Tag Archives: Colin McPhillamy

Just On The Off-Chance…

It’s May 1st 2020. The first day of spring in the northern hemisphere, and the Celtic festival of Beltane. Sadly there won’t be much dancing around the maypole this year.

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Meanwhile what is to be done during this indoor time?

I have turned to the unread books on my shelves, attempting to turn them into books that have actually been read. Stop me if I’ve quoted this before but it is á propos:

“The sight of a lot of books fills me with the desire to read them, which sometimes turns into the belief that I already have.” Kenneth Clarke

One such volume is a collection of interviews with writers from Dorothy Parker to Earnest Hemingway, all first published in the Paris Review, under the cunning title The Paris Review Interviews. It includes an encounter with Kurt Vonnegut. The transcript was collated and edited by Vonnegut himself from four separate interviews conducted over a decade. It is actually Vonnegut interviewing Vonnegut.

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No one has approached me for an interview at this point and I’m not expecting anyone to do so. But in these changing times maybe it would be a good idea to prepare something … just on the off-chance?

So I have decided to follow Vonnegut’s example. He is a writer I admire very  much. His story, Report on the Barnhouse Effect (published in his collection, Welcome to the Monkey House) is a thrilling anti-war piece. And Who Am I This Time?, gives the inside scoop on the psychology of actors.

Here is a brief excerpt of the auto-interrogative to which I refer any hacks who may be desperate for content:

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INTERVIEWER

Colin McPhillamy welcome and thank you for taking to us today.

McPHILLAMY

That’s my great pleasure.

INTERVIEWER

What are you doing with yourself at the moment? Take us through a day.

McPHILLAMY

Ah! The easy questions first eh? … Well it’s hard to say.

INTERVIEWER

Please try. There may well be as many as one or two people (give or take) out there waiting for an answer that makes sense.

McPHILLAMY

Sense!?! At a time like this? Good luck with that.

INTERVIEWER

Talking of time, those of us under lockdown have more of it on our hands than usual at the moment.

McPHILLAMY

Yes, but it’s always NOW. You’ve read your Ram Dass*, right?

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INTERVIEWER

Indeed. What would we do without the eternal verities? But, let me ask, have you, for example, considered starting a podcast?

McPHILLAMY

Oh yes, definitely. My constant thought.

INTERVIEWER

I see. Commendable.

McPHILLAMY

Along with learning Tibetan, re-reading Quantum Physics for Dummies (I only got to page four last time), and starting a community composting initiative. Haven’t actually… you know…

INTERVIEWER

But it’s on the list?

MCPHILLAMY

Well … the truth is … that might be pitching it a bit strong.

INTERVIEWER (changing tack)

Do you watch the news?

McPHILLAMY

I ration my intake … the trouble is…  if I watch more than three minutes at any one time I start to develop psycho-somatic symptoms.

INTERVIEWER

But it’s important to keep up with what our leaders are saying and doing, don’t you agree?

McPHILLAMY

I plead the fifth …

INTERVIEWER

That’s the sort of answer a right merchant banker** might make… isn’t it?

(N pages deleted here: editor)

INTERVIEWER

It’s been a lot of fun talking to you.

McPHILLAMY

Speak for yourself.

Ram Dass*: the late spiritual teacher, known in some circles as a cross between Gurdjieff and Woody Allen. Born Richard Alpert, sometime colleague and psychedelic experimenter with Timothy Leary. Wrote the 1970s best-seller Be Here Now.

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Merchant banker**: obscure reference to cockney rhyming slang.

Actor to Offstage Prompter: “Line…!?!”

It’s a calendar month since they closed down Broadway, and I have been thinking about Death. If that’s too morbid for your taste, you may want to skip this one.

The great sorrow in the present crisis is that the terminally ill are dying alone without comfort of friends or loved ones. So amidst all this terrible tragedy, appalling inconvenience, and ongoing uncertainty, I have wondered lately, occasionally, about a good last line, albeit that if one were about to cross the rainbow bridge, there’s every chance that no one would hear anything you might say…

Nevertheless, as an actor it would simply be embarrassing to arrive at the final moment and have to ask for a prompt. And with the current global challenge, including the prospect of death – the possibility at least, should you happen to inhale the wrong person’s sneeze – doing what Doctor Johnson back in the 18th century said said it did (focus the mind) – what an opportunity to get something down on paper.

Coming up with words that might endure in anyone’s memory more than an hour or two is a tricky proposition though. A sample of some very witty utterances already made includes:

“It’s been a long time since I had champagne.” Anton Checkov – Russian playwright

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“This is where the fun begins.” Ben Travers – British playwright

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“On the contrary.” Henrik Ibsen – Norwegian playwright

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Last words can be very telling in terms of the speaker’s character. A person of high moral probity might say, along with Socrates, “Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius, will you remember to pay the debt?”

With an eye to a laugh, “This is no way to live.” Groucho Marx

Somewhat dissatisfied with the set, “I knew it! I knew it! Born in a hotel room and, goddamn it, dying in a hotel room.” Eugene O’ Neill – American playwright.

Do you agree with me that Death is the great taboo these days? Where once no one dared mention sex in polite society, or in some cases money, these days to talk about death at a dinner party is to be struck off future invitations.

And that can be no surprise when the prevailing culture, in America at least, takes the view that death is optional, and that with a reverse-mortgage and the right medication (notwithstanding those side-effects given in husky voice-over against bucolic scenes of happy family barbecues in television commercials). This is madness, the idea that the inevitable appointment with the “fell sergeant” can be indefinitely postponed, defies all logic, experience and evidence.

But we seldom talk about the universal leveler with each other, let along how best to go about it. Many of us find it deeply upsetting even to think about it. But how is it sensible to go fearful or ignorant to that which awaits us all?

If one were looking for advice, albeit of a markedly sombre tone, there’s the Duke’s speech to Claudio Act 3, scene 1 of Measure For Measure which begins, “Be absolute for death, and either death or life shall thereby be the sweeter…”

Or there’s Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s book, On Death and Dying

Or there are Dr Peter Fenwick’s youtube videos.

And although I certainly have no empirical proof, apart from the vivid memories of loved ones who’ve gone before, I tend to agree with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s assessment, “Change of clothes.” One hopes.

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Talking of metaphysicians who flirt with the intangible: there’s at least one of Nostradamus’s prophesies that was correct in every detail. On his deathbed he said, “Tomorrow, at sunrise, I shall no longer be here.”

And for an epitaph what could be better than Spike Milligan’s“I told you I was ill.” engraved on his tombstone.

Returning to the problem of the last line. If one were minded to die with one eye on publication, I offer a few generic options here, mainly for actors:

“The Great Stage Manager in the sky is calling places (beginners/UK)”

“If I’d had just one more rehearsal, I’d be playing this differently.”

“How about a round (of applause) on this exit?”

Since the World Changed…

IMG-2136.jpgThey closed the Golden Theatre on West 45th Street on Thursday 12th March, most of Broadway and off-Broadway following within a few hours. On Friday March 20th Hangmen was closed officially.

All that seems like a whole different long-time-ago time now. But then that’s what two weeks (today) of self-isolation can do for you.

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Actors are no strangers to being chucked out of work and sometimes suddenly too. But even the most seasoned of us has never been through this. Well that’s not quite true. As I mentioned in my previous post they closed the theatres down at the end of the 16th and in the early 17th centuries due to outbreaks of plague. And stories abound of touring companies being abandoned in far-flung parts because the manager absconded with the takings. That was in the bad old days before there was Equity, the actors’ union.

That’s me and Pete Bradbury up there in the top right. Below is a picture of me ready to step in to the role of Harry Wade, one of the Hangmen of the title. Posted here by kind permission of the production ‘cos sadly, although the chances were slim of you actually seeing me in the part, now the chances are zero.

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We were getting into top gear, both working on Broadway shows, my wife Trish in the acclaimed To Kill a Mockingbird – which had recently played to 18,000 high school kids in a sensational free performance at Madison Square Garden – and me in one that on paper at least had all the hit ingredients. This virus thing is more than inconvenient. Just saying.

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That’s Patricia Conolly with a dressing room selfie of Mrs Dubose.

So what’s to be done in this in-between moment? Well you can always read a great novel (or write one). The only Tolstoy novel I’ve read is Resurrection, so yes, maybe I will have a go at War and Peace… Or Moby Dick… or one of the longer Dickens…  The watercolors, the jig-saws, that coverlet you’ve always meant to crochet…

Talking of literature, P G Wodehouse can always be relied on for an amusing turn of phrase. Earlier today I came across this for example, “He uttered a sharp exclamation and gave a bound which, had he been a Russian dancer, would probably have caused the management to raise his salary.”

It may not look like much out of context and perhaps you had to be there, but it caused a lot of mirth in the Conolly/McPhillamy household to the extent that tense shoulders began to loosen and worry lines gave way to the creases of laughing smiles.

It does seem though that whatever you do, it really, really, REALLY is better not to go outside (except when deploying the newly minted social distancing for those essential journeys). So much so that this amusing little ballad – stop me if you’ve heard it before – seems now to be the summation of all wisdom currently available. (some vulgar language; viewer discretion advised).

I expect by now you’ve heard this one. But I’ll tell you again anyway…

Tweet: When Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague he wrote King Lear.

Answering Tweet: I don’t need that kind of pressure.

Tweet: And he did it without toilet paper.

Talking of Nostradamus. It seems unlikely that I’ll be doing any acting anytime soon, so now’s the time to focus on my side hustle – yes, that right ASTROLOGY. You can see my astrological two cents worth here, or check out the rest of the site at http://www.GalacticFragment.com, and if you’re interested, and I fully acknowledge that astro is not to everyone’s liking – sidebar here: at one time I was on a quest to have a sensible conversation with a scientist about why astrology works. I didn’t pursue this very far because the few scientists I met would start edging towards the door as soon as I mentioned the art of celestial interpretation. I never even got as far as asking them about the implications of the recently discovered sub-atomic particle, the neutrino.

Be that as it might, for the duration of the lock-down I’m offering a chart reading at the deeply discounted price of… pay-what-you-wish. If you’re interested email me at Colin@galacticfragment.com. Something different perhaps? After all, there’s only so much Netflix you can watch…

I hope you’re ok and that you have good supplies of rice, beans, and tinned fish – oh and loo roll!

Even this shall pass away!

 

The Power of the Press

I’ve been posting too frequently lately. After this update. I shall resume a sedate once-a-month-if-that routine. It’s the bushfires in Australia that have me so riled. A national emergency and an international crisis – anyway enough of that and plenty of my opinion in previous posts.

Meanwhile…

The astonishing power of a good review in a major newspaper…!

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From left to right: Those splendid actors Elliot Joseph, Evan Zes, Ian Holcomb, Brian Keane, Caroline Strang, and some portly bloke down right in the frame… photo by Carol Rosegg. 

We opened on the 15th December to some frankly glowing feedback from (in my opinion) a group of enlightened, perceptive, life-affirming critics in several publications and blogs of the greater NYC area. Except the mighty New York Times, where the opinion was at best mildly positive, but not enough to make you want to mash your smartphone and get on to the box office at the Irish Rep 212 727 2737

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The wonderful Rachel Pickup and, quoting from the New York Theatre Guide: “Colin McPhillamy … He plays it all for fun even launching his considerable girth in surprising leaps that recall a vaudevillian’s trick.”

Consequently our business was a very respectable 80% to 90%, nice, but with comedy it’s even nicer when you can’t get a seat.

Then…

Almost two weeks later Terry Teachout published his review in the Wall Street Journal. A rave. Sidebar: the WSJ may require you to subscribe to access the full review, my recommendation is just to come and see the show instead!

The phones began to ring off the hook. We are now almost sold out for the rest of the run. We’re due to close 01/26 and if you did plan to see the show, please organize a ticket before they put up the HOUSE FULL signs!

Happy New Year!

 

 

London Assurance at The Irish Rep

From a theatre history point of view London Assurance is unique. Dion Boucicault wrote it in three weeks in 1841. He was twenty. Some sources give his age as eighteen at the time.

That’s me sliding into character in the dressing room

The human Dionysus Boucicault captured some of the Dionysian spirit and poured it in this soufflé of a play. A piece which might also be called a keggeree, or a bubble-and-squeek. There are multiple overt and inferred Shakespearean references and themes, not to mention the derivation from Restoration and Carolinian drama generally. But then, if you were twenty (or eighteen) and had three weeks to write a play what would you do?

With the incomparably fabulous Rachel Pickup in rehearsal

Such derivative literary technique is time-honored of course. Shakespeare never bothered with an original plot as is well known, and looking forward through the 1800s, Oscar Wilde and Brandon Thomas evince traces of Boucicault – certainly Noel Coward in the 20th century took a minor character from London Assurance and made him famous as “Sollox” in Private Lives.

And the same moment, or just before, in performance

It’s always a vexed question for an actor as to whether to read reviews when the play opens. On this occasion I did. The press… well you can see for yourself at http://www.irishrep.org

Kudos to my fellow cast members, to numerous to list here but again, details at http://www.irishrep.org. Each of the actors I’m privileged to work with on this one, brings a lively inventiveness and vivid reality, helmed by the ever-creative Charlotte Moore, founder member of the Irish Rep, which translates to a sublime couple of hours in the theatre – Geez, I’m writing my own review here – reminds me of the famous dialogue between Anthony Sher when he played Richard III and Michael Caine who saw a performance.

Caine: And what about those reviews?!

Sher: Oh, I don’t read reviews.

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

I am delighted to report that the show is selling well, we play thru January 26th 2020. The play among other things is an entertainment-antidote to the current state of world affairs, and I am able to write the time-honored marketing phrase, “Book now to avoid disappointment.” And just in case you missed it: London Assurance, directed by Charlotte Moore, tickets at http://www.irishrep.org

 

Nicely Busy

That young actress Patricia Conolly is back on Broadway, she gave her first performance as Mrs Debose yesterday in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD with the new cast at the Shubert Theatre with Ed Harris now playing Atticus Finch. Tickets are available at mind-numbing Broadway rates.

I haven’t seen the show yet, but judging by the audience response as I heard the last few lines of the play from the stage door, it sounds as if the price of admission might be justified. Understand that I say this as one whose first theatre-going set me back about 30 pence (50 cents), not the mortgage it takes today.

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, or as we say here in NYC, Off-Broadway, I am rehearsing LONDON ASSURANCE at The Irish Rep. I’m playing Sir Harcourt Courtly a character descended from a long line of fops. There’s a puff piece here where you’ll also see a picture of the wonderful Rachel Pickup playing the unforgettably-named, Lady Gay Spanker.

That’s Simon Russell Beale in the 2010 National Theatre production.

Sir Harcourt Courtly has been personated by such giants of the stage as Donald Sinden in the legendary 1970, West End and Broadway production, and Brian Bedford 1997, Broadway and Stratford Ontario 2006.

I worked with Brian Bedford twice. He was a master at light comedy. One time I backed him into a corner and asked him to tell me his secrets, “Brian!” I said, “How do you do it!?! I have to know!” Brian gave it a little thought in that slightly puzzled quizzical manner which was one of his comic modes and finally said, modestly, “Well I don’t really know.” He did know of course, but in common with others of unusual ability, he knew it wasn’t a thing to be discussed. Why? Because that’s not what it’s for. And nothing lets the steam out of the bottle before the soufflé rises so surely as casual talk – so I had to be satisfied by just watching him. Which I did. But if Brian wishes to whisper any tips to me now that he’s playing the great stages in the sky, he’s more than welcome.

Tix at the Rep will set you back a manageable amount and they are available here. It’s a holiday show. We open December and play through January and I hear there’s a nice advance, so please book soon if you plan to come.

A big shout out to two colleagues of Irish Rep fame, Mick Mellamphy and Tim Ruddy, two of the lads who were also in THE SEAFARER with me, Andy Murray and Matthew Broderick at The Rep a couple of years back.

Matthew Broderick and Andy Murray in The Seafarer at the Irish Rep 2017

Mick performs and Tim directs THE CURE, tix here, and for the price of a couple of pints. It’s bare bones, storytelling magic at its best. Mick turns in a virtuoso performance with nothing much behind him in terms of set. Doesn’t matter, not needed.

He takes you to Cork and back.