Sunday, 2 October 2011

Gesundheit - Week 10

Unfortunately for me, my last evening in Windsor was not an enjoyable one. I said goodnight to Vee as soon as I got through the door and went to bed to get as much kip as possible, for my early start the next morning.
            I laid there, eyes forced shut, blocking out every sliver of infinitesimal light there was. I moved from side to side; left then right then back again. No good. I tried my back. No good there either. My front? Apparently not. I repeated the feeble exercise over again. Left, right, back, front. And again. Left, right, back front.
            If you're bored yet, reading this, then you'll sympathise with how pissed off I was doing it.
            It was as if I were lying in a foreign bed - one that I had found, at a jumble sale and was unsure of using it. Indeed, despite having a week of the pleasantest night's sleep that I've had in ages, the fact remained that I was uncomfortable, irritable and as far from slumber as one could get.
            My mind began to whir.
            I uploaded last week's blog at about 2:00am. Job done, maybe that'll do it.
            Still it whirred.
            I did some online banking at 3 ish. Now that's better.
            Isn't it?
            I turned on the bedside lamp and picked up my trusty book. 4:00am..?
            I read a page. This is more like it. And another. And a - oh, wait - what was it that I read on that first page? And the second??
            Apparently, the book that I've found endlessly engaging and enjoying since I started it was now nothing more than muddled squiggles on a page. In fact I was too tired to read it.
            So why couldn't I get to fucking sleep?!

            And so, amid thoughts and replays of the shows, the week's events and anything else that fancied plaguing me, the night continued. When my futile 'alarm' sounded at 8:30am, I was unsure if I'd slept at all. I certainly felt like crap and looked it too, so if we're going by that...
            I said my goodbyes to Vee and went to catch the train.
            Despite my terrible evening, my mood was pretty good. I managed to get myself a cooked breakfast before boarding at a nearby greasy spoon and was thoroughly pleased with myself. Sadly, my good humour evaporated when I got on the train. Two women sat behind me, one of which who was quite possibly the most opinionated and extreme in views that I have ever come across who insisted in talking at the very top of her voice.
            I sat there, trying to type and heard the following:
            "It's hard being me, you know? My step-brother is a Millionaire, my father, he is probably a Millionaire. Even my sister - she is married to a Millionaire. I want to be married to a Millionaire."
            I shit you not.
            "Do you want to get married? I want to get married. I want a baby. I want more money too. Money, money, money, money, money. I want to be a millionaire."
            Fight it, King.
            "I want to be married before I have a baby. People that don't have children are pathetic. I hate them. Like my brother - he is weak. I don't like him because he is weak. He doesn't have children. Or money. Like people that have children without being married. At the end of the day - those children are bastards."
            My pulse is actually racing in anger having wrote this so must stop now. But honestly?
            "Have you got much money?"
            Honestly love, there are more important things.
            I haven't had a cigarette for what must be a whole year now, but after hearing such utter nonsense, I was craving one more than I ever have.

            The change in trains was greatly appreciated. I cut through London in a flash, barely registering the void in time since I was last there.
            With time to spare, I alighted at St. Pancreas and made my way for Mansfield, via the drizzly climbs of Nottingham.
            I had an hour to spare there before alighting for the final train of the journey and wandered into the unknown town in search of a pub. I found one remarkably quickly. The Kings are blessed and burdened by their greatest asset; enormous - often misshapen - noses. Con, it looks as if we have a ski slope plastered on to the front of our faces/Pro, we can sniff out a pub in a 3 mile radius.
            Every cloud.
            When I entered the 'Bentinck', it was everything I could hope for, grotty, badly lit and long over due a facelift. Perfect.
            A group of lads were huddled round the bar, just starting a stag do and I got chatting to them nursing a pint. God bless the Great British Public House! Where in the world can grumpy Brits turn up and do nothing but drink and make friends with complete strangers?
            I salute you.
            The next train was brief and painless. I got off at Manfield Woodhouse and was met with a beaming smile from Yvette (the lady Ducky and I will be staying with for the visit). She took me to the house via a children's birthday party.
            That's right, you read correctly, a children's birthday party.
            All was made clear in seconds as she revealed that her daughter is a children's entertainer and had left the party to come and collect me.
            What was so lovely was to see a community of people so enmeshed and entwined with one another. They all had a connection and the few of them whom I was introduced to were nothing but warm and radiating contentment. It was great to see the rampaging kids too. There are few things in this world as wonderful to witness as the uninhabited playing of children. It's a shame that as adults we shy away from the lessons that they can offer us.

'Steve' - Yvette and Tony's unique ornament

            I met Yvette's husband, Tony when we got to the house. He had cooked for us, which I was totally bowled over by.  He was just like his wife, the epitome of bonhomie.
            They go to the theatre ALL THE TIME. This year alone they have taken in a staggering 73 shows.
            Ours will be the 74th!
            They also have a database of every actor that they have ever seen which is on display at the V&A museum!
            After we ate, we chatted about the profession and theatrical life in general. Though, having not slept well the previous evening, I made my excuses and enjoyed a long, steamy soak in the bath to unwind.
            I finished reading Love in the Time of Cholera.
            It has one of the most beautiful ending passages that I have ever read.
            Read it. Do, it's perfect. Perfect for all of those who understand that love is as much about the racing rush of bloods and mad, wild-eyed, pulpitatious pantings of dizzying sex as it is, arguing about remembering to flush the toilet. It is about hating one another. It is a lesson of accepting that love is always finding and never a given constant.
            A quote that pretty much sums up the book would have to be, 'they had lived together long enough to know that love was always love, anytime and any place, but it was more solid the closer it came to death.'
            It's a shame that most will never realise such a thing until it is too late - but still - perfect, nonetheless.

            I slept like a baby that night and caught up on all the kip that I'd missed out on the previous evening.
            When I surfaced on Monday morning, Yvette greeted me with a chirpy 'Good morning!" and asked if I was ready for breakfast...
            I get breakfast!
            Cooked breakfast!
            She also asked when I would like dinner and when I'd like her to taxi me in to the theatre...
            I felt almost guilty, knowing what some digs offer for the same price!
            The day was quite leisurely after lunch and I switched my time between writing, reading and watching TV.
            I was provided with dinner - again - before the show and was ferried in by Tony, who was coming to watch the performance later on with Yvette. They really are unbelievably generous people.
            I was dropped off at the theatre and found my way to the green room and dressing rooms. Ducky and Speedy were both asleep on the couches. Actors seem to have an amazing ability to sleep anytime, anywhere and anyhow. I think it was Chris who passed on the mantra to me during Journey's End; 'If you can sit - sit, if you can lay - lay, if you can sleep -...’
            The performance went ahead without any dramas. We've been quite fortunate so far - and long may it continue! The tech team were working up to the wire again, getting the show lit, but apart from that all was to plan and schedule.
            I got a nice surprise call in the middle of the show from one of my best mates, Tommy Mallion, who has been searching for a new place for us to live in London, to tell me that one of our offers has been accepted! So, as of November 20th, I will be an official resident of Clapham.
            After the show, we went to have drinks in the theatre bar where I unexpectedly met an old friend of mine from Journey's End, Tom Hackney. I haven't seen Tom since we did the show I think - at least not properly since then, so we had a lot to catch up on. Tom's one of those rare people in the world who has the ability to instantly bring a smile to your face. He has a way of making dreariness disappear. I think it's the thing I most value in him as a friend.
            When we got back to the house, Ducky was welcomed in and shown around.
            Just before we respectively turned in for the night, she said to me, "I feel a bit spaced out. I can't get over how lovely they are. I feel as if we've known them all our lives. What special people."
            I couldn't agree more.
            It was another late rise on Tuesday. A note had been left for us from Yvette saying that she had had to leave the house as a friend had collapsed at the local school.
            When she returned - us fearing the worst - it turns out that her friend, (49 years old) fainted because she is pregnant! And she had no idea!
            Not a dull moment in Mansfield.

            The cast and crew met at 3 in the afternoon for a line/scene-change run of Twelfth Night, in prep for our return to the play the next day in Chipping Norton. Everything seemed to have been retained which is a reassuring sign for the rest of the tour.  Not only that, but in the relaxed environment of the rehearsal, I found a couple of new things that I'm keen to use for the show. Strangely enough, after the evening performance, Leo said the same thing of himself. The show itself was bundles of fun. The audience were rolling in the aisles and gave us a great send off in what has been an all too short a stay in Mansfield. There may not be much to do there, but the theatre is lovely, the people are wonderful and I couldn't speak highly enough of Tony and Yvette.
            You've made two travelling actors feel very much at home.
            Good luck with the renewal of your wedding vows and an extra special good luck to Becky and Craig, taking their first steps on the long road of family life.

             Wednesday, we left Mansfield and headed to Chipping Norton via lunch in Warwick. We found ourselves a pretty little cafe and for an hour found the time to watch the world go by. As the UK seems to be ignoring the fact that we are in the middle of Autumn and not Summer, it was very difficult to ignore the selection of ice cold lagers on offer and surrender to a sunny afternoon, boozing.
            I resisted.
            An interesting chat that popped up was the conflicting opinions between 'need' versus 'want'. I am one of those people (to my parent's long suffering) who lives by the mantra that it is the things that we want in this world that end up being the most important to us, whereas anything that we need, we end up resenting. Just like theatre and the arts; we - arguably - don't need the arts, but just imagine a world without it!
            Man cannot live by bread alone.
            Amid our conversation, we lost track of time and ended up racing for Chipping Norton and our respective digs.
            I've struck gold again - lovely digs!! Who would have thought that I'd be such a good hunter?
            I scurried away from the house as quickly as my spindly little legs would carry me, leaving Su (landlady) still twirling from the whirlwind of my arrival.

            Now, Chipping Norton is pretty, but the Theatre of Chipping Norton is a wonder.
            Tucked away in a little back street, nestled in between houses and a pub sits Chipping Norton's 'the Theatre'. Apparently it was converted from an old Baptist church to its current form. It has an ascending garden area, rickety old wooden staircases and an auditorium that has to be seen to be believed. I urge any one that ever finds themselves in the area to go and give it a look as you won't be disappointed. It may not be the largest theatre that we'll play, but it may just be the one with the biggest character. 

            It was a good job that the space was so nice, as we certainly needed it to be to justify all of the alterations that we'd have to do to get the shows to fit in!
            It wasn't all that tough really, but just as we thought that we'd left the dreaded 'truck choreography' to the dusty drawers of our memories, up they popped like a mischievous ghouls, fresh faced to get us nice and tense before the show.

            Unfortunately the real loss to the show was the lack of projection sequences during the scene changes, but aside from that, we quickly learned to adapt to our new residence and gave a pretty good show.
            Adrenaline certainly helped us along a fair way. It was a bit like getting stuck on a watzer with someone force-feeding you Twiglets; strange and dizzying.
            When the curtain went down at the end of the night, we all breathed a big sigh of relief, Twelfth Night has now successfully completed its first touring challenge and came out the other end with nothing more than a few light scratches.
            We bolted for the next door pub and sunk one of the most quenching beers that I've ever had.
            We met Arthur's Mum and Brother in the bar - whom had watched the show - and said a brief hello before decimating another pint.
            It was one of those nights.
            As I wandered back to my digs, I caught a glimpse of the sky and realised a sight that I haven't seen since Eastbourne; a patchwork of stars. Big, bold blinking stars, pricking the black.
            I shut the front door, climbed the stairs, scaled my bed and collapsed in a mound.
            Thursday was another scorcher. I spent the morning in the confines of my bedroom, feeling my heart rate rise through the roof as I juggled between my friends, the estate agents that we're using for the move in to London and the 'vetting agents' that they use to make sure that we're all kosher.
            It's a bit like seeing a bobby on the beat - answering questions in a tenancy application - one is swept with a niggling sense of guiltiness. Now, I confess to being anything but a saint, but I certainly have nothing to hide. However, over the past few days, I've started to feel like a coke baron trying to distance myself from a flailing cartel.
            And I've got a pocket-full of weed.
            And shoes crammed with heroin.
            Do ya a deal...
            When I finally managed to pull my fingers away from the keyboard, I got outside. I was anxious and uptight. As far as I know, other than cigarettes there are only two things that are capable of effectively relieving stress; a deep bath or a long walk. A walk it was to be.
            I went down to the tourist information centre (room with man) and was shown several routes that I'd have time to do before the end of the day. I set off full of angst and ended up feeling a whole lot better.

            Chipping Norton really is beautiful and the woodland and surrounding countryside is spectacular. As I wandered, gently plodding away my problems, I was overcome by nature's reminder that we are still part of the same world that our ancestors were, eons ago. Not five minutes had passed before my senses kicked in and went up a gear. My ears - always my greatest handicap - started to notice the tiniest rustle of conflicting leaves. My eyes - getting duller from wearing glasses every day - miraculously returned to the crisp 20/20 vision that I had had as a kid. I was aware of my surroundings and alert to everything around me. I was also erudite of the fact that we are still animals. It doesn't matter how much cologne you wear; you're still a beast.
            Some of us are more beastly than others but...
            I walked and thought and thought and walked. Eventually, and, having seen a woman on a bike bombarded with falling conkers, I started to feel better.

            By the time I got to the theatre for our call, I felt a hell of a lot better. We had a few notes - no real acting ones - and set about addressing a couple of the problem scene changes which have popped up because of the small playing space.

            Betwixt a flurry of papers that I had to sign and scan to the letting agency before the show, I nearly undid all of the benefits that the walk had given me earlier in the day. I kept it together though and did maybe one of the roundest performances of Aguecheek that I have given. I think it must have been the anxious energy flowing through me, because it gave me a certain devil may care attitude. I wasn't trying, I was allowing the stresses of the day to breath through me and massage myself through the performance.
            Whether the audience felt so or not, I certainly felt a lot better in myself.
            Arthur and I chatted in the interval about the part and how fond I am of the idiot.
            Arthur said that he had felt exactly the same way when he played him nearly twenty years ago.
            Good ol' Andrew, you utter, utter prick.
            When I woke on Friday, the nagging of rental issues picked up where it left off on the day before. I'd go into more detail, but I'll get stressed and you'll get bored so will bypass the period by telling you of how I dealt with the suspense; remember the magic cures? Bathing and walking? Well it was time to give the bath a go.

            Amongst a shadow of rainbow glistening, bubbly bath foam mountains, I sunk beneath the water and let myself escape from the world. The book, 'One Day' was my aid and Dexter and Emma - my allies. For two hours I tracked their lives. I felt their highs and ached with their lows. If it had not been for the steadily cooling bath water, I could have lay there all day.
            After the joys of reading, I returned to the stress of admin.
            It was dull.
            I yearned for another chapter.
            When I finally left the house, I stepped out into an Indian summer. The UK's heat wave had continued and looked to be picking up speed heading in to the weekend. I was overcome with the sensation that one has when stepping off a plane in some foreign land. The air tasted differently and I could smell the steamy humidity that normally reminds one of the Mediterranean.

            Inside the theatre, things were even hotter. The technical team had pulled off a minor miracle managing to squeeze the See How They Run set onto the tini-tiny Chipping Norton Stage. They had also had to refocus all of the lighting which ratcheted up the temperature another couple of degrees.
            We walked around the newly altered set and ironed out any problems that arose. The main issues were regarding the slightly tilted angles of the stage left doors, which meant that we had to be a little more aware and lenient with leaving them open etc than usual.
            Come show time, all problems had been resolved and we began our first 'full house' performance of the tour.           
            Strangely they were a very quiet bunch to begin with. All the way through the first half, we wondered and worried that they weren't enjoying it. However, come the second half, they bizarrely erupted in fits of giggles. It was so peculiar. Peculiar, but lovely.

            After the curtain came down, Alastair persuaded us to visit a nearby cocktail place with the promise of a free round of drinks. Never one to turn down a bevvy, I obliged - as did everyone else, keen to empty the pockets of our esteemed director.
            Leo followed suit and got in another round too, which, when he was presented with the bill, very nearly gave him a coronary.
            We nattered into the evening, chewing the cud before we decided to call it a night and go our respective ways.
            The drama of the day was far from over though as - while making toast - I managed to set off the smoke alarm, waking a very confused Su from her slumber.
            "Oh dear. Never mind." She said without the slightest hint of concern, climbing up the steps again before she'd even finished the sentence.
            Guiltily, I fell into bed and instantaneous sleep.
            Saturday morning was rather slow. I did little more than repeat the events of the previous day; drew myself a bath and retreated into the world of 'One Day'.

            When I was on my way to the theatre, the October heat record had been well and truly smashed and looked to be set to rise further still. I was certainly not appreciative of the scheduled matinee - destroying our chances of an afternoon enjoying the tropical breeze and golden rays.
            Seb has picked up a new nickname, 'Mr. Sheen', following his trait of leaving mugs etc strewn about the place unwashed. He foolishly made an effort to clean all of the dirties in the green room and made a point of telling everyone.
            Stumbled into that one didn't you, Mr. Abineri.
            Henceforth, Seb shall be known as Mr. Sheen.
            We really should get him a pinny.
            It has also come to my attention that Garreth may have had a nicer time in Mansfield than the rest of us...
            Something to do with a girl with no -
            Never mind.
            The matinee performance was OK. In fact it was good and pacy, but it was nonetheless marred by the fact that we were trapped indoors on such a beautiful day.

            After the show, we made good use of the remaining heat wave and sat outside to eat at the cocktail bar that we'd found the night before. It was wonderful. Like sitting under a parasol on a sandy beach with nothing to do but watch the day go by.
            The evening show was another packed house. They were crammed in to the auditorium every way that they could, up and excited for a night at the theatre.
            They show was a blazer. Most of us agreed that if it was not the best performance we've done of the show - it was certainly the slickest that we've done for a while. The energy was high, every one alert and the laughs just kept on coming. My favourite part of the night came when Shiv sneezed beside me, mid-scene. For a nano second, everything paused as we took in the rather rare event that had played out before us and wondered whether to acknowledge it or not. In the end, the devil in me could no longer resist the temptation. So, in the best German accent that I could muster, I uttered the universal expression:
            "Bless you."
            David said to me later on in the wings, "If you were feeling really sharp - you should have said, 'Gesundheit'". Sadly for me, I'm not quite that quick.

            Our last show ended with a raucous response. We have LOVED our time in Chipping Norton. The Theatre, the crew, the management and the audiences have been nothing short of brilliant and it is with great reluctance that we leave it behind. I hope, for one, that it's not too long before I get a chance to play there again.
            Celebrating the end of a Stella week, we perched on the pavement outside the nearby pub and nattered our way into the night.
            At about midnight, the pub landlord called it a day and instead of telling us to drink up, simply said, "I'm going to lock up. When you've finished, just leave your glasses by the door. "
            Chipping Norton - I Love you.
            However, next week is going to be a particularly special one for me. We head for Guildford, my old home of three years and the ark of my alma mater, the GSA Conservatoire.
            I've played the Yvonne Arnaud once before with Journey's End and must admit to feeling a certain sense of pride and achievement being able to perform there. It's a home coming for me...

                                                        A home coming with a house party!


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