(If you’re reading this on a phone, I find the pictures look better if you read it in “landscape” rather than “portrait.”)
As I write we’re about to re-set the clocks for British Summer Time – are we all ready to spring forward? As the world’s axis tilts us towards the sun, will we soon be sinking pints in the pubs, bustling on the beaches, swelling the stadia – and, of special interest to this blog – will we be thronging the theatres?
Top of my headline list comes news fresh from the South Bank, to gladden Welsh hearts – that the astounding Michael Sheen and the fabulous Sian Phillips are, in June, to lead a company in a new stage version of “Under Milk Wood”, towing with them an illustrious ensemble, including two of my pals, Anthony O’Donnell and fellow former “Squirrel”* Alan David . The last time Michael Sheen tackled this iconic Play for Voices was on TV, in a terrific version Pip Broughton put together for the BBC in 2014 – a gorgeous chocolate-box of talent, with Matthew Rhys as Second Voice and countless other stars from the Principality, perhaps most famously Sir Tom Jones as Captain Cat. It’s no longer on the iPlayer, but I just discovered you can get DVDs of it on Amazon – it’s a joy, and I’m sure the new stage version will be just the tonic our four virus-jaded local nations need.
And meanwhile other wheels are starting to turn – from June Michelle Terry and the Shakespeare’s Globe team will offer, despite Covid-ravaged resources, a season including “Romeo and Juliet”, “King Lear” with Kathryn Hunter, also “Antony and Cleopatra”. To cope with the continuing Covid threat, I understand the “groundlings” – who normally stand to see the show for five quid – will be offered socially-distanced seating. And Michelle has decided to do away with intervals, since audiences back in Will’s day never had nor expected pauses in the entertainment. They bought an orange or a beer or a pie from a seller in the crowd whenever peckish, and wandered off to pee against or beside the nearest wall as the need arose. It all sounds like my teenage Saturday afternoons as a Hull City supporter.
The great Sir Ian McKellen is due to journey upstream from Limehouse to Windsor and re-visit playing Hamlet in July – on the not unreasonable grounds that he felt he didn’t get it quite right when he played it in 1971 and now he’s 82 it’s about time he had another go. The box-office for the Windsor Theatre Royal opened for this remarkable event last week and I can tell you now, don’t bother – I tried and failed – it had sold out within hours. Most theatre box offices aren’t yet open – the National, for instance, opens on April 30th.
Further afield in the regions, the buildings who were lucky enough to receive “survival” grants from the Chancellor seem at present to be keeping their powder dry, marking time and not offering hostages to fortune – but expect announcements before long. Summer visitors are the lifeblood of venues in places like Keswick, Scarborough, Pitlochry – and above all, Edinburgh whose legendary festival just didn’t happen in 2020, any more than those at Glyndebourne, Glastonbury or for that matter, Bayreuth.
The north has theatre powerhouses, from the Glasgow Citizens to the Royal Exchange – some of which are small but tough, not ones to be knocked over by a few germs. For example, Tyneside’s dynamic Live Theatre is about to announce a new directorate – and I hear that in the old South Yorkshire coalfields exciting work is brewing in Doncaster – look out for a project called “The Last Motel” at a resolute regional resource called CAST.
As you know, much of my time nowadays is spent in coaching, and I have been busy during the Lockdown helping aspiring actors prepare for drama school auditions – even though I tell them all that this is the worst year EVER for performance training. The schools have slashed their intake quotas, while at the same time application totals have soared. At RADA this year they awarded fourteen places after auditioning several thousand people. The training in the schools has kept going, but often in weird ways – musical theatre students, for example, have for months been taking singing and dance classes on their own in their living rooms, via laptops and smartphones.
However, once Covid retreats, the creative industries will regenerate, and demand for talent will surge. Yes theatres will re-open – but also the watching and re-watching of box-sets that has kept us all sane during the pandemic has stimulated a massive demand for home escapism which I reckon won’t go away. Film and television companies are going to need performers of all kinds, fresh faces with new energies, released after months and months of stifling lockdown!
I’m new to boxset watching, and these months found me entranced by two series, one dramatic and one comic, and both French. I have bored my friends for hours on phone and zoom about “Engrenages” (“Spiral”) and “Dix pour Cent” (“Call My Agent”). I won’t button-hole you now, but I may offer a few thoughts in a future blog about the French approach to acting and actor-training – and I will strive to include a dab of Gallic zest to make them digestible, perhaps, who knows even entertaining..
Now, there are out there a few people who from time to time remember I still proudly hold an Equity card – including some of whom, very occasionally, invite me to act. And so it was one morning last month, when I was driven to a remote part of rural Somerset to portray a terrified pensioner harassed by cannibals. I had a great day, and wanted to blog about it – but the film company has asked me not to pre-empt their publicity agenda, so I will say no more, other than to mention there’s a link to another event already mentioned in this blog – but hold, enough! Watch this space.
In the meantime, here’s a pic I took of the location – a green but damaged England, a place of unsettling silence, a post nuclear-holocaust society left troubled and adrift, changed for ever by unforeseen, unexpected events…
- BBC “Under Milk Wood”: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Under-Milk-Wood-DVD-Jones/dp/B01H1JWG9U
- * “The Squirrels”: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Squirrels-DVD-Bernard-Hepton/dp/B00B5SDFLM