Author Archives: Colin McPhillamy

About Colin McPhillamy

An occasional blog about acting and other theatre stuff.

My Guest Today…

… is the fabulous Sasha Graham, aka The Tarot Diva.

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Sasha writes books (six and counting to date), cooks in a magical kitchen, and has designed her own amazing Tarot deck. SashaGraham.com for more info.

Also a seasoned media-diva she has graced my show, ‘Alternatives’, by appearing on the very first episode and you can see it right here!

Now that the means of production are totally democratic, and anyone who wants to can produce a book, a film, a TV show… well it seems kind of slow, not to.

When I moved north of New York City, I thought life might go at a slower pace. Wrong! Promoting my new day job as an astrologer, I took a listing in the local ‘New Age’ magazine to find loads of interesting alternative action.

Accordingly, I went down to the local TV station and pitched the idea of a interview show that opens with the question; “On a scale of one to ten, how strange are you?”

Well ok, not literally.

This is the very first episode and from here we talk to astrologers, psychics, channelers, eco-builders and a range of holistic practitioners.

It was fun to do.

A Common Theme

My big recent discovery is that my paternal grandfather’s grandmother was a full blood Aboriginal. Which means that I am one sixteenth indigenous Australian. I am delighted with this news, and consider it a redeeming honor in a troubled genealogy. More of this later.

I’ve been thinking a lot about father/son stories.

Edmund Gosse gave us: Fathers and Sons (which I have not read)

D H Lawrence gave us: Sons and Lovers (which I have)

George MacDonald gave us a Victorian idealization of a son’s duty to his parents in: At the Back of The North Wind

A A Milne gave us an idyllic demonstration of what a father can do in: Winne-the-Pooh

Strindberg wrote a play called The Father, John Mortimer Q.C., Voyage Round My Father. Sir Roland DeBoys got some of it right as a father and quite a lot of it wrong as told in As You Like It.

And so on.

But it is in Hamlet we find the eternal wisdom on death of fathers.

“… but you must know your father lost a father, That father lost, lost his, and the survivor bound, In filial obligation, for some term To do obsequious sorrow…”

And then Claudius (who remains unnamed in the play by the way) goes on for a bit about how grief must end, and, says Claudius, to continue going on grieving  is, among other things, “… To reason most absurd, whose common theme is death of fathers, and who still hath cried, from the first corpse till he that dies today, ‘This must be so'”

I’m sure you knew all that already, but isn’t it distantly reminiscent of that story about the Buddha who when importuned by a grieving mother to restore her son to life, finally agrees to do so, on one condition. Namely; that she can find a house where there has been no death.

And that Hamlet stuff is all very true no doubt, but a bit rich coming from Hamlet’s father’s murderer.His own brother, no less.

My point is that irony often follows death.

My own father died recently and left a situation dripping with irony. Fraught with the stuff, entwined and re-entwined. In my case (one of several) I found him a little late in life, but now I’ve lost him. I wonder what Oscar Wilde would say about that?

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The final resting place of my father’s last mortal remains. As a man of the sea it seemed appropriate to blend his ashes with the water. The ceremony was attended by his sister-in-law, two of his nieces, and his second son (that we know about). Others were there in spirit.

For a man who once wrote a melancholic paragraph, beginning, “Nobody came to his funeral…” His remembrance stats were quite impressive, there were at least three occasions where he was remembered fondly. Here is an account of one of them:

Ian’s Memorial

There were last minute changes of venue. There were re-directions, wrong turns taken, some uncertainties, u-turns and confusions.

No, I’m not talking about Ian Johnston’s singular path through life, this was just getting to his funeral. I was in a car with my new found brother, David, an impressive Army Reservist by the way, among other things, and his girlfriend, Judy. Both of them excellent folk and precisely the right people to be with navigating this path to remembrance.

We arrived at car park one, where we met Edouard, my other brother and a full time military man. His lovely fiancee, Lital was there too, and his mother, Lizzie. Of the 4 mothers of Ian’s 5 children, Lizzie was the only one able to attend. NB: the above figures, 5 children by 4 mothers, correct at the time of writing. Penelope, David’s daughter, and my niece, came to see her grandfather off too.

And where was my lovely sister, Georgina?

There was some conference among my brothers and we set off for car park two. Lizzie had brought extra umbrellas, also tissues and aspirin. We set off in convoy. It had been raining for days. And was doing so now, but lightly and intermittently. Initially the seven of us in three cars overshot. We did a u-turn as Georgie caught up to us, but not seeing us, passed us, now going the wrong way. Another U-turn and we collected her and then effecting a third U-turn, joined the other two cars, now we were 8 people. All of us with very different relationships to the man we came to remember, and all of us related to each other in the strangest modes and through the most extraordinary discoveries, none of them via the man in question’s own disclosure or design.

So we parked and the rain stopped, and we followed single-file into the bush along a secluded raised walkway, till we came to a secluded small circle overlooking the harbor with the harbor heads in the distance across the bay.

There were photos.

Then we stood, this unique family group, some of whom had only just met for the first time. David, as the oldest (as far as we know) spoke first. He gave a resume of Ian’s life. There were some details that I had not known, or perhaps not retained – that Ian had military involvement himself, for example. And David said how glad he was to find his father and all of us! And we agreed.

Then David read a brief melancholy passage written by Ian himself, which began, “Nobody came to his funeral …”

Among the many and varied ironies of the general situation is the fact that actually in more than one remembrance he was well attended. There was a wake of sorts in his local pub and our gathering here described and we will think and speak of him again in Melbourne.

Years ago when I met Ian for the first time I wrote an account of it, but I had lost the text. I think Peter had kept it and send it to David and David had made copies and brought them. So I was able to read a few paragraphs describing how we met at Central station in Sydney. What wasn’t in the text, but what I told was how much we drank at that first meeting, viz: 3 beers, a bottle of champagne, 2 large iced cointreau’s each, and then we retired to Annandale, where he was living, where we drank a case of beer. It was the drunkest I have ever been, but the old man appeared stone cold sober (I don’t think he can have been).

I recited the farewell from Cymbeline.

“Fear no more the heat of the Sun
Nor the furious winter’s rages,
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages.
Golden lads and girls all must
As chimney sweepers come to dust.”

(I wonder if Wordsworth was thinking of this idea when he wrote in Ode to Immortality … but trailing clouds of glory do we come from God who is our home …)?

Georgina spoke next. She spoke of the positive memories she had of Ian, and in the most touching phrase said, “I loved him, although often I didn’t know why.”
Edouard began by saying, “I’ve been hard on him.” – I acknowledged that I had too – and here I say – not without cause! But we remembered him with affection and with love, through all the conflicted feelings.

The rain held off. Until as we left the promontory, it started again. And then we went for a five star dinner. Sending him off with a champagne toast.

Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the shinning stars to you
Deep peace of the son of peace to you

 

 

 

A Festival of Beginnings

thAs a non-observant polytheistic neo-pagan, I’m able to tell you that the end of January/beginning of February is the Celtic festival of the start of the year (northern hemisphere). Imbolc. I’ve always considered it an advantage to be able to have a second go at those New Year resolutions.

Photo by Carl Rosegg

Photo by Carl Rosegg

I’ve come across two varieties of theatrical memoir recently. One, a solo stage piece by Ed Dixon, chronicling his friendship with his idol and long-term mentor, George Rose. Georgie: My Adventures With George Rose, is playing at The Davenport Theatre on West 45th Street, NYC, as we speak. The delivery of the show is immense in its precision. It is hugely funny, and masterfully constructed. Just when you get the whisper of anecdote saturation, the show turns unbearably dark. For an actor, seeing this show is one of those times when you remember why you got involved in the first place.

The other, is a book called Acting Foolish by Lewis J. Stadlen, recently a colleague of my wife’s in her Broadway run of the late production, The Front Page. A word on the show before I talk about the book. This was lavishly produced (produced in the old-fashioned mid-20th century sense of the word – I mean where do you get companies of 29 actors these days?) by Scott Rudin. A 1928 play, modified for its audience 70 years later, impeccably directed by Jack O’Brien, impeccably acted by a starry Broadway cast, featuring a list of splendid performances, (I include here my wife – I tell you, the things Patricia Conolly as Jenny the cleaning lady, can do with a mop…) but one performance, which for sheer energy, commitment and comic inventiveness was matchless in my experience. I refer, of course to that dynamo of the raised eyebrow, the throwaway, the twisted emphasis, the seductive tone laced with menace, Nathan Lane.

Usually I reckon I can see how it’s done. After 35 years if you don’t know how the sausage is made you might be in the wrong game. But now and then, there is a performer whose secrets just won’t yield to scrutiny, Brian Bedford was one, the late Bill Fraser another. Not so with Nathan Lane. One could see exactly how it was done. All you’d have to do to bring that role to life is: gain every single laugh latent in the text and many not, play with searchlight focus, lift the entire stage with one hand like a superman of energy, whilst spitting comedic bullets all around the house with the other, and above all break no sweat. Make it look easy. Simple, no?

517f7fdvw2l-_sx331_bo1204203200_Lewis’s book is a memoir, it tells in more or less linear narrative the story of his adventures in the business. It’s wry, sad, funny, original. Takes you backstage, on set, and to lunch with stars. There’s an overarching awareness of the irony of it all. It’s written with open honesty and tells in depth of the self-awareness that can come to you with a career in show, well sometimes. And there are laughs. Lewis has worked a lot, and you may know of him, but again maybe not. He’s had a ‘that guy’ career, as in “Who’s that guy in the thing with, you know, about the lawyer, the astronaut, you know, with Julia whatshername, where they fly kites on Chinese New Year, you know – him”. What it is, is authentic. A view from behind the scenes, oh, and did I say, funny?

These two memoirs have me thinking about two of my beginning memories.

One was when Juliet Quicke took a party of school kids to see She Stoops to Conquer at The Young Vic theatre in London. I was about 13. I had tried to read Congreve’s play but it might as well have been Sanskrit for all the sense it made. And then…

Nicky Henson played Marlowe, the dashing young blade who was overcome with shyness in the presence of a lady of refinement. The actors were so close you could touch them, they wore period costumes, but we were close enough to see the fabric. Under the lights it seemed more real than anything worn in the audience. The men, led by Nicky were virile and sexy, the women were sexy and stylish, the language was frivolous and funny, and most astonishingly, it made sense. For the young Colin McPhillamy it was a destiny moment.

Mrs. Quicke organized other theatre trips, and in general in her English classes opened doors and windows for me in the way I began to love language. Now I knew what I wanted to be. But somehow all through my teens I just could not find a way to begin.

About six years later, consumed with ambition and frustration and also very shy, I was given an introduction to a man named John Line. He was an actor about the age I am now. He invited me to his house and we sat in an upstairs sitting room with cups of tea.

John: So you want to be an actor?

Me: Mmfp.

John: Well that means you must get an Equity card. And that means training. I don’t think you should go to RADA. Central is where you should go.

Me: Erg.

John: There’s a phone book over there, why don’t you give them a ring and ask them how to audition?

Me: ?!? Hrm…

I made the call, was told I should write and request an audition. Internally I had a sort of tsunami of revelation – all you had to do was pick up a phone and ask. Astonishing.

John and I chatted for a while. I hung on every word. We agreed that we should meet once a week, which we subsequently did and he very generously coached me in Shakespearean monologue. We would work in the local park among indifferent kids and dogs, and slowly, slowly, I began to understand what I might be getting in to.

That first time we had tea, I didn’t know that was going to happen, nor that I would audition and get in. When I got up to leave, John said the words that now, 40 years later, still make me cry.

John: Get that letter off for me this weekend, will you?

So now, decades have passed, as decades do. And the end is, if not exactly in sight, well not as far out of sight as it used to be, and as we learn from metaphysical literature, beginnings and ends may well be connected in ways that are not exactly clear. And in troubled times it’s good to remember that wonderful summation of all wisdom: Even this shall pass away… And in this game every show is a new beginning anyway, and for me there have been several auxiliary – what to call them? – experiments along the way. Here’s another one:

Were you wondering …?

51lfhzvvejl-_ac_us218_… Just in case you were wondering what it looks like when a plutocrat with possible kleptocratic tendencies has sole charge of a great institution which he might, in fact, regard as his personal ATM, there could be no finer prototypic manual than the theatrical memoir, Stage Blood.

This outstanding volume by that distinguished man of international theatre, Michael Blakemore, compares and contrasts the regimes of Sir (later, Lord) Laurence Olivier with its basis in public service, and Peter (later, Sir Peter) Hall with its accent on a percentage.

Happy New Year!

‘Tis the XXXXXX to be XXXXX

British actors Richard Lyntton and your author

British actors Richard Lyntton and your author

I’ve just done a very agreeable gig with fellow Brit, Richard Lyntton. Chatting aimiably, made me nostalgic …

At this time of year my thoughts naturally turn to a theatrical form which is immensely popular in my native England but doesn’t seem to work either in the land of my extended family, Australia, nor to have caught on in my adopted homeland, the USA. It’s a Victorian invention really, along with trifle and the commercialization of Christmas. Having said that, there are traditions in the form that can be traced to the medieval miracle plays, and to the later broad style of Commedia D’ell Arte. I refer, of course, to pantomime.

I once played a broker’s man by the name of ‘Snachit’, one of the double act, Snachit & Grabbit, first cousins to the law firm, Sue’em, Grabbit ‘n Runne also related to practicing attorneys at law, Woppit, Upham ‘n Gasp.

The Dame (female character) was played by the late, great John Moffatt (Male actor as tradition requires), who was also the author. A man of consummate technique, it was a privilege to watch him turn a line like:

John Moffatt as Hercule Poirot

John Moffatt as Hercule Poirot

Dame: (Horrified) Sell?! (Appalled) Our cow?! (Heartbroken on the verge of tears) Miranda??? … (Suddenly turning avaricious) How much d’you think we’d get for her?

Panto, as British readers will know, turns on a contra-sexual universe where it seems only the Fairy Queen and the the Demon King keep their given genders. Dames and Ugly Sisters are always played by men, Principal Boys (e.g.; Jack in Jack & the Beanstalk) always by dazzlingly attractive young women.

For non-British readers who may be confused, I recommend a year’s subscription to Private Eye, the British equivalent of the American, Onion newspaper. Private Eye explains much in British life that is puzzling.

But I digress.

I started out to tell you that this year Santa brought me the chance to play a telling cameo in a new (spin-off) TV series. The series has been announced but details are fairly hush hush. To such an extent that I never actually got to read the full script of the episode, and therefore had only the sketchiest idea of my character – who he was and what he had for breakfast – and before you ask, yes, I admit, sometimes it’s like that onstage too.

Ryan Eggold, Me, Famke Janssen, Richard Lyntton

Ryan Eggold, Me, Famke Janssen, Richard Lyntton

Fortunately the stars of the show were extremely generous and hospitable and were able to quickly clear up any confusion that I had, actually reversing my understanding of the character, the scene and the show in a few brisk sentences.

These details aside, I am able to report as follows:

I played, xxxxxxxx the man xxxxxxxxxxxx in the xxxxxxxx where xxxxxx and xxx come to  xxxxx  the xxx

The story xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx my character, xxxxxxxxx in a tryst with, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. Then, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx at the climax, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx just when xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx a helicopter xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx and then, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx finally revealing xxxxxxxxxx

Great story, right? – Oh! I forgot to mention …

Just when xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx at which point xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx to the amazement of xxxxxxxxxx

Well I’m sorry if that’s spoilt the episode for you. Just pretend you never read this blog.

 

Me as xxxxxx in xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxx

Me as xxxxxx in xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxx

 

And as you see from this photo, my character looks pretty shifty.

But I don’t think it gives anything away, do you?

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas and a xxxxxxxxxxxxx !

President McPhillamy

PLANT MORE TREES! DON'T BE A DRONGO! MCPHILLAMY THANKS YOU FOR NOT VOTING FOR HIM!

PLANT MORE TREES! DON’T BE A DRONGO!
MCPHILLAMY THANKS YOU FOR NOT VOTING FOR HIM!

Having played the odd monarch and occasional deep thinker, a natural next step might be … politics?

I want to thank the two or three people who might have considered voting for me if I had actually run for president – they know who they are and I thank them. In the end I am happy to say, not one single person ticked my box on the ballot. For the excellent reason that my name was not on it. However, to those few who might conceivably in some alternate universe, have voted for me, to them and to the hundreds of millions who actively did not vote for me, I am grateful.

As you may (or may not) remember, my campaign was predicated on a single policy:

 

Don’t be a drongo *
* (Drongo: Australian colloquialism meaning “Silly fellow”, “Idiot”, “Waste of space”)

Here are a few policy suggestions in lieu of an actual McPhillamy Presidency:
Personal:
1. Plant more trees.
2. Meditate now and then.
3. Never watch cable news. (If you are unsure how to kick the habit. The following one-step process will help. Step one: disconnect your television and throw it through the {open} window)

National: (USA specific)
1. Explain to the characters who run Big Oil, they could make just as much money with wind, wave and solar power, and they would get a lot of good karma for saving the planet instead of destroying it. Use some of dough in the Big Oil offshore savings accounts & some of the war chest billions to support those workers who would be out of a job.

2. Commission the design of a water-powered motor car. Repair all the bridges and roads nationwide, with the possible exception of Manhattan in New York City, where hazardous sidewalks, streets and avenues give an added theme-park excitement to a taxi ride.

3. Require all national leaders to demonstrate accomplishment in one or several of the following: yoga, calculus, ability to listen, yearly detox, t’ai chi, flower arranging, chess, non-violence, fluency in at least one foreign language, organic gardening, ability to name countries and capitals worldwide, courtesy, self-control, above high-school use of English, demonstrated refusal to accept a high degree of inequitable privilege (e.g.: waiving the government healthcare plan until all citizens are similarly insured), recycling, cycling, thorough acquaintance with “The Republic” by Plato (which explains to the letter how what has just happened, happened, and should therefore be no surprise to anyone with any developed political understanding and least of all to the “Liberal left-wing media”).

Personal/National/International:
Assist all efforts foreign and domestic to desist from poisoning the air, the earth, and the seas. Implement clean, green, lean technology at every level. Talk to Dolphins and to Whales, listen to the messages carried on the wind. Plant more trees.

I am Colin McPhillamy and I approved this message.

Lots of Prime Ministers: One Queen.

Reading this post you’d be forgiven for thinking the play I’m working on is called, ‘Churchill’ … actually it’s called ‘The Audience’.

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Here is a diary excerpt:

October 4th 2016.

It’s the first day of rehearsal at The Maltz Theatre, Jupiter, Florida. We, the cast, arrived yesterday, Most of us from out of town. Just shy of three hours on the plane from New York. I was in a window seat with a young mother and a one-year-old baby in her arms next to me. The baby was as good as gold except he did persistently kick me in the ribs, presumably unintentionally. I pretended not to notice and when the mother apologized I pretended not to mind. I was returning to British mode (from expat mode). We British would rather suffer in dignified silence than inconvenience a stranger. I used the time to go over my lines as Sir Winston Churchill.

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One scene only. Where he encounters the young Queen Elizabeth II. The scene is the occasion of their first private audience together with she as monarch of the United kingdom and Dominions. It took place in 1954. Sir Winston was then 78 years old.

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For research I visited the Cabinet War Rooms in London, and I’ve watched in no particular order Robert Hardy, Albert Finney, Timothy Spall, Brendon Gleeson and Michael Gambon as Churchill. Oh, and the great man himself of course in all the available speeches.

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All very fine actors, none of them actually impersonate the great man, but all of them copy some of his vocal characteristics, the well known rhythms and cadences, Gambon uses the lightest touch. Finney is my favorite for character.

th-4On the morning of the first day of rehearsals we have the meet and greet. As ever, it is astonishing how many people a theatre employs. The Maltz is a theatre under speed. By which I mean they put up plays and musicals in two and a half weeks, run them for 17 performances and that’s it. Get in; get out. I like it.
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The Audience is a big play and by far the biggest challenge falls to Karen MacDonald who is playing the Queen and is onstage the entire show with some astonishingly quick costume changes as she moves from Elizabeth R in her 8os to her 20s to her 60s and back and forth in this non-linear telling of the story of Britain’s Prime Ministers and their constitutionally un-mandated, but constitutionally effective weekly meetings with the monarch.

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Photo by Alicia Donelan Karen MacDonald as Queen Elizabeth II

We read through the text and you can feel confidence in the room as everyone, without saying so, agrees that it’s a fine cast and that the play has indeed been well-cast and with a bit of luck we’ll have a fine production. Of course this is the first time we’ve heard each other read and at this point none of us can do more than sketch an indication of where our performances might arrive. But everybody approves of everybody, everybody hopes everybody will come up with more, and everybody understands that on day one everybody is both confident and insecure. We all know that many things can go wrong in a rehearsal period. It’s a bit of a miracle that anything ever gets produced anywhere. But it’s a good start and baring acts of God we should have an excellent production on our hands.

In the afternoon we begin to pick the play apart and an amusing discussion follows on the cultural, social and political differences between our two great nations. Lou Jacob is directing and he seems to know more about British Constitution than I do. Hardly surprising, because no-one can really claim to be an expert, least of all anyone from Britain. Why so? Because there isn’t one. A British Constitution that is. At least not one that anyone has written down.

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Photo by Alicia Donelan with Peter Simon Hilton, Colin McPhillamy, Henny Russell, Karen MacDonald, Rod McLachlan, Skye Allysa Friedman, Mark Dold, Paul DeBoy, Peter Galman

Oddly, well it seems odd given the themes of the play, tonight is the U.S. vice-presidential debate. Getting back to the digs from rehearsal I turn on the telly. One of the cable news anchors is interviewing a couple of talking heads, “Is he gonna go offense or defense tonight?” the anchor asks. Before the talking head can answer, the anchor asks two other questions, answers the first question, then answers it again with a contradiction and then opines that it shouldn’t be left too long before one of the candidates “throws the first punch”. Then, in a further melange of sporting metaphors he announces a commercial break and we cut to a picture perfect family having a barbecue amid gently rolling hills and a mellow voice-over artist is telling us to soothing, mildly optimistic music, that spingo-dingo-mingo is not right for everyone and that side effects can include halitosis, bankruptcy and allergy to popular culture. I deploy the only sanction I can and turn the telly off, taking note that five years ago I could still have played the Dad in the commercial, now I’m the right age for the foxy Grandpa. Time flies in entertainment. Still it’s fun to be back in Florida.

Assorted production pix & trailer here

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Photo by Alicia Donelan Mark Dold, Gabriel Zenone, Karen MacDonald

And then there was a hurricane …

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Photo by Peter Simon Hilton. Colin McPhillamy as Winston Churchill