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Author: MrBert (page 1 of 21)


One of my most important jobs at the moment on Beginning (now showing at the Ambassadors Theatre – book early) is Audience Watch.  It is in fact vital to the smooth running of the evening.  I may (or may not) be seated in such a position that I can see out over a large swathe of the auditorium.  There is a chandelier in the middle of the ceiling and some Wit on the company said I “look like the Phantom of the Opera” and that they “wouldn’t walk under the chandelier with you sitting there”.

I digress.

The point is, I can see the audience coming in to take their seats.  They can be categorised as follows:

The Faffers – I mean really, does it take THAT long to find your seat, take off your coat and sit down. Apparently it does.

The Fashion Statements – usually (but not always) female and involves large hats, and scarves.

The Picnickers – sandwiches, glasses of fizzy wine (masquerading as champagne), crisps.  The sort of thing you take to the Heath on a summer’s day.

The Tinklers – generally about 7.32pm one of them will go off to the loo.*

The Cocktail Party  Guests – stand with drinks in their hands at their seats looking all around

The Rather-Be-Somewhere-Elsers –  involves looking at mobile phones which continues into the performance.  Obviously thought they’d booked for The Mousetrap next door.

The Quaffers – usually seated in the middle of a full row, need a drink in each hand and have to get to seat at the last minute.

The Arctic Explorers – wild horses will not get them to take off that coat

The Passepartouts – three attempts to find the correct seat

The House Movers – Passepartouts plus lots of bags and coats

*in fairness I have to visit the Little Boys’ Room about three times in the 45 minutes before curtain up.  I think the Front of House Staff pity me slightly.

During the performance I have to keep an eye anyone leaving, mobile phones and other bleepers going off, the front row not getting sprayed with “beer”, rustling sweet bags (one of which caused a loud SHUSH last night) and eccentric laughers.  At the end it is very important that I note high-hand-clappers (there’s been a few specialist vertical-high-hand-clappers) and standing clappers.  The Audience Exit needless to say involves:

More Faffers

The Selfie Generation – usually standing in front of a plain wall

The Left-Behinders  – lost phones, bags etc.

The Discussion Groups  – GO TO THE BAR

…..all of which is incredibly tiresome but I am always stoic in adversity, and wait without complaint for them to get out.

Other news –

I am still finding remembering the actors’ names a bit of a challenge  – with a cast of two, that’s understandable – but having watched the play for a few weeks now, I have realised I am witnessing a masterclass in opening and closing oven doors, placing sauce bottles on a kitchen counter, absorbing spilled “beer” from carpets, opening beer cans and wine bottles, pulling down tinsel curtains and dancing to Bros and Modjo.

Hear me tonight – I owe you a lot.


Common sense and a sense of humour are the same thing.

Clive James

Cat Imitating Art

I’m in the middle of watching Vanished By The Lake, a French mystery TV series filmed in Provence near a town, Esparron du Verdon, where we had a holiday a few years back.  This is one of a lot of photos I took – the cat wandered into the sculpture, in an artist’s garden, just as I was taking the photo.  No remembrance of where the garden was or how we came across it.

The Dark Circle

The Dark Circle Book Cover The Dark Circle
Linda Grant

A novel that beautifully captures the voices of a range of people from different classes, many Londoners,  who find themselves consigned to a countryside sanatorium for tuberculosis sufferers.  The now forgotten cruelties of TB and its treatment come alive in this book set in post-War Britain. It is also a shrewdly observed fictional slice of social history, firmly based in a very real past that shows us how our lives have (been) developed to the present day.  The story is shot through with humour and unsentimental reticence which makes it all the more engaging. The limitations of its settings are actually its strength as the writing draws the reader into the lives of the patients and the medical staff.  Linda Grant delivers the best combination of a storyteller revealing the human heart through a vivid tapestry of social, political and medical histories.


Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.

George Bernard Shaw


It is impossible to persuade a man who does not disagree, but smiles.

Muriel Spark


The irony is that this post was going to be a review of The Ferryman, the title perhaps referring to Kharon (Charon) who in Greek mythology was the Ferryman of the Dead, taking the shades of the dead in his boat across the waters to Hades, the land of the dead.

One morning last week, around 1am, we went to a hospital and stayed by the bed of a wonderful woman who has been in my life for almost 25 years.  Most of the family were there, and the eight of us sat around her talking, laughing, looking at our phones, but all of us knowing that the end of her life was nearer than any of us wanted or imagined.  The sadness and tension were alleviated by the other patients who continued through the night as they usually did (the bellowing, beckoning call of “HELLO” still echoes in my head), the jolliest mobile phone alarm failing to wake its owner in the next bed at 5am, and a tea trolley that rivaled Two Soups in the hilarity it brought.

The end came stealthily, catching some of us out, and peacefully.  There’s not much more any of us could have asked for.  The sun came up through the window behind her head and shone warmth across her from the the winter morning. And that was it.

The family sat for another three hours with her body, crying, still laughing, storytelling in a quiet wake, unwilling to let her go and accepting she had gone.  She lived a full life, lived for her family.  And now we are left, each grieving in their own way, all feeling we have lost our way for a while.

Now for some reason she really liked squirrels (well, why not) and named a couple of them who lived in her back garden.  One of them was called Nigel.  Not the first name that springs to mind for a squirrel, but no matter.  I can’t bear films and books (Marian Keyes – you are the exception) when some bird or animal comes along after someone has died to make those remaining feel watched over. And yet the next day what should we see, high up in the top of the tall birch outside our third floor window, a squirrel bouncing around. We’ve never seen one that high before.  So there you go: Nigel’s relation was indeed keeping an eye on us.  Oh dear.

My last conversation with her was unusually, given the size of the family, just the two of us.  She told me she was a disciplinarian and that her children had probably all been frightened of her when they were young.  She was in some ways a formidable woman, with a sharp mind and sharp tongue.  She never stood in anyone’s way, always letting each member of the family make their own way in life; their own mistakes; their own choices.  But she was always, always there.   Now a standing stone is absent from its circle.

Our stories and laughter will keep her alive and even if she will no longer be in the photos, she will be in our minds and hearts.

Sentimental phrases I have always disliked are now in my head.  Rest in peace.  God bless.  Good night. Good grief.

Beginning 2

I know I could set the cat amongst the pigeons with the above photo having added lettuce and lemon, but I could not find a photo I could use with just the fingers and bread.  I could have gone out and bought the ingredients for a photo shoot in my kitchen….but it’s cold outside.  (Shame on me for not having any already in the freezer and this being north-east London I only have wholegrain bread)

I’m still riding high on my new job which is working backstage on the National Theatre’s production of Beginning by David Eldridge.  One of the high points of the play is a conversation over fish finger sandwiches.  Don’t let that put you off.

There’s enough on the web written about it and I am not going to repeat much of that here.

The first time I saw it was a technical run-through (checking the lighting and sound) and the second time I saw it was the Dress Rehearsal.  On both occasions there was no audience.  On both occasions I thought my heart was going to burst.  Even now after I have seen it performed twenty or so times, there are moments which still make me catch my breath.

The play is around 100 minutes of two strangers having a conversation in one of their (new) flats.  The set is so realistic, it is absolutely like being in someone’s home; the attention to detail is extraordinary.  Just occasionally you get a match between script and actors which is so perfect that you forget you are in a theatre.  It usually takes me 10 minutes or so to get used two people talking on a stage in slightly artificial voices, and to worry about how stage management are going to deal with the props, and wonder if that lighting is correctly focused.  With this play I was watching to “real” people from the first line uttered. And night after night it gets richer and deeper as I notice more and more.  Justine Mitchell, one of the actors says the writer David Eldridge is really funny, really soulful, [has an] incredible sense of rhythm – he really likes human beings”

It was her words about his sense of rhythm which made me realise the key to this simple, complex play and its direction by Polly Findlay, is that it is like a musical.  Kristen Chenoweth said: We sing because we can’t speak anymore. Dance is an extension of that – we dance because we can’t speak anymore.

The dialogue of Beginning is like a musical score with crescendos, silences, themes, variations, repetitions, climaxes.  The characters move around each other like a dance: coming together, parting, circling, walking away, remaining in stillness.  And this is underscored by the use of actual music and dance in the production.

Every night the audience laughs at different lines and moments.  Every night the audience is silent at different lines and moments.  Every reaction is valid.  I am finding the play really funny now, but I also hear the audience laughing when they feel awkward, unsure, embarrassed because it is so “real”. The dialogue specifically pinpoints the play’s setting in time and place, and already it is dated, but that doesn’t matter.  On one level it captures a time and a place, and on another it unfolds timeless human feelings and behaviour.  It’s about the possibility of a new beginning,  it’s about the possibility of another beginning, it’s about loneliness and it’s about connections.  It’s simplicity paradoxically highlights the contradictions, complexities and general messiness of our lives.  It shows us specific people and then shows who they really are, and for that reason it is a play that not only rewards more than one viewing, but I believe it will endure and continue to be revived.

I walk around backstage and still have to pinch myself.  It’s a great team of people of which I am part. Everyone is warm and friendly and funny. I am so fortunate. I still haven’t had the courage to tell the two actors what I think of their performances as I still can’t get used to them calling me by my first name.  It’s like magic watching them go from being themselves into character in a split second.

And just to add to the excitement of my life, last night during a big fight at the seafood restaurant next to the theatre, five fish got battered.


One of the most time-consuming things is to have an enemy.



If you torture data enough it will confess to anything.

Ronald Coase