Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lent



For Lent I gave up eating cake, and other closely related delicacies, biscuits, muffins, cookies and donuts, a simple enough task but not one without its own controversy. You could tell a friend, "Last night I smoked crystal in Lidl, convinced myself I was Diana Ross, climbed onto the roof of the Ecuadorian embassy and kidnapped Julian Assange, whom I then promptly dragged to a black mass performed in honor of David Cameron at XXL!" and they would not think this unusual or remarkable, but tell them you are observing Lent and they look at you as though you are actually the hellmouth incarnate. It's reactionary, it's old fashioned, it's restrictive, repressive, archaic, homophobic by default and P.S. it's pointless - apparently.

Now this article is not an attempt to justify myself, I mean who has the time? Rather it's intended as a musing on cultural practices and assessing your very own lifestyle for your very own self. Lent provides me an opportunity to observe patterns in my behaviour which are automatic and possibly addictive, certainly not conscious or well considered. When I think about it clearly, why would anyone eat as much cake, as many cookies as I do on a regular basis. Are three desserts a day really that necessary? Clearly not. There is an argument to say that I could do this at any time of year and that there's no need to tie it in with the Catholic Church, but that you see is from where I come.

Ever since I was a child I gave something up in the run up to Easter, and my word how long did those four weeks seem? Extending out for a candy free eternity ahead of me, a desert of, "No thank you", and, "Not until Easter", which seemed to only grow longer the closer the calendar told me we were coming to Good Friday. In primary school I would talk with my friends about what they were abstaining from, at home it was the same. We would watch each other, with a sense of propriety streaked with a childish sadism, to make sure we didn't stray, and when we suspected that someone had broken their covenant, out would come the damning mantra, "You're only cheating yourself, God knows."

Thus we would spend a month playing hide and seek with temptation, chewits had never seemed so decadent to our sugar starved minds, Satan seemed to appear to us in the guise of a grandmother offering us a innocent curly wurly or a sales assistant with a tray of free sampled of M&Ms at the mall.

But what pleasure there was in our dorky little quest for salvation! How we loved to count off the days, to stack them up like firewood on the bonfire of our good deeds, to burn on Easter Sunday and warm ourselves in those heavenly tongues of flame. The annual observance of Lent was just like dressing the Christmas tree each December, a gorgeous, delicate, spellbinding ritual full of ancient symbols and achievements, which lit up the pathway to the great celebration like a trail of glitter on the grey pavements of Thatcher's council estates. And just as we would string up the tinsel and hang the baubles with such excitement in Winter, so giving up our silly childish desires for a month each year as Spring began had it's own definite, preparatory charm. The sacrifice was a wonderful part of the celebration, as necessary as it was to make sure the house was immaculately clean before Father Christmas came to visit.

The pleasure of disavowing pleasures unravelled marvelously with the chocolate eggs and assorted weird fruit gum candies, a feast fit for a welfare queen that came on Easter Sunday. I have never gorged as much as I did as a nine year old, barely able to contain myself from swallowing the Cadbury's chocolate buttons egg whole, python style. And how ill I felt, but how satisfied.

I'm sure this is not the true intent of Lent, but I observe it all the same. Lent lets me meditate on what I want and why I want it; I catch myself even as I write, absent-mindedly reaching for the chocolate box, having to stop myself and ponder what lust powers these daydream fumbles, what corporate hypnotism has me equate comfort and productivity with sugar and confectionery. Each time I can't have what I reach for I require myself to think of everything I do have, in which case even the hardest work day, the nastiest argument, and the smallest bank balance seem irrelevant. This is a good thing, gratitude for what you do have is the greatest step towards being empowered and in control of your own life. And of course, every craving for candy returns me right back to where I was, when amongst my sisters at home as a child, we would lie in strips of sunlight poured through the window and onto the carpet, as if laid out just for us, and daydream of the bacchanal of bakewell tarts and custard to await us in Heaven.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Tour Diary PT 7: Manchester and Brighton



Wise words at a train station somewhere.

This week our travels took us from the North to the South, via a whole nexus of the most gorgeous train carriages. We had two sold-out shows in Manchester, and one in Brighton, both in wildly different venues with very diverse audiences, proving how universal the show is. Tweets and facebook messages abound from people who have seen the show and want to know how they can see it again! The proof is in THAT pudding I'd say.


Gratuitous selfie, taken to commemorate the world's most flattering backstage mirror.

In Machester we performed at the Contact Theatre as part of the Flying Solo Festival. After a minor slippage with the stage times (we believed we were on at 8pm, the website said 7.30pm and the theatre believed it to be 7pm) we barreled onstage for our Mancunian debut, barely 10 minutes after the lighting had been plotted. Much to my amusement the mannequin legs which furnish the front quarter of the stage, gave up the ghost a mere 15 minutes into the show and capsized rather loudly and in an entirely unmissable manner, leaving a rather gaping hole in the set and indeed the narrative. Likewise in our panic to get onstage a costume had been left on the stage rather than backstage, which necessitated Erin to casually stroll by me at a very unexpected moment to rescue it and chuck it to our unflappable stage manager, Maud. Musical director Ed didn't fare much better, not noticing that the sunglasses he was wearing had been recently painted red with a sharpie, he spent the last third of the show with some very fetching red Adam Ant-esque stripes adorning his face. In spite of that catalogue of hiccups, The Public Reviews gave us a glowing review, though with an inexplicable 4.5 out of 5 stars.


In case you ever wondered, on what such GENIUS was based (although you probably didn't).

The second night in Manchester was nigh on professional, which meant that obviously, by the time we arrived in Brighton (a mere 5.5 hour, 3 train journey away) we were in desperate need of a minor catastrophe. Ask and you shall receive! The charming Marlborough Theatre has character by the bucket load, shedloads of ambience and acres of good energy, the only thing it lacks is physical space. Our set was approximately three times to big for the stage, a crisis for sure, but one which was somewhat relieved by the fact that only half of the set arrived from Manchester - every cloud, lover! What remained of our set was lovingly arranged onto the bijou stage and with only the tiniest bit of hysteria we reworked the movement, or should I say, removed the movement. After the accursed wardrobe was installed onstage there was barely room to walk a meter in any direction, so the show developed a certain languid stillness, shot through with the manic energy of knowing the whole thing might collapse and take the entire building down with it at any given moment. It was a hilarious show, with Erin and I colliding constantly, props flying off the stage and the wardrobe upstaging us constantly by swinging open at will.

Both cities were beautiful to spend time in, and we met a lot of very charming theatre-goers after the shows. Really, touring has been a refreshing and inspiring time, it has taught me a lot about developing stamina, patience and the ability to relax enough to perform, even under insane conditions. In short I've had a great time. Next week we're closing the circle and returning to the Battersea Arts Centre, where this whole madcap process began. We have 3 shows, 2 of which are sold out, and I thoroughly expect them to be as unhinged, uncanny and unpredictable as usual.


These shoes are still torture.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Tour Diary Pt 6 Liverpool and Bristol



Dame Edna shoots from the hip

What a week!

"Boy in a Dress" pulled into Liverpool for our first show outside of London, at Unity Theatre. We were preceded by this article in the Liverpool Echo which although very pleasant, totally terrified me because it somehow made it all so real. Although we arrived the day before the show our get-in did not start until the following day and so we found ourselves in the nerve-wracking situation of teching practically until curtain up. There are so many lighting cues and sound cues, and so many details to attend to every time the set is built, that it is often unavoidable that we are wildly behind schedule, but onstage I felt distracted and overwhelmed, not to mention anxious about performing in my home town. In spite of the pressures, I think we pulled it off, the Liverpool Daily Post certainly thought so, saying the show, "crackles with good writing and fascinating stage craft."


5 of our 9 team members en route to Liverpool

As the originator of the work I have always felt a profound responsibility for it, for every element in fact. I could never help thinking that an audience would blame me personally any missed cues, mis-set props or lighting errors. Moreover I realized that the delays and the stress, the inevitable squabbles and the ever extending hours were actually disabling me in my performances. When we were focusing lights for a day and a half or spending twenty minutes to correctly pan a ten second sound cue, I recognized I was depriving myself of what I needed to deliver a good show, and distracting myself with somewhat extraneous details. The costumes, the lights and the set design are all beautiful and take the show to the next level aesthetically and professionally, but for me (selfishly perhaps) they are the icing on the cake not the cake itself. So I chose to focus on the victoria sponge beneath, the text, the story, the heartbeat and since making that decision I have felt so much more empowered and in control, in short able to do what I am good at doing, and not to spend each show fretting about whether the wardrobe doors close or if the playback will be loud enough.


The Bristol Old Vic

Bristol was such different story, the Old Vic is really the most amazing building, it's the UK's oldest working theatre and is just beautiful. (The whole city is gorgeous, but the theatre is just beyond). The performance space was wonderful to be in, the acoustics were great and the team running it made our three shows a joy. Erin, Ed and I delivered three knock-out shows, we were focused, we connected and we had the audience captivated all three nights. It was a genuine pleasure to perform there, and I think really proved that the show has a audience excited to see it, and a very diverse one at that. Twitter has been abuzz with reviews, reblogs and compliments, and the sales speak for themselves. Next up is Manchester, where I'm hoping for a similar smash!


An absolute tart