Author Archives: Colin McPhillamy

About Colin McPhillamy

An occasional blog about acting and other theatre stuff.

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 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?

How Does He Do That … ?

It was very nice to see actor friends Raye Birk and Bob Davis, from the Guthrie with Mark Rylance in Nice Fish at St. Ann’s warehouse in New York.

You know the old chestnut about scientists once proving that bumble bees couldn’t fly?

Well from a reductionist world-view perspective Mark Rylance is to acting as a bumble bee is to flight. In other words, on paper, from an engineering point of view, he shouldn’t fly …

Mark Rylance

It may seem ungenerous to say it, but although his face shows character, knowledge, wisdom even, he is in the classical sense, as the saying goes, “No oil painting”. Don’t get me wrong, he knows how to be attractive, but isn’t it the form amongst Oscar winners of both genders an improbably high level of good looks? And vocally … Rylance has a trained voice and an expert technique, but it’s not, as one critic said of Eleanora Duse, “like listening to a rose petal”. Off stage he appears taller than on.

But he does. The man flies.

There is a centered sensitivity about his work … an oblique observational lens … a human understanding of the conditions … a quotidian magic … It’s kind of hard to describe, so those words will just have to do …

Nice Fish is a storytelling piece structured around the prose poems of Minnesota poet, Louis Jenkins. The production is full of invention and humor, and, it appears to be about that niche activity — ice-fishing?!?