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:



Hangmen delayed two years by the pandemic did finally open on Broadway to rave reviews just over a week ago. But the virus still lurks and the knock-on effect is that at this writing two of our actors are off.

Me as Harry Wade in Hangmen, photo by Anna Fleischle

Also meaning that two of our actors are on.

I am one of them.

Virus allowing I will be playing all next week Monday May 2nd thru Saturday May 7th 2022. Details and tickets here.


Hangmen – Third Time is the Charm

The image above says it all.

Or does it…?

This represents the third attempt to open this spectacular play on Broadway. I am not on a percentage, let me make that clear, but I urge you to snap up tickets at covid-induced discounts asap. After all, capital punishment – what could be funnier?

Go here for full details.

Following a hugely successful run at The Atlantic Theatre in 2018 a transfer to Broadway was mooted. Some of the cast had availability issues and the transfer never happened.

Then in 2020 the transfer was finally placed and with some new cast members the project got as far as a week and a half of previews (but no opening) and then … well we all know what happened on March 13th of that year.

So now in 2022 – wish us luck.

I am engaged to cover several roles including ‘Harry’ one of the hangmen of the title, Hangmen. I was in the company when the shutdown hit, and at that time my wife (the amazing Patricia Conolly) was appearing as Mrs Dubose in To Kill A Mockingbird in a theatre around the corner. So it seemed not only obviously sensible for me to take the gig but also practical as Patricia had Manhattan housing supplied.

So I was delighted when this came around again, not least because it was a 5 block walk to work.

But then …

Mockingbird closed at two days notice and the Manhattan apartment evaporated.

Mockingbird is slated to return in June of this year. (We all hope).

Talking of Mockingbird and the cover gig (see here for my previous take). In the weeks after Christmas last year the virus went through the company meaning that covering actors were deployed, not only those current, but those from previous casts.

Such is the challenge of keeping a show open in the present situation that public praise has been lavished on the many several covers and swings that have kept Broadway and West End shows going – this was unthinkable back in the day when Noel Langley wrote the backstage novel “There’s a Porpoise Close Behind Us.” In that novel he details in one sentence the disdain verging on contempt in which understudies were held in 1936.

So in 2022 it is heartening to note that on so mighty an organ as NPR I heard a conversation explaining that while the job is more artisanal than directly artistic, it requires skill, courage, more than a little nerve, and the firm management of one’s ego.

I understand that given the virus and what it’s doing to the world at large and actors in particular, my own and my colleagues’ odds of ‘going on’ have risen and bookies in New York midtown are laying bets at better than even chances: who knows? But if you live in NYC don’t be surprised if I ask you for a sofa for the night!

In other McPhillamy news allow me to direct your attention to a charming little radio series by Collin Johnson under the umbrella title, Capital Gains. The BBC plans to re-broadcast this amusing piece beginning February 10th of this year. You can access it at BBC Radio 4 Extra.

Oddly enough, the chap who wrote this, one Collin Johnson was also an actor (like me). He is on record as repeating a phrase first uttered by William Makepeace Thackeray who, when asked why he wrote Vanity Fair, (the 19th century novel, not the hi-glamour magazine), answered, “Bread and cheese.”

Apparently Johnson, soon after he became a young father, motivated by this very same imperative, took on a succession of cover jobs in the West End. I understand that he used to regard the income from these engagements as a writing bursary. This may be apocryphal but I have heard that Capital Gains was written in a broom cupboard adjacent to a dressing room at the Duchess Theatre in London using a large upturned photographic placard of a certain television star balanced on two trestles as a desk.

Colin McPhillamy
Collin Johnson

Are these men related? I think we should be told.

Full disclosure, Collin Johnson is known to me personally.


Just Five More Perfs As Of This Writing

Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol is a theatrical riff on the seasonal favorite Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

Our production at The Arsht Center in Miami has garnered some very generous reviews. Tickets here.

I use the plural “our” because even though I am the lone actor in the show, there is no way I could have done this by myself – the creative team of designers, stage managers, the director, producer, and a special shout out to Alex Alvarez who has played a coach/personal trainer type role – to say nothing of the resident staff at The Arsht – yes, it takes a village to put on a play.

There’s this

A while ago I posted a cautionary tale about reading reviews of shows one is appearing in while the show is still playing – if you missed it you can see it here

Maybe this is a policy I can now revise, after all it’s been nearly 40 years since the challenging event outlined in the previous post.

And this

But on the other hand the great danger when reading praise is that you start to believe it – I refer myself to the opening lines of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If” and I recommend that I learn it by heart.

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same; 

You see, this is what happens when you do a solo with a lot of dialogue. You start talking to yourself even when offstage:

Colin: How about a cup of coffee, Colin?

Colin: Yes. What a good idea, Colin!

And this too

One is reminded of another piece of dialogue. This is taken from the late Anthony Sher’s book Year of the King in which Sher documents his preparation and performance of Richard III. Michael Caine saw a performance and went backstage to congratulate Sher afterwards.

Caine: And what about those reviews!?

Sher: Oh, I never read reviews.

Caine: Read ’em! You fuckin’ wrote ’em, didn’t you?

Tickets here.

Full disclosure: each of the reviewers linked above is known to me personally, and I thank them here for their continued dedication to the cause of live theatre in an increasingly challenging environment.