Category Archives: Acting

Breaking Cover

The Manhattan Theatre Club production of INK by James Graham directed by Rupert Goold starts previews on April 2nd and opens on Broadway at the Friedman Theatre on West 47th Street on April 24th 2019. It is a brilliant play which tells a story of the young Rupert Murdoch. I am contracted to be in it.

By which I mean actually going onstage on a nightly basis and saying words aloud while at the same time moving to and fro and generally replicating human behavior, a practice known in some circles as acting.

Michael Caine covered Peter O Toole

It will be a contrast to my last five months occupation where I was employed to catch up on my correspondence, work on my Sanskrit calligraphy, and paint my toenails. None of which I actually managed to accomplish. And all this while maintaining total readiness in full crouch position to leap in at any moment for one of three principal actors.

I understudied on The Ferryman on Broadway for 20 weeks. And I did actually go on as Father Horrigan. It was long odds to be honest, The actors I was covering were all robust character men. And here I observe that among actors of a certain generation the work-ethic tends to the formidable. These are men and women who scorn to be defeated by flu, fleas or food poisoning. My three runners; the friendly and ebullient Mark Lambert, the gigantic, sensitive Justin Edwards, and the splendid and splendidly robust Charles Dale, all with a long history of never or very seldom being off, were coming in at odds of about 100-to-8-against in a strong field. Picture my surprise then when Charlie was suddenly indisposed. But then, absence was more than usually rife over this New York winter season, see below.

The original Broadway cast disbanded on the 17th of February, most of them returning home across the Atlantic. A few are staying on, and a new company began performances on the 19th. I watched the final performance given by the first company. Mostly during the course of a run, performances hit a par, in this case an excellently high one, but last nights sometimes create an extra intensity. As was the case on that final Sunday matinee. It was an outstanding rendition of an already outstanding performance.

Sir John Gielgud stood by for Noel Coward


A word about this understudying business …

Understudying, also known by the more delicate term of “covering” — which sounds like something out of stud farming — or the even more delicate term of “standing by” – which sounds like something to do with an airline on a bad day, is one of the more demanding yet least understood jobs in all theatre. To be done well it requires a very specific skill set. A deep personal reserve of flexibility, patience and nervous energy. It does also help if you can act.

Times are changing: in my earlier youth back in London, taking an understudy job was seen as the last resort of the desperate actor, and such was the anonymity of the position that many times there was no listing or credit in the playbill. Nowadays, the enormous over-supply of acting talent, the fierce competition for a job, any job — this, coupled with the trickle-down casting of recent years — and plus the fact that Broadway, even in its minimum salaries and almost uniquely among stage-acting markets, pays something approaching a living wage — all this combined, means that the status of any Broadway involvement is high.

Even so, few actors undertake such a gig as a first choice, but in 40 years of acting (nearly), (nearly) all the actors so engaged that I have known, have been exemplary in their diligence and professionalism. Here I salute my colleagues of the 5th floor at The Bernard Jacobs Theatre, (full billing here in alphabetical order: Glynis Bell, Peter Bradbury, Trevor Harrison Braun, Gina Costigan, Holly Gould, Griffin Osborne, and the kids, Will Coombs, Carly Gold and Bella May Mordus, also mentioning the two principals who also covered a role: Dean Ashton and Glenn Speers), each of us having multiple opportunities to prove our dollar worth (and also saluted for it in a generous post on social media by Mr. Judd Apatow, who happened to attend when no fewer than 5 people were on).

It is an irony worth noting that one of the least visible occupations in theatre should also be one of the most valuable. In the initial 20 week Broadway run of The Ferryman there were 47 performances when one of the principals was off. Due to everyone doing their job, loss of revenue to the tune of more than $4million in ticket sales was prevented.

It doesn’t always happen that way, sometimes no one is off in the course of a run. But in this case the insurance which a management is obliged to purchase in the form of actors learning lines and moves which they may never perform, yielded a near-tenfold return on investment. And where else can you get that sort of dosh these days?

This season of Broadway theatre fields at least two outstanding transfers from the West End, originating at The Royal Court and the Almeida theatres in London. I am lucky enough to have been involved with both of them, in the first as cover for three roles, in the next actually playing three roles — is the juice fasting having the desired effect, I ask myself? (See recent previous posts).

As it stands I am contracted to return briefly to The Ferryman to stand-by for the role of Tom Kettle for just one week — Tom is the gentle giant in the play, given prose to speak of heart-breaking sensitivity. This involvement with the new company of The Ferryman is an overlap while rehearsing INK, and after protracted and formidably expensive negotiations (not really, they asked and I said… “Yes”), the managements of both plays have agreed to allow me to be on call in both productions for the week in question.

Albert Finney was a substitute for Sir Laurence Olivier


In an uncertain profession the prime feature of cover jobs is the uncertainty. Sometimes there is notice of when one will be called upon, as when a principal actor has a vacation booked, or has negotiated a release so as to go and make a film; and sometimes there is zero notice, or less. By which I mean an understudy can be called to take over a role in the middle of a performance – Jeremy Northam famously taking over from Daniel Day Lewis in Act Two of Hamlet at the National Theatre in London, for example.

Perhaps this is why one should never count the geese, the rabbits, or the apples, until the INK upon the deal is dry. See here

O.L.M. Phase 2

Readers of this column will remember that as the year 2018 faded, this old actor embarked on a project known as Operation Leading Man – O.L.M. I say ‘old actor’ because if ever a man needed solid evidence that he is not 25 years of age any more, I am here to tell you there could be no finer method than to join a gym and enlist the services of a personal trainer.


The personal trainer in question is an African American gentleman of compact physique who just so happens to be an ex-marine and someone with about 3 decades of martial arts training behind him. He scorns free weights, tossing them carelessly from hand to hand; he laughs at resistance training equipment and effortlessly extends cables or hand grips; he performs stretches with a poise reminiscent of Nureyev in his prime.

Then I have a go.

A short while later I am breathing like a steam engine from the early days of the industrial revolution. “Five more!” says Shawn, “C’mon, give it to me!”

“I like the way you talk,” I say in my best Downton Abbey accent, a pathetic effort to engage in some trans-Atlantic cross-cultural banter and thereby distract the man. “I like the way you talk,” he says, “but talk ain’t gonna cut it, baby. C’mon five more!”

In between exercises, we discuss anatomy, metabolism, and nutrition. The man knows his stuff, but I do slightly wonder if he’s underestimated my age by a couple of decades. A swift glance at the mirror confirms that this cannot be the case.

For a long time I lived in the manner of my internal age. I mean that I always felt myself to be about 18 years old. Until I reached the age of about 42, that is. Then I became internally 28. That lasted until I turned 60 and at that point I seem to have become the age I actually am. Well, technically I mean the age my body is. If the ancient teachings of many traditions, and the poet Wordsworth, are correct, then we are all immortal beings having the out-of-death experience known as “being alive”, and we are grappling with “… that portion of the barren earth that serves as paste and cover to our bones.” (Richard II). … If you go in for that sort of thinking, that is.

The alternative, namely that we are merely our bodies, is just too dismal to accept, so, call me an optimistic ostrich (or whatever you like), but I take succor from the metaphysical view. Meanwhile, the illusion of physical truths are persuasive and if I weren’t a life-long woo-woo, I would be tempted to believe the illusion of the aging knees, hips and teeth. However…

… I did shed somewhere between 25 and 30 lbs, due to a juice fast. And for those of you listening in black and white; in old money, that is just over 2 stones. I say between, because I have plateaued at that stage where my weighing scales are behaving in the manner of a Florida voting machine – however much the needle initially says one thing, it then creeps up to last week’s score, and says something else entirely.

I continue with all manner of delicious fruit and vegetable juices, and am currently doing an adaptation of the 2/5 diet. I.E. 2 days juice, 5 days eating normally but sensibly. When you’re working out, you need protein and carbs. Progress has slowed but the physique is on the move. At least I hope it is. It would be tragic to grunt and sweat wearily quite this much, were it not so.

I dunno, maybe I’m wrong, after all: “All the soil of the achievement goes with me into the earth.” Henry IV pt 2.

Yours, knackered of Pleasantville, N.Y., USA (late of England), grappling with mortality.



Juice Craziness

DAY 15

“Oh that this too, too solid flesh would melt…” Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2. If only the moody prince had done a reboot. The history of world drama would have been completely different.

A few slight modifications to the full monty. I.E.: two cups of coffee per day for the first 5 days, then one cup per day ever since and no withdrawal headaches = big result. Started to transition back to solids two days early so as not to shock my system with Christmas revels. Had a sautéed zucchini, (in coconut oil), three days ago. Two days ago vegetable soup (the best in the world, see recipe below), and yesterday a macaroni cheese from Pret a Manger (can only give it 2 stars). I will have a meal this evening…

I’ve tried juicing independently before, but never got past the first hurdle. Doing the guided reboot, made all the difference. First off, a big thank you to Stacy Kennedy, nutritionist – we had three webinars with her and she was available to answer questions throughout – very helpful with information and techniques.


Click the picture left to get an image with higher resolution of the crazy Aussie who started it all!

They send you an info pack which includes a daily schedule and detailed recipes and a shopping list – extremely useful. Armed with this I was able to order in advance from FreshDirect – if by any chance, anybody reading this would like to use Fresh Direct and you haven’t already done so, email me directly and I can recommend you – we’ll both get $25!

The best feature was the first 5 day transition. Going slowly and keeping some solids in the diet made all the difference.

You need two things to do this successfully:

  1. Organization: Have all the produce to hand before you start. Have a good quality juicer, arm yourself with glass bottles (some plastics can leech toxins).
  2. Time to prepare it: To begin with it took fully two hours from start to finish to prepare a day’s juice, but now, 15 days later I can do it in half the time and I make two days worth at a time.
  3. You don’t need willpower: well, I suppose it helps, but two things are on your side. First, the juices taste fantastic – ok, I made two mistakes, one juicing the skin of citrus fruits, two combining a banana with a beetroot (I know, it makes no sense), but if you follow the recipes you won’t go wrong. Secondly, once you get through the first 3/4 days you don’t feel hungry. Rather, if you feel a pang, just drink some juice, hunger subsides quickly. It gets easier all the time.

Special tip: clean the juicer before you drink the juice (thanks Ferol!).

No before and after pics at this point. This is only phase one. Saving that dramatic poster child image for later. Stats so far:

Skin clearer. Sleep improved. The inner man significantly closer to the outer man. 12 to 13 lbs gone on the juice reboot itself, but 25 lbs since Thanksgiving. Taking a sensible hiatus over the coming revels, but in 2019 looking for more becoming quite a bit less.

If you’re interested check out and his very entertaining and compelling film at

The Best Vegetable Soup Ever Made (Recipe)

Juicing produces a lot of pulp. To make stock, load a large pot with pulp, cover with water, roughly chop an onion and some garlic, bring to the boil, then simmer on a low heat for half an hour.

Strain the pulp twice for maximum yield, bottle the liquid, freeze the remaining pulp for future veggie burger base.

Repeat with three varieties of veggie juice, store in fridge.

When ready, sauté, an onion, garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes 5 – 6 minutes in coconut or other oil, season with salt and pepper. Put into a large pot with: any veggies to hand, I used broccoli, carrots, sweet potato, and leafy greens including fresh parsley. Add the stock. Bring to boil. Mix up some miso, soy sauce, and worcestershire sauce, (or flavoring to your taste) add to the soup, taste, add salt and pepper as needed.

Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. Blend in a blender being very careful not to splatter yourself with hot soup, add an optional avocado for thicker texture if desired.

The beginning of the end (Phase One, O.L.M.)

Day 13 !?!

(Who knew if we’d ever get this far?)

I call this composition, “Still Life With Vegetables and Some Fruit”. Day 13 (of 15) and I am beginning the transition back to some solid food a little in advance so as to be able to eat a bit of traditional Christmas dinner without spontaneously combusting.


Drawing inspiration from Van Gogh and the Impressionists, I have assembled the image above. You’ll notice in the background a tough new juicer upper left in the frame, my new best friend. Upper right we see a cafetiere, in which I make my single daily cup of coffee. Yes! Down to one cup (in a way the biggest change and benefit of this whole juice adventure). I plan to stabilize at one cup and later, start a slow treck to half decaf – not going to rush it, having had experience of caffeine withdrawal before and it’s fierce.

Note also the three glass jars down stage centre behind and below the peppers, underneath the lemon. These glass jars contain what is, in my opinion, the finest vegetable soup ever made. It’s the sort of soup that might have been mentioned in scripture (and I don’t mean a mere “mess of pottage”).

Hey! If the acting thing doesn’t work out, the world needs vegetable soup.

12lbs and falling.

We Interrupt This Juice Fast…

With news of an unusual theatrical footnote.

On Saturday we received a phone call from Ciaran O’Reilly co-founder of The Irish Rep and excellent director. On Sunday Patricia Conolly, highly experienced actress of Broadway fame (who happens to be my wife), took over at very short notice in The Irish Repertory Theatre’s production of The Dead 1904. Patricia saw the show once and after a single brief rehearsal, joined the cast on Sunday in performance complete with period costume. I rushed from the end of my show catching a subway uptown and then a cab across Central Park and I made it just in time for curtain.

Patricia looked as though she was born to play the part, she excelled in the role, bringing all her own charm and quality to the event. The lady whom she replaced was temporarily indisposed and is expected to return to the show tomorrow.

The Dead 1904 is an adaptation of the short story by James Joyce. It is set in a house belonging to two sisters in Dublin who are holding a dinner party, there is, in truth, not much plot, not much story. The evening is a slice-of-life event, beautifully acted by a superb ensemble, and a fascinating insight into the time and place. What there is, is dancing and singing, and food.

Food. And Drink. Sherry before, wine during, port afterwards. And did I mention.. food?

The patrons mingle with the actorsimages and are seated amongst them, while dinner is served. It is a splendid repast. Once again for emphasis: dinner with alcoholic beverages. Had this occurred merely 10 days ago, I would have joined the reveling theatre goers and done justice to the hospitality, but none of the above is any use to you if you happen to be in the middle of a juice fast. Oops!

But I enjoyed the show.