Learning the Ropes

Broadway in New York City snakes through midtown like an uncoiled length tossed casually across a grid. It creates wedges: one at the Flatiron building on 23rd Street, and another at Times Square at 42nd Street the one-time-and-forever centre of the known entertainment universe.


In these “interesting times” where we live, now and then I get an intuitive confirmation of the impressive prescience of certain twentieth century novelists; my latest was olfactory. Aldous Huxley gave us Brave New World – he sure was right about genetic engineering – but do you remember the scene in the book where there is a public protest? The authorities rock up and instead of laying about the populus with strong arms as in cruder locales, they merely pump “soma”, the happy gas, into the vicinity. And while they are doing it they play a soothing voice-over.

“Friends… friends… friends” croons the voice in a tone at once loving and mildly, fraternally, disappointed by the disharmony. The public is soon quieted. Today in real-world Manhattan the streets of midtown are filled with the sickly-sweet skunk-imitator scent of cannabis leaves burning quietly, and undoubtedly to some of us it brings a welcome oblivion.

Orwell was another one. He had it right too, the Big Brothers who presently rule territories East and West are watching you, and some are more equal than others, while the telescreen is the Colosseum, and the public mind marches toward total biddability as Fact, Ethics and Truth are lost in the oubliette of Opinion and the soothing-stimulating somatic-discourse that calls itself “News”. Plato was right after all (when a society seeks the Good above the True – it’s over) and it’s only taken a couple of thousand years to prove it.

By the way, George Orwell wrote an at-close-quarters account of a hanging that happened in Burma (Myanmar) when he was a civil servant there. He was struck by how the condemned man side-stepped a puddle on the way to the gallows.

Along the side streets of midtown there are theatres. They cling to Broadway like barnacles on a submarine cable and claim its name. From them you may purchase entertainment.

Is there a difference between entertainment and art?

“Our job,” says a senior advertising executive to a colleague in the 1980s TV dramady Thirtysomething, “is to give people faith in their leaders, comfort in the purchase of consumer durables and security in the belief that there is absolutely nothing wrong.”


Last week I joined the company of Hangmen by Martin McDonagh. I stand by for Mark Addy, an actor of extraordinary calibre and absolutely outstanding in the role of Harry. The show previews Feb 28th, opens March 19th.


And if you do see it, will it give you any somatic relief from the chafing-on-the-nerves challenge of being alive in these “interesting times”?

I doubt it.

The author, Martin McDonagh, is on record as saying he had no intention for a play-of-message as he wrote it. Even so, the show is confronting. It’s very funny. State-sanctioned murderous use of hempen weave – what could be funnier? But if you laugh, soon after you are likely to think “What kind of person laughs at this?!?

I’ll call that art.


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 …!

Would you buy a deck of used cards from this man?

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.

User-friendly British guy with his friend Mystic-Bear. Tarot services.

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?