Books and Tomatoes

Books and Tomatoes.

The two nouns in the title may not usually associate, but to me this season they represent success. I’ll explain.

Last Christmas I was given a plant incubator, a device where you can plant seed pods and stand back. I have lived a peripatetic life (so far). In my earlier youth I lived in 33 places in London for example – I only counted those where I stayed more than a month – and lots of briefer stops when on the road. I’ve always hankered for a plot of land in which to grow my own organic vegetables and an equal hankering has been for stable bookshelves that stay in one place.

At the time of writing I have access to both these goods. The combination makes me happy.

The tomato plant is the gift that keeps on giving. See picture below with all kinds of small green globes ready to ripen, and this after two months of bumper crops already. I pruned this plant before it began to bear fruit. That was according to the best advice available online so as to bring light and air to all parts.

A move had to be made with the books. By which I mean I did something I have never done before which is … I culled the books. At first I took only those with broken spines,  or with titles and pages so faded to be illegible, or with the old-library-mildew-scent that comes from having spent too much time in a cardboard box in some storage facility. But later I was more decisively surgical. 

At first it was a wrench. And I thought I would feel as if I had undergone surgery myself, nipping and tucking internal organs. But no. See below, now arranged alphabetically by author.

The sensation of a purged collection is more akin to having had a long overdue haircut.

And I do admit to being a kindle convert. So there’s that. To condense cubic feet of physical books into, as one friend calls it, “an expensive little glass slab”, well … at first the concept appalled me; that singular experience of a book with tangible pages, possibly paired with a cup of tea, a glass of something, or just its own silence transmitting knowledge or entertainment, was this to be lost? But you’ve got to hand it to the geniuses who gave us these tablets. To have at hand the complete works of: you name it: the scriptures of all faiths; P G Wodehouse, the antidote to depression; and Franz Kafka, the antidote to optimism. And all convenient in a glass slab, handily accessible on any journey in plane, train, or if you happen to be traveling by auto, there’s the audible version.

I mean where else would you get that? Not in previous centuries.


Spoons and Planets

Now that we are fully one quarter of the way through 2023, I’d just like to point out that there is a fortune to be made by a canny importer bringing authentic soup spoons to America and organizing distribution in the nation’s thousands of restaurants. You heard it here first.

Sadly I just don’t have the time to take this one on. So if you do find this improvement to the quality of life in all the Great States falls to you, please remember where you got the idea and cut me in for half a percent.

I do not mean this:

There are all kinds of spoons out there announcing themselves as spoons dedicated to soup – falsely so, in my opinion. A true soup spoon is simply a justly shaped semi-circular bowl at the end of an elegantly shaped handle. The bowl should have some depth, but not approach to that of a ladle, nor to an imitation of those porcelain or plastic scoopers you get when you order hot and sour, or corn egg-drop.

Not this, functional and handsome though they are: 

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I would post an image of the perfect soup spoon. But I can’t find one!!! You take my point? This is what things have come to!?!

I must be getting on for retirement age, this is the kind of mildly disgruntled, mildly splenetic letter-to-the-editor type prose that could appear in an edition of The Oldie.

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In other news:

Pluto, as you are doubtless aware has entered Aquarius, and is giving us a teasing taste of its presence there, before it does a brief nip back into Capricorn in mid June before finally settling in for its twenty year residency in the airy sign of the water bearer in January next year.

Pluto and Charon courtesy of

What does this mean? Well right on cue Pluto in Capricorn bookended its time there with the 2008 banking crisis and the 2023 one. 

In Aquarius? Of course I don’t know, and if you are interested there is a generous supply of astro-punditcy on the subject in the usual outlets. Given that some Plutonic attributes are: invisibility, power, and volcanic disruption; and amongst Aquarian ones we have: the creative co-existence of the Conformist archetype with the Maverick.

possible effects might be:

Ever more surveillance 

Expansion of digital currencies

Explosion of interest in astrology

You don’t need to be Madame Arcati to notice that these trends are already up and running. Whatever Pluto does in this sign we are likely to notice.

And while we’re on the subject, the International Astronomical Union (IAR) has decided to categorize Pluto as a dwarf planet. There is a page of explanation here.

One is minded of George MacDonald’s fairy great-grandmother in his novel Phantastes: “Ah, that is always the way with you men. Size is nothing, but form is much.”

On the other hand, the IAU has elevated Ceres to equal status with Pluto … if you, like me, credit mythological significance, this is a good thing.

From an astrological/mythological point of view there can be no question that Pluto may be small, but he is mighty. Likewise, Ceres.

And finally, the editorial decision is that over the next couple of years this blog will post less frequently than formerly. I.e. once a quarter. 

Can’t get the staff…

Happy (late) Equinox.



As the old year comes to a close it seems appropriate to post some early work. I’m grateful to an old friend from college who spotted this eclectic collection.

This little piece is from way back in the last millennium. It is the result of two days work (one per character). They played it like it was a matter of national importance (i.e. a lot) and it remains, thirty five years on, the highest hourly rate I’ve ever been paid for acting.

If it doesn’t load where we want it, the bit with me begins at 5:27.

Other than that:

New Perspective

I’ve taken the unusual step of asking my agent not to submit me for anything outside of certain secret select categories.

I have finally realized the wisdom as expressed by another old chum from college, “I long ago gave up the idea of being a big star, now I just want to be fabulously wealthy!

“How many of your clients tell you they don’t want to work?” I asked my agent.

“None of them.” He said.

Fair enough. The corollary to an answer given by a doctor to a friend when he asked, “How many of your patients die?”

“All of them.” Said the doctor.

So I’m taking the next year to write, barring something irresistible from the two select categories mentioned above.

I’ve read Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.

It took about 10 minutes to read, another 10xn to appreciate and I guess it’ll be multiples of 10 hours, months or years (if I live that long) to apply them.

Meanwhile here is attempt at what not to do when writing books, as Elmore has it:


There had been rain. Rain that was deeply and meaningfully wet. But now it was snowing moodily. The flakes drifted down like celestial dandruff. She put the kettle on for tea and scant minutes later the jolly whistle announced water at a rolling boil. “Do you want some honey in your tea?” she enquired abruptly. “How long have we been married?” he rejoined, sarcastically. “Too long!” was her unspoken thought. “Didn’t you oughter know bai now!?” he continued, lapsing into the twang of his rural vernacular, flipping the pages of his newspaper in a huff with a noisome grunt that annihilated any residual sweetness in the room. She sniffed, blew her nose, coughed, dried her hands handily and poured the angry water onto the placid tealeaves.

Forward to 2023

So now that I am finished with acting for the time being (except for the S.S.C. – secret select categories), what to do? I know! … I’ll be a writer.

I’ve read Annie Lammot’s book, Bird By Bird, and Stephen King’s book, On Writing, I’ve thumbed through Strunk and White’s, The Elements of Style, I’ve watched masterclasses on Masterclass from Aaron Sorkin to Walter Mosely. I’ve taken to heart the maxims:

Don’t get it right, get it written.

Don’t make it good, make it by Tuesday.

Any fool can write, it takes a man to re-write.

Tricky one that, in these gender-sensitive days. Phases sometimes used in legal contracts to indicate inclusion might help. Is it better rendered: Any fool can write, it takes a woman/man/human/person/sentient being/humanoid native of planet Earth to re-write?

I have no answer.

This comes late for Hanukkah, early for Christmas, but bang on for the Solstice and for Yule.

You could say “Season’s Greetings”. For a comedic take, see Alan Aybourn’s play of that title and my retrospective blog post about touring in it with the late great Marti Caine

Whichever way you celebrate, best wishes to you, and have a fantastic New Year!


In An Uncertain World …

Rehearsals for Heisenberg continue, and include that strange experience that no matter how many shows you may have done, no matter how many theaters you have worked in, by day 3 you feel like you have never done any other play.

On this one that particular illusion (in this, what some parts of physics tells us is no more than a grandly illusory world) is more than usually convincing. Here’s why: Heisenberg is an elusive, absorbing, consuming, stimulating, challenging, unexpected, fascinating, quirky, amusing, esoteric, contradictory, intriguing, connective, disjointing, revealing, romantic, and more, 2-hander of a play which takes in themes from the cosmic to the commonplace and references the use of too many adjectives in journaling.

Marjorie Lowe and Me
Photo by Magnus Stark

It tells the story of a May to December romance passed through the mind-challenge that is quantum physics. So here and there in the text one or other of the two characters delves into the universe with non-usual awareness of space-time, dimensionality and … well … the word is … uncertainty.

As you may remember, the Uncertainty Principle says something to this effect: if you know where something is, you cannot know where it’s going or at what speed it’s getting there … and vice versa. And this was discovered and formulated by Werner Heisenberg when investigating particle physics.

Astronomers and yes, astrologers too sometimes ponder what the implications might be if we think of a planet as a particle and scale up the contexts of dimensions of time and speed and magnitudes of distance.

If, like me, you get quickly baffled when confronted with advanced physics, a lovely visual introduction to solar systemic geography and geometry is available here: … I like this because when the trail function is enabled the orbital movement of the planets round the sun looks like a complicated weave, reminiscent of the fates and their loom. And as with everything when astro meets logos, it depends upon your perspective and point of view and speed of perception.

The playwright (interview with Simon Stevens here) has extrapolated this principle into the realm of human relations. The play is a theatrical riff on the Uncertainty Principle. Werner Heisenberg himself does not appear.

Photo by Magnus Stark

You wouldn’t want to get involved in a project like this without expert help, and it is a truly lucky circumstance to be working with the amazing Marjorie Lowe, a very fine actress. And the incredible Bari Newport as director, someone who can float three or more ideas in one sentence. Bari is the successor to Joe Adler as the producing artistic director at Gable Stage.

Heisenberg opens at Gable Stage in Miami on October 29th and plays until November 20th. Tickets available here.


Trish Conolly at NIDA and Elsewhere

One time I was with Trish (my wife) in her native Sydney. The phone rang at about 11:30 one morning. It was Terry Clarke an all round Australian theatre man. In his time, composer, lyricist, director, artistic director, and of course actor. At the time of the call Terry was working at NIDA, the National Institute of Dramatic Art.

“You’re here?!” Said Terry.

I agreed that we were.

“Can Trish come and talk to the kids?”

“I think so. When?”

“Today. Lunchtime. 1 o’ clock.”

I checked with Trish, and in due time we rocked up at NIDA at ten minutes to 1 o’ clock. Terry greeted us and we went on stage to see an auditorium packed with young drama students. I wondered what Trish would say, we had not had time to organize any thoughts about it, and I was mentally reviewing the archives in case she was short of material and needed some back up.

I need not have worried. Trish took a breath and then spoke without (as the saying goes) hesitation, deviation or repetition, for exactly the available hour. The kids loved it.

But then of course what she had to say was of interest, being as she is an Australian actress who has worked in major theatre centers in three continents, almost never been out of work, played many classical roles including sixteen Shakespearean leads, three Blanches and one Stella (in A Streetcar Named Desire), and among many other classical and contemporary roles, a couple of Hedda Gabblers. She’s worked with Sir Laurence Olivier and with Dame Maggie Smith. She’s worked in London’s West End, at the Stratford Ontario Festival, The Guthrie in Minneapolis, and at the time of writing, more times on Broadway than any living Australian (and many Americans), most recently in 2022 as Mrs Dubose in To Kill a Mockingbird. And all of this on stage not screen. Which is why you may not know her name.

In short she’s had a career and now in her 90th year, with seven decades of near constant work behind her, is still having it.

Patricia Conolly will play Vera in Palm Beach Dramaworks’ production of 4,000 Miles by Amy Herzog. They open October 14th and play until the 30th.

Tickets available at: