At the Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington 4th November :
I was originally delighted to stumble upon the London Horror Festival. It took me back to the days of all night screenings of horror films at the Scala cinema. The notorious B movie, Basket Case, is one I will never forget.
So, horror live in a small theatre, seemed even more enticing. The Haunting of Blaine Manor, written and directed by Joe O'Byrne, was created as a throwback to a Hollywood golden age. Glamour and horror with iconic names, I was all for this, and sat down eagerly in this very small theatre upstairs.
Promising set, very detailed, with strong tones of red and velvet. A high backed reading chair, which alone, could produce a shiver up the spine. For the small space, it was a well designed living room, full of faded glamour and on the verge of gothic, but not quite. The main door looked promising, perhaps Vincent Price would enter any moment.
A little late starting, Andrew Yates, and Jo Haydock worked well together with intriguing dialogue. Although Yates was a little shaky with his words, the promise of the unwinding plot forgave this inconsistency. So did Ms Haydock, in her sparkly cocktail dress and Veronica Lake hair.
However, the more characters that entered onstage, the more the play filled with long-winded lines, and an uninspiring plot. Great chunks of dialogue, and lack of build-up. Performances became very lacklustre and unconvincing indeed.
Only Phil Dennison and Peter Slater brought this dull text to life. They needed to.
We, as the audience, felt it's weightiness, and it's strong need for an edit.
Over long, undisciplined and anti climatic, I look forward to next year's Horror festival - I think.
Are you Going to do that Little Jump
by Robert Gillespie
Don’t assume that Robert Gillespie’s new book is just another actor’s autobiography, it is a razor-sharp picture of the theatre, and recording of a very prolific career. Illustrated with stunning photographs and images, there are passages of astonishing detail, with clear tableaus of a past era in theatre. Vanished practices and values are described without a trace of mawkishness, and are positive turning points.
That’s not to say that his early life is described without reflective detail.
Memories of fleeing France and driving through a sad and desperate Paris, before catching the last boat to England almost come over as gripping. The poignancy of the romantic Hungarian mother leaving behind her trunk full of past glamour strikes one as symbolic of the new life ahead in England. Tragedy of a lost sister, descriptions of a very different Manchester, snotty grammar school teachers, and human anecdotes of genuine, wartime hardship are vivid and well written.
With high expectations of the hallowed, yet badly bombed, and post-war RADA, and its significant reputation, he was greeted by far too many students, and only rudimentary in-house support. Although disillusioned by the overall standards of tuition, there were notable exceptions: Mary Duff, who truly loved her craft, described as ahead of her time, and the ‘Alex Ferguson of producers’, along with Clifford Turner and his inspiring voice tuition: “A fine presence.”
Vibrant classmates included Sylvia Sims, Bernard Breslaw, Ronald Fraser and Alan Bates. They share life-changing lessons, stunningly different attitudes to sex, and brutal casting for the public show. Here he reveals a raw edge to such an iconic institution: its tendency to typecast, and being advised to get rid of his Cheshire accent. He also describes a priceless anecdote of the idiosyncratic principal, Sir Kenneth Barnes’ dog fainting during a gunshot on-stage.
The book really excelled when moving onto the Old Vic. With upbeat and lively writing, we are told about new school and old school clashing head on, and the extraordinary concept of how classical theatre was looked on as second best.
The impenetrable hierarchy, with the unrelenting Michael Benthall, whose inadequate communication skills, and seemingly minimum respect for talent are edgily emphasised. However, this grim outlook doesn’t remotely slow the pace, for there are strong definitions of theatre craft, and wonderful descriptions of Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, Michael
Hordern, and Virginia McKenna. Not to mention valid points about the significant rise of quality of theatre, from the mid-nineties.
Working with Joan Littlewood, threw an interesting light on this theatrical legend. Although inventing her own radical niche, he considers her talent questionable, although she left behind a legacy that contributed considerably to the changing theatrical climate. He paints an almost unnerving picture of a tyrant who humiliated and treated actors as live puppets.
No less enlightening is The Royal Court. In 1956, the English stage company was already full of modern theatre, that still resonates today, with company members such as George Devine, Peggy Ashcroft, John Osborne, Vanessa Redgrave.
Profound points, such as the birth of the understudy rehearsal, and the beginnings of serious theatre practice, keep this memoir enjoyable. So does the sad acceptance that there were a poorer standard of performers in provincial theatres than in London.
The chapter on Television emphasises live drama and how the actors literally had to muddle through. The term Middlebrow emerges, and so does the brutal and legendary saying: Here Today, Gone (and forgotten) Tomorrow. Also interesting are his comments regarding The BBC and how they approached controversy, as seen how carefully they had to tread with their production of Mary’s Wife.
The Mermaid, indicated now as a lost space, echoed an interesting cycle of whole families with one strong member, carrying less talented actors. This same chapter delivers insight and unforgettable reading about Bernard Miles, and the unique and inventive, yet edgy, Spike Milligan.
A chapter on TV commercials is richly unravelled, and the obscenely rich companies who were at a loss what to do with their money. This is contrasted by a fascinating, somewhat terrifying and moving drive around South Africa.
The term No Stone Unturned truly applies to this absorbing book, and Robert Gillespie’s life-changing relationship with television sitcom is yet to come in the promise of a second book. I hope we don’t have to wait too long.
A tighter book, and less patchy than The Deaths, this upbeat piece focuses on Media historian Ned Marriott and his close friend, academic Tom Pimm, whose glittery worlds turn round and bite them.
Upbeat and bordering on tragic-comedy, there are strong overtones of the popular professor, Pimm being a victim of a witch hunt at his London university. Not taking these anonymous complaints seriously, Pimm's world starts to collapse.
However, Marriott, after a sparkling 60th birthday celebration, has the Police at his London door at an ungodly hour of the morning. There had been an allegation of rape from a past lover. A second complaint following fast.
The television company, and the egotistical Ogg, and his publisher, once a close friend, put a hold on his programmes and books, and his academic career suspended. The nightmare continues as people once close to Marriott show their doubts. His son's friend's parents, for example, have doubts about Ned being alone with their over privileged children.
The downslide of Ned and Tom cleverly unravels. However, Tom Pimm does come over a little irritating, and his Trail investigations wordy and lengthy. Ironically, these enquiries are sinister and more intimidating than Pimm could ever have been.
Meanwhile, we ride with Ned on his lot better paced, decline, not only professionally and medically, but even his beautiful second wife is repelled by his past, his son secretly bullied by once close friends. There is one supportive twin daughter bravely taking on Twitter, the other stays with the doubt. Even when the Police inform him that it will not come to trial, the damage is done. Mud, as they say, sticks.
An intriguing novel, but I felt the parallel experience of the two men were unequally spread. However, worth a read on this modern nightmare, what is classed as bullying? How is victim really defined?, and the question of rape and misunderstanding.
Really worth a look
Sometimes one gets extraordinarily bad days. No warnings or premonitions, they descend the minute you open your eyes.
Take the first October, last Sunday week, really nasty from start to finish. Everything turned round and bit me. By the time Monday morning came, I was reeling!
I've got a feeling today's going to be the same. What causes these turns in fortunes?
Mostly I'm very upset because it's my Son's birthday today (19), and he's hardly got any birthday cards. Not from relatives, friends, nothing. He says he doesn't care, but I know he does. So do I - deeply. I know once you're 18, you don't get sent money anymore, but a simple card would do. Especially as I've bombarded all their kids with cards - and they're looking at 30 now. Bastards.
Lunchtime already - I'd better do something to salvage this day.
Heatwave at the weekend, I believe.
I can finally share some sketches with you. It was the equivalent of putting up an installation at the Tate Modern!
Oh Weebly, you really could speed up! I've sweated blood to get these on here.
I've also got a poem, I'll put that up now. Just give me till 5 o'clock!
Funny Autumn day today, only it's not, it's warm and humid. Tomorrow is supposed to be 21 degrees, that
funny sensation of treading on conkers while sweating in the thinnest jumper you can find!
End of whinge. I'll post that poem, then I'm going for a very long walk!
Sorry for the long gap, been terribly busy. Every diary in the house has been redundant for the last month
or so. The most vital tool for a busy schedule lays neglected. I've got to stop writing things on scraps of
paper. Very slovenly.
Hurray! Despite the warm weather, it's looking like Autumn. I love to see the conkers fall from the trees.
I scoop up pocketfuls to take home to the children:
"Oh, Mummy, you're so weird!", is the response.
I have to remember they're not 6 and 8 anymore. They are adults going out into the world.
I have a poetry reading on the 1st October at the Adelaide pub in Teddington. So, rehearsals are
underway. Once, I can get rid of:
then I can let rip.
I'm also trying to write some more, but with one eye on the clock, it's not an ideal situation.
Anyway, meeting me mate very soon. Will type some more at the weekend.
Phew! What a scorcher!
We all hate each other round our way! Once that temperature reached 30, that was it, sparks were flying! And this time, it was very personal.
Skin so sticky, and shiny from sun tan lotion - which incidentally is useless - every word uttered is taken the wrong way. And getting up from a chair, taking half your skin away with it. The noise it makes!
If Husband goes round once more telling me he's hot, I will not be responsible for my actions! We're all hot, love!!!
I remember worse summers than this! For a certain generation, no-one will ever forget that summer of '76. The sheer misery of lying on my bed, wondering what to do next, the sun flooding in, no namby pamby air conditioning like today. That three weeks in July was long! Funny, by mid-August, that summer turned out happily, after that extremely bad start!
Summers were wonderful when I was a kid, simply because it meant no school. I didn't care we didn't go anywhere, I just played out on our orange bricked council estate. Pretending that the sparse patch of green was a swimming pool. I try to tell my children they never had it so good! They just fall about laughing.
People in hot countries do the sensible thing, and don't go out at certain times. They also have tea and hot food, which I thoroughly agree with. Not English people! They drag you out in intense heat, feed you manky barbecue food and take you to see Morris dancers and other trivialities. THEN they complain when their skin turns red! Mad dogs, eh?
On the bright side, my washing on the line dries like billy-o! Er - thats it.
Father's Day?! More like scrubber day! I've been flat out since 7 this morning!
After presenting cards and presents to Husband, it was skullduggery all the way!
Washing, ironing (while it's still relatively cool), washing up - even though I'd done a hefty amount the night before. Hand washing - that one is a silent enemy.
If anyone says to me the words Domestic Bliss, I may do serious damage.
This Domestic Bliss thing is a big confidence trick, it's just plain flat out labour.
True, I didn't have it as hard as my Mum and Gran, but I'm still a skivy.
And now my bottom's wet because I sat on the hand washing! What else can stink today?
Look at infullbloom50plus.com for my frank and emotional comic strip.
Last episode is today.
I hope you don't think I'm going to actually talk about the election, just because it's been alluded to in the title! The only thing I'll say about it is, it was Son's first time. Him being 18 and everything.
My first time was actually 1977. I was newly 18, like him. Some council thing, I think. And they laughed at the voting place as I read every inch of the ballot paper. I didn't vote in a general election until 1983. Being in Istanbul for THAT one in 1979.
I think I could do a postal vote, or by proxy or something, but couldn't be arsed. Not like Daughter, in Bristol, who sent her postal vote off days before. Sometimes I don't know that kid at all!
Jeremy Vine looked pretty dapper, if too thin, and I loved those groovy superimposed things with Downing Street in the background. What will they think up next?
Something to do with Greggs, I expect.
David Dimbleby just looked pale and tired, I think you've got to retire, love.
That's that over with. Got a hot date this afternoon with the Edinburgh fringe programme. Mein Gott, it's like reading a bestseller!
Going to see a play in Kentish Town tomorrow, about a gay couple. Will give you a review, if you ask nicely.
Have a good weekend.
After a bit of a harrowing weekend in London, I'm back in the land of the living. Sort of.
Half awake, half alive, that kind of thing.
Stayed in a super hotel, where you could literally walk into Covent Garden. Lovely staff, facilities,
family room, the lot. There was just one drawback....
You see, this weekend gone was a reunion of us three pals (four on Saturday), who worked together in
Istanbul in 1979. Topless dancing, don't you know. In a small and intimate club. Yes, I know, I know,
but Equity cards were so very hard to get then. It was such a brutal closed shop, and here was an Equity
contract going begging...
Needless to say, those heady days were so long ago. An exciting and glamorous chapter in my 20 year old life.
And we've met up sporadically and recently, after finding each other on Facebook.
However, I felt stifled, and not one moment alone. I went on the verge of a stand up row with one of them (over children!), and the other spoke to me like dirt, but only when someone else could hear. I nearly walked out more than once. This friend had never ever done this to me before, and it was intolerable behaviour. A form of bullying. After I'd had her to stay for the weekend, bought her meals and drinks, and offered to come and visit her in hospital The only friend who did, apparently.
To all my believers out there, don't do anything for anyone. You end up being treated like shit. No favours, nothing, don't give them the steam from your piss. You get absolutely no thanks for it. This isn't the first time this has
happened to me, I tell you. But it's going to be the bloody last!
Anyway, written an appropriate poem for them. Give me a second to type it on there. And humour me in my
attempts to close a significant chapter in my life. That truly was my last meeting. Never again.