MANSFIELD PARK & RIDE Brrr! The Big Freeze
Friday 08 January 2010
The coldest snap in British theatre since ‘Romans In Britain On Ice' and we're all gallantly struggling through frost and snow into the Sir John Mills, adopting the very same ‘Dunkirk spirit' the Germans did as they advanced on the French coast in 1940; we must get there at all costs, take no prisoners, strafe, stab, kill. Similarly we actors must also be strong in the face of impending unemployment as 2010 is upon us with a vengeance and the literal and metaphorical winds carry blizzards of drifting unhappiness and economic dearth (only if you‘re a cynical type - see below).
The average actor will only stumble intermittently upon oases of employment that satisfy neither him or his bank manager for long, and he must soon set off once more across the arid desert of hardship and uncertainty with his already emaciated dromedary, Derek. The prospect of weird fill-in jobs, (‘Put the puffer fish on that pile, the sea urchins on the other'/‘Yes, Mr. Yamamoto.'), of returning to ghastly civilian employment by manning the ‘gritting lorries' is almost too much to bear. I can only apologize for the nonsense above by saying, ‘Was that Golden Virginia in that last smoke?' and ‘Who polished off that litre of Harvey's Bristol Cream?'
But less of the snow, what of the show, the chums, the laughs and company chortles. Well, actually, it's all been rather fun, although we've not done oodles of organized trippage or gastronomic indulgence or that much Adnams but we've nevertheless enjoyed the odd pint and punnet of peppered cashews up at ‘The Greyhound'.
Dear Reader, should you ever wish to stalk or otherwise molest, kidnap, harass or punch an Eastern Angles actor for infractions against good taste or poor timing or for their inability to carry off even a passable Suffolk accent, your best bet will be ‘The Greyhound' at chucking out time by the big wheelie bins.
This weather, the Last Ironic Freeze of 2010 (as it will come to be known), has been rather trying, living as I do in Leiston, and owning a knackered Skoda Fabia, as I'm sure it has been for Sally-Ann too, although she has got a flash Fiat Punto. Usually the journey takes me about 40 minutes but the other night it took nearly two and a half hours, thanks to several artics and idiots in 4X4s unable to negotiate the two termite hills that comprise the ‘Suffolk Alpes Maritimes' on the A12 before the Snape turn-off (why does she always stand there!). Give us strength: what would happen if a light powdering of snow were to fall on the upper slopes of a Suffolk speed hump or sleeping policeman? Total, irrevocable gridlock, that's what!
The other week I pulled my fingers (inadvertently) through a pair of black knee-high socks. Yes, dear reader, they were my SHOW SOCKS. Shortly afterwards another hole appeared and then a bigger, more revealing rent. They were not designed for such gruelling punishment, I fear. I pleaded with Penny, Stage Manager and mince pie pusher to the stars, for a new pair from Primark, (I knew BHS would be wishing for the moon) but I was turned down flat. So with careful 'hose husbandry' with deft ruching, twisting and tucking in of the sock material, I do my best to ensure the audience remain in ignorance of these ‘fissures of shame,' but can it be right? This is but one example of the weighty stuff that preoccupies actors.
If anything else crosses an actors' mind in January it will probably be their tax return. Most actors' tax returns should really be sent to the Inland Revenue inside a Christmas Cracker, as the HM Inspectors will be sure to laugh their heads off when they read the pitiful figures set before them.
Finally, as the Mansfield Park & Ride contract reaches its tawdry climax one has to deal with this challenging question; ‘so what's next for you?' which all actors fear and yet are contractually obliged to ask each other in the last week. Of course there will always be someone in the cast who responds with something like: ‘Yeah, doing an Iceland ad with Jason D. and the butch one out of the Nolans - I'm playing Mini Kiev 2. It's a great part. I'm the nemesis of Mini Kiev 1, in many ways. Textually, it's surprisingly challenging. And then I'm straight into 'the Nash' for twelve months. What about you?' You really try not to be jealous, but you grimace and look away when they reveal the ad's to be shot in Madagascar over three weeks and they'll be paid real money to do it, and you mumble something like, ‘Yeah, well, just be careful which anti-malarial medication you go for because some of them can kill you. And most lemurs have rabies. But listen, have a great time and text me when it's on.' You can't even speak about ‘the Nash‘; in fact you're not wholly confident what it is, but you've certainly heard of it and know it to be ‘a good thing.'
Then of course you have the tricky job of finessing your own dull prospects into something a bit special: 'I'll probably watch quite a bit of The Jeremy Kyle Show - but only the new series mind, I wouldn't stoop to the repeats on ITV3 - I‘ll be strong this time.' ‘Yes, Greg, but anything artistic at all?' ‘Well, I've got that macramé owl to finish off'.
Pity fills their eyes.
Hi, diddledy dee.
MANSFIELD PARK & RIDE The Pot Noodle and the Daily Telegraph.
Tuesday 01 December 2009
Breaktimes and lunchtimes are fraught with diplomatic niceties in the first few days of any rehearsal period. And of course one wishes to present oneself with professionalism and courtesy! One tiptoes along pleasant conversational by-ways, making sure one does not say anything rude about any director, actor, production, or indeed place because like as not, just as you are saying something rude about Kings Lynn, someone, in the case of these rehearsals, poor Sophie, will pipe up to say, 'I come from Kings Lynn, it is a place of ravishing beauty'. I then have to splutter a bit and say, 'I meant Kings Lynn in New Mexico'. 'I didn't think there was a King's Lynn in New Mexico'. 'There isn't. Sorry. I think bits of Kings Lynn are okay. I'm sorry. Some of my nicest chums hail from there'. All very tricky.
Later on, you get into a light hearted discussion that ranges over various social stereotypes, and someone says, 'Yes. The party was full of chavs, and Essex types, Kevins and Tracys'. Now, it's my turn to say, 'My partner's called Tracy'. And so the grim process of getting to know the cast continues, and just as one withdraws one's size ten loafer from one's own gob, then someone else thrusts a Manolo Blahnik into their own. This is what comes of not working with the same group of people for 36 years, until they give you a Japanese clock and a £36 garden bench from Notcutts to die on. So swings and roundabouts really.
Dietary habits are also not without their pitfalls and pratfalls. You'll always witness some pretty weird food stuffs emerging from a variety of Tupperware during rehearsals. 'Yeah, I always have to eat 6 Goji berries, at the end of every meal.' 'Why's that?' 'The shamen of Turkkmenistan say they're great for concentration'. It is here that the reply 'Oh', comes in really useful. I seldom remember this, and will usually say something like 'Tosser', by mistake.
Then they'll be the medical diets, and the conversation will go something like this. 'Your flapjack's a bit of an odd colour'. 'Yes, it's a special one. Well I'm gluten intolerant and can only eat spelt that's been grown and ground by hand using Bronze Age techniques. It's not cheap but if I didn't do this I'd die.' The actor who comes out with this kind of guff always garners a lot of sympathy, and you are always amazed that they are alive, let alone running about a lot on stage. It is this very same actor who will be tucking into a large Doner kebab three weeks later, and when questioned will say they're in some kind of remission, brought on by Dr. Theatre.
Happily, this year there has been none of that nonsense. Indeed, I am delighted to say, that I brought a Pot Noodle in to work in the second week and ate it without being sent to Coventry. It even aroused a little interest, and the contents label was studied with great interest: 'And the Cast saw that it was Good'.
Perhaps the most tricky thing about lunchbreaks and coffee breaks in the drama/artsy world is politics. There is an unwritten rule in theatre which states: 'Thou Shalt Not Espouse Any Views Which Would Not Have Been Approved By A Soviet Committee circa 1972'. This makes reading The Daily Telegraph openly a tricky proposition. But it can be done. First of all you'll need to employ some distraction techniques, perhaps singing something from Billy Bragg's back catalogue and talking up Hugo Chavez and the merits of the Cuban health system. Once you have lulled them into a state of ideological oneness, simply whip out your doctored Daily Telegraph (having trimmed down your DT pages to tabloid size and Pritt sticked them into the scooped out carcase of a G2 Guardian Supplement). But always be on your guard, for the Grauniad is like unto the motherlode to arty types and they will pop up behind you, hoping to share the article you're reading. To avoid this sit with your back to the wall taking care to throw out odd snippets like, 'Julie Burchill. You tickle me, you do' or 'Look, you can offset your carbon emissions every time you drive your BMW 7 series to your third home in Wells-next-the-whatever by paying your Tongan cleaner in poussin or guineafowl,' etc.
The cast continue to speak to each other and to me: this, to me, is a result.
Ask me how things are going in late January.
MANSFIELD PARK & RIDE Week 3: The Lily of Lacuna or An Actor Pops One In.
Monday 23 November 2009
The Lily of Lacuna or An Actor Pops One In.
The days may grow shorter and colder but new jokes are busting out all over, as if Spring had sprung betimes down Funnington Avenue. But how can this be? The play is writ: it is untouchable, the hallowed text shall not be interfered with, and each night the High Priest, Ivan, locks it away in the Holy of Holies, the Eastern Angles office safe.But this dear reader is not so, for by both night and day the Tinker Monkeys and Gagsmiths will whip it out, dance upon it, kick it around in the dirt and ADD STUFF. ‘The Lily of Lacuna' is at it again.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that in the whole cosmos there exist only 3.2 discrete jokes and all else is jiggery pokery with setting, participants and delivery. We are all familiar with the following scenario: just as you sit back after an humongous Christmas dinner, safe in the belief that your Great Uncle Ned has finished his ‘set' by telling his largely mimed joke about the spider monkey, the go-go dancer and the sink plunger, you find he is ploughing on doggedly with an energetic Mozambican folk dance, building to a bizarrely esoteric finale, a recital of the complete haiku of Basho. Who knew he once served on a merchantman sailing under a flag of convenience out of Maputo, calling in at Okinawa often? Thing is, everyone, from babes-in-arms to infirm octogenarians will spout forth some species of ‘festive entertainment' given half an opportunity; it's what Cowell has done to us. Everyone's a bloody entertainer. Somehow we must beat and best Uncle Ned at his own hideous game! You need a bag of assorted chortles in a decent Christmas show, visceral groans, unwarranted anachronisms and innuendo by the ladleful, Shirley?
I've been attempting to shoe-horn ‘jokes' into Xmas romps since I was knee high to Dougal Lee. Of course, nobody likes a smart arse and this is a delicate balancing act for the smart arse actor who imagines himself a wit. Does he throw out corking lines during rehearsals as they strike him or does he just sit on them until the glorious day when he finally gets his own backside into gear, and writes his own rib-tickling Mahabarata. No; he chips in, gently at first. Of course gently, for often, dear reader, the author walks among us.
A word about writers. Now the playwright will have sat and wrestled with the text, the beast, sometimes I'm told for whole days, hammering into shape the broad outlines of plot and character. At the end of this ‘process' he (or she) will find himself (or herself) bereft of inspiration, having visited the well so often; now the bucket only comes up dry. So, on the second or third day of rehearsal I'll start muttering things like: "What about saying, ‘It's so big you've got to grin to get it in.' Yeah? I think that works". People turn slowly and stare at me as if I've lost the plot. "No," I splutter, "it's really funny. People of my generation will know it as the jingle for Burton's iconic, toothsome, but ever diminishing confection, with the soft mallow layer, the Wagon Wheel. But even better than that it's quite suggestive". "No, no," they querulously reply. "It's suggestive only to someone with the mind of a black-balled member of the Hellfire Club." Back to the drawing board. Something milder then, more family friendly.
And so it goes. By the end of rehearsals, I am usually forced into making my offerings in the most self-deprecatory way possible, announcing that they are ‘poor', that I am unfit to finger the author's thesaurus. And the truth, dear reader, is that some of my ‘humour' is unfit to be writ on the wall of cubicle 3 in the ‘ladies' at a truck stop in Zeebrugge, much more of it is just not funny, but here persistence is key, for occasionally my darts of jollity strike the Bullseye of EA acceptability, and carry off the metaphorical prize speedboat and then, of course, I'm hoisted up onto the shoulders of the other delighted ‘turns' only to be paraded around the Records Office Quad, like Caesar returning from the wars. No, actually it's not quite like this. It's more, ‘Okay. We'll try it. We can always take it out again.' But like the little Dutch boy and the dyke, it's often best left in.
But who will quickly forget the line ‘A Citroen Berlingo'? Not me, certainly. And who, in the audience of ‘Mansfield Park & Ride', keenly panning for mirth in this trickling comedy Klondike, shall ever descry what is the prodigiously entertaining silt of Mr Murray and what the delightful and sparkling ‘Blood Diamond' of Mr Wagland.
But then I awoke and it had been an enchanting but, of course, impossible dream. Ivan did but pull the string and I was a mannequin again.
MANSFIELD PARK & RIDE Pitta & Port....
Wednesday 18 November 2009
Rehearsal Week 2.
When it comes to doing Austen you're decidedly in Received Pronunciation Land, and that you might think would be right up my proverbial cul-de-sac, but apparently you've then got to differentiate between them. Peppering the Christmas shows with dubious characters like authentic Arab street traders with Julian is always a lot more pleasant in that you egg each other on to more and more ridiculous excesses; I'm sure there is probably still a fatwa out on at least one of us, but with Austen you have to be a bit more held, using muscles to hold up your spine. Posture, Timothy! Also with the Austen, you get the inevitable cry of 'Look at the BBC Boxed Set' hand crafted by Andrew Davies out of lace and Anna Maxwell-House-Martin, and filmed somewhere in Dorset through a catering tub of Vaseline. 'Couldn't you be a bit more like him?'; the subtext to this question is 'Copy him' and is always accompanied by the statement, 'But I don't want you to copy him'. I am similar to Beryl Reid only in this respect; she said start with the shoes and work up. I start with the shoes and although I try to work upwards, I've never been exactly sure what she means, but am confident I will at least have shoes in this performance and they will shine...
I'm told I will be wearing a nice dress for one of my characters. I have seen the joke shop breasts and know they cost about four quid. I feel like a lingerie model at Berlusconi fondue party. I know that the dress will be beautifully hand sewn and it will be a bugger to get in and out of. I asked "Could it be front fastening." No, came the swift reply; of course not as that would affect the structural integrity of the garment and possibly the universe. Oh, I replied with a cheery smile but inside I felt a little bleak.
As usual, I am trying to get down to a fighting weight of about 15 stone. To this end I am trying to drink less Adnams and limit myself to two bag of Salt and Vinegar Chiplets (Family Size) per week. Of course I know that by the second week of performances I will be popping round to the kebab shop for a comforting Pitta stuffed with various 'meats' of provenance unknown. The medicinal glass of port, for the 'voce', will soon become a nightly occurrence and cries of 'Cockburn's anyone' will echo around the workshop. But, hell, it's Christmas!
The cast all seem remarkably talented and laid back. However, it's only week two so I suppose we might be getting a bit more twitchy as the opening night approaches and some of those lyrics aren't going in, the oh-so-authentic hook and eye fasteners are still causing me difficulties as I'm sewn into my period mittens and there's no-one backstage available to help me. Such is the stuff of the actor's nightmares.
Ivan pops out to Peterborough with some regularity assuming the same aspect of stalwart resilience as Captain Oates; but does he really need those huskies. As long as we don't update our Facebook status on his steam-powered laptop he seems Buddha-like in his serenity: start worrying!