The Incidental Performance

In more standard theatre venues what you do before entering a scene is wait. In the wings or the dressing room typically. Maybe the corridor you’ve strolled through to get to the wings. You wait with your fellow cast members and try to keep quiet.

When it comes to outdoor theatre, you end up in some odd places waiting. These can range from car parks to antique chests, behind trees to dirty great holes in the ground. Sometimes with your colleagues, often not. The only company you can have for a while are your own thoughts or maybe an animal or two. In the dark on your own, if there’s a bustle in your hedgerow try not to be alarmed.

What happens when you inevitably meet a member of the public? That person who isn’t part of the show but who’s day and environment you’ve just made a little bit odd?

These encounters are usually brief and to the point;

“What’s all this about then?”

You learn to distill the entire plot. You become adept at directing people to websites to try and sell that last remaining ticket.

Not all encounters are like that. Some will stay back and just watch you. You’re bordering on an installation. Carrying out a mundane task for you becomes a fascination. What is a man dressed like that doing with a bunch of sticks with fairly lights on? Occasionally I feel a bit like this:

Who knows what those who have a nice distance shot are thinking? Others will want a photograph, so a quick pose and off they go.

A man was in the middle of a phone call once whilst I was waiting. Within his conversation he said to whomever was on the other end – “There’s a bloke in trainers and wings just… standing.” No enquiry as to why I was standing there. He moved on a minute before 40 people dressed in red ran up a big hill. He would have had a lovely view, and his quizzical look would have been partially answered. Oh well! I often wonder what the other person said.

Then we move onto the more involved micro-interactions. I once gave a couple of gentlemen a mini-lecture on George Merryweather whilst being George Merryweather. One of them furiously jotted down notes. All this whilst stood on a lovely little bridge in Watchet, from which I was dangling an enamel cup attached to string over a steam and within that cup was a liquorice slug. That didn’t interest them in the slightest.

A couple of women stopped me once to say how much they loved my odd socks. I was arresting poets at the time, so asked if they saw any would they help me? They laughed and cheerily pronounced they would aid and abet their crime! Good day madams!

During my last tour, I have a task where I ask my group to gather sticks. A small moment in the grand scheme. After the show I’m wrestling with a barrier to the let a car out of the venue. I’m still in costume. A young woman darts across the road towards me, who I recognise from the show that evening. Reaching me she hands me a stick. I give the appropriate character response “That’s a nice stick”. Away she goes without saying a word. The performance was resurrected one last time a few hours after it ended.

Does all this mean anything? Well I like to think I’m doing my bit for Kayfabe! Also it reinforces that particularly once in costume, any number of things can happen. Even though we’re still trying to control as much as possible, this type of performance is open to the elements. As we know the elements will shape whatever it comes in contact with. I wasn’t trained for that as I was taught in the very controlled environment of rehearsal rooms and theaters. We briefly puncture each others realities – that person going for a stroll and me waiting for the show.

A very select audience get a bespoke interaction. Unplanned, very rarely unwelcome and can be great fun.

Dates galore – Company of Wolves and Allen Jeffery

It has been a while and now is the time to add some new dates for upcoming performances.

Burn the Curtain continue taking The Company of Wolves on the road this spring. Three venues are lined up and the details are as follows:

Cwmcarn Forest, Caerphilly, South Wales, NP11 7FA

April 7th, 8th and 9th 2016


Durlston Country Park, Swanage, Dorset, BH19 2JL

April 21st, 22nd and 23rd 2016

Tickets: or call 01929 424443

Delamere Forest, near Frodsham, Cheshire, CW8 2JD

May 5th, 6th, and 7th 2016

Tickets: 03000 680 400

Also my first solo show makes a return this time as part of the second Plymouth Fringe:

The Life and Times of Allen Jeffery

The Nowhere Inn

May 31st, 3pm (more details to follow)

Zero Mostel

It’s my birthday today but that isn’t important. I’ve always been more interested about the historical events that have taken place on my birthday. The first part of Tom Baker’s last ever Dr Who story – Logopolis. Number 1 in the charts was “Shaddupa Your Face” by the Joe Dolce Music Theatre. Also I share my birthday with two people I admire greatly – Barry McGuigan and one of the most singular (and very possibly dangerous) actors of all time – Zero Mostel.

Today would have marked his 100th birthday. His most famous role is as Max Bialystock in The Producers. However there are other films you should certainly check out. Panic in the Streets one of his earliest films in which he is a gangster infected with pneumonic plague being pursued through New Orleans! Running with fellow infected mobster Jack Palance, being chased Richard Widmark – all directed by Elia Kazan.

Also his second pairing with Gene Wilder in a film version of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros . It is a peculiar film (attempting to film anything by Ionesco is akin to trying to film Alan Moore) and Mostel also didn’t require make-up for his transformation into a rhino. He made great use of his physical presence and high energy.

Zero was also blacklisted during the McCarthy era which is one reason why his filmography is nowhere near as long as you’d imagine it could. I can’t do him justice in a blog. The best thing to do is go and watch him. A genuine force of nature. The closest I’ve seen in writing to summing him up was by Stella Adler. She wrote in The Art of Acting (talking about her use of animal exercises in training actors):

“As an animal, you must know who you are but not how you’ll react. Being an animal teaches you about spontaneity. If you’re scared, do something. If you’re hungry, do something. Always be specific, never general, and do everything to the maximum. That’s why it’s dangerous to be on stage with an animal –  they always do things to the maximum.

The same was true of Zero Mostel. That’s why I used to warn my students to never get on a stage with an animal, a child or Zero Mostel.” 

High praise indeed!

Talking to yourself

One man show? Sounds good no? Control of your own material, how you see and play the character, what amount of tech (if any) you’ll use plus so much more. You are in complete control then you start rehearsing…

Besides one friend sitting in for half-hour, no one else has laid eyes on it. This Saturday evening a room full of people will see the 20 mins I have been working on. You start to question whether working on your own is:

  • 1) advisable
  • 2) lunacy
  • 3) the norm

You book a space for three hours and off you go. Did that feel right? Felt okay, maybe it needs refining. Why didn’t that work? I haven’t got the right way of presenting it. These are just some of the conversations in your own head whilst you’re rehearsing. Add on top of that the realisation that you have been talking to yourself for three hours, and conflict can happen. Have I done the right thing?

This weekend, whilst developing another show, I met another performing working on a one hander. I asked how often she worked on her own. She said for the majority too – sometimes in a shared space where you could ask others to briefly look over excerpts. Maybe I haven’t been as dumb as I thought…

Of course there is no uniform approach and you’ll always need eyes on the piece during the development process. Some of the doubts expressed above probably are due to fear. This isn’t the first solo show I’ve done. The other was at university however, a much safer place to try such an experiment. The parallels were again most of it was on my own – lecturers only ever saw it three times before it hit the stage – one was my dress rehearsal!

What I have learnt? If you are wanting to go it alone like I have –  get someone in mid-way through. That way if you’re up the wrong path, they can drag you back in time. If you’re not, then they can help pick up those pieces you have missed. Get a hold of a video camera and film yourself – don’t rely on it completely though. It is a useful one step removed. I tried a mirror but it’s still too ‘real time’ for me. Trust your darn instincts – that’s something I’ll always say regardless in a cast or solo. Also keep moving – don’t sit and think too much. Try it happy, sad, angry, or slow, mid, quick. Work backwards, out of sequence you never know!

Who knows what an audience will make of it. Saturday will be it’s first airing in a work in progress evening at the Barbican Theatre, Plymouth, called BETA 5. Now all that is left is get that tension and turn it your advantage.

Peter Weller – some handy hints.

Earlier this week, I spent a splendid evening at a Mondo Monday at Plymouth Arts Centre watching a double bill of Tokyo Gore Police and RoboCop.

A quick note on the former film which was, interesting, it clearly revels in it’s gory and bizarre effects. These effects are impressive as they are ludicrous. At 110 mins long though it outstays it’s welcome. In there is an interesting 70 min film, but it’s worth watching if you like to watch the more outlandish Japanese output! The themes, for me, had also been touched upon in a much better fashion by Cronenberg’s Videodrome, which I will always recommend.

For the latter, RoboCop remains a great film. The remake is going to find it hard, if not impossible, to live up to the mix of satire, pathos, humanity, effects and acting of the original. It is a cut above many of the action flicks of the 80’s. The films leading man – Peter Weller – does an excellent job under all that suit/armour. It’s a performance I admire greatly and he remains a criminally underrated actor. Whilst searching around YouTube, for any snippet of an interview with him. I found this (there is bad language so play at own risk!) –

Here he talks about RoboCop, but also his other career as a director, which I was unaware of. This leads him to a passionate and very entertaining rant about acting and directing. Now there are intricacies of the ‘Method’ which at times, to me, seem at odds to storytelling. Although a lot of my favourite actors are steeped within this discipline so it can pay to listen. This is just such an occasion as Weller talks about the ‘physical life’ of a scene. I shan’t break it down, as he does a much better job then I could! It’s clear, passionately advocated and something I’ll be keeping in mind the next time I’m rehearsing/performing.

Don Quixote by Bicycle

Don Quixote finally set off on it’s adventure last Friday. Sadly the weather for the first show decided to rain non-stop. Soggy actors and audience persevered though! Cyclists are hardy people and this goes along with outdoor theatre/performance of any kind. You keep going, as long as it’s safe to. The audience hopefully appreciate it, as we appreciate them sticking with us! They were troopers, the youngest on a bike being a girl of around 4 or 5. She kept going and the company have nothing but the upmost respect for her!

Sunday provided gorgeous weather and as a result a sold-out and energised audience. It’s incredible how their interaction can affect how you see/play your character. That afternoon it firmly clicked into place and helped upped my performance as well as try a few new things out.

All in all a good start, and another weekend to go in Exeter. Tickets are selling well so take the chance and join in the adventure on your bicycle.

Don Quixote by Bicycle

Don Quixote by Bicycle has been officially launched! Burn the Curtain have details on their website for this summers new show

We participated in Sky Ride in Plymouth on 13th May. Whilst myself and my colleage Richard Pulman cycled around the Hoe and the city in character on our bikes, workshops ran where children and adults could decorate their bikes to add some sparkle in the sun.

Yours truly will be playing Sancho Panza, which again requires myself to be kitted out in a fake belly. This I usually double up with a beard for reasons I’ve never fully understood…

Here I am in The Herald:

The costume was designed and made by Meier Williams. Dapple the Donkey was designed and made by Ruth Webb and the energetic chaps from Bike Space Plymouth helped get the bike into an actor proof condition!

Angrove at the Phoenix

The Nature of Angrove had a good turn out at it’s premier in Exeter last night. Cast, crew, friends and general public enjoyed the film – some great reactions as well which is always a joy to hear.

Congratulations to all that worked on it and those who helped fund it via Indie GoGo. Without that network, it just wouldn’t have come off. If it end’s up in a festival near you, check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

Facebook page for Angrove