Sunday, 16 October 2011

I am a Strident Feminist - Week 12

Saturday bled into Sunday. When the clock struck twelve, Cuckoo, Shiv and Myself were just about dropping her off in the streetlamped streets of foggy London Town before collecting Tom Hackney, for a solitary Sunday in Bury St Edmunds. They were going to be frantically filling in the Arts Council form for the company's up and coming production of 'Our Country's Good' and thought I'd tag along to watch them both suffer.
            We also had to take a detour to a friend of Al's - whom he'd been staying with - to collect his bag, and, more importantly, his wallet.
            As there's no such thing as a simple journey with the Cuckoo, I insisted on picking up a bottle of whisky for the journey, which Shiv and Hackney both gleefully helped me polish off.
             It was creeping up to 3:00am by the time OM2 finally pulled up out side Al's home.
            Dovedon hall is a beautiful old house, originally converted from a... well - a Hall of some kind... Any way, it's very old. I know that much. And, I know that it is beautiful. Those two things I am sure of.
            I've stayed there a few times before, especially whilst touring on Madness of George and have some wonderful memories of lounging away a cold and frosty weekend, curled up with a Dickensian Novel in front of the rippling fire.
            However, tired from the journey and lugging the Tardis out of OM2, all I wanted to see was a blanket, a pillow and a mattress.
            Thankfully, I got all three.
            I was kipping in the Rat's room (Cuckoo's brother), which can only be accessed by climbing through a hatch that connects on through the upstairs bathroom.
            It's an old house remember?
            It's called character.
            At three in the morning though, I wasn't as sure footed as I usually am and managed to tip the Tardis on top of me whilst scaling the steps, the other side of the hatch.
            I love Tardis.
            He carries my life and never complains.
            But he is heavy.
            You hurt me Tardis.
            Sleep was instantaneous and, by the time I surfaced, it was gone 11:00am.
            I was greeted, downstairs, by the smiling face of Al's lovely Mum, Gill who had already slipped, seamlessly back into the role of Mother and Carer, plying us with tea and doing all those things that Mums do which most of us will never even register.
            We caught up and she told me that she reads the blog, religiously every Monday Morning with a cup of coffee.
            "If I didn't, I wouldn't have a clue what Alastair is up to."
            I can quite believe it, Gill.

            By lunchtime - and after Tom was subjected to leaning out the backseat of OM2 - we decided to grab a spot of grub.
            Being in the company of the Cuckoo however, we were destined to dine somewhere neither convenient, nor cheap.
            Sure enough, off we went. A nice 45 minute drive, which, in my books, breaks the golden Sunday rule of 'doing nothing' and certainly adheres to not being 'convenient'.
            Unfortunately for me, it was cheap.
            Actually - not cheap - but definitely value for money. I bit my tongue and conceded defeat as we all tucked into some of the best scoff I've had in ages.
            After we'd eaten, Al got it into his head that he was going to go into town to try and get a laptop 'on credit'.
            "I try every few months or so," he reveals, "it's only worked once, as they tend to notice halfway through that I have the worst credit rating imaginable."
            We were, however spared the humiliation of watching the Cuckoo turned down, as the shop - which we walked quarter of an hour for - was (surprise, surprise) shut.

            Moreton Hall was the next place on the list - our venue, when we come to Bury a little later in the tour. It is what it is; a sports hall. The problems there will be many and the luxuries of which we are used to will be slashed. However, it could be very special indeed. The idea is to turn the whole thing into a mock village fete, complete with cup cakes, sherry, and local ales. If our production manager can pull it off, it will be a real surprise highlight of the tour, making something, out of nothing. All we can do is wait and see...
            Back at the house, Al and Hackney got on with the Art's Council form. I decided to make myself helpful and compile a list of all the Original Theatre Company's reviews.
            I suddenly realised how amazing it is that the company has managed to keep going for seven years now, without ANY financial support.
            It has only continued by the quality of the work that it has produced and sheer, unrelenting determination.
            If there is anyone out there, from the art's council reading this - if ever a company deserves your support - it is THIS ONE.
            My personal loyalties aside, I really do, genuinely feel this way. And am reminded that despite my own peculiar ties to the company, I believe that I would feel the same way even if I were free from our prior histories.
            When my ability to be of use to the arts council effort passed, I left the boys to it and drew myself a bath, soaked, read, relaxed and shortly after, slept.

            It was a restless night. I woke repeatedly, covered in stale sweat and feared that I was on the cusp of a cold.
            When morning came, I was relieved to find that I felt fine and had just been subject to 'one of those nights'.
            I went to the kitchen and found the boys exactly where I'd left them the night before, hunched over their laptops, eyes raw from the artificial glare of the computer screens with fingers arthritically contorted like taped together Twiglets.
            Gill, was again on hand, keeping them both as close to sanity as possible and offered me breakfast as soon as I stepped through the door.
            It's one of the things that one notices most when on tour - generosity in others. Generosity and selflessness; which I guess, are one and the same things.

            Sadly, time was against us and the Cuckoo and I had to leave the comforts of home, to travel to Dunstable.
            We were picking up Shiv from the top of the Northern Line and, after collecting her, was in Dunstable in no time.
            It's the only place on the tour that doesn't have a digs list, so, unless commuting, we've been forced to fork out for hotels.
            I chose the cheapest I could find - and at forty quid, I was expecting a lot.
            I was disappointed.
            It was hideous.
            Hideous and soulless.

            On the plus side, it was only for one night and I sure as hell wasn't prepared to go through the headache of finding somewhere else at such late notice.
            I dumped my bags and walked to the theatre.
            Dunstable is a strange place. It seems to consist of one, very long road, decorated with bookies, charity shops, and takeaways. I waited to stumble upon a centre of some sort - a hub, a life - anything. Maybe I wasn't looking hard enough, but I didn't see one.
            The theatre is equally as perplexing. From the outside, it is an enormous, vast shed of a place, but inside, the auditorium is fabulous; something like a newly built German opera house. And then, the dressing rooms throw you another direction; all of them completely adequate and practical, but completely devoid of personality.
            Function, function, function. Where's the form? It's that little 'something' that you get from, say, a Matcham Theatre, that others completely ignore; creating a theatre that one wants to be in, is just as important, as the efficiency of the place.

            The show was good. We weren't playing to the biggest crowd of the tour, but they were very vocal in their enjoyment.
            However, it is with the deepest regret that I announce the end of a perfect run...
            Ladies and Gentlemen, from the beginning of the tour, Rachel Donovan has commanded the stage like none other. It must be said that her Ida really does have the audience in the palm of her hand and at one particular point in the show, every night, she has rightfully enjoyed an 'exit' round of applause for her simply hilarious antics on stage. Unfortunately, for her and the entire cast, on Monday night's show, the audience unwittingly brought the all but guaranteed run to an end.
            Rachel, we all don our caps to you and offer you - and Ida - our deepest sympathies.
            All good things...
            In the interval, I read an article, containing a quote from Richard Branson:
            'If you don't make mistakes, then you don't make anything.'
            It's relevance to the blog is erroneous, but it made me think so thought I'd whack it in.
            When the show came down, I returned to the hotel and gulped down a pint with Garreth and Jess, who have an epic few days in front of them, swapping over shows and doing the get out and get in back to back till Basingstoke.
            I left them and retreated to my room. A bottle of wine made the evening more bearable and I actually found myself quite happy, watching a programme with Stephen Fry about language and more specifically to the episode, swearing.
            Swearing and actors go hand in hand. It's a bit like footballers and money, rock stars and parties, astronauts and... rockets?
            Sure enough, one of the people being experimented with, was legendary swearer, Brian Blessed.
            It's not that actors actively try to swear in conversation, it's just the enjoyment that it provides. It probably also has something to do with the fact that we deal every day in language and revel in its use.
            In fact, one of my favourite lines that I've had to say onstage - consisted of nothing but the 'C-word'.

            The reason is, that it is very freeing. Especially when one hears the mutters and titters from an audience full of people who have collectively shared in breaking one of life's great taboos.
            It's a wonderful example of the power of language. The power that one word can carry with it.
            I was reminded of the great line of Armando Iannucci's; 'get the fuck in, or fuck the fuck off.'
            It's somewhat ironic that those who swear often and are commonly deemed to be lacking a decent vocabulary are those that are in the business of exploring it most - i.e. ACTORS!
            I don't think many people would tell Shakespeare off for being such a potty mouth?!
            O, language, language language - what a wonderful thing you are!
            I listened to my favourite song, 'Hard Rain's a-gonna Fall'.
            If you have ten minutes and 69p, download the song and give it a go - you won't regret it. It still has the ability to bring me to tears.
            Just words.
            That night, I dreamt of Twelfth Night:
            I signed in at an unfamiliar theatre, walked to the stage, to see that the show was already in full swing, halfway through.
            'Just get on with it!' said one of the actors, full of venom. I scrambled with the lines and forgot the scene changes. I begged to be able to get my 'master sheet', my 'show plot' but was denied and instead threw the entire show into disarray.
            I woke abruptly as one of the hotel cleaners swept into my room and screamed as she saw me lying, spread-eagle, stark-bollock naked atop the bed sheets.
            "Hello?" I blurted, still half asleep as she simultaneously bombarded me with spluttered apologies.
            In a flurry and with eyes clamped shut, she let the door crash to and I was left in the room wondering what the hell had just happened.
            I washed, dressed, packed and left the hotel with all the cunning of a shaolin monk, keen to avoid the gaze of a certain traumatised maid, though safe in the knowledge that I would NEVER be coming back.
            With nothing to do and no one to see (remember - everyone commuting) I sauntered uninspired towards the centre of town; or, more specifically, towards the busiest section of the long, long road.
            Unfortunately, seeing Dunstable in the light of day shed confirmation on all the shadowy assumptions I'd made the day before. There was nothing. It is as if the place has been forgotten; Luton's embarrassing younger brother who does nothing but plods along.

            It's not the fault of the town - nor presumably the people who live there - but there is just nothing to do. It strikes me that it could be the equivalent of an old American 'Ghost Town', all the trade that may have once been there - gone - with nothing left but the people and the buildings wondering what to do next.
            I search for a cafe - anything - an area - somewhere to sit and write - maybe have a cup of coffee?
            I find a few places to be fair, but with copies of the Daily Mail littering the tables, I re evaluate my options and decide that it's probably best to keep looking.
            Eventually I find somewhere - perfectly pleasant - and settle myself for a few hours of writing.
            The owner occasionally looks over at me and scowls when he notices that I've been in there so long and am still nursing the same macchiato that I ordered when I first walked in...
            I leave.
            It was near enough lunchtime when I left the cafe and opposite the road sat a lovely looking pub that I'd been eyeing up since I'd got there.
            Never judge a book by its cover - when, when will you learn Rhys??
            Needless to say, the exterior had fooled me somewhat into thinking that it may be a diamond in the rough.
            It was a cross between a Whetherspoons and an old workingman's local.
            I settled the Tardis by a table, assuring him that I wouldn't be long, ordered bangers and mash and went to the toilet.
            Tardis looked scared.
            I had taken my satchel with me for fear of it being pilfered. The Tardis (I assumed) could always take care of himself.
            The bog was grim to say the very least. Tanned water stains ran up the walls and one of the (broken) windows was sealed shut with a furlong of gafa tape.            
            I stepped into the cubicle.
            No lock...
Another option on the menu...

            Good job I brought the satchel - it can turns out that it can also double as a door stop.
            I sat back down at my table, relieved to see that Tardis was still there and in one piece. I continued my writing and tried my best to ignore the rather loud conversations about baby shit that was coming from a family sat opposite me.
            When my lunch came, I was less than impressed.
            My 'bangers' closely resembled two foot-long dried out man-things sat atop a small spoonful of chalky smash potato. I forced it down and left - deciding that the only way to see out the day, was in the safe confines of the theatre.
            I took refuge in the green room and read.
            By the time the cast started to arrive for the evening show, I was giddy with excitement - mostly out of the delirium of not having anyone to speak to all day.
            There was also the added excitement of getting to perform Twelfth Night again and the nervy energy that starts to buzz as we all hope that we're going to remember everything!
            We knew that the audience for the show was going to be rather small - and we prepared ourselves as such, but boy O boy did they make up for their lack of numbers. As I've said before, I - foolishly - use the first Sir Andrew scene to gauge how up for the show they are and was astonished to be rewarded with a constant trickle of laughs all the way through. They were with us all the way and could only credit them with the quality of the show that they saw. It's been said before, but one must always remember that those that are there, want to be there.
            When we left the theatre at the end of the night and enjoyed a pint to mark the end of our time at the Grove, an audience member came up to us and said just how much she enjoyed the show and how sorry she was that there wasn't a larger audience there for us.
            All I can say is that we really appreciated the gesture.
            After the drink - having met Seb's enthralling wife, Sal - we boarded OM2 and drove to Basingstoke, via London. I couldn't contain my excitement at the thought of spending the rest of the week with the Mainwaring-Burtons and getting to see Guy and Bridget again.
            We were all famished from the show and SOMEHOW (peer pressure) managed to get the Cuckoo to stop at a drive thru McDonalds.

            Now, I have known Al for two years now and in all that time have never known him to even set foot in a McDonalds - let alone eat one. Shiv and I were delirious and got to London in no time, dropping her off at home before completing the journey in Preston Candover.
            Seeing the house was enough to make me weep.
            We let ourselves in, (Guy and Bridget were not arriving back from their holiday till the next day) read Bridget's ever faithful notes to us and clambered the stairs for bed.
            Apparently I was to end the day, the same way that it had begun.
            I opened the door to - what is usually - the room that I sleep in and was more than surprised to see a woman, full of confusion, looking at me from the bed.
            The dots slowly connected and I realised that it was Fi, the Mainwaring-Burton's housekeeper.
            "O my God, I am SO SORRY!"
            I don't think she quite understood what was happening.
            "What's the time?" She said, wearily.
            "2:00am - we've just got in." I offered, hoping that she knew both who we were and what we were doing there. She nodded and, still frowning, returned her head to the pillow as I swiftly shut the door, scolding myself repeatedly for being such a moron.
            I found the other spare room and prayed that I would be forgiven come the morning.
            I woke very late the following morning/afternoon and did everything that I could to avoid the maid at all costs.
            Karma was punishing me for the previous night's events and I was on the cusp of a nasty man-cold. Luckily, the Tardis is always kept packed with emergency medication kits for any event. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that if I lost an arm and contracted swine flu, I'd still have enough paraphernalia to dope myself up on.

            So, hanging by a thread, I went downstairs and braced myself for embarrassment.
            Pigwig (one of the dogs) and Rusty (the cat) were in the hallway playing their normal game of shall I shan't I.
            Unfortunately for Pigwig, he is in love with a cat.
            Unfortunately for Pigwig, the cat likes to tease him.
            It is one of the strangest things to see - a fully-grown, adult dog, trying to mount a tabby puss -
            The day passed by rather quietly and, without Guy and Bridget there to gas to, we went to the theatre early to prepare for the evening show.
            I LOVE the Haymarket Theatre.
            Every time that I've played there, I've had a wonderful time. The theatre itself is lovely, well managed and nicely kept and the audience that attend it are always incredibly supportive.
            True to form, we arrived there with the promise of a week of well-sold performances, only to get better and better as the days went on.

            As we imagined the first night was terrific and it certainly rivalled the performance that was previously dubbed 'the best yet' in Chipping Norton.
            On Thursday morning we were finally reunited with Guy and Bridget. They were both utterly exhausted from nearly three weeks of early mornings in the African savannah but dutifully caught us up on all the happenings since we last saw them in Windsor.
            They were both catching up on all of life's administrations over the course of the day, so we decided to leave the house a little early to visit the nearby 'Heston Blumenthal Little Chef'.
            Basically, it's a Little Chef.
            With a couple of border line fancy courses.
            I remember going there last year when it had just opened and being quite impressed, but now, with time as its mistress and laziness as its wife, it has sagged into a poor excuse of an eatery.
            An over-priced eatery at that.

            We were blessed to be graced with a new dog for the matinee. Marley was a gorgeous, black coated, flat haired retreiver who reminded me of my own dearly departed dog, Kumba. What was slightly worrying, was that he had the same deliberate manner as the now infamous, 'Scruff'.
            We certainly did not want a repeat of that particular incident.
            Unfortunately for our optimism, Marley carried the baton, where Scruff left off:
            The moment came, on ran David. Off went David. Marley sat stock still. I pushed him through the dining room doors. Marley stood still. Marley turned back. Marley went off, the way that he came.
            However, we decided - to our detriment - to give the idle pup another chance. He would be there for the evening show and come hell or high water, he was going to be crossing that stage.

Ducky is easily awed
            In between shows, a few of us went for dinner at a nearby cafe rouge, as Rachel and I waited for our friend, Ellie Beaven, to turn up who would be watching the show in the evening.
            Ellie had appeared with Ducky and myself in Guildford, earlier in the year and had secured herself, in that one job, a position as a life-long friend. She is infectious to be around, a smile that lights up a room, a laugh that rivals a cackle of Hyenas and a personality that radiates warmth and love. She's also the lucky winner of the 'Rhys King, first professional kiss' catergory of which I was very pleased to have completed in the Merchant of Venice!
            She's a wonder.
            And, as all the others will agree, perked me up from my man-cold mood that had clouded over me for the duration of the day.
            She saw a cracking show too which was nice.
            It was really quite difficult at times, as the audience were so involved that they frequently broke out into wild, spontaneous peals of applause - having to wait, frequently to give enough time for the lines to be heard.
            Unfortunately for Marley, he hadn't improved.
            In fact, he had some how gotten even worse.
            Again the moment came, again he had to be pushed on; the difference came when he decided to stand stock-still, centre stage and stared at the audience. Shiv was left to deal with the problem and had to drag him, stubbornly out of the intended stage left door.
            I can thus announce, that Marley's stage career, is effectlively over.
            After the show, we went for drinks in a nearby pub, compliments alla Whatley.
            I said goodbye - very reuctantly - to Ellie insisting that as soon as I'm back in London to meet, and Cuckoo, Shiv and I went back to Preston Candover to discuss the works of a particular feminism book called, 'How to Be a Woman,' that Shiv had been reading through the week.
            "Get on that chair," ordered Shiv, in the twilight hours of Thursday evening, in the quiet confines of the Mainwaring-Burton's kitchen, "and say, 'I AM A STRIDENT FEMINIST'".
            I obliged, "I am a strident feminist."
            "Good. Now say, FAT."
            Again, "Fat."
            "Great. Now say, TREY."
            "OK... Trey."
            She paused. "Good." Said Shiv, "Now it's Alastair's turn."
            In Al's defence, I didn't have a clue what had really just happened - nor it's purpose - but apparently I'd done well, so that was good enough for me.
            Al didn't fare quite so well - though again, I'm not sure why - and if I was confused, then Al must have been dumbfounded.

            On Friday, we went for a walk.

            Preston Candover was bathed in the chilly-warm glow of a hunnyish autumnul sun and the three of us shlecked our way around the bumps and bends of the Preston Candover countryside.
            In the late afternoon, we went to the theatre and practiced with our new dog for the evening - the one and only - PIGWIG!
            From the off, it was going to be a big ask. Guy came, laden with treats to tickle Pigwigs fancy. The cast were on hand - eager and waiting for Piggy to show his stuff...
            First attempt - fail.
            Second attempt - fail.
            Third attempt - nearly there -
            Fourth attempt - got it!
            He was far from perfect, but based on the previous dogs that we've had, it seemed only right that we gave him a shot at the gold.
            David 'the Dog Doctor' Partridge was not convinced and, given his perfect prediction record, we probably should have listened to him, but given the near full house, Pigwig was booked in for the show.

            Right from the word 'go' it was a belter. Unfortunately there was a technical malfunction in the first act, a telephone ring not sounding, leaving Shiv in a real pickle as her next steam of dialogue depended entirely on it as a cue. She dealt with it brilliantly and despite the cock-up, the cast managed to pull things back and got the audience back on our side - even stronger than before. There were a tentative few minutes as we could do nothing but wait for the next sound cue to discover whether or not the problem had been fixed. I'd managed to find the sound of an old telephone ring on my phone, so I stood, waiting by the dining room door for Garreth's cue just in case we were going to have to wing it. Thankfully, we didn't.
            The laughs got bigger and bigger and the show, stronger and stronger.
            The interval came and went.
            The third act began and in came Pigwig for his big moment...
            Sadly, it didn't go quite to plan.
            He did go on, but just like Marley, he decided against sticking to the script. He found himself centre stage, then, the audience. He did nothing but stand and stare. Luckily for us, David was as alert as ever and sprang back to the stage, picking up the pooch with a, "sorry!" and carried him off, into the wings.
            Crisis - avoided.
            The audience were in stitches too, so hopefully, as with the other fuckups, the only ones to notice, were us.

            After the show, we were wined and dined by Christine, the theatre manager and her husband and then later, went back to the house. We sat up with Hubert, who had just gotten back from RADA where he has just started his training.
            It's so exciting to think of all the experiences that he'll have over the next three years and Shiv and I gladly talked to him about all the things we'd loved about drama school. I maintain the opinion that certain classes, such as 'voice', would be of benefit to everyone on the planet, not just actors. Already, he is discovering things about himself that he never knew existed and is beginning the long process of shedding ones untapped anxieties and baggage.
            All I can say is, Good Luck mate. It's going to be one hell of a journey. Be big, bold and brave.
            Saturday began lazily.
            When we got to the theatre, it was like walking into the waiting room of a Doctor's surgery. Everyone was coming down with something, coughing and spluttering all over the place. 

Poor Seb
Somehow, I've managed to kick my headiness, but the others don't seem to have been so fortunate. It seems that our week off will be falling just at the right time.
            Time to replenish the reserves and fuel up on wellbeing.
            The matinee show was adequate.
            This week we've been used to the boom of a lively audience, but as with most Saturday Matinee crowds, it takes a little time (the whole show...) to get them going.
            In between performances, I charged to a local O2 branch to try and get myself an upgrade.
            Nothing is simple, though is it?
            I spent half an hour talking to inept instore staff, before being fobbed off to their call centre counterparts.
            Half hour later, with nothing to show for it, I abandoned my plans and jogged to the nearby Wagamamas to meet with the cast and Shiv's family, who had flown from Ireland to see the show.

            One can instantly see where Shiv gets her twinkle from within seconds of meeting her folks.
            They all seem to posses that ellusive Irish charm, coupled with an unparalled 'O'Kelly' demand for entertainment.
            All too quickly, it was time for the evening show.
            By Christ, did we go out on a good'un.
Bridget and the dogs
            Some of the credit must certainly go to the Irish contingent that gave the audience a good, healthy dose of energy. It was a cracking performance and I think the whole cast were thoroughly chuffed with ending the week in such a great way. We leave Basingstoke with spirits high and, on a personal note, leave with my opinions of the Haymarket Theatre strongly reaffirmed.
            After the show, we trawled the streets of the town looking for a pub that wasn't blaring music and shining disco lights.
            We didn't find one, but did settle on a compromise.

            We drank with the O'Kelly clan long into the evening and laughed our heads off - apparently I'm going to marry into the family - though I think Shiv's sister has little knowledge of it!
            Anyway, it was a pleasure meeting them all and hope they have a great time this week in the Big Smoke.
            For Al and I, it was back to the Mainwaring-Burton's for the final time.
            I'm not ready to leave them yet - but the thought of seeing my folks and the Norfolk countryside for a week is too good to resist.
            So, next week's blog will be a very different one.

            It'll be the Weasel in his hovel.
            First time since the new year.
            Kingy with the Kingies.

            I can't wait.

            To all the cast and crew, have a wonderful break and I look forward to seeing you all in Bury. Take care of yourselves and enjoy your time seeing all those nearest and dearest to you that you've missed so much since we started the tour.
            Twelve weeks is a long time to be away from them and although a week isn't much; it's a welcome gift.
            I hope you enjoy it as much as I will.

            With oodles of love,

            ps. Raymond 

Te he he

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