The ‘Ould Country

We can’t all be Irish.

The next best thing is to go to Ireland and drink, in this order, some Guinness, some whiskey, some po’teen; preferably while attempting conversations on the greats of Irish literature – in no particular order; George Bernard Shaw, W. B. Yeats, C. S. Lewis, Miles Na Gopaleen (aka Flann O’ Brien), Sean O’ Faolain, Edna O’ Brien, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Hugh Leonard, Brendan Behan, J P Donleavey, and James Joyce – to name but a few, and we haven’t got all day, but you’ll find literary discussion widely available. There is something in the water, the Guinness, the Whiskey, the Po’teen.

You can also watch films like, The Guard, The Field, and if you really want to slow things down, The Man of Aran.

My own antecedents John and Mary McPhillamy of Irish extraction were transported from Scotland to Australia in 1816 for making whiskey without a license – surely a crime in name only. But I digress.

If you can’t get yourself to Ireland, the next best thing is to get yourself into an Irish play. I’m in one now. It’s called The Cripple of Inishmaan and it’s by Martin McDonagh. And we’re doing it in Florida. An Irish play written by one of London, England’s best dramatists of Irish descent, in West Palm Beach, FL, USA. It seems so obvious doesn’t it? Surely just a question of who gets there first.

Mind you, this from Palm Beach Dramaworks, the theatre with the stones to have lately staged Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, you know, the one, along with much of Stoppard’s work that requires audience members to be educated to doctorate level.

You don’t need a degree to enjoy this one; and if you don’t do booze, and can’t take on a pre-show po’teen, never mind, the play itself is sure to nudge open the doors of perception in the way that theatre can from time to time.

Oh, and the cast is brilliant.

My love affair with Florida continues.

 

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 !