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Category: Writing (page 1 of 7)

Trust

Interestingly (well I think so) I have been working on two plays that have both had intense parts for two actors mostly on stage together alone for the whole time.  Beginning by David Eldridge was a 1hr 45 minute real-time conversation (no interval) between a woman who had just held a flat-warming party and a man who was the last guest to leave.  Mindgame by Anthony Horowitz, a dizzying black comedy, is mostly the verbal sparring of two men: psychiatrist and a writer, with medal-deserving support from a third character of a female nurse.

Both plays have got me thinking about the relationship between the two actors around whom each play is constructed.  Beginning is a new play, which started life at the National Theatre, although not written specifically for the actors, Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton.  The director Polly Findlay was able to work with the  writer David Eldridge, and the designers Fly Davis (set) and Jack Knowles (lighting).  It was Findlay’s production but the collaboration between her and all involved must have been intense.  The play is set in one room, in this production a hyper-realistic creation of a Crouch End flat (the playwright is specific on this area of London), and the actors commented that when on the set at the Ambassadors, the acoustics and feel was more like being in a real flat than they expected.  I don’t think the actors knew each other beforehand but they had to become a team.  They had to have complete trust in each other.  If one made a mistake of any kind, there was no distraction; it fell to the quick-thinking and spontaneity of the other to keep the momentum going.

They also had to trust each other because they were portraying a developing relationship.  The audience had to believe in them.  I read the text after I had seen the play a multitude of times and it really hit home how alive a production makes a text – OK that sounds so obvious, but I would say it makes you appreciate how good a text is (and superficially this text is simplicity itself – a conversation between two people) that the whole creative team working together can bring out subtleties and treasure buried in the print on paper.  And the writer presumably was surprised when he saw it alive on stage.  Think about the transition from first rehearsals in an ordinary room in ordinary clothes, through going onto the set and putting on the costumes, through (in this case) performances in two theatres, through an empty auditorium rehearsal to an audience filled opening night, to an emotional closing night.  Just as you never step in the same river, you never watch the same play.

I love to watch the trust between actors.  It is so precious.  The other night in Mindgame something went accidentally wrong and as in so much of theatre, the knock-on effect reached a long way.  The actors thought fast and even if some of the audience noticed something, they would never have known the quick-thinking and fast action had been taken onstage and off, and you can work like that if you absolutely trust each other.

Again I come back to the idea of theatre as family, as a team.  It’s not just the actors alone, it’s them and the backstage team.  Any small thoughtless mistake can have an impact.  You cannot live in a bubble in live performance.  That’s why I find it so exciting and so satisfying.  It’s not always this ideal but when it works it flies.

Portals

A couple of summers a go I read Robert Macfarlane’s book Landmarks about how both our language and  a handful of writers he focuses on have shaped our relationship with the landscape of this country. The last chapter is about a project by Deb Wilenksi with Caroline Wending observing a class of Reception children (4-5 year olds). Over ten Monday mornings they went out into a local country park and were just left to do whatever they wished with the adults watching and listening to them.  Then in the subsequent afternoon they were given free play (no intervention from the adults other than to set up the classroom’s resources), out of which their various forms of creativity revealed their responses to and understanding of the landscape they had explored. They showed they were thinking imaginatively both scientifically and artistically.  Regarding the latter form of thought and expression, the educators noticed the children found imagined portals throughout the area, particularly in trees which led into zones of the children’s creation.  The researcher and/or Macfarlane note that many children’s books have portals: a rabbit hole, a railway platform wall, a wardrobe, a tollbooth, a door that needs its key – to name a few.

And so I got thinking about a portal I walk through most nights.  It has a secret code and it leads me from this world into many different worlds.  It is the door between the public area of the theatre and the backstage.   I leave one reality and enter another at the push of a few numbered buttons.  Sometimes there is no one around and I find myself alone in a strange, familiar, deserted space.  Everyday objects mix with electrical equipment, all shrouded in darkness around a lit central area the actors will later enter.

 

There is “the fourth wall” which is how the space between actors on the stage and  their watching audience is described.  The days of a heavy curtain separating those two spaces has gone in many theatres, and  the audience often enter the world of the actors, playwright, designer, director, stage crew immediately they show their ticket.  Has some magic been lost when that physical portal has been removed?

The actors themselves cross through an invisible portal as they leave the wings for the stage and linked to this is another portal they go through which I observe only, because it belongs to the actor alone.  Backstage they may be in costume, wig, make-up, but usually they are themselves; chatting and laughing, complaining and thinking –  in dressing rooms, in the shared Green Room, at the Stage Door or on the stairs.  Through this portal they change and become the reason the audience are watching.  It is like magic.  It still fills me with a little wonder and awe witnessing this change.  The same change night after night that is never the same.  Someone asked me how I can bear watching the same thing night after night, and yet for me the true beauty of what I do is to experience a work of art on continually changing levels.  There’s always surprises: unnoticed connections in the spoken script, a dropped prop, an unexpected audience reaction.  I usually read a novel once, see a film once, maybe look at a painting a few times.  Music is something I listen to over and over, but when I go to the theatre I may see the same play more than once in different productions but only in this work do I have the privilege of deepening my knowledge and experience of a play.  A performance is very different on first night as it is on last.  The actors trust each other more, become more comfortable with each other over time as they perform.  Or the opposite: maybe they rub each other up the wrong way.

We are all actors, we all play our parts.  Ok, no original thinking there  but it is worth remembering.  The little family, the little world of the theatre mirrors our own.  Functional.  Dysfunctional.  It’s why I love Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander so much.  As Oscar Ekdahl, the father of his own family and his theatre family (both these families entwined) says in his speech after the Christams Eve Nativity performance they have given:

My dear friends. For 22 years in the capacity of theatre manager, I’ve stood here and made a speech without really having any talent for that sort of thing. Especially if you think of my father who was brilliant at speeches. My only talent, if you can call it that in my case, is that I love this little world inside the thick walls of this playhouse, and I’m fond of the people who work in this little world. Outside is the big world, and sometimes the little world succeeds in reflecting the big one so that we understand it better. Or perhaps, we give the people who come here a chance to forget for a while, for a few short moments, the harsh world outside. Our theatre is a little room of orderliness, routine, care and love. I don’t know why I feel so comically solemn this evening. I can’t explain how I feel, so I’d best be brief….

There you have it.  Why I love the theatre.

End

Just realised I never wrote this post.

It was one of the happiest times of my life.

My 2010 Broken Ankle

I just came across this write-up from 2010 I’d sent to friends and I didn’t want to delete it, so posting it here.  It is slightly hysterical in tone:

How I Broke My Leg by Hopalong Bert

Due to popular demand, here is what happened:

My boots which I wear all day every day, have been through so many repairs I couldn’t justify another patch up.  (Comfortable boots are like old friends).  I had a small hole in one toe and the tread had worn down again and I was slipping a bit on them.  So I decided to go and buy a new pair in the West End – they originally came from Next.  Well I started in John Lewis buying a lightbulb (wrong type) and looking at digital radios as ours has bust, and pottering for Christmas present ideas.  Then I passed a Zara – one of my favourite shops – and nearly bought a jacket and dufflecoat but decided  I couldn’t afford or need either. Then I went down Regent Street to Next.  That’s right, there isn’t a Next on Regent Street.  So I ended up passing another Zara.  Hmmmmm…just pop in and look at them again.  Decided against jacket but thought I would treat myself to £90 dufflecoat, as I have just paid off my credit card (that would be the bill of the Nicole Farhi £hem-hem dufflecoat to add to my 2 other dufflecoats. You can never have too many dufflecoats.)  Credit card declined so I had to pay out of my current account, the whole point being not to pay for it from current account as it was a treat to pay off over 2 months on credit card.

As leaving shop slipped because worn boot treads, ankle bent outwards and I landed on ground knocking my head (not hard).  5 people came to my rescue, but of course I was so embarrassed I got to my feet saying I was OK and hobbled off.  My logic now was to get to Next and get more boots.  Got to Charing Cross Road very slowly and pain quite bad so stopped for a hot chocolate in favourite cafe.  Then got to Next by Charing Cross Station – line discontinued.

Hobbled up to Church’s in Covent Garden – changed to Jones the Bootmaker (when?) and no use.  Hobbled up to Floral Street and went in a few shops including Paul Smith (what was I thinking going in there?) determined to get a new pair before I fell again.  Snowing by this time.   Ended up on Long Acre and saw a Russell and Bromley.  Pain was getting quite bad now, but fortunately they had a fantastic pair of boots (£125 bargain).  Credit card declined again.

Staggered home, found ankle very swollen (see photo) and next morning bruised as well.  Rang neighbour who drove me to doctor.  Doctor said probably wasn’t broken but to go to hospital anyway.  Neighbour drove me and said to ring when finished if I didn’t want to go home on bus.

More or less got straight in for an x-ray.  Fracture is hairline so they had to check with a consultant, but he/she confirmed it was broken.  More or less got straight into A and E, but had quite a long wait (had got 2 books and a magazine with me).  Consultant told me I would have to have it put in plaster and all being well it would take 6 – 8 weeks to heal.

Well all this only took about 4 hours and I was out by 3pm (I thought I would be in till at least 6pm).  I had to sit with naked toes and crutches by opening-and-closing door at A and E entrance.  Note: it is FREEZING temperatures at the moment here.  Rang neighbour who was not home yet, rang everyone else I could think of – no one available so I rang for a taxi.  30 minute wait.  I explained I was by door of A and E with leg in plaster and you couldn’t miss me.  30 mins or so went by and Taxi man arrives asking for “Caroline” who is on crutches and going to same area as I live.  Well I thought there had been a mix-up and it was for me, so we had a laugh at me being Caroline and I got in taxi  – to realise it was a different taxi firm and Caroline’s address was not mine.  So I battled back out of taxi and waited few more mins, before realising it was now 45 mins since initial call – so rang back.  Told driver had turned up, couldn’t find me and gone away again.  Deep breath.  How long for another taxi?  60 mins.  I  know what happened – Hospital has a new big main entrance (probably where Caroline was) and A and E is a small entrance near to hospital’s original one.  Which is why  I had emphasised to taxi firm exactly where I was.  What’s the betting he went to main entrance?

Well by this time I was ready to cry.  It was snowing outside and no way I could get a bus.  School run had merged into rush hour as well,l hence no taxis.  As a last resort I contacted my brother in law who is a consultant in hospital (I know it seems stupid not to have done this before but I didn’t think he could drop everything unexpectedly for me, and at the time a 30 min taxi wait was bearable.)  So he came to my rescue and drove me home. And has since forwarded me my x-ray.

And I have a lovely pair of boots and 4 duffle coats (one brand new) which I can’t wear as I can’t leave the flat.

And a looming overdraft.

My card was declined as it had expired.  I so rarely use it  I had not noticed.  I’d been sent new one in May.  No idea where that is – under a pile of things somewhere no doubt.

 

Update

or How To Put Off Going Into Work

Just to keep your all up to scratch with the thrills of my life, I have gainful employment after the show I am on closes this weekend, on a short run of a psychological thriller by Anthony Horowitz.  So temporarily I have no unemployment and a little more money coming in than I expected.

There’s another play booked after that but as yet my potential position on it is unknown.

Phew!

 

To My Aunt

And so another funeral.  This time my aunt.  I was very close to her when I was a child.  My family used to travel down to her house for Christmas every year, a long tortuous car journey.  There was my Uncle, cousins, brothers and grandparents, plus all the neighbours coming in for sherry on Christmas morning.  It was a big house built in the late 1960’s I guess, with a main bedroom which instead of having a fourth sold wall, was open onto the living room below.  They eventually

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Grrrrrrrump

Well it’s hot.  I don’t mind the heat and I love the seasons in this country but when we go from snow to heatwave in what feels like 4 weeks, then I get grumpy.  Actually I am grumpy generally.  I’ve had a number of deaths amongst family and friends in recent months (which is why the blog has been a bit subdued) and I know the generation above me in the family will soon be no longer be around.   Being old is harder than I can imagine, even witnessing it first-hand.  I  understand how people give up on life, when they just feel too exhausted to go on.  The very elderly who manage to sustain an independent life fall between the two stools of the social services and the healthcare system – which don’t seem to work together.  I know people think it’s great when old people live independently, and it is that very independence that keeps them going, but life when you are old is unbelievably hard when you have to struggle to do the simplest of things.  For instance getting out of bed.  Washing.  Going to the toilet.  Cooking is very hard.  It involves heat, and bending down and lifting things.  You can’t impose on people what you think will make life easier.  If they have never had a microwave, they aren’t going to start over with one now.  Getting a cleaner in is an obvious solution, but what if you have never lived with a stranger coming into your home?  So the cleaning is kept to a minimum or not done at all.  If you are managing your failing body (arthritis, a multitude of pills to take etc) and getting by day to day, then the social care system and the health system pretty much ignore you.  There is no holistic duty of care by them anymore.  That is something the generation above me has seen disappear, and they find that very hard.  Care in hospitals can be amazingly good but things aren’t joined up.  Departments don’t talk to each other.  Everyone seems to work in a bubble.  The duty of care by a taxi driver or a supermarket assistant who just go slightly out of their way to help makes so, so much difference to the quality of someone’s life.

If you have a network of family, friends and neighbours to keep an eye on you, that is all good,  but how people cope who do not have this is beyond me.  There must be so much acute loneliness in this world.

Forgive me.  This was intended to be a review of Caroline Or Change.

Off to work now.

Grumpy.

 

Beginning Of Food

Kiwi fruit, porridge, banana, pie, yogurt, Peroni, Chablis, cupcakes, cherry, pesto, shoulder of lamb, fish finger sandwich, scotch egg, tomato ketchup, hot dog, sausage roll, lemon, salami, artichoke, mushroom crostini, HP Sauce, cheeseballs, bag of crisps, wine, candyfloss, eggs, bacon, ale, bitter, sausage-meat, toast, breadcrumbs, “dirty Ginsters”, cheese & pineapple, pickle.

I feel a PhD coming on.

(with apologies to David Eldridge)

I Need A Job (Again)

I really need a job from March 26th.  I’m clean and tidy, can use a knife and fork and tie my own shoelaces.

All  offers and suggestions gratefully received.

Anything involving writing and/or the theatre would make me too happy for words.

Middle

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.

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