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Category: Writing (page 3 of 10)


On my way up to Harrogate by train, so a rare mid-week posting.

The reviews came out yesterday. A steady 2 star set of ratings. It’s disappointing.

I’m in the privileged position of having seen the end stage of the creative process of this production just before it went into previews.  I saw the director, the actors, the designers and stage management all working. I talked to them – and still do. What no one knows is what a great team have made this production.  Within the hierarchy, I’m pretty low, but from day one I was treated and spoken to as an equal.

(Right at this moment I am caught between taking the lid off my tea to let it cool down as it’s too hot to drink, and leaving the lid on so I don’t throw tea around the carriage. Too late…)

It means I look forward to going into work. I’m in a team of people who smile, chat, respect each other, work as a team – and above all work very hard.

That’s a thing people do know, but don’t always think about.  And this is something people should think about when they are writing reviews.  This play is a two-hander lasting 95 minutes with no interval.  The two actors are barely off stage the whole time.  They are locked into a 90 minute conversation with each other.  Think how much that means they have to learn and remember.

It’s more than a memory feat.  It’s an intense play. One character is relentlessly cynical and negative. They are locked into a dance and the level of trust the two actors have in each other is (has to be) extraordinary. If one forgets a line, the other has to react. If a prop malfunctions, they have to deal with it. They are both exposed.  It is acting at a dangerous and exciting level – but it must be utterly exhausting. Two days of each week they perform two shows.

I don’t mind people not liking the play itself. (Having said that I know what a bad show is and this is not a badly written play by ANY stretch of the imagination). But please give the cast some credit, some acknowledgement for their work and achievement. They are superb actors giving superb performances.  Two stars? One for the play and one for the production?  Well if you insist, but at least acknowledge the work before you, in your review or opinion.  I am not anti-critics.  I think well informed, reflective, historically and politically aware critics are important.  I just don’t like something being pulled down because someone doesn’t like it very much,

The West End is a business. People make money from it. People lose money in it.  And most people working in it really care about what they are doing; they do what they do to high standards. Please remember that, especially when you aren’t enjoying something very much.


Another Ending

And so goodbye to another show.  I’ve had a short-term covering position and graduated from Board Op to stage duties – hence all my windy tweets.  I’ve done a lot of vacuuming.  I’m telling you, hoovering a West End theatre stage puts cleaning your own abode into context.  I’ve excelled at flying in a curtain, moving props between actors, and operating sound effects (usually on cue hem-hem).  Much as I love lighting, I love being in the wings with the actors even more. The company on this show (“it’ll run and run”) have been one of the funniest set of people I have worked with.  Many a performance I have been reduced to gasping for breath (silently) laughing in the wings.  I have to say that now I have left teaching and gone into the theatre, I find I am laughing more.  It’s as if I have lost a burden of stress I was carrying around as a teacher.  Well let’s face it – I was under huge pressure and sad to say, although I miss being with the children, I don’t miss teaching one jot.  I rarely think about it.  And anyway, actors are grown-ups who still have the playfulness of children in them, so the theatre is not much different to the classroom.

I’ve only been on the show a couple of months but I have really felt at home and had a great time playing a little part in its history.  I am writing this at home an hour into the show, and I am feeling a little lost.

Now I’ve three weeks of no work/pay and then I hope to have something at the beginning of September. Fingers crossed. I’ll have a break in between.  I want to concentrate on my creative writing so I am going to get off social media temporarily.

So I say goodbye feeling sad and happy; I like the transient nature of theatre.  I like it’s nightly routine and I like moving on to a fresh start.  Farewell to another production that will remain locked in my heart.


The Hens

I am no novice at looking after hens.  I have two sets of friends who own them and I have looked after them (the chickens, not the friends) whilst they (the friends, not the chickens) have been away on holiday.

Note to self:  what is difference between a chicken and a hen?

So I already knew they were cunning, tricky characters;  not as evil as our monstrous pet cat but nevertheless are out to get me at any available opportunity.

It was going to be an easy task: just a couple of days and they should have had enough food and water that I would not have to go in their coop.  However as the hot weather was continuing I thought it best to change the water as it was looking low.

Needless to say the water holder is a complex fangled thing which always takes me longer to faff around with than I anticipate.  So I went in the coop which is human height, and so not a squeeze.  Hens were restless and making a fuss around me.  I had some difficulty getting the water thing off its hook. As I was doing so I did not notice that a deathly silence had befallen my surroundings.  It was only as I turned to open the door that I saw the door was open. And four chickens in the garden.

I have to say that I did stay calm and did not panic.  What I could have done without, though, was the audience of neighbours in the garden next door,  trying and failing to be pretending not to watch me.  I chased three little blighters (the hens, not the neighbours) around the garden. They don’t move that fast but are quite good a dodging you and their beady little eyes are fixed on you at all times.  Fortunately  they let me pick them up without fuss and I got three back in with less problem than I imagined.  I went to get the last one…..NO CHICKEN.  ANYWHERE.  TO BE SEEN.

Now dear Reader it was my time to panic.  Inwardly panic, admittedly, due to the neighbouring spectators. I looked everywhere.  Do I swallow my pride and ask for help? Why wasn’t it in their garden? It was never going to come back and be eaten by foxes and the parents would have to tell the children and it would ruin their lives and it was all my fault.  And it was really hot and I was now sweating like the proverbial other farmyard animal. I texted my friends saying I had lost a hen and was having a breakdown and with a heavy heart I plodded back to the house.


I went into the kitchen, only to find an unhappy cat watching a hen eating all the food out of the cat bowl.  The little bugger had eaten the wet cat food and scattered the dry biscuits everywhere over the kitchen floor.  I texted my friends quickly, getting replies from them along the lines of  “that is pretty much our life”, “that’s one of the reasons the cat is such a bag of nerves” and “I love your messages: it’s like watching someone else live exactly my life.”

So what I find out, when they get back, is that they do let the chickens out periodically, and I needn’t have worried about that.  I don’t know why it has never occurred to me that they wouldn’t. And also that every time they let them out, the hens make a run for the kitchen.  I had been in the unusual situation of them not all doing this the second they were out, and that only one of them eventually bothered to get to  the kitchen.

It was all made worth it by my friends presenting me with a packet of biscuits from their holiday as a thank you accompanied by the words, “they aren’t very nice when you first eat them, but they get better.”

If you are reading this, my dear friends: it’s the thought that counts.

Notes From My Life

10th July

Talked to Dad on the phone. He said how pleased he was to hear I was writing a play.  Who’d have thought my elderly engineer father would be pleased I’d left teaching to write a play.

Listened to the hatmaker and designer Philip Treacy on Desert Island Discs. When he was 6 in a small Irish school he had asked his teacher if he could sew, which only the girls did. The teacher not only said yes but taught all the boys sewing, and the girls the boys’ work.  His Dad took him shopping to buy a doll when he was 9.  He heard a neighbour say to his father, didn’t he think it a bit odd a young boy was dressing a doll, to which his father replied: whatever makes him happy.  His father died just a few years later.

11th July

World Cup Semi-final.  As I write this England 1 – Croatia 0.  Journey into work appalling and nearly couldn’t get off the tube at Leicester Square.  As curtain came down at end of Act 1 I saw on monitor [camera in auditorium focused on the stage]  someone crashing into it.  I looked down from my perch to see one of the ASM’s lying on his back looking up at me.  Apparently he had dashed on to do the scene change so quickly he had tangled himself up in the curtain.  The show report read that he hadn’t hurt anything except his ego.

12th July

Kate from yoga saying her next door neighbour had died at the age of 95 from a heart attack. Long story but in the process she learned that if you don’t have the actual DNR paperwork with you, it has to go ahead – dreadful in this case as it probably achieved nothing but breaking her neighbour’s ribs. Her daughter had come over but had left the DNR paperwork at home not realising she had to have it in hand. Also if you die at home the police have to be called to rule out foul play, and the undertakers have to come to the house as hospital morgues are only for patients who die in hospital.  Not jolly facts but useful to know to help dealing with grim situations.

14 July

Went for my “annual” MOT at the doctors. First had an interface to deal with confirming my age, address and other things. Once I had negotiated that, I was given a form to fill in by hand all the same information plus answer a few questions on how much alcohol I drink.    Then I saw the doctor who squinted at their computer screen form about 4inches away and typed laboriously with two fingers (or so it seemed).  Then I got put on a machine which automatically weighed me and recorded my height.  Put my arm in an opening where it took my blood pressure.  The future is here.

16 July

Guess who saw the play last night.  Singularly unimpressed and failed to notice the majority of my hard work.  (I have been renamed “God” by the DSM as I control light, dark, wind, fire, snow and air conditioning).   Barely noticed my “flicker to black”.  More interested in the good amount of legroom the seat had, and the interval’s cup of tea and ice-cream in  the “lovely” theatre bar.  Conclusion was something along the lines of “two and a half hours I won’t get back but glad I saw it”.   Nice to feel appreciated.

Notes From My Life

Should be writing a review of Translations but too hot.  So here are some more diary entries:

29 May

I’ve suddenly hit inertia at home. I’ve done nothing for two days (three if you include today). I seem to go through periods of time when I have so much to do I end up writing lists, to times like this when  I have nothing to do. I made a completely failed attempt to start writing a play. That lasted all of ten minutes or less (the attempt, not the play). And yet I can write till the cows come home in this book. This writing is just my unfiltered thinking, and also I have an hour or so to write – or alternatively watch the play, which I do occasionally. Maybe I need a special place to write creatively.

2 June

(Finally that £5.50 Swiss-made Caran d’Ache ballpoint pen, I bought especially for use with this notebook, that has blotched its way through these pages and which I have battled on with because it was £5.50 Swiss-made Caran d’Ache, has finally run out of ink. )

Listened to In Our Time on Henrik Ibsen this morning. I learned that Ibsen continually changed tack, maybe to challenge himself, maybe because  people’s minds and behaviour are all complex. They talked about how complex his women are. And I didn’t realise he’s the most performed playwright after Shakespeare.  He was happily maried, and in his daily habits very conservative. He lived many years out of Norway. A Doll’s House was seen as shocking but no banned – it became a serious talking point. Even today the thought of a mother leaving her children, let alone leaving them in the hands of a man (her husband) she didn’t think capable of looking after them, has a feeling of taboo about it. Unlike Hedda, Nora doesn’t kill herself.

4 June

I’m going to be spending the performance watching a woman in very bright patterned trousers. She’s spent a long time chatting up a male FOH who brought her something.  She’s probably in her seventies. She’s moved herself, coat and bag into the seats opposite me and has made herself at home. She’s been stretched across the Dress Circle ledge but has been gazing back around the auditorium. Then a mobile went off, some way behind her, so she spent some time looking around at them – glaring I should imagine. Now she seems to have settled into watching the  play, possibly the reason that most of the audience are here. She’s just taken her top off to reveal a spaghetti strap vest. I’m now wondering if she’s a man. Very thin, short dyed blonde hair. Came in wearing one of those oversize “golfing” hats and large 1970’s sunglasses. I now can’t decide if they are a man or a woman. Whichever, they now seem gripped by Michael’s and Andrew’s acting onstage. Now they are fumbling in a bag. Food? The scream sound effect made them jump to attention. They are starting to fidget and  look around again:  I’m wrong about the top. It has thin but not spaghetti straps and seems to have a low cut at the side. Middle seems to be ruched horizontally. Large dark watch on right wrist. Definitely a woman as I can now see the front has a very low cut. Polka dot pattern. She’s swaying to the interval’s Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. I like her.

19 June

Heard The Film Programme.  There was an interview with  Michael Smith, the first autistic director to make a feature film. He said something like, ” I don’t just want to think outside the box, but smash the box and remake it in my image.”

Sky Marbles

I love and am proud to work for the Foundling Museum which I think is one of the most important museums in London.  It is a place of heartbreak, sadness and hope.  It is a beacon of how important the arts are for changing lives.

Even though I am used to being there amongst its paintings and objects telling their silent stories, occasionally I still get overwhelmed. This work done with the children of Thomas Coram Nursery, inspired by Tom Railton (the Museum’s 2014 Artist- In -Residence) brought tears to my eyes.  As you look at their Sky Marbles you hear their voices talking about why they have made toys for the foundling children, and what types and colours of weathers they have in the marble they have made.

Sky Marbles – The Foundling Museum

Tom Railton – Cluds

An Unforgotten Life

I recently went to the superb exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery about Charles II and his art collection.  There were four magnificent full length portraits hanging together, all of which were fascinating but this one I found very moving.


Welcome To My World

Spent the afternoon visiting some squares and gardens as part of London’s Open Squares Weekend. Here are some snippets of the conversations had during the afternoon.

1.  [Context: On tube platform.  Station Manager announcement being broadcast]

“You don’t need to put on your sunglasses here.”

“They help me hear the announcement better.”

2.  “Part of me really wants a dog.”

“How much part of you?”


3.  “Have you done your diet days this week?”



It is a bit tricky writing about the theatre from the perspective of someone who works on live performances but who also cares  that the magic of theatre is untouched, but it’s a balance I am striving to achieve.  Forgive me for any failings.

Some of you folk may be wondering about my flicker.  Well it’s very important, but I can’t say very much more about it, as it is part of a play steeped in  theatrical history, and I can’t give away its secrets.  What I can say is that I have the weight of that theatre history heavy on my shoulders.  The irony is if you were to watch me at work you’d probably think I had the easiest job in the world, but I have an enormous responsibility and with one twitch of my finger could bring about disaster.  I’m exaggerating, but only slightly.  My job adds to the reality and the mystery – the atmosphere, the magic – of  the performance.  Not one person in the audience will be thinking about the little factory of operations going on behind the scenes – without which there would be no show – because they don’t know about it.  As previously written on here I have the privilege of stepping through a portal (through the wardrobe, down the rabbit hole) into  a world that is a unique mixture of magic and the utmost banality.  It’s a world that has to run like clockwork, and yet it is at its most exhilarating when it doesn’t, for whenever possible the audience must not know that the cogs aren’t turning smoothly. Then the magicians has to summon all their powers to keep the illusion intact.  That may be a member of stage management or an actor improvising.  It may be me rethinking which button to push.  In each case the thinking must be fast and accurate.  At worst the theatre is a dangerous place where accidents can and do happen.  Many theatre traditions are in fact what we now call Health and Safety.

I’ll be flickering twice today.  Joking about it is a way of not thinking about it too hard. Deep down I am a little scared because these two numbers are watching over my shoulder.

66    27,370

Notes From My Life

In the spirit of the great David Sedaris, here are some (recent) notes from my diary;  some of it written at work:

23rd May

To write or not to write.  That is the question.  Spent the morning writing to my parents as usual but as I was describing the play I ended up writing ten A4 sides, so I’m not sure if I can keep up more writing now. (A friend described my weekly handwritten letter home as “an act of love.”)

Applied for a very small job this morning – an ASM [Assistant Stage Manager] to cover one night at a  pub theatre.  £150.  Watch one night, shadow the next and work the third.  You never know.  Decided to presume there’s not going to be a job next in here for me.

I’d quite like to have a quiet doze now but for the actors talking on stage.

19th May

Watching this play, very much in the mould of a traditional repertory play, reminds me of a play I saw with my parents when I was a child.  I think it was in Cheltenham – we must have been on holiday.  I remember it was very nasty with horrible images at the end of each scene or act.  I specifically remember a character having his head hammered in – he was lying down, maybe on a table as the  lights changed and dimmed and he screamed, probably a sound effect.  We also saw Rattle Of A Simple man at the Savoy with John Alderton and Pauline Collins, married in real life, a comedy about him failing to have sex with her – they were client and prostitute.  And then there was Alan Bennett’s Habeas Corpus at Harrogate Theatre, I remember being astonishingly rude as only Alan Bennett can.  I wonder what my parents felt, thought or said about these plays and how I would react to them at such a young age.

25th May

I’d love a bespoke suit.  My own tailor even more.

27th May

Looking out the Green Room window and saw two homeless people totally drugged up and moving their limbs in the repeated “mad” manner that you almost expect people in their state to.  Later on between shows I bumped into a friend in Covent Garden.  Whilst talking to her a homeless man came up to us with his “last” Big Issue.  My friend opened her bag and purse in front of him and gave him £2.50.  He was obviously an addict and made a joke as a way of saying thank you which caused me to laugh out loud.


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