare play back in April was heard. Will Shakespeare rescued me this summer. Open Book theare company or Open Bard on this occasion. Nicky Diss, Vicky Gaskin & Ellie Cope rescued me and I love them dearly for that. Vicky even said It was I who had rescued them when I told her this, which was very sweet of her and made this soppy old kweg near cry I can tell you!
I hope these selfish yearnings aren't too rationed as that I want, yearn for...need a major role at Royal Exchange…or any role!)
I've always wanted to be a hell raiser! A lot of actors I grew up loving lived life to excess, Errol Flynn, Richard Harris, Oliver Reed, Peter Finch & Richard Burton. Fine, fine actors and real life characters all and growing up I wanted to be all of them. I am a natural rebel, don't conform easily. When restrictions are imposed the devil in me is roused to flaunt them and I do like a drink, the womanising is admired rather than aspired to, but having being always pretty hopeless with approaching girls and also even a hint of misogyny, an anathema to me.
Oh yes I definitely coveted the idea of being thought of as a hell raiser at drama school, drinking myself often silly at parties, whole bottles of spirits downed resulting in frequently the party being a write off after 20 minutes, feeling like death and yawning in technicolor on doorsteps.
Like my last year at school, smoking and a general disregard for rules, urinating through the old drama schools letter box as a dare, (confession all these years later: yes it was me Mr Bill, not the imaginary school cat!) Close friends even called me Withnail after the titular character in fave film Withnail and I and I also got called Father Jack, because of red faced resemblance to David Kelly's great character in Father Ted.
So with applying for Twelfth Night I thought they're probably not going to even see me because I don't play a portable instrument as is de rigour for outdoor Shakespeare's these days and also because of my age, as it's mainly seems to be young uns in open air shows.
I wrote to Jane Frisby, who I knew to be a lovely, approachable casting director, went to the audition, did my best drunk act in another Shakespeare, (Stephano in the Tempest) and got the job. By the way on the first day of rehearsals ukeleles were brought in and we were taught simple chords, all of which I learnt...though not necessarily in the right order!
Excellent. I started planning my hell raising Sir Toby Belch, from wardrobe first. I've been in so many fringe plays where I've had to supply my own costume, so even though I knew I wouldn't have to for this I wanted to. As I said earlier Clothes are so important to a character, as I had a clear idea that this modern dress Twelfth Night, Sir Toby should look like a cross between Richard Harris and Oliver Reed off set and in the pub! Ollie Reed liked rugby shirts & country tweeds, but it was when I watched a lovely clip of Richard Harris and Peter O'Toole carousing in the beer tent at Twickenham at the Rugby World Cup that my costume was decided. Harris proudly revealing his red Munster rugby shirt from when he'd had a cap as a young man, fiercely proud that it still fitted him, complete with vintage mud stains on it. He wore a tweedy jacket, so I bought a vintage Munster rugby shirt and on eBay a second hand green, tweed jacket (funnily enough a Harris tweed) like the one he had worn in the clip in honour of him.
So I not only got to do some Shakespeare, I got to channel all my favourite hell raisers into Sir Toby, happy times!
Course this particular hell raiser actor knight took me over, felt very comfortable as him, although risked being thought a dirty old man lusting after a Maria young enough to be my daughter!
Of course I seriously did have to watch dropping lines and frequently wasn't considerate to others & buggered up the timing in favour of downing pints to get to the real Richard Harris/Ollie Reed edge of inebriation!
Boast me no boasts, but having often liked a drink or double figures and knowing and seeing much drunkeness over my years it's an easy thing for me to do well. One problem though was despite being called Belch and practicing, never did I effectively belch on demand! Nice comments though, many got the Ollie Reed carousing & compared me to him, a few Irish guys got the Munster/Richard Harris connection & I also got compared to Rik Mayall, who's a hero of mine. Many more thought I was actually drunk!
Sure enough I was reigned in for sampling too much, talk of being a risk assessments do bring out the devil in me, none of the audience ever complained, quite the reverse, I was offered full bottles of wine and the biggest cheers were when I downed pints, which only made me worse.
Quite certain that I'll never get away with this again, but honestly all hail the method, it's the only bloomin way!
Sunday 3rd July 2016
I remember having a drink with Caroline at a poetry caberet event organised by a group called 'Stand & Deliver' at the Tameside Theatre, Ashton under Lyne 30 years ago. I fancied her, but was too painfully shy even to flirt, never mind read my silly poetry & that I seem to remember is what we talked about, can't remember much, but she was shy too, but hadn't let shyness stop her. I do remember she was very funny and lovely and totally genuine.
She wasn't a household name in those days, it was long before her Mrs Merton tv shows, she was on the comedy circuit around Manchester. I seem to remember I recognised her, so maybe she'd done a few spots on tv, but maybe not. I can't remember how we got talking.
In the end despite encouragement I didn't get up to read my poems but over the years I've wished more that I'd flirted with her because I had a big crush on her. Oh Regrets I've had a few! Now I don't kid myself for a minute that if I'd flirted with her she'd have reciprocated, I can't remember if she was with anyone at this time. I think she was just being her naturally friendly, lovely, genuine self.
Of course in my Billy Liar dreamworld we would have definitely gone out together and been good for each other and just lived and loved and laughed!
It's hard for me to remember specific details of this as it is to revisit my 1980's self, I look back at my poems from them, most of them quite awful, unrequited love nonsense & maybe even now my feelings now are a throwback to that, but that time has stayed with me ever since and over the years I've enjoyed regaling people with name dropping anecdotes of those 80's Manc days, where for a brief time I was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Steve Coogan and of course I've embellished them a bit.
I saw her only intermittently over a period of about 6 months in 1986, as she was part of a circle of people on that poetry cabaret circuit in Manc which I hung out with, having first designed posters for some of them when I was working on a government scheme as a graphic artist at Tameside College. Strangely I can't remember seeing her perform live, but she must have been at those gigs to perform on occasion, or maybe she was just there for the crack, I only vaguely remember subsequent conversations where much to my excitement, she sought my shy, yet desiring 20's self out and wanted to know how I was getting on on my government scheme at the college!
Never saw her again when the scheme finished and I lost contact with all that circle (more regrets).
But over the years her face has of course became so familiar on television, but I still just about see past that, as if light down the end of a tunnel, to this very pretty Irish looking girl then, warmly encouraging me to get up and read my poems. I don't even remember showing them to her to see if she thought they were actually worth getting up to perform, but that didn't seem to matter!
I never did get up to perform my poems, (well apart from that time when I inexplicably rattled one off when auditioning for Granada Studios tour a few years later, but we won't talk about that!) But it was a long approach road to the performance motorway that I sought to join that night, a performance motorway which in the last 20 years I've been chugging along and weaving like the can can girl dreaming weaver bird motorist of a 1970s public information film!
Over the years I've had lots and lots of crushes, (and by the way I do think the word crush to be much more a potent description of desire than just plain fancy) and certainly the reason I've remembered Caroline is because she became famous and yes I'm a soppy old Hector anyway, but still her warmth, her loveliness, her generosity of spirit, coupled with being as funny as fuck, has meant that unlike others that crush has never and will never die.
I can't bear to read stories that she was apparently alone when she died, that she just didn't want to make a fuss by telling people she was very ill. I can't believe she, the same age as I is not around, she is just still is, it just cannot be. She's a total genius in everything she does.
footnote: 30 years on she's inspired me to imagine that early meeting with her in a short poem. (below)
It's probably better that I never have the opportunity to get up and perform it, as I'd just fucking cry like a baby and that wouldn't do me confidence any good.