Monday, 29 February 2016

Thoughts on Oscar Wilde's "The Happy Prince"

  Am all over touting for presales of my book My Tutu's Gone AWOL! Discussing the crowdfunding aspect with Xander at Unbound I was a bit bemoany, as the report from the reader was that she shouldn't have read the book ahead of the other projects waiting for her attention, but the title made her so curious. She began reading at once, getting curiouser and curiouser and curiouser, came to the end, stopped, and happily recommended it for publication.  
  So why do I have to crowdfund it, why can't it just be taken up? 
  Xander said I had in passing mentioned that I would be approaching my banker mates - well, blame them! 
  I have done.  They don't like it. 

  What I don't like is any lack of response to my crowdfunding pleas. With hints strongly pre-dropped, I've so far proofread a film script - no pledge made. Edited a How to Handstand article - no pledge made. Given four two hour long singing lessons - no plege made. 
  Yes, I must get over being annoyed. 
  My attitude to people being on the receiving end of my expertise yet not yet buying my book reminds me of a recent walk along the side of the Meare in Thorpeness.  I was overhearing a mother at the really had enough now stage of answering her four year-old's questions. 
  'But why are there still some of the geese here, mummy, when you said they all flew south for the winter?'
  'Well, perhaps it's like in that ever so sad story we read you about the statue and the swallow - you remember, The Happy Prince?'
  'No. Did anyone get killed badly?'
  'The swallow died in the most sad, sad circumstances because it stayed too long into the cold weather and - '
  'Will the geese die?'
  'No, they're too well covered, aren't they, to die of cold? Look at the thickness of their feathers.'
  'Why wasn't the swallow well covered?'
  'Because swallows don't have to keep as warm as all that. They spend their time in two springs and summers each year, so wouldn't need to grow thick feathers.'
  'But you just said the swallow died of the cold.'
  'Yes, but that's because it stayed longer into a winter than it ought to have done and didn't fly to its warmer clime.' 
  'Because it was helping the happy prince do something lovely for the poor.'
  'Donating bits of him to them.'
  'Like granny did when she died at uncle Tom's?  She had that card, didn't she?'
  'Not quite. And it turned out that granny took the wrong purse with her when she went away for the weekend, anyway...' 
  'So, mummy, why are those geese still here?  Why didn't they fly away?'
  'Oh, for god's sake, because they're a rogue group of couldn't be bloody arsed geese, allright? Now can you please stop chewing that feather and put it back down on the bank.'

Saturday, 27 February 2016

A Home for Rheumatic Sugar Plums

  'Hilarious and touching stories of Iraq.  Go, Tutuboy, you rock!'                                                                                             Joanna Lumley

  Xander Cansell, Head of Digital at Unbound Books, is already dealing with emails from friends and enemies asking, before they pre-buy, if they're mentioned in my book. 
  'I always know it's someone emailing about your book, Iestyn. Their names tend to be jewels, cakes or innuendo...'

  Basra Regimental Sergeant Major and ex-Guardsman 'Tina' Turner, however, has emailed me directly:

  'Iestyn, my mate, you are still fully barking, I see.  I believe with My Tutu Went AWOL! you've got quite the story on your hands.  Who'll play me in the film?  I think you should be played by Pat Butcher out of Eastenders. Nice to see that you're moving your hands, by the by and are busy. That your hands are not under your bum and idle. I've been thinking back to when your esteemed Commando mate Neil told me I would be looking after the Combined Services Tour for a day in Basra, could I pretty-please, while he went north to rid himself of his ongoing state of blue-bollocks? My ears pricked up when he mentioned you as a bona fide variety turn, Memories of my being on The Generation Game demonstrating square-bashing to Larry Grayson came to mind. And there you were, immediately in for a bollocking with your ballet tights dyed in tea drying on the anti-blast wall. Lamentably wanting decorum with your milk-bottle white legs out, as though my beautifully administered camp was actually a southern Pontins. Your bed area looking like a gypsy encampment with all your frills, pinks and sluts devices.  And when I heard what you were about to attempt onstage in front of that audience in Basra Palace. They'd only just sheared up the hole in the wall by the front door where the tank famously drove through. And there you were about to go onstage in all that frou-frou and no doubt cause another ruckus. Being compelled rather sharpish to leave the stage again by way of cans being chucked. I nearly couldn't look.  Thankfully I've got over being squeamish at the sight of blood...'
  Long and short of it is, I have Tina's blessing to include him in the book. 

  'Which is just as well, my mate Iestyn. Your book can go ahead now in safety. I have long been a fan of Miss Joanna Lumley, so well done emotionally blackmailing that quote out of her! Seriously, kid, good luck with it all. But I suppose you have to just carry on with what you're doing. There can't be many rest homes for rheumatic Sugar Plums, now, can there?' 

Friday, 26 February 2016

My Tutu Went AWOL! Ready to Pre-Buy


Click to pre-buy for self, family, friends, loathed ones...

  Great to catch up with Rupert Durrant, who I first met when he was eighteen and rowing Beccy Oliver around the Meare in Thorpeness, conniving to take her onto the most deserted of the islands.  A marketing guru these days his thoughts on the crowdfunding campaign for my book were that I need to get across that the act succeeded out in Iraq and Afghanistan against all the odds. Cannings off from squaddies, death by camel spider, insurgency attack, I braved them all. 
  'I remember when you did Madame Galina for the Marmalader's at the Lighthouse the year I was Commodore,' Rupert said. 'Your performance then could have gone either way. What am I saying - it did go either way. Sneath wanted Madame Galina to have his children; Tedder had a panic attack and left. Once he'd refitted his wooden leg.' 
  The thing is how to turn that comment into a sales pitch...

Thursday, 25 February 2016

No Previews for Miss Korsakova!

                                     c Magnus Hastings

  When I performed for Combined Services Entertainment in Kandahar, a South Carolina army captain, known as Solo, made me an Honorary Southern Belle. Tanned, bantam weight and with a buzz-cut, Solo said that Madame Galina reminded him of ex-and current-girlfriends back home in Calhoun Falls. It was her flounciness, screaming imperiousness and habit of stopping mid-flow to stare into the middle distance as though a catatonic seizure had just hit. 
  'That's why I felt I just had to, I mean it needed doing, really I felt it behoved me to cuss out that New Yorker you got onstage for not carrying you correctly. Lack of manners. I mean just not chivalrous. I'm saying graceless.'
  Solo shouting that the New Yorker was a fucking yankee dickweed had nearly caused fistifcuffs. 
  He and I were sealing the Honorary Belleship deal over table football in the Welfare Hall next day. I recited the following, learned by heart from countless rereadings of Florence King's Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady. 
  When God made the Southern woman, He summoned His angel messengers and He commanded them to go through all the star-strewn vicissitudes of space and gather all there was of beauty, of brightness and sweetness, of enchantment and glamour, and when they returned and laid the golden harvest at His feet, He began in their wondering presence the work of fashioning the Southern girl. He wrought with the golden gleam of the stars, with the changing colors of the rainbow's hues and the pallid silver of the moon. He wrought with the crimson that swoons in the rose's ruby heart, and the snow that gleams on the lily's petal. Then, glancing down deep into His own bosom, He took of the love that gleamed there like pearls beneath the sun-kissed waves of a summer sea, and thrilling that love into the form He had fashioned, all heaven veiled its face, for lo, He had wrought the Southern girl.

  Solo was awash. 'You are pure-bred Southern Belle. I mean, pure bred. Just the purest bred. How, but how, I mean: how have you got yourself quite so geographically displaced? Now promise me, give me your hand on it, tell me you will come and see the South one day where you really come from?'
  I promised. 

  Which all reminded me of the time I upset the Welsh press displacing my parents for the sake of publicity. 
  Regional newspapers countrywide will for the most part only cover something that has local relevance. To get previews for my tour dates in Wales I was lying that either of my parents had been born wherever my next booking happened to be. I got caught out when I spoke for the umpteenth time to what I had failed to grasp was the same woman from the same central press agency. 
  Phoebe had suddenly paused mid-interview. I could hear the sound of typing. She said, 
  ‘Iestyn, last time we spoke your mother was born in Rhyll, the time before that in Prestatyn, the time before that in St. Asaph. And your father has so far been born in Caerphilly, Merthyr, Bargoed, Llandudno, Llanelli, Brecon and Llantwit Major. Perhaps we should vary it a bit. Where were you born?’
  ‘But you have a very Welsh accent.’
  ‘Didn’t you tell me you were brought up in London?’
  ‘You’re putting the accent on, aren’t you? God, why would you?’

  Phoebe imposed a press blackout on my forthcoming Ballet Star Galactica in Abergavenny.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

A Thought for Lent

  Learning the St Matthew Passion bass solos has reminded me of Royal Marine Stacks's granny. She was a church organist until Devotions one Easter. 
  She played a hymn every hour, on the hour. The church was directly opposite the Dog and Feathers. Between hymns she went over to the pub for gin. Before"When I Survey the Wondrous Cross", Stacks had to half carry her up in the organ loft. He told me:
  'After "There is a Green Hill", chick, we left her up there to sleep it off. She beer-snored right through Easter Saturday and well into the Resurrection.'

Monday, 22 February 2016

How to...Edinburgh Fringe: A Retrospective

  Lizzie Roper, actor, had the following to say in 2001, when she produced our two-hander Ballet Who?! Some of the advice is obsolete. There's now the Free Fringe. Some of the venues Lizzie mentioned are no longer there.

  There’s a bit of a mentality that Edinburgh is going to find the diamond in the shit. No – you have to be enormously well prepared!
  Not going when you’re eighteen, please. We don’t want you up there before you’ve been getting changed in the toilets and ignored in grotty pubs for at least three or four years. You’ll be pissing money away and lowering the tone. What’s the latest calculation?  It would take something like twelve years, six months and two days to watch all the shows back to back. So the less eighteen year olds wasting everyone’s time with cack, the better.

  Why should you do it? Because it’s trade fair visited by people trying to make TV for less and less every year. 
  So, right, if you can afford it, and they can be bothered with you, you could pay a producer serious money to take you up there. 

  I did this in 2002, for Madame Galina Ballet Star Galactica. What Lizzie had taken care of the previous year, Fat Bloke Productions took care of this: entry into the Fringe brochure, venue hire, box office deal, PR, accommodation, travel to Edinburgh.  And charged me six thousand pounds. Aside from the prospect of not being able to eat, drink or be merry for the following three years at least, I also missed the hands on feel of going up to Edinburgh with Lizzie in 2001. And I’m not talking if you want something done do it yourself here. Fat Bloke were terrific. Mostly. But if I saw a poster for my show anywhere, I was aware that neither Lizzie or I had stuck it up there with blue-tac. 
  And I definitely preferred doing my own PR. If getting bums on seats depends on your flyering then you will flyer. Specifically, performing at showcases is a gift in this respect. The audience has seen you, and can now take your flyer away with them. When I performed at a showcase and none of the forewarned Fat Bloke street team turned up to flyer, it really annoyed me. 
  Another drawback to going up with a production company is other performers wasting pooled admin resources. In 2002 one fellow Fat Bloke performer complained to the office every day in three thousand word e-mails. Another accused Paul in PR of neglecting him - even after Paul had seen Guardian and Time Out critic Brian Logan at a loose end in The Pleasance Courtyard and press-ganged him into The Cellar, getting this Edinburgh virgin performer a national review eleven days earlier than he could justifiably have hoped. 

  So, if going with a producer is not for you, work out a budget and cut your cloth. Without letting it get to you, find out what your twenty-grand would have got you. Now, what of that is vital to getting bums – including influential arses – on seats? Take heart, Frederick - so much of it is word of mouth getting back to critics, theatre programmers and TV executives. And that costs nothing but your own hot air. Okay, if your show’s shit it won’t happen, but that buzz is what you need to create.
  Get them talking before you’ve even done anything. You are always, always on duty. As soon as you decide on doing Edinburgh, you have to see every situation as potential to get bums on seats from there on in. This is, of course, if you’re not going up there for an adventure holiday of showing off plus alcohol, barbecue crisps and kebabs. And by kebabs, Iestyn, I mean you. What was all that shit you promised yourself? When in Edinburgh I will eat five fruits and vegetables a day, I will flyer, I will rest before the show, I will drink sparingly and get hours sleep a night.  You did one of those things: you flyered. Oh, and you lumbered us with that Canadian because you were so pissed you thought he said he worked a lot in TV whereas he’d actually said he worked a lot as a TV.

  You have to get onto the previewing quick smart. At least once every two weeks from the beginning of June. Get your material as tight as you can. Forty minutes of tight is always going to be better than an hour and a bit of loose. Don’t be the twat who takes stuff up there that’s practically prolapsed.

  Go to the opening event at your venue. Make sure you meet everyone, ask what they’re in, tell them what you’re in. If at all possible go and see all the shows at your venue, and make sure the performers know you went. If they come to see you, then you are duty-bound to return the compliment. 
 Bollocks, I remember saying to Lizzie before we started our show one night, the cast from that new highlands writing play with the lead character that only speaks through her violin are out front…
  Could have been worse…Supergirlie were in our venue.
  Everywhere you go talk about shows you’ve enjoyed. Where possible big up a person’s show within earshot of them. Make them feel duty bound…
 Be up for everything. 
 The PR girl at our venue threw a free drink and finger-food bash as a thank you to a shop keeper who had thrown money at her. All the performers in the venue were asked along. The Brat Pack Kiwi stand up foursome went in their suits, and Lizzie and I went in our frocks. No-one else could be arsed. The PR girl was peeved.
  'Thank you so much, guys - doesn’t look like it was worth all your efforts, though, does it?'
  What she didn’t know, but found out, was that Lizzie Roper can turn a mormon undergraduate returning his civil engineering text books to a Seattle library into a party.
  'Do a ballet solo,' she said. I danced Giselle in two square feet. 
  'I’ll sing a song”, she said. I accompanied her in "Fever".
  'Cameras,' she said. I grabbed the truly scrumptious one of the Brat Pack boys for a photo call.
  It made our PR girl love us, word went round the local press that we were up for a laugh, and we ended up getting a spread in the Scottish equivalent of Woman’s Realm. Now that, when the Scots tend to see the Festival as something for outsiders, did us a huge favour.
  Contact the researchers on the showcases. 
  Nicholas Parsons and Mervyn Stutter were the things to be seen on when Lizzie and I were up there. We got four spots in all. You do your ten minutes to a full room and you hand out your flyers at the end.
  Never underestimate them, either. That second year that I went up with Fat Bloke, I allowed them to schedule my show at the same time as the Nicholas Parsons Show. I still wish I hadn’t.

   Accommodation is phenomenally expensive, while taxis are cheap. So, the further out from the centre you are, the better.
  If possible, do a house-swap.
  E-mail everyone you know, have known or might know and get them onto reccying round for somewhere you might stay for free. You never know, Charlie Bucket found the Golden Ticket.
  For rentals, check the Fringe website, accommodation services, estate agents, halls of residence; and get phone numbers for anywhere that might have a noticeboard: supermarkets, libraries, colleges, stage doors, brothels, church porches, etc. Best is a tame Edinburghite to go and look for you. It’s the least they can do if, for whatever reason (and it had better be a good one) they’re not putting you up for free. 

  Flyer for a minimum of two hours a day, at a time when you can suggest: 'So go and have a stroll, a cup of coffee – have you tried that fabulous new place in the Cowgate? – chill out, come and see us, buy us a drink afterward!' Put the idea in their head. Engage with them. See flyering as a warm-up for the performance. Don’t go up to people and ask them if they might like one of these? Or worse: just hand the flyer out. All right, don’t embarrass them by singing at them or trying to dance with them, but a bit of a 'Wahey' or a 'Fancy a bit of this?' or 'Here’s what you lovely people want to be doing at ten fifteen in the Billiard Room tonight.' And it’s not personal. You’re a salesman. They don’t have to buy. Do it in costume if it will help, don’t if it won’t. And always ask permission before you flyer at shows that could be classed as if you liked that, you’ll like this.

  If you can get at broadcasters and journalists that will in all likelihood go to Edinburgh, then get. They are always on the look out for stories. Ring and sell them yours. Hang out every day with the PR person at your venue and see what leads they might have to follow up. Suss out (or invent) angles that you think a journo might be able to use and send them a flyer for your show. Write the article for them, highlighting the six points they have to get over. Nothing more, nothing less. Too much and the selling potential is weakened, too much and they may have to fall back on invention. Never think something isn’t worth following up. You never know who will be interested in who, or what.

  Which brings us neatly to reviews. If you get a good one, in a worthy rag, with lots of stars, then thank your lucky ones. Photocopy it with your finger firmly on the enlarger button and blue-tac copies to your posters. (You ought to have done your own poster run, by the way. Besides keeping costs down, you will have a good idea where they are when you need to go round again with your look how marvellous I am review). Staple a tiny copy to your flyer. If and when you get a better review, do the same. 
  If you get a bad review – ouch! It’s like spraining your ankle. It’s a pain, but you’ll get over it.  
  Only bother with constructive reviews; those that say what they show was about, what the reviewer thought about it, what worked, what needs work, and how the audience reacted. Ignore both rave and rank reviews. The Kipling quote engraved above the players entrance at Wimbledon nails it: to meet triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters both the same. These Edinburgh reviews are good for one thing only: quotes for the future. Yes, even the poor ones if you can bear to look. 
  Bless the comedian who got a review saying: 'If you have nothing better to do, if there is no paint to watch drying, no grass to watch grow…If you’ve tired of trying to de-drop your own testicles with a table tennis bat, gouging out your own eyes with a desert spoon, disembowelling yourself with a rusty kitchen knife...then go and see…' - and used only the last three words 'Go and see...' on his next print run. 
   And I was blue-tac'ing the quote 'Frankly, who gives a shit?' from my List review to flyers in 2002 until my director Neale Simpson saw one, rang me, and in his trying not to smack a toddler voice told me: 'The arts centres you’ll be going to have mailing lists with the emphasis on Mail, as in Daily, so take that quote off your flyer, thanks.'

  Your Show.
  Keep the production values simple and the costs down. You want the minimum number of performers performing something that is very much content over packaging. In Edinburgh, one person is a cast - and anything above two is pure Cecil B. DeMille, so stop it. Don’t have more props than you can fit in a plastic bucket while still leaving room for the spade. If you talk of being in a lighting state, you’re asking for it; and don’t kid yourself that using video, graphics and the rest of it will make up for material that’s like meanly sliced Emmental.

  Your print.
  If you can’t translate your comic idea into a two dimensional image to sell your show, then don’t. Beg a favour – steal, if you must – from a friend that can.
  And check the standard. Your poster mustn’t look cack, whoever’s designed it. It’s to sell your wares at an International Festival of ginormous kudos, not for mummy to put on the fridge.'

  For comedy, try for one of the big three: The Assembly Rooms, Gilded Balloon or The Pleasance. C Venue and The Underbelly are great, too. All the above have an established reputation which makes both performers and punters want to go to them.
  Otherwise, make sure your venue is central and that it has a good walk-by. And don’t believe all the shit a programmer may tell you about a new venue having crowds of the curious in and out from the off. Maybe go to Edinburgh for a week as a punter before you take your first show up there, to watch anything and everything going on onstage and off.
  Be unutterably lovely to the venue manager, the front of house staff and your technician. They see all the shows and will recommend stuff they like. Front of house tend to be wannabe performers themselves, so you have to be extra careful. Technicians, bless them, unless you’re being a total bellend, tend not to give a shit. Which is great. It’s a comfort being round someone who has seen it all and hardly blinked in the smoke from his rollie. Seen countless performers die yet live to tell the tale.

  Do it yourself. It’s all little steps and odd connections. Otherwise you can pay a PR bod two thousand pounds and he can’t guarantee to do anything for you. Would you buy a £30 DVD player on that premise?

  Lizzie knew Copstick, so we got a preview article in The Scotsman. Her mate Wendy Llloyd had a show on LBC so we got an interview. And she worked one day a week at Turns who printed out flyers and posters in return and sent their mate Time Out critic Macolm Hay to review us.

  Yes, Iestyn, but all this came from those five years I spent getting changed in loos and ignored in grotty pubs. You build up a network of mates doing the same thing, and pass favours round.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Advice I'd Give my Younger Self

Please have a listen to my interview on the What's Offstage? programme, Soho Radio

                              Clearly channeling my Nana Silcox today...

  I had a thoroughly good time this morning being interviewed by Nina Davis on Soho Radio. We discussed Cafe de Paris, my book about entertaining in Iraq and Afghanistan coming out, my association with the start up Getclipcrowd media curation app, my floaty high notes, my stress rash, my fall over the timber that the gardeners had left in the kitchen where I'm house-sitting. Nina also played a track of me singing, which I did like, nicely!  But don't take my word for any of that, have a listen via the link above. Perhaps you've already had a listen, seeing as you're this far down the page. Perhaps you're going to go back and have a listen when you've finished reading. Perhaps not. Perhaps you won't finish reading, either. 
  I went to Piccadilly from Finsbury Park, reading The Sea, The Sea, the one Iris Murdoch novel I've never been able to get through before. I've tried and failed with it since 1983. I'm loving it this time around. And it occurred to me that it's now thirty years since I opened the first annual Rag Week Revue at Guildhall dancing Swan Lake with Peter Snipp as my Prince. I went to Guildhall from Finsbury Park that night, as I had student digs in Muswell HIll and would catch the W7 from the Broadway to Wells Terrace. I was in the middle of my Iris Murdoch phase at the time. I'm almost certain that I read The Nice and the Good on the way to and from that first Swan Lake
  And during the tube journey today I thought what I might have had to say to my twenty year old self. 
  I would have said this: Remember how mum and dad used to take you to that restaurant in Victoria when you were seven and you would always have Chicken Hawaiian Style and a Fanta? And mum would put a sugar cube in the Fanta to take the fizz away in case it brought on an asthma attack? Well, your future life will be like that risk of an asthma attack: ever a stress. And you're wrong in thinking that if and when you can earn a living from performing, all will be well.
  In life there are no sugar-cube-in-Fanta solutions. 

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Shameless Self-Plug


  No, the shameless self-plug is not that technique I learned while I was doing cabaret at the sexual health and lifestyle exhibition Sexpo UK...
  It's this: at 9am tomorrow, Friday 19th of February, I'll be the guest on Soho Radio. Songs I love, anecdotes about the performing business. 

  Soho Radio

  I'm being interviewed by Nina Davis. She was studying at the Guildford School of Acting when I was a singing tutor there, and remembers when I coached Rania al Kurdi to perform "The Lonely Goatherd" the Method Acting way. 

  Here that is...

  "The Lonely Goatherd" will my opening song choice for the Soho Radio programme because it was the first song I learned to sing. Picture this: Christmas. I'm four. It's four in the morning. I'm more than half way through my Cadbury's Selection Stocking. My parents are seriously regretting that they've bought me the record and the sing along book to The Sound of Music because I've had "The Lonely Goatherd" on repeat play for forty-five minutes. My mother will eventually put a stop to me - welsh tweed dressing-gown, mules blinged with tinsel - by spiking my Snickers with temazepam. 
  I's exaggerated. But then, everything has to be for radio. 
  Ha ha ha...everything has to be exaggerated for...
  I won't tell the other, completely invented childhood story of my mother ringing the Pennines Police and saying yes, she understood it was a long shot, but if Myra Hindley got bail, might she be available for babysitting work?
  But please tune in or listen online later to hear what I will say. About scuppering the ark when I was Sem in Britten's Noye's Fludde.  Mrs Spinoza always asking me to leave housecraft lessons if there was sifted flour in the offing. Against the MOD's express instructions becoming mascot to 42 Commando Royal Marines in Kabul. 
  That last anecdote, by the way, is from my forthcoming book My Tutu's Gone AWOL! which Unbound Books are publishing, all the launch fandango material to be curated by More on

  Gosh - It couldn't have been sexier typing the above about my book coming out and the involvement of Getclipcrowd, if I had been using that technique I learned at Sexpo UK...

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

On Motivation


Motivation is to doing what the fluffer is to the pornstar: the middle man

  'Your motivation is your pay packet at the end of the week.' Noel Coward.
  Take my mate Rob. Rob is now doing well, with west end and TV leads on his CV. I met him when he was the tech on my first gig at the Lawrence Batley theatre. He was twenty-one. Tall, gorgeous, clever, funny, he'd been in musicals at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, in adverts, and had done bits and pieces in Heatbeat and Coronation Street. He also had one of the most beautiful singing voices I had ever heard. Yet he would cry because he couldn't motivate himself to chase more work. He would motivate himself. When the time was right. One fine day.
  'When the time is right,' he said. 'When I get more than one day off a week from teching the pantomime. When my sister’s back from her gap year in Africa and I don’t have to worry any more about her getting malaria or being Simba sushi. When I’ve done the round of auditions for drama colleges and one of them has said yes. Though even if they all say no I’d probably have the mindless arrogance to think they’re wrong and I was right.  But all this crying doesn't quite go to waste, either. I sometimes do it in the mirror. Then I can verify what we really look like in hysterics mode and recreate it onstage. Except I'm not ever onstage at the moment. But I will be when I can get myself motivated.'
  I told him not to motivate himself.
  'How can you not motivate yourself?' he asked.
  'Like you’re not, for example. Miss out motivation. It’s the middle man. Get on with the things you have to.  Ermintrude the Cow in The Magic Roundabout didn't need to be motivated. She just did.'
  'Did what?'
  'Stole a mechanical digger to rehearse being a number twelve bus going via the Haymarket.'

  The excuses for not getting on with things are often: a messy desk, not enough time, and waiting for certain people to die before that potentially explosive memoir can be written. 
 Re the messy desk: Beethoven composed with his chamber pot on his harpsichord.  
 Re not having enough time: Charlotte Bronte stopped writing in the middle of Jane Eyre’s flight from Thornfield to cut out the green bits her half-blind housekeeper was leaving in the potatoes.
  Re waiting for certain people to die: libel cases will be good for sales.

  So, just get on with it. 
  The time is never right - ask the Mad Hatter.    
  Nor will it will ever be One Fine Day - ask Madame Butterfly. 

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

On Getting that Big Break!

    If you're a variety turn, as I am, trust me - you will never get the big break doing any of the following:

  Bankrupting yourself to show off nightly at the Edinburgh Fringe
  Overacting in the audience of Judge Judy/Rinder/Milian, et al
  Heckling on Jeremy Kyle
  In a podcast
  Collecting for Every Child on Camden Road in character as Medea
  Singing loudly while tearing tickets front of house
  Giving TED talks
  In a podcast playing your eccentric aunt giving her gardener instructions
  Appearing on your local TV news programme
  Being the barista of a bike setup with an espresso maker where the basket should be
  Being in anything site-specific
  Cruise ship showcases
  Performing in your local library
  Performing in your local church
  Being on Vimeo singing hymns as your eccentric aunt
  Performing in your local dog-friendly cafe
  Performing for the wrong Dean of Bocking
  Giving guided tours of the road where serial killer Dennis Nilsen lived
  Sending snapchats of papier-mache passed off as your eccentric aunt's private parts
  Being Anne Boleyn in Madame Tussaud's
  In a homemade sitcom, especially one called Mucky Bottom or similar
  In an installation podcast on Periscope being the corpse of your eccentric aunt
  Being in a pantomime - even one with 3-D effects
  Being the Queen of Hearts in the Asprey's of Bond Street Alice installation
  Performing at charity events
  And, saddest of all to relate: 

  Performing in a bona fide variety night

Monday, 15 February 2016


  As the dying Mozart no doubt found time to affirm in the middle of giving a pupil instructions for finishing the Requiem which he had always believed he was writing for himself.  Or that Franz Schubert surely used as his daily mantra when he was making sketches for a tenth symphony while typhoid killed him. Or Jane Austen said with sister Cassandra as witness as she struggled to write Sanditon while the Brill-Zinsser disease took hold. Or as Kathleen Ferrier was thinking when cancer in its final stages caused her femur to disintegrate mid-performance at Covent Garden... 
  Or not. Just not. 

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Be Careful what you Wish for...



 Make positive affirmations. They work. 
  Or, perhaps, looked at another way: Be careful what you wish for. 

  Throughout my twenties I visualised the comedy character I play, Madame Galina, touring the provinces like Anna Pavlova. In my daydreams I was dragging a blue trunk, staying in old-school theatrical digs and being partnered by either of my two idols in the Royal Ballet at the time: Michael Nunn and William Trevitt. This was before I had ever performed further afield than my own front room with all the furniture pushed out of the way. 
  Then, in my mid-thirties, about to move back to London from Aldeburgh, where I'd been living for a time, I was walking past the Sue Ryder shop and volunteer Janet signalled furiously for me to come in. Then she dragged a blue trunk out of the stockroom and round the counter, gesturing for me to take the handle. The trunk was heavily full of something. 
  Janet hissed, 'Gillie said you don't have proper luggage, so I've been saving you this. Yes, there is something inside. But don’t open it till you get home, in case someone has kittens seeing it!  It's for you to wear as Madame Galina. Thrilled you've got yourself that London residency.'  At Murray's Cabaret Club. 'My aunt forbade us girls ever to go on to Murray's in the sixties after the theatre, of course. "Filth goes in there!  The Krays, that Keeler monstrosity. Filth!" Oh, but you're onto something with your ballet act - we all said after your show in the Jubilee Hall.  Even though you boiled that massive urn right underneath the wall heater on full blast because you were freezing - Susan Mary said - and fused most of the lights, so we could only see you when you came dancing downstage right. No, don't thank me, now - come on. Just get the trunk home and see what's inside...' 
  Opening the blue trunk when I got home I found Inside a rabbit skin fur coat. 
  For cheapness' sake, on tour as Madame Galina I would book myself into the standard of B.and B that thought it was too posh for hot chocolate sachets, reeked of zoflora, and had patterned settees, walls and carpets to turn your sight kaleidoscopic. One Blackpool landlady led me across the road to listen at the open window of a  rival's establishment:
  'Hear that hoover going, chick?  Notice there's no fluctuation in the tone. She's just left it on under the table, window open, trying to kid on that she runs a clean establishment. And she injects her eggs with tartrazine to make the yolks look more like the chickens that lay them have room to manoeuvre. And she wouldn't do you the courtesy - which it is really - of checking your room for tidiness before you go off to the Tower Ballroom and do your theatrics.' 
  And in 2004 my dancing idols MIchael Nunn and William Trevitt, having left the Royal Ballet and formed George Piper Dances, asked me to be in their Channel 4 series The Rough Guide to Choreography
  All my Galina dreams had come true.
  Was it magic? Or does It all really come down to this: that when I’ve visualised an hour and a half standing ovation for my meltingly elegiac, piercingly doomladen and pyrotechnically gauntlet-throwing Swan Lake at the Palais Garnier, I will sound more chirpily persuasive down the phone cold-selling to theatre programmers?
  'Oh, a must for your forthcoming season. You might have heard about my recent triumph at the Epstein Theatre. No? Well, the Liverpool Post its very self described Madame Galina as the result of a one-night stand between Margot Fonteyn and Tommy Cooper - trailing clouds of Lily of the Valley talc, flashing the most unnecessary pink of knicker - insults, innuendo and tiddle-tiddle thud in thirty-dozen stuck together doilies! Doesn't that'

Friday, 12 February 2016

More on How to Budget - Fight Against Impulse Buying


  The BBC has latched onto something my mother told me c1981:
  Shops try to inveigle you into impulse buying. What to Buy and Why, BBC Two. 
  'Look at all those useless things down the in and out shop, now, Iestyn, put out so as to be directly in your eyeline, with Lara’s Theme from Doctor Zhivago piped around the shelves,' was how my mother put it. 
  Apparently, psychological tests have shown that the lifted albeit squashed interval in the opening phrase of Lara's Theme inspires feelings of longing in the listener. In my case, for a train set to go in my Muswell Hill student digs, an ironing-board cover (I didn't have an iron, let alone an ironing board) and all Ten Commandments toast stamps. Eventually. It was week six of the spring term before I finally completed the set with: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.
  Then I needed to buy a new, king size, toaster.
  Oh, and a bigger loaf tin. I make my own bread, you see. 
  So, stuff will be displayed directly in your eyeline in a shop.  Take note. 
  Antidote? Don't look at it. 
  Then there's the piped music. Slow when they want you to linger. Thus in boutiques, art galleries or book shops they might play Satie's Gymnopedies. Fast when they want you out in and out of there sharpish. Thus in supermarkets, sex shops and Starbucks they play the Lone Ranger section of the William Tell Overture
  Antidote? Take an accordion into the shop with you and accompany yourself in medium-fast songs such as "Ding Dong Dell, Pussy'y in the Well", "If you Knew Susie like I Know Susie" and "My Old Woman's an Awful Boozer".
  Display signs will be in red. Red for danger; the danger being you might miss out on buying something you don't remotely need. We fear missing out much more than we enjoy acquiring, natch. 
  Antidote: take a magenta magic marker with you to recolour the sign. Magenta is the colour of harmony and balance. 
  Nearest the aisle shop owners will put things that entice you to touch them - shiny, padded, velvety, furry, 
  Antidote?  A sprig of barbed wire. 

  My mother used her knowledge of these psychological techniques when she volunteered in the Waterloo Action Centre library and needed to get borrowing numbers up.  WIth glitter sprayed rabbit fur and Red Label whisky miniatures taped to their covers, she suspended at eye-level from the ceiling, over a speaker broadcasting a loop of Gary Jules's Mad World, the ever so lesser taken out Sophie Kinsella collection. 


Thursday, 11 February 2016

A Precious Gift

  Stacks, Royal Marine, arranged a sponsored fun-run between Kandahar and Kabul, with proceeds going to various charities. He kept some of the money back and bought a radio for his late grandmother's childhood friend Edna. Edna's thank you letter went up on the wall of the Royal Marines' Kabul HQ.

  Dear men of 42 Commando - must single out Stacks, of course,
  God bless you for the gift of the transistor radio.  I am ninety-seven and live at the Miller's Hill Rest Home. My family has long since past away and I very rarely have visitors.  As a result, I have very limited contact with the outside world. This makes your gift especially welcome. 
  My roommate, Maggie Cook, has had her own radio as long as I've known her. She listens to it all the time, but usually with an earplug or with the volume so low, I can't hear it. For some reason, she has never wanted to share it. 
  Last Sunday morning, she accidentally knocked her radio off its little shelf. It smashed into many pieces and caused her to cry.  It was so sad.  
  Luckily, I had my new radio.  Knowing this, Maggie asked if she could listen to mine.  
  I told her to go fuck herself!
  God bless you for your kindness to an old forgotten woman,
  Sincerely yours..Edna Johnson 

How to...Budget


  This first item is essential for every home: it's my book! 

Pre-buy my essential book here...
  Never buy branded, always buy mid-range, buy in bulk. 
  NB: don't apply the above rules to coffee, mascara or toilet paper. 
  Be fully au fait with a coupon -  received as a reward for doing consumer surveys, cut out of in-store magazines, found in-store on products/on promotional displays/on the floor. Keep coupons clipped to a wall-calendar so they won't go out of date, use them shrewdly in as many different shops as need be, with no nonsense about loyalty. 
  Get your fruit and veg from a market at the end of Saturday trading when the stallholders are likely to sell at a knockdown price for a quick sale. 
  Ask your butcher to talk you through the cheapest cuts of meat. The ones that require the longest cooking time. Oleaginous slimy oozings will make their way to the top of the pot. Skim this off, freeze it and use it to anoint the doorframes of your enemies to attract evil. My mother used to make something with an obscure bit of a lamb's pelvis, eked out with barley, carrots and Caerphilly cheese, boiled in watered down vinegar in a birthing bucket through most of January and topped with mashed swede. 
  I was vegan very early on.
  In a supermarket go first to the shelves displaying items that are either about to go past their display-by date. Or that have been fished from where they've fallen behind shelving units, run over by supermarket trolley wheels, had a curse put on them, etc. 
  Go up and down all the other the aisles squinting - all the better to see any Less Than Half Price stickers, my dear. The rule is to never buy anything that isn't on offer. 
  Never impulse buy. It's like comfort eating. You don't need to consume whatever it is, you're just being needy. Recognise this. Distract yourself. Host an orgy. Practise fronting Songs of Praise. Give online Rune readings (the clack of a stone being cast is always more impressive than the thwick of a tarot card being turned up or of silence broken by the occasional rustle of a sleeve over a crystal ball). Skype President Mugabe. 
  Make a list before you shop and stick to it. According to my most stylish mate, Jack, this is as doable for your wardrobe as it is for your store cupboard. Jack talks about essentials that need to be sourced with a bit of nowse from season to season - by which he means online with an occasional advance-booked trip to Barcelona. When I mention factory outlets, T.K. Max or Primark, Jack smiles benignly and pretends not to know what I'm talking about. Or he will say that the cut of a classic winter coat doesn't need to be rejigged so arbitrarily, Iestyn. He clearly knows his stuff - he refers to 'jeans' as 'a jean', 'trousers' as 'a trouser' and to my black tie onyx cufflinks as 'clearly they missed your wrist by a couple of inches when they were nailing you to the cross, mate.'  

  Tomorrow I'll give ways to counteract a shop's techniques for luring you into making that forbidden impulse buy without resorting to a dirty protest. 


Tuesday, 9 February 2016

How to...Treat a Cold

  I woke up this morning with a cold. As always my first thought was: 'But I've got to sing!' 
  I tried the wide-ranging phrase from Donizetti's Anna Bolena where Anne Boleyn tells Lord Percy not to be in England next day, and could feel that my voice was there under the gunk; the cords weren't waterlogged with laryngitis. 

                                 'Let not another dawn find you in England...'

  I feel both exhausted and wired. I look like a mortuary photo. I'm upbraiding myself for not wearing my sou'wester and wellies down to the Jubilee Hall where I sang So In Love and spoke and danced as Tytania in to the Wonderful Beast Shakespeare Gala. I'm remembering school days when my mother would make me a bed on the settee, leave me a Vesta Chow Mein to cook for myself, and I would try to eke out a cold caught at the start of the week all the way to Friday, so as not to miss the verdict being delivered on Crown Court
  So, how to treat a cold?
  Basically, do nothing. Really. Drugs can only relieve the symptoms of a cold, not cure it. And it's too late for Vitamin C, zinc and/or Echinacea. 
  I'll drink more water than I normally would. I'll inhale with Eucalyptus from a bowl with a towel covering my head, just for the sake of seeming to be doing something. (Not with added Menthol because that would irritate my vocal cords). I'll give myself a nasal douche morning noon and night, and cook myself what I call my Medicine Meal - a curry overloaded with garlic, ginger and cardamom pods, sweetened with mashed banana and apple. Otherwise, I'll stay indoors and rest. And count myself lucky that I can. Yes, I'll be monitoring the cold for signs of it going chestward, but I'll read my latest Jo Nesbo, swear over the Guardian Cryptic Crossword and watch TV. 
  Always remembering what Voltaire said: 'Medicine is the art of entertaining the patient while nature takes care of the healing.' 

Monday, 8 February 2016

The Dowager Duchess of Cobham - C'est Moi!


  When I played Captain Petrovich in Eugene Onegin for British Youth Opera, movement coach Terry John Bates tried and failed to make me look butch enough to be convincing. 
  ‘Stand in a strong position.
  ‘Never mind. But at the very least can you drop your habit of clutching at an imaginary string of pearls when things get dramatic? It's tantamount to being your female indicator gesture. You are a Cossack killing machine stopping a brawl at Madame Larina's house, not the Dowager Duchess of Cobham hearing that her son Lord Jack has knocked up the tweeny maid again.' 

Friday, 5 February 2016

The Tao of Lambeth Lil

                                    Bertram Nicholls 'Lambeth Bridge' 1949

  Dressed in a woollen blue coat fastened with nappy pins and stained down the front with tinned ravioli. A straw bonnet during the summer, the top of a sawn-off kettle in winter. Support tights, no knickers, one blue shoe, one brown welly. Speckled with sticking plasters. Lil went back and forth over Lambeth Bridge all day, day in, day out, pushing a supermarket trolley filled with china ornaments wrapped in newspaper, curtains with the hooks half off and a display halibut late of the fish shop in The Cut. 
  On his way to work at Myer's Beds each day Big Sid, who lived round the balcony from us, took her a flask of tea.  He collected the empty flask from her on his way home each evening, saying, 'Same again tomorrow, then,  Lil?'
  'If you'd be so kind, Sidney.  I wouldn't want anyone to go to any trouble just for me.'
  'No trouble, Lil.'
  On winter mornings, Big Sid put a tot of sherry in the tea. 
  Lil wasn't an object of fun to local children. We said Hello, Mrs Lillian, very respectfully when we crossed Lambeth Bridge on our way to the Marsham Street Baths. She replied, 'On with you, on with you - and don't cause a florry!'  And we were never taunting, as we were with Funny Brian, the Tinworth House witch woman, or stinky Mr Lingwood whose glass eye scooped out and laid in his palm never impressed us.
  According to local rumour, Lil was a retired head of MI5, an ex-windmill Girl, or heiress to an unimaginable fortune from an insurance business owned by her father, who paid her an allowance to stay away. My mother thought she may have lived in one of the prefabs this side of the Archbishop's Park.
  A reporter on the South London Press went to interview Lil.
 'Just the single bridge, now,' he said. 'Five hundred yards down that way you’ve got Vauxhall Bridge. Five hundred yards down the other way you’ve got Westminster Bridge. Have you not thought of varying your walk by going over either of those other two? Variety, they say, is the spice of life.'
  Briefly holding her trolley at a stand still, Lil replied, 'Young man, you will hopefully one day learn. In life it doesn’t do to spread oneself too thinly.'