We Are Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On …


The Scream by Edvard Munch


Spoiler alert: there are a few self-referencing, free-associative links in this post.

I’ve had it again: the actor’s nightmare. The one where you’re in act one and you realize with shock-horror that you don’t know your lines for act two.


That’s the basic. Obviously there are as many variations on this as there are actors. In this one I had played one of my favorite scenes in all literature. Here’s how it goes:


Scene: a garden patio some where in Buckinghamshire, England. It is Sunday morning and a middle-aged couple are having breakfast over the Sunday papers. After a pause …

Him: I can’t say I’m very taken with this marmalade.

Her: No, neither am I.

Him: Then why did you buy it?

Her: They didn’t have our sort.

The exchanges continue in this vein and the button on this opening segment of Act One, Scene Two of this masterpiece, Relatively Speaking, by Sir Alan Ayckbourn is …

Him: If you ask me we’d have been a lot better off with jam!

I consider this scene to be the finest exposition in all drama on the state of British middle-class marriage in the second half of the 20th century.

Bit of backstory here:

A few years ago I was walking on in Brian Bedford’s extraordinary production of The Importance of being Earnest (see this blog December 2010) designed by the late, great Desmond Heeley. It was a very agreeable and comfortable engagement, Broadway money, minimal work required, plenty of free time.

Then the offer came to cross the country to San Diego and play a named part in the US premiere of Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s 82nd (!!!) play. Well no matter how comfortable or well-paid a walk on, the offer of a real role will rouse the blood of any self-respecting actor, after all it’s why we joined. But there’s more to it than that.

On the whole actors are sensitive to augury. Do I take the best friend in a fungal infection commercial, or do I play Cleopatra in drag in an all male production touring to Iceland, Greenland and the Falklands? Give me a sign.

So this play, Life of Riley, Sir Alan’s 82nd or 83rd – can’t remember which offhand – suffice to say he knocks ’em out, plays a cheeky joke on all of us with a bit of self-referencing (bit like this post, following in the steps of the master). In that, the opening scene is a couple rehearsing the scene above (yes, my favorite) for a local production somewhere within the world of the play. And Relatively Speaking was Sir Alan’s 10th or 11th, or it may have been 16th play, but his first commercial hit. So, Sir Alan is here referencing his early work. The reference is undisclosed, it’s an in-joke, not unlike say, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew getting the astrology wrong in Twelfth Night. Not only that, but each of the four scenes in Life of Riley opens with a variation on the Relatively Speaking scene (rehearsed, rehearsed in strife, rehearsed in exasperation, post-show discussion including how it should have been rehearsed).

But wait, there’s more.

I had a few years previously directed this very play, Relatively Speaking, in the very same San Diego.

And the name of the role in Life of Riley, and the guy rehearsing my fav. scene?


Therefore, a pun on my favorite scene in my favorite play, as US premiere of my favorite author, and the role spookily, my own name. Throw in San Diego in the summer, Jacaranda blossom, The Old Globe theatre, well appointed old-world accommodation, beaches nearby. Somehow the drastic salary reduction didn’t seem to matter.

Another, at that point unknown, jackpot was that my scene partner was the incomparable Henny Russell (see this blog June 2011) with whom, to my delight I am about to work again (see this blog last entry), although sadly in The Audience, Mrs Thatcher and Churchill say nothing to each other – although perhaps another famous dialogue could be adapted thus:

Mrs Thatcher: If I were married to you I’d poison your tea.

Churchill: If I were married to you I’d drink it. 

We pick up the actor’s nightmare when I’ve played the scene, the marmalade one,  and I’m relaxing in my dressing room. There’s a book, there may be a fine-quality whisky (even though I never drink during a show – seriously I don’t – afterwards is a different matter), but if there isn’t actually a whisky it feels like there is one. I’ve taken off the jacket, tie and shoes and am leaning back on a chair with my feet on the make-up counter, I’m reading something pleasing (don’t know what it is, but it’s making me smile). The dressing room lights are mellow, and the counter resembles the practical confusion of my study. There are books, papers, bills, there’s make-up, and other theatrical accessories all piled irregularly in happy confusion and I know where everything is and I’m looking forward to the curtain call where I’m confident there will be a warm reception.

Suddenly something alerts me. I’ve forgotten something. What play are we doing? Relatively Speaking, ok, all I have to do is wait for the final scene … no, hold it, I’m confused … somehow I’ve got the idea that I’m on tour and I’m in the company of The Madness of George III where I played a telling cameo, and also once when one of the other guys was sick, took over as the vicar giving a blessing in the very last image of the play. I look down and see that I’m half dressed in religious vestments … but … wtf (!?!) … it’s not George, it’s RELATIVELY SPEAKING.

The chair comes upright and I spring from it and furiously rummage the counter for the script (where the f**k is it???) as whisky, books and make-up go flying. Over the p.a. I hear dialogue from the scene where my entrance is coming up. I sprint (if that word can be applied to undressing and dressing) out of the vicar’s garb into the tweedy jacket and cords of an Englishman in his garden and jam both legs into one leg of the trousers. There’s no time to undo this. Hopping around like a demented pogo stick, anxiety becomes terror as I at last find the script which has morphed from a slim volume into something Dickens might have written in one of his more verbose moods, and I riffle the pages desperately looking for my lines.

And there they are all neatly highlighted in yellow.

Do I know them?


These are lines I have never seen (and lines that Ayckbourn never wrote – or did he?). I turn a page and I see a block of text, again highlighted, it is the beginning of a twelve page monologue and all of it is strange to me.

What is to be done? Can I busk/impovise it? No! Don’t be ridiculous! Not even Eddie Izzard could do that! My entrance is coming up (a matter of seconds now). I am still wrongly dressed, I catch myself in the mirror and see that my thinning hair is now back-combed in horror and I look like a steampunk version of a pantomime dame. Adrenalin and some unknown hallucinogenic course through me.

Suddenly I’m in the wings, from the darkness I see the brightly lit stage, inwardly I invoke the genius of Ayckbourn, Moliere and Shakespeare, desperately appealing to all three to come up with some brilliant sleight-of-form that can save me and amuse the (enormous) audience. But I know it’s hopeless. I’m completely f**k*d. My terror escalates …

And then I wake up.

Sigmund Freud.jpg

Sigmund Freud

Do we need to send to Vienna to work this one out?

Not so much.

Although I am offering either a quality whisky or a free tarot reading for the best interpretation offered by my readers – 100 words max please – and the judge’s decision will be final. Yes, even actors (me) playing statesmen (Churchill) have to have day jobs (see www.mcphillamytarot.com).

That’s what helps us keep the night sweats away.

A Nostalgic Transit

Approaching London, the nostalgia hit me. Gerard Manly Hopkins had it right when he said:



“… landscape, plotted and pieced-fold …” There are few straight lines in the English countryside when viewed from above.


Oh to be in England where that which elevates is still a lift, where a dispensing apothecary, as once was, is still a chemist, where a check is a bill, where people understand what tea can mean, where the nation (grappling with who knows what political astrology) still drives on the left. A place where (some) people still apologize to you if you bump into them.

“The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.” — Anon

“… is there honey still for tea?” — Rupert Brooke

“Is there warm beer still in Oxford?” — Colin McPhillamy


They re-vamped Heathrow Airport while I was away. No pictures can do justice to the overhaul. The ergonomic management of large numbers on the move includes subterranean moving walkways that go for hundreds of yards and give on to spacious malls. Ticketing counters tastefully jostle ecologically sound food offerings and really good coffee — a thing quite beyond imagining in the London of my youth. The forecourt behind the bus station has jet fountains lightening the mood with negative ions. It almost rivals anything built in modern China, but it makes NYC airport, JFK, look like … well, JFK.

I find a re-assuring consistency in the British media. As in the USA, it is to satire that one turns for the facts, and that redoubtable organ of truth, Private Eye, is still going strong. The Eye, first cousin to The Onion, reports on the unchanging melange of graft, vested interest and feet-of-clay-at-the-top. Said organ reports a sturdy readership of 700,000. As Radio 5 anchor, Sally Gunnell put it (reported in the Eye), “It’s just a small majority who are getting away with it.”


Meanwhile at the other end of what the more rabid news anchors in the States are pleased to call the lefty/mainstream/liberal media, The Guardian newspaper (aka The Grauniad, due to a famous misprinting of its title on a main page), features on page 15 of its main section, the return of voles to the Yorkshire Dales. Nice to see journalism imitating art, even if it now knocks eighty years since Evelyn Waugh writing in his novel, Scoop, personating his character, the poetic countryman turned war correspondent, Henry Root, wrote “… through the plashy fen passes the questing vole …”

But it is in tradition that England excels: “And that sweet City with her dreaming spires…”


I’m here for the Faculty of Astrological Studies summer school, one thinks of Dr. John Dee, 16th century man of stars, consultant to Elizabeth the First.


Did it drizzle persistently then as now? My wife was right, I should have brought an umbrella.

The signature weather of an English summer, affirms, “… this other eden, demi-paradise… this precious stone set in a silver sea…  this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”

No prizes for guessing who wrote that.

The Stage at the end of the Lane

Every theatrical venture is a triumph of the improbable over the impossible. None more so than a theatre in northern Maine where I’ve just had an intense few days.


The Bagaduce Theatre lives in a large barn where swallows nest at the end of a long driveway on a peninsula where seals frolic in the swift flowing tidal inlets.

Here I am with an actress that I know well, Patricia Conolly of Broadway fame:

unnamed (5)It was like one of those European whirlwind tours — if it’s Thursday it must be Prague — The centre piece this season was an adaptation of The Tempest by Shakespeare, but also including segments from all your Bardic favorites! Other programs took in: Checkov, Durang, Shanley, Bennett, all the way up to and including a reading from that little-known British/Australian author C. McPhillamy.

I would have posted earlier so that you could have come to see a show if you were passing, but the days were full, hopping in and out of various costumes, brewing the excellent coffee available from the nearest town, Blue Hill, and grappling with the local mosquitoes which in that locale are special forces trained.

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Here are some of the company: Monique Fowler who is the driving force behind this splendid effort is center. She gives us a delicate Prospero aided by all the actors seen below and that redoubtable man of theatre craft John Vivian, who when not operating lights and sound, was everywhere, performing in one body the work of three men with behind the scenes support.


And this is the company at a lobster dinner given by the producers: The lobster flowed (there’s no other word for it), the wine flowed. We laughed, then there was singing. We all ate and drank more than would be advised by a doctor. I’ve said it before, in my line they pay you in fun.

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It was a theatre fest of the kind that reminds you why you joined.


The Bard and the Stars

IMG_9743‘Not so my lord, I am too much in the sun …’ Hamlet

‘The inconstant moon who is already sick and pale with grief…’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream

‘The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo…’ Love’s Labours Lost

‘O’er picturing that Venus wherein we see the fancy outwork nature…” Anthony and Cleopatra

‘Assume the port of Mars …’ Henry V

‘If Jupiter should from yond cloud speak divine things …’ Coriolanus

‘But thou, being, as thou sayest born under Saturn …” Much Ado About Nothing

I mention all this because this month I guest at http://www.bagaducetheatre.com where I get to do some Shakespeare up to and including the seven ages speech which, as above, references the seven planets of the ancient world.

And then on August 1st at 1pm eastern USA time, I’ll be talking live about these same planets and how they correspond with the tarot deck. Click here 

‘Course, if the Bard knew one thing it was how to put both sides of an argument so let’s not forget Edmund’s speech in King Lear:

‘This is the excellent foppery of the world that when we are sick in fortune—often the surfeit of our own behavior—we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars, as if we were villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical predominance, drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence, and all that we are evil in by a divine thrusting-on. An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star! My father compounded with my mother under the dragon’s tail and my nativity was under Ursa Major, so that it follows I am rough and lecherous. Fut, I should have been that I am, had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing.’


There’s no mention of Tarot in Shakespeare, but he does mention the names of all the cards of the Major Arcana except Hierophant and Temperance. Everything else is there … Fool (400 uses), Juggler (also magician), priestess appears only once in Pericles and so on through the rest of the 22.

So, to get my take on Shakespeare’s take, on how tarot and astro connect including a step by step demonstration of how this technical knowledge can add depth to your readings, and how quantum physics brings it all together, click here to register. It’s free.


Side effects may include …

We go to theatre and movies and tv for what?

We go for everything from entertainment to enlightenment, insight to instruction, diversion to diversity. But, let us be frank, we also go – to buy and sell …!

Frederick Pohl and C M Kornbluth co-wrote a predictive novel called The Space Merchants first published in 1958. For prescience I rank it with the great 20th century handbooks-of-the-future, Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984.

Pohl and Kornbluth’s book tells how super elite executives preside over all social, commercial and political processes, where the majority forms an underclass of enslaved, exploited, short-lived drones; where speakers of truth-to-power are a sidelined fragment punished without due process.

I had the good fortune to shoot a commercial recently. I’ve done half a dozen or so in my three and a half decades as a servant of Dionysus, and they sing charmingly sweet – I mean that for 9 hours work in one day, plus travel time, I was remunerated at almost exactly the rate of the total for two months of US regional theatre work. A similar ratio applies in the UK. – And this is at today’s hamstrung rates. Yes, the global trend of more work for less money applies as stringently amongst actors as anywhere we care to look.

I’d like to tell you about the shoot but no. I have signed a non-disclosure agreement. These amusing documents are becoming prevalent, which, in a forum of promotion is counter-intuitive to say the least. Suffice to say that if you scour the Internet over the coming months you may catch a glimpse of the author in role.

In the same month, I have, as an American citizen, voted in the New York State primary. It wasn’t particularly easy. But then compared to some parts of the world it was a walk in the park, requiring only the merest determination and persistence. I registered with my party of choice, checked with the Electoral authorities that I was on their list and was told that they had never heard of me.

I asked if there was any remedy as the deadline for registration had passed. I was told I could go before a judge. Accordingly, the day of the poll, I was directed to and made stops at 5 counters and offices at the local courthouse before finding the correct one. Once there I filled in some paperwork that I had also previously completed, was granted an interview with the judge who told me that it was a busy day.

With a sworn affidavit in hand I went to the correct polling station, completed another set of similar paperwork and finally exercised my democratic right. I heard on the radio that the Attorney General’s office had received 4 times as many complaints of registration irregularities as in 2012.

We know from the new double-speak, that any inference of causal connection between executive control and the dwindling of democracy is radical, liberal, extremist and (worst of all) socialist.

None of these labels apply to your author. No, no, no … All I will say is that I confidently expect an award for best side-effect sometime soon … Meanwhile, is it surprising that actors line up for the chance to go crazy in public about somebody’s toilet paper and other goods?