Saturday, 30 January 2016

Never Burn Boats


  Barney, who I was having things to do with, never really wanted to take me sailing. We hadn’t had a cross word up until then, either, all summer. It’s a con, sailing. It looks really nice from not too close up. Like early colour cine film. But I’d really wanted to go out on the river, and though he knew how it was likely to end, he always tried to be the gentleman.
  I’d only been on the cross-channel ferry before, and I was looped bloody painfully into a child’s lifejacket, my espadrilles were wet. And Barney, bless him, was clearly distracted, banging on as we passed the raras out on the decking feature about how the committee was touting for someone to write the official history of the Yacht Club. 
  I said, ''From what I've heard it'll read like Swallows and Amazons written by the Marquis De Sade.' 
  Barney and I were passing some nicely, shiny, white, fibreglass boats. 
  I said, 'That's encouraging. They look efficient.'
  'Lasers,' he said. 'Here's my Lapwing.'
  AKA a barnacled, old, wooden thing.
  'Where did you salvage that, Barney, Mount Ararat?'
  ‘It’s a classic, thank you,’ Barney said, taking the cover off it.
  He had me joining in playing airfix kits with it, putting the sails up, checking that some plug things were bunged in.
  ‘Oi oi, sweets!'
  It was Gerard, Barney's cousin. Face of a Botticelli angel, body of a bruiser, Old Etonian come back to bed hair. 
  'Just signed you in properly as a Club guest,' he said to me.
  'I already signed him in, Gerard,' Barney said.
  'Yes I saw, Barney. But not properly. How is it on the water?'  
  He picked me up. 'This is my teddy bear-hug, you likey?'  He knew about Barney and me, though nobody was meant to.
  'Just about to go out on the water, Gerard, matter of fact,’ Barney answered.
  ‘I thought you were both looking a bit dry,' Gerard said.  He grinned up at me. 'And, sweets, you feel dry.  Which is never how I like my women.'
  ‘Gerard, can you put Iestyn back down?’ Barney asked. ‘I’m trying to teach him to rig.’
  Gerard let me slide down his torso, front teeth on his bottom lip. ‘Why are you rigging here and not down by the water, Barney?’
  ‘Too many people down there that would put their oar in when I’ve got a novice with me.’
  ‘Ho ho…oar in,’ I said. Sailing pun.’
  ‘Oh, yes. Very good. Missed that. Yes. Well.' Barney uncoiled a length of rope, which he then handed to me.
  ‘Give me enough of this,’ I said. I caught his warning expression. ‘Okay, I’ll stop with the defence mechanism quips now.’
  Gerard said, 'Your mother's out in the Pickford's Shrimper, Barn, by the way. Tried to make with go with but I pled a perforated eardrum. On my way to the Martello Tower to smoke. Stop looking worried, sweets, Barney’s a safe pair of hands.'
  'Barney's more worried,' I said. 'I just asked if this thing has a periscope.' Gesturing at the Lasers I added, 'But you’re quite sure, Barney, that we shouldn’t go out in one of these here already made earlier boats?’
  Gerard smirked. 'Drinks when you get back, sweets.'  
  He gave me a peck on the cheek. 
  Watching Gerard walk in the direction of the Martello Tower Barney asked me if he and I really had know...
  Yes, frankly, Gerard and I did. 

  'Climb aboard, Iestyn.' The Lapwing was finally primped and ready. 
  'You first.'
  'No, you first. You’re the crew. And stop singing "The Animals went in Two by Two", please. In you get.'
  We were both in the boat, finally, and had gone about three yards.
  'Bloody hell!' I shouted.
  'What’s up?'
  'It’s maybe my imagination, or it may be peculiar to this river, or it may be a general naturally occurring phenomenon- '
 I was cut off by a squall.
 'Naturally occurring phenomenon?' Barney prompted, unconcerned.
 'That the nasty cold wetness and Percy Bysshe Shelleyness of water rises in direct ratio to the inevitability of my falling into it. Woah!'
  I said thank him very much I’d had sufficient and I was sure he wouldn’t mind going back now, anyway, having been so reluctant formerly. 
  But, oh no, now he had the wind in his sails and was all ships a-shitting-hoy.
  'Barney, why are you moving around? Sit still. Please, sit still.'
  'I’m setting up a trapeze.'
  'Circus trapeze?'
  'No, for you to put your foot in it and lean over the side as a counterweight when we’re making way.'
  'Have you lost your fucking mind?'
  All was well. I found the brake. 

  It wasn’t a brake.
  'Let go of that, Iestyn. No, it’s the helm. Yes, a steeringy thingy. So let go.  And open your eyes! You're heading us straight for those boats.'
  I opened my eyes. 'Not the ideal place for a boat installation, is it Barney? Especially with us heading for it at ramming speed.'
  ''Iestyn, damage to those boats would be our fault and I can’t afford the insurance.'
  'Surely you can, Barney?'
  'All right, yes I can afford it.'  He yelled: 'But let go!'
  Okay then. I let go.
  The boat reared and listed. Something swung into my head. The boat fell over, me with it. Yes, terrifying, but also the freezing and the slight fizz a bit like falling into a glass of Champagne. 
  I was swimming in the sails. I kicked gingerly to make sure I wasn't tangled in ropes and looked up at Barney. He was in silhouette, his head blocking the sun, on a triangle of wood sticking out of the bottom of the boat.
  'No wonder it fell over,' I called up.
  He said, 'We’re twenty yards from the Yacht Club and you manage to capsize us. And without wishing to be unkind, it was a bit of an anti PR job bringing you down here. Get yourself free of that sail, please.  Thank you.'  He pulled the boat back into an upright position, vaulting niftily into it as he did so. 'Sail's over. Come back aboard.'
  'Are you mad?' I trod water. 'I’ll swim back, thanks.'
  And we were like the couple who’ve had the row in the car, and she’s got out, taken her heels off, stamping along in her bare feet, while he’s kerb-crawling along beside her.
  Get back in the car, babe, don’t be stupid.  
  'Iestyn, please just get back in the boat. You’re clearly exhausted; that’s practically doggy-paddle.'
  'What do you expect, Barney: concussed, humiliated, semi-drowned: Kay fucking Curtis Modern Mermaid solo fucking synchronised swimming fucking champion?'
  We went back and forth for a while, before sighing and shaking his head, he left me to it. 

  I was bone-numb with exhaustion having swum against the tide for however long. I splatted up the jetty, round the back of the Yacht Club to avoid Barney, then went back to 54a, my holdiday rental, for a hot shower and a change of clothes. I thought about not going back to the Yacht Club at all.

  Barney was still beady, buying me a brandy and leading the way to the table furthest from the clubhouse. He sat sipping Adnams, looking over the river towards Ferry Farm. I can still picture the pastel colours and the vaulted clouds.
  I said, 'Making sure we nearly can’t be seen by the ra-ras sitting all the way down here?'
  He clinked his glass against mine and said he was sorry, but that by panicking and grabbing the tiller thinking it was a brake I had nearly scuppered his Lapwing. 'Could have been dangerous.'
  I said, 'I did ask for it to stop just after it started.'
  He said he had thought that was just beginner’s nerves.
  'No, Barney, it was me having a J.P.Morgan premonition; except you wouldn’t let me cancel my passage.'
  I’d lost him.
  'J.P. Morgan cancelled his passage on the Titanic because of a premonition.'
  'The money guy?'
  'The money guy.'
  Gerard, back from smoking at the Martello Tower, came thumping over the decking, stoned. 
  'Sweets, genius! I hear they were about to launch the inshore lifeboat!'
  He asked why Barney hadn’t gone back upstream to pick me up.
  'Because he was refusing to be picked up,' Barney answered. 
  Gerard took me by the shoulders, saying he needed to examine me. 
  'Yep, there are definite signs that you could still do with...' He laid me over the picnic table and leant in to give me the kiss of life. 'Better safe than sorry, sweets.'
  'Erm…okay…enough,' Barney said.  'That’s really…People are looking. Guys can we not? Iestyn, don’t just lie there, maybe?'
  'Gerard Simpson!'
  Gerard sprung upright. 'Oops, it's the boss.'
  I turned to look. It was Fungus the Bogeyman, apparently.
  ‘Cyril,’ Gerard explained. ‘Club secretary. Just look like you belong.'
  Cyril, creating static galore in nylon shirt and matching nylon slacks, mooched closer. 
  'I suppose you're the guest signed in as the Royal Yacht Britannia?' Cyril said to me. 
  Gerard nodded, smiling at me. 'Told you, I signed you in properly.'
  Cyril said, 'I'd like you off the premises, please. Such behaviour is not acceptable. And Gerard, your membership is forthwith temporarily suspended.' Further static crackles. 'Barney, your guest is your responsibility. I suggest you remember that. There are children in that Shrimper, and they've just had to witness, along with the rest of us, Gerard cavorting with his holiday catamite.' 

  Fast forward a number of years: I'd sung for Her Majesty on Victory at the naval supper marking the two hundredth anniversary of Trafalgar. And, apparently, my holiday catamite status ceased to be an issue. The Yacht Club committee respectfully wondered if I could please recreate my after dinner Victory sing for their membership?
  Of course I accepted. In this business, make a boat fall over by all means, but never burn one. 


Friday, 29 January 2016

The Taxman Cometh?

  Hot to frot with the weatherman Fish


  Remember when Barry from the council came round to check on my financial status, said that I needed to get clear in my mind what constituted being self-employed as opposed to 'employed' and forewarned me to expect a pamphlet from the inland revenue?

  Please see this previous blog entry

  Well, the pamphlet came when I'd just been coaching one of the adult actors in a Derek Crofts production.
  Said Derek to me, 'His flesh is thrilling, but the speaking is weak!'
  I referred to this coaching job when I filled in the questionnaire section on the pamphlet. Permitting myself some artistic licence, at times, obviously.
  Are you confused about what constitutes being self-employed as opposed to employed? For your own self-elucidation we advise you to answer in writing the questions highlighted in the enclosed pamphlet with specific reference to your last completed paid employment. Your answers should be written in ink.
 Not blood, then?
  Did you “A” instigate the work or were you “B” hired to do the work?
  If “B”, by whom were you hired to do the work.
  By Derek Crofts. 
  What did the person named in “B” hire you to do?
  Voice and performance coaching on a gay pornographic film.
  Did you work directly with the person named in “B”?
  No, I worked with the actors. Derek was the director. He acted in the films when he was getting started, but then he got some kind of burn out, maybe...the too much of a good thing syndrome?  I see it with my four-year-old niece. Boxing day night, parade of presents passed, she's already back playing with the little bag of pre-decimal coins I had when I was little. Derek, you see, got so far into porn he fell out the other side into a kind of skewed celibacy. Now the only thing that turns him on is a weatherman showing a bit of bicep pointing out dodgy fronts over Norfolk.
  Poor Derek, being hot to frott with Michael Fish.
  Did you provide the tools used for the work, by which we do not mean the small tools many employees take with them as a matter of course?
  Wait a moment, Mr. Tax Man: I wouldn’t let our Hungarian bit of buff - Ferenc Asztalos, star of Take Me Up The Danube - hear you casting aspersions about him having a small tool for his work. He’s a Magyar, ex-army, competitive gymnast. He can kill with his bare just about anything you fancy.
  Was your work hands on?
  Did you have to correct unsatisfactory work in your own time? Give reasons for this. What was the outcome?
  I had to dub the one line Ferenc had in Doctor Fine-Lay's Casebook
  'You’ve been hospitalised with an acute myocardial infarction, complicated by ventricular fibrillation. And just so you know, the in-hospital case- fatality rate among patients with MI complicated by VFib-CA is significantly higher than that in patients without VFib – CA. Oh, now, what might this previously undiagnosed tumefaction in the front of your hospital gown be?'
  The reason for this was because as I watched the rushes of the scene I became aware of something awry with the soundtrack. There were the Europop, pre-tumescent pig-rootling noises from the other actor.  And Ferenc himself speaking his line like Zsa Zsa Gabor with a cleft palate. But there were other sounds on the track that really ought not to be there. These were first the slam of a door, then the shouts of Emily, Derek's six-year-old:
  'Daddy, daddy, Lenka wouldn’t walk behind me in the street again. I don’t have any homework. I did a painting of two horses. Can I put it on the fridge with a magnet? Da…Um! Mummy told you you weren’t allowed to have the rudey-nudey men to play here any more, didn’t she daddy? She told Uncle Thomas thank Christ she’s got a proper job. And you’ve kicked Nemo under the sofa. I can see his quills, bloody daddy!'
  The outcome was that Ferenc became bellowingly morose, shouting: 'I am Magyar, we are prouds peoples.  Not good to fail and not have line said by me, Ferenc.'
  I had to talk him down by reminding him how the line was the only thing in the film that he couldn’t get his mouth round.
  This last page has been left blank.
  Except you’ve written on it.

  Funny I never got a reply...

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Thinking of my Ghost


  Going to Iraq I panic-packed tinfoil, garlic and a plant sprayer.
  ‘We all do that, mate,' Marine Stacks said, over high tea in the Basra A-Pod. 'One boxing glove, the TV remote, fiancĂ©’s Tupperware - I’ve bought all kinds of shit out to theatre in the past. Comes from being in the right state of grace before a tour to either of the big two war zones. You’re so hungover from getting mortal the night before you’re practically blind. You need to know that if the worst comes to the worst, you’re going out on the best night possible in dear old blighty. You must have done that on your last day before you flew out here?  Whatever you're last doing becomes what your ghost will be doing for all eternity.'
  The afternoon before the Combined Services Entertainment tour had flown out to Iraq, I had emailed the Department of Transport.

  Further to your request to put my complaint in writing, I think the best way for you to learn is for you to do. So, please come and push the button for the green man at the crossing on the corner opposite the Camden Sainsbury's. You will then wait for an age, being accosted by begging crack whores, their pimps or by out of work actors collecting for Everychild. And maybe you'll think again about how your department has set the timings on this and many other crossings. Thirty-two seconds I stood waiting there today, for example.
  ‘Christ up a Pole, you wouldn’t want to die off the back of something as small-minded as that,’ Stacks commented. 'Think of your ghost. Most Haunted doing a programme from your house. Coming round with Derek O'Hara, or whatever he's called, setting up their geiger counters. Chill in the air and orbs and then they get an EVP of dead little you wailing: "There's no apostrophe in apples unless you mean something owned by the apple. Who loaded the dishwasher with the mugs on the bottom rack and the forks in the wrong bit of the basket? And how many more times: penguins don't live in the arctic".' 
  I started to mutter my usual about the joys of Jane Austen being in the small things, but stopped, knowing when I was beaten. 

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Random Act of Kindness, anyone?

  I'm reposting this piece about how performers 'leak' information when they don't trust either themselves or their material. Cal Broderick, the subject of the interview, has been suffering from anxiety depression and is taking time out to go to stay with relatives in Australia. By way of being an old school rest cure. He'll work while he's out there, but needs help getting there in the first place. He and I have been chatting over the time since the original interview was posted, so I can tell you what a hard time he's had and how much he deserves this - random, I know - help. 
  You get a bespoke diet plan from Cal if you donate.

  Actor Diana Quick, coaching me, said that I was 'leaking'.
  'Where?'  I asked, looking down, aghast.  
  'In the 'and then the lover' line...'
  Of Jacques's Seven Ages of Man speech, natch.
  I was flailing my hands and retracting my chin, apparently, and looked as though I might be loading lambs onto a truck while peering over the top of pince-nez to count them. What was 'leaking' out through these poncy and meaningless ticks was my lack of trust in what I was saying. Truth can also 'leak' out when you're not really speaking it. 
  From myself and from others I now watch for both types of leaking, and noticed interesting examples when I interviewed bodybuilder, personal trainer and model Cal Broderick.  
  I interviewed Cal for two reasons.  The first because I've adopted the MO from Strangers on a Train of committing an act of, not murder, but of social networking on behalf of someone who is totally unconnected with me or with anything that I do. Cal's a bodybuilder, I'm a drag ballerina; he's got a good degree in something scientific, I've got Distinction in Grade Eight Singing; he's from Newcastle, I'm not.  The second reason is that Cal has - as I immediately saw for myself - built his body on retro lines.  

                                                      Cal the Mighty 

  See, you could put him in one of those spaghetti sandals films, or whatever they're called.  He'd have to be dubbed though - there's something totally non-period about his geordie accent.  Cal's made a definite decision to go with the retro look.  'Modeled myself on Franco Colombu.'
  He started in the gym at seventeen.  'It was DW Sports, North Shields.  Deadmau5 was playing, I remember.  I was so excited to get started.  I had an idea what I was doing, as I did weights at home, but I was still pretty clueless.'  
  He was then in a National League basketball team, having begun playing at the age of fifteen and at a height of five foot five.  Bulking sideways, he thought, might compensate for the lack of height.  He decided against playing basketball longer-term in favour of pursuing the 'aesthetic of bodybuilding.'  
 Embarking on a daily graze through an oil tanker size Tupperware box of stir-fried five chicken or beef (five hundred grams) and jasmine rice (seven hundred and fifty grams.)
  'It wasn't always as good, my diet.'  In his Tupperware box when he was starting out would be sixteen Weetabix with full-fat milk.  'Or white pasta in cheese sauce.  And the chicken for the stir-fry would be frozen and full of fillers.'
  These days he spends one hundred and eleven pounds on enough fresh chicken and beef to last forty days.
  'The time that Jesus was tempted in the desert,' I say, irrelevantly.  
  People at his gym keep correcting his use of the word 'Tupperware' to 'plastic', he tells me, thoughtfully; then:  'On Monday I do chest and biceps.  Tuesday: back and rear delts.  Wednesday: off.  Thursday: shoulders and triceps.  Fridays: legs.  After work-outs I have a scoop of protein, Malodextrin and Peptopro.  And when I get home from the gym, two tablespoons of peanut butter and protein powder.'
  I say he hasn't mentioned breakfast.  'Is that because you have to be empty to go and do all that madness in the gym?' I wonder.  'I once did a performance as Madame Galina on a full stomach and had to go offstage before the Swan Queen coda and throw up.'
  'Oh, no, how could I forget breakfast...?'
  Half an hour of concentrated eating first thing of ten boiled eggs - 'The yolks from only three of them' - followed by a Creatine, Taurine and Glutamine shake; black coffee pimped with ten grams of coconut oil; and one hundred of grams of creamed rice, made with water as Cal doesn't do dairy or gluten. I assume he's dairy-free because of the recent operation on his septum (catarrh won't help the recovery process) but ask if being gluten free is connected with the bodybuilding.  
  'Not directly,' he answers.  'But I am gluten-intolerant - and bloated isn't going along with the bodybuilding aesthetic.' 
  I load a question, 'And your bodybuilding was from the off all for the aesthetic?'
  He is silent and unblinking for a few seconds; then admits to having enjoyed the attention he was getting.  'On beaches on holidays.  Girls would say stuff.  Nice for a shy kid.  I didn't respond.'
  He thinks about this for second or so, then concedes that he might have waved at the girls.  
  'And two months after my nineteenth birthday I was spotted by a Naked Butlers company and did a couple of nights topless in clubs.  Gay clubs on a couple of occasions.  Well, it was only topless, nothing more...'  
  He said he simply walked away when club goers tweaked his nipples; nowadays, he has to be more forthright:

  'Back then - when I was doing those clubs, this is - was the period when the bodybuilding was really about the attention from girls.  I thought that after all I might not be the Ugly Duckling.  All for the girls.  Never had a passion to compete.  I was doing a lot of research into the old-school: low-carbs, high fats.  The past bodybuilder with the most similar training regime to the one I've adopted was Dorian Yates.  And I'm totally drug-free.  I go to the doctor's to get myself checked out.  The diet is going to take a couple of years off my life.  Seven hundred and fifty odd grams of rice is really hard for the body to digest as a one-off, let alone time and time again.'
  I say he's suffering for his art, then. 
  'Yes.  I have to have an ice-pack on my knees for half an hour after legs' day. I had Osgood-Slatter disease when I was fifteen; where your muscle growth outstrips your bone growth.  Playing basketball, training, and so on, I was basically grinding my knees away from the insides.  My doctor offered to plaster them up for me to rest them for six months.  Wouldn't have been able to walk let along play basketball - and I I loved playing basketball.  Said no.  So now, on legs' days, my knees swell up like they've been stabbed. God knows what they'll be life when I'm forty.  But I'm not on a hiding to nothing or anything.  First month of being a personal trainer - I've been in business for a year and a half now - I signed up client after client who came up to me in the gym and just said they wanted a similar physique.'
  His physique comprises a twenty-eight inch waist and similarly small joints.  He shows me his elbows and ankles and has to stop himself smirking when I comment on how cute they are.  They seem too fragile to support the bulges.  He says he looks at himself while he trains as though he is molding clay.  
  And the future holds?  'I want to carry on my business as a personal trainer.'  He is coaching for around thirty hours a week, with the majority of his clients signing up for -  and completing - his Ultimate Transformation course.  'And, otherwise, I'll carry on with my own training.'
  I ask about the modelling side of things.  He seesaws with his right hand, palm down.  I tell him that in the way Dame Joan Sutherland paid tribute in The Art of the Prima Donna LPs to the great operatic sopranos of the past by singing an aria for which each of them was particularly known, I think he should do a series of photographs emulating his bodybuilder forebears.  'You know, in the sandals...and with the spaghetti thing going on.  Do a nicely calendar.'
  A little bleakly, he says he isn't photogenic enough, and that after a month off the gym while he was recovering from an operation on his septum, his abs in particular are 'just not in picture-shape at the moment.'   He shows me his abs; I say they remind me of the steps going up the sides of the pyramids.  'Okay,' he says.  
  I ask if he minds which photos I use for the blog.  He looks through some, sneering and writhing, then comments: 'Sick legs in this one'. 

  He says he has stretch marks where his armpits meet his chest, adding, suddenly defensive, that nobody has ever commented on them.  'But then, as I say, I'm doing the body-building for myself.'
  Yet, I point out, he has just had that little contretemps with himself about his stretchmarks, and during the three-quarters of an hour we've been talking he has continually undone (and done up again, granted) the top two buttons on his shirt, and pulled his collar apart. 
   'And you keep rolling your sleeves up above your biceps,' I say.  'You're definitely on display.'  
  I explain my current interest in the 'leaking' of information.  
  He listens, but repeats what he has said about the bodybuilding being for himself nowadays and no longer about the attention.  I let him talk, then suddenly gesture with my head so that he catches himself in the act of pulling up his shirt sleeve.  He thinks for a few seconds.  'Then I suppose it must be for others.'
  'Still for the girls?'  I ask.
  'No, for everyone, clearly.' 
  I ask, 'And what happens on the beaches these days?'
  He grins.  'These days blokes come up to me and tell me that I'm too big.'
  'And is the shyness still there?'
  'No.  I just tell them to fuck off.'
  'And you'll do the calendar?'
  He looks at me, head on one side, and quotes Bjork.  'Possibly, maybe, probably.' 


Monday, 25 January 2016

Fact or Facebook?

  My Facebook feed is ever awash with performers' posts along the lines of:
  Sparkly privileged little me got a standing ovation at all seventy-six gigs I ran between on Saturday, and everyone said I was the best ever, jinx, bewitched, no comebacks.  
  Perhaps the posts are a cry against what Hazlitt described:
  [Creative people] in general (poor devils) I am afraid are not a long-lived race.  They break up commonly about forty, their spirits giving way with the disappointment of their hopes of excellence, or their want of encouragement for that which they have attained, their plans disconcerted, and their affairs irretrievable; and in this state of mortification and embarrassment (more or less prolonged and aggravated) they are either starved or drink themselves to death. 
  But even so it's good to admit that some gigs are just okay - or bad, even. 
  Or that you aspire to be better. 
  Or that you feel what Harold Bloom calls "the anxiety of influence". 

  I first felt the anxiety of influence when I was four singing at the Ponderosa in Portsmouth. I got less applause for "Paper Roses" than did the troupe of all singing, all dancing animal puppets featuring Ernie Emu belting out "Anything you can do, I can do Better" while Geraldine Giraffe behind took her knickers off. 
  My singing as one of the two Hammerstein Chanters at Southwark Cathedral never had the saccharine, sentimental quality that I strove for, always the hackle-raising elemental. I'd toured with my country and western singer father for eight years or so by that time. Yodelling had given me a nightmarish upper-extension: I could sing "Let the Bright Seraphim" the Dame Joan Sutherland way. And in more general terms the songs of the old west had given my singing a strident mawkishness, being, as they are, all about failed crops, failed mines, failed marriages, failed nuns, phantom cowboys, phantom cows, phantom Delias (not Smith); homesickness, yellow sickness, black vomit sickness, rotanny sickness, rabies, ear-bitings and saddlesore. Set to tunes that sound like they might once been Welsh hymns before being mashed with blues and dixieland jazz. All sung by me in a tassel-sleeved suit of many daffodils, suede pixie boots and with a Hitler comb-across. 
  So, for a start at Southwark Cathedral, my white surplice garment was me dressing-down. Or at least it was before the Chapter put out the decree that each choir mum was henceforth to take over the washing of her respective son's surplice, and mine overdid things with the Dolly Blue whitener. I glowed radioactively in the light from the north chancel window. Three Shakers thought I was a divine visitation and dropped to the flagstones in possessed convulsions. The chapter went back to doing the choir laundry themselves when the rumour started that the Shakers were threatening to prosecute for A.B.H. 
  And according to Cyril, one of the choir gentleman from that time, my treble voice was: 'Not the prettiest, perhaps, in quality,' Cyril, clumps of grey hair, immaculate tweeds, glinting bifocals, was buying me a beer in the Wheatsheaf after my Those you once Loved now have Dropped Balls lunchtime recital back at Southwark in nineteen ninety. 'In the prettiness of tone aspect you were no Symes, Hagyard or Godfrey, all those Dulwich boys. Pure, piping ethereal tones were not you. Where were you from, again, memory eludes? Kennington.  Oh.  But you had all the trills and runs and top notes one could ever need. And your sense of drama was so highly developed. I remember Provost Frankham saying that when you sang about that putative dove's nest in the wilderness, one could virtually see the weave of soft twigs; and one knew that the nest would never see eggs; that it was - as he put it - to be a flameless pyre. I suppose it was that dramatic flair that made them give you all those big, tricky things to master?'
  Belting out the two bloody top Bs in Haydn's Saint NIcholas Mass for a full house because we had a visiting Archbishop on Easter Day; or Britten's Te Deum at a candle-blazing state occasion midweek - when all I hankered after was to be given the solo "My Voice Shalt Thou Hear Betimes Oh Lord", in Wesley's Praise the Lord Oh My Soul. At a common or garden Evensong. With a congregation of barely more than Jim the verger, Betty from the Chapter House and the large, elderly woman dressed as a Victorian bridesmaid, who trailed clouds of talc, sang twitteringly along, and had to dose herself with smelling salts whenever she caught us laughing at her. 

  I still feel the failure of never getting that Wesley solo.
  But in life you can either fake your Facebookiana or deal with real relative failure. 
  In my show I'm part classical singer. At Guildhall we were made to study this singer, Rosa Ponselle: 
  Rosa Ponselle singing Elvira's aria from Verdi's Ernani
  Then I'm part character-comic.  And Joyce Grenfell is a character-comic: 
  Joyce Grenfell in her Terrible Worrier monologue
  Lastly, I'm part classical-ballerina, meant to have had the same schooling as: 
  Uliana Lopatkina in the Black Swan solo
  And talking specifically of the ballerina part of my show, I decided I must lose weight for the sake of my aging knees. I got some diet and exercise tips from Jamie-Ray Hartshorne:


                                            Oh, do stop! 
  Depending on my mood Ponselle, Grenfell, Lopatkina and Hartshorne above are either revered inspirations or horrendous fuckfaces. In none of their specific fields, let alone all, can I remotely cut it.
  'Cutting?'  Jamie-Ray jokily responded to my wailing. 'Babe, you're not remotely at the cutting stage.'  
  Cutting is what bodybuilders do before a competition, apparently. 
  'Good few stone to go before you get to that, Iestyn.'
  Oh, ha ha...
  But I won't get there.  in any of it. No. I'm simply having a good old go, no more and no less. 
  And that's just fine. 

  Right, logging onto Facebook now to post: 
  OMG, sparklicious, privilegious and humbling gratitude - on Saturday, they stood up!!!' #showgirl #ovationaryplebs #starfuckmeanyone?
  Of course failing to mention that they were standing up simply to get off the train... 



Friday, 22 January 2016

Doing a West End Lead Role with Less than Two Hours' Notice - Paul Wilkins goes on as Marius

                                           Keeping the breath down...

  At curtain down on last Saturday's matinee performance of Les Miserables, second cover Paul Wilkins was told he was going on as Marius that evening. 
  'I came off after the matinee at five thirty, and there was a call from the company manager saying that Rob Houchen hadn't felt well all during that show. A bit later there was an update that Rob had definitely gone off ill. The first cover, Ed, was saying that his ensemble track would be more in his head than Marius's - and he wasn't well, either. So, I was on.'
  Paul then started to say that he had told himself that there was no need to get in a panic; that he had tried to stay cool, calm and collected during the show. I interrupted to quote Judge Judy:
  'That's a conclusion. I want what you did, what you said, what was said to you...'
  I've only met Paul once, by the way, across a pub table in Crewe, when I was having the shittest time of all shittest times playing Dame Trot. Yes, I know, that's a conclusion, but I'm saving those stories for a later blog. Paul had just graduated from Arts Ed, and his social skills, seriousness and focus shown clear in his gamin face told you he was going places. 
  'And where did you go after you'd just heard the news about being Marius that night, Paul?' I asked.
  'Clunky much?' he commented, quite rightly. 'I moved dressing-rooms to the Marius one, taking all my comforting stuff: i-pad, phone, hair products; pictures of my family. I was having an adrenaline rush at that point. Water - made sure I had a lot of water. And my Dr Nelson's steamer. My housemate's also in the show, and went out for food for me. I steamed for thirty minutes and no talking so my voice was set back, meanwhile going through my Twitter feed. Then the dance captain, Jordan Lee Davies, came to take me through the blocking: everywhere Marius goes, who he speaks to, props he takes with him. The tech crew were waiting to reset for the evening show and the front of house staff were out in the auditorium - they were all finding this pretty funny because Jordan was playing all the other parts opposite me, including Cosette.'
  I'd last seen Jordan Lee Davies sing a heartbreaking "Suddenly Seymour" with Velma Celli at the London Hippodrome and was wondering where he'd got to, so now I knew. 
  'My voice was feeling fine and I'd usually be flapping but all I thought about was telling the story. If my voice might go a bit dirty, then I needed all the virtues out there. I was back in the dressing room at this point, sharing with Bradley Jaden, the Enjolras. He said to me to do whatever I needed to do - silence, have the TV on, whatever. There was no sense of panic building, as we'd all done our cover runs. I got my first costume on - convict - and went down to the side of the stage. People were hugging me and I was telling myself the whole time to keep my breath down. I had the other roles to play before Marius: convict, judge, priest, guard. Then it came to playing the role itself. I remember a feeling of everyone willing me on. Then it became a blur.'
  Pressed, he remembered:
  'The revolve turns, which is an unusual way of bringing you into a scene, and this helped with my upping the intensity. I could feel it creep up. The lights dim and the music starts playing. At that point I tried pushing - no, not pushing: being truthful. Let my impulses happen. I had a bit of a moment: in the dialogue with Peter Lockyer, Jean Valjean, when he's saying that he's now the convict being hunted - my mind went blank on my lines. Only at the very moment it came for me to speak did muscle memory take over. In "Empty Chairs" I felt I had reached the objective - apologising for being alive. Regretful that I was still there when all the others were dead. Oh, in the wedding scene I remember being totally relaxed. Quite at ease. Then in the bows I felt suddenly incredibly tired. My adrenaline dropped, my body sank. We were all off to the pub, obviously. But first I thought I should move everything back into my usual dressing room out of Marius one...'  

                         Zoe Doano, Paul, Carrie Hope Fletcher and Bradley Jaden

Paul on the official Les Mis site

Paul's page on StageFaves



Thursday, 21 January 2016

Who's Afraid of Opera?

  Stacks, the Marine, thought he'd like to see an opera but wouldn't understand what was going on. 
  'Surely it's not like the footie where you can just turn up to and get what's going on from the off?'
  I googled Who’s Afraid Of Opera? for him to watch.

  And found this...

  Panda's Thumb reports that elementary music teacher Teresa Wagonner was put on paid administrative leave by the superintendent of schools in Bennett, Colorado. Her offence? Playing a twelve-minute clip from the thirty-year-old children's series Who's Afraid of Opera? for her classroom. The series features legendary soprano Joan Sutherland and some cute little hand-puppets who alternate elementary explanations of the libretti with vocal performances of selections from the operas featured. Apparently, Ms. Wagonner's selected episode, Gounod’s Faust, angered fundamentalist Bennettians, already on the warpath over Waggoner's musical choices for last year's Christmas pageant.

  What did she choose, I wonder? A special arrangement for children's chorus of "Jesus was a Cock-Sucking Jew from Galilee?" The English tune for "Away in a Manger"?  Katherine Jenkins's Festive Blu-ray? 

  Tacked onto the above report were the following:

  Apparently we now know who is afraid of opera.

  Once again confirming my prejudice that the Christian right is opposed to all that is good and human. Yeah. Fire a teacher because your country has a traditional separation of church and state that has allowed government and religion to prosper alongside one another for two hundred years.

  Please note in the description of the town meeting, over fifty people turned out in support of Wagonner while six appeared opposing her. Despite this overwhelming show of support, the school superintendent is cravenly bending to the will of a loud and disruptive - but very small - group of people.  Furthermore, this group of people, in claiming that Faust is somehow about abortion - and being taken seriously - is beyond absurd. Lies are being given credence as facts in the name of God. Well, of course, there is the history of organized religion right there in a nutshell.

  Public schools are funded equally by parents and non-parents alike, and I'd like to vote that my taxes go towards buying students copies of The Invisibles. I want the schmuck taking care of me in the old folk's home or, alternatively, gunning me down once I turn thirty, or processing me into Soylent Green food, to be a really weird fucker!

  Bennett sounds like a hateful little town. And it is little - look up Bennett, CO on google maps. It's a dusty little speck miles from any other town. The residents there should be happy they have a decent music teacher with any sort of passion for her work. I hope she finds work some place sane. Too bad about the kids, tho'.

  While I agree with the sentiment expressed in your post immediately above, your facts are clearly wrong. Bennett is about thirty miles or so from downtown Denver, hardly 'miles from any town'. Though the front range area of Colorado is trying to grow and sprawl like the El Lay basin, it has a ways to go yet. Bennett will in the not too distant future be a suburb of Denver, not unlike where you live in relation to downtown Los Angeles.  Thank you. 

  No, thank youWhoops,  I obviously didn't pull out far enough on the Google map. But still - call me an out of touch city slicker, but while Bennett may some day be part of the suburban sprawl, right now it looks awfully isolated. And judging by the townsfolk's reaction to that new subdivision, that's the way they like it. BTW: all of LA is sprawl. 'Downtown LA' is just another neighborhood.

  Like I said, I agreed with what you were saying. Bennett was isolated from the big cow-town of Denver; but with a major freeway, and people with money wanting privacy and isolation, it is developing into a suburb. This is an example of the interesting dichotomy of such a town as it experiences its growing pains while it gets absorbed into the mainstream. The same kinds of issues that Denver went through in the last twenty years as all of us Californians moved here and ruined the place.  

  Exactly how inappropriate can this be? The inclusion of puppets should be enough to let you know that the video was created with young children in mind. But I’m puzzled as to how the deal with the devil gets across with the puppets?

  Boito's Mefistofele is a far superior opera. 

  The video was in the school library. This music teacher is ever so nice, really, and she has two CDs out of her own Christian music. 

  Seriously, she could have shown Turandot or Salome - then we'd have the cute girls in the class running about lopping the boys' heads off.

  Seriously? A six year old? Watching Faust? With the Devil and the demons and the killing and all that? It's not exactly The Smurfs. Did she forget what it's like to be six and be afraid of the dark and what was under the bed. I wouldn't want my six year old to be shown The Ten Commandments either, for that matter. Lots of snakes and blood and stuff in that too.

  Maybe she should have started small, say with that cartoon that we all learnt opera from; What's Opera Doc? Nobody doesn't like Bugs and Elmer.

  Doesn't that 'toon feature Bugs in full drag, with boobs and blonde pigtails? Can't imagine that going over well with these nutters.

  I don't want my kids to watch Donald Duck in Mathamagic Land in school because I think they're still not ready to be initiated into the Pythagorean mysteries, and that's a parent's decision, not the school board's.

  And then there's my favourite:

  We can't have kids thinking it's okay to go around hollering!

Monday, 18 January 2016

Clipcrowd - the Content Curation App

  Call me soon, mother dear, for I'm to be a theatre case study for a great new social media app.

  I feel so lucky. It all sounded so modern. Particularly to someone who doesn't sing songs written after 1935 or dance ballet post the Swan Queen.  Before I arranged to meet Clipcrowd CEO Ben Bidwell, I had to listen to The Archers on an analogue radio (such a comfort to get snatches of interference from Radio Luxembourg), do ballet barre to some vinyl played on the Dansette Conquest and put myself up the chimney with a Bailey brush. 
  When we were discussing somewhere central for the meeting, Ben seemed surprised that I said Pret was a place I knew on Piccadilly.
  'Oh, I thought you'd say somewhere more'
  'Like Fortnum's, the RA or in front of the Wellington Monument?'

Ben Bidwell, Clipcrowd CEO

  I looked straight across at Ben in Pret for the same reason as you would look straight across at The Scream in the Munch Museum. 
  'Big stress, such a huge start up, clearly,' I said, as he stood to shake hands. 
  I was secretly praying that Clipcrowd wouldn't turn out to be like the last startup Social Media app I was involved with. During the launch party at the Museum of London there were a vegan pizza/Eton Mess food fight, a mishap with a WIlliam Morris firescreen; and my act was circumvented by Frederica, the munted, DM wearing Cretan, whose friends had bought her to the event because they wanted a change of environment in which to suicide-watch her.  
  Ben's talk immediately reassured me. When in my head I became Dragon Deborah Meaden to hear him project Clipcrowd's future, I didn't think he should be bumped back down to earth with a sending-off to the silly-sized lift. And then he was so clear about the app's function that I didn't need to put on my listening-to-technical-doings-and-gubbins face.  I look like a pre-bulimic sheep, apparently, when hearing how Lady Jane Grey had a claim to the throne, about the workings of an Apache helicopter or which carriage to sit in so I won't end up in Eastbourne. Let alone that I've been known to hysterically interrupt technical talk with a quote from Victoria Wood's Doctor Who parody:
  DOCTOR. We have to disconnect his bladdermite tubing and neutralize his thermalobes to convert his megaplumifity into negative kreetathones.
ASSISTANT. But Doctor, we haven’t got the ming-mongs!
  The upshot of the meeting is that we're starting a collaboration with my variety show Turns on a Sixpence at The Boston Room, George IV, Chiswick. And I'm hopeful.   Ben is Graceful - both talking and walking, as I jotted down. 
  And the softly, softly vibe of the case study reminds me happily of what my Nan Silcox used to say: none of that old cliche about striking while the iron's hot, no - you want your iron just hot enough to primp the pleats without scorching the a-lining, tidy.