What to Watch?

The burgeoning quantity of online content continues. Social media bursts at the seams. YouTube creaks under a thousand new webinars, and a hundred new podcasts just hit the airwaves in the time it took to read this paragraph.

In this fragmented entertainment environment who could ever possibly watch it all? Time was when theatre in London meant the West End and that was it. A generation of actors-who-couldn’t-wait-any-longer has turned every back room in every pub north and south of the Thames into a black box space, and now every public park and many private back gardens will host solo performances when the spring comes.

Why then, does this blog bring you yet more content?

Because my admiration for those entrepreneurial self-starters of stage and screen is without limit. One such dynamo of energy and invention is Nikki Coble ( ← that’s her website) Out of whole cloth she created – by which I mean she wrote, directed, produced and acted in … yes a web-series called ‘Awkwardly’. And even though this was shot pre-pandemic I mention it here because …

… It’s a brilliant piece of work.

The episodes are in bite-sized nuggets. Each one illuminates a mildly excruciating, awkward encounter from which, one of the principal characters then appears in the next episode where they hand on the story baton to a different character. The process repeats through 20 episodes. A sort of snap-comic ‘La Ronde’. Enjoy them singly or binge the lot..

Episode One: Here

And this is Nikki telling me stuff from behind-the-scenes:

You can find this splendid series in several places: that website again where, among quite a few other things Ms Coble also offers a niche long-form interview series with screen creatives called Scribble and Point.

From ensemble to solo, now follows a notice of coming attractions; Mick Millamphy (he has appeared previously in these pages), is, to my knowledge an actor of superior storytelling skills. I saw his solo, “The Cure” directed by the equally gifted Tim Ruddy – we were all in The Seafarer at The Irish Rep. “The Cure” opens with a man experiencing not for the first time in his life, a hangover of biblical intensity.

And if you are a dialect connoisseur: Mick is a native of Cork.

These lads, Mick and Tim, are exactly the sort of boys you want on stage with you in a show. I speak from experience. In The Seafarer there was a line which for some reason or other I frequently forgot to say – it was a senior-moment-preview type experience. Mick who was sat next to me in the scene and who had the next line, was a total gentleman about it. He would leave a fractional extra pause unnoticeable to anyone in the audience just in case memory prevailed. If it didn’t he’d cover with his next line. That’s the guy you want in the foxhole of live performance.

If, as, and when we ever return to what we used to think of as normal, Mick will be bringing us another of his excellent storytelling pieces – watch this space…!

Oh and while we’re at it, just a few more suggestions for content curiosity to pique the pandemic palette:

  1. A niche daily blog from the Upper West Side NYC. Richard Hester, by the way the man who in a professional capacity, knows more about the show Jersey Boys than anyone alive, has been blogging for an impressive 282 days consecutively riffing wittily on life in the current situation. As I told him, he’s knocked out more words than in one of Tolstoy’s more loquacious tomes. His latest post here
  2. Well this item, although produced in the mainstream and therefore not technically eligible for a niche curation like this, should in my opinion, be required viewing for us all. Sir David Attenborough has made what he calls a ‘Witness Statement’ – A Life on our Planet. The fact that I was once paid handsomely to do an impression of the great man at a corporate breakfast for marketing executives is not the only reason I recommend it.
  3. And this is a poem by D H Lawrence called Song of a Man Who Has Come Through. I associate it with the astronomical event that takes place today.

Click here to listen to me reading it.

The conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn at zero degrees Aquarius. We can all watch that for free. It is the first bright star to appear shortly after sunset in the western sky, exact for a day or two 21st December 2020.

If you’re interested in the astrology of it take a look here.

Happy Solstice! Merry Christmas!


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.


Don’t go Green go Emerald

In so many ways Ireland leads the way. Not least in their policy on clean energy. But I’m not here to talk about that.

Way back when I was in The Seafarer with a quartet of excellently robust actors, (the craic was mighty) I asked Mick Millamphy to give me a hand with the accent of County Armagh, significantly different from the Dublin sound we were going for then. I had an audition for The Ferryman. This is the transfer that originated at The Royal Court Theatre in London and then ran in the West End for almost a year and is now coming to Broadway with the original cast.

“Sure,” said Mick, “come over to Ryan’s Daughter (a bar on New York’s Upper East Side,  he was part owner) and we’ll work on it.”

I made my way to 85th Street and 1st avenue. It was a misty evening. A light drizzle was falling. Shape-shifters were out and about just past the corners of perception. As I entered this bar under an Irish flag (one of several in New York City), a pint of Guinness materialized in my left hand.

“Come up to the snug,” said Mick.

Guinness continued to manifest about every quarter hour. Just before the preceding pint was finished. And here is the funny thing; I never saw it arrive. Mick and I chatted, discussing the idea that the job I was going for – understudying several roles in The Ferryman, an extraordinary play by Jez Butterworth – was distantly reminiscent of when governments subsidize farmers not to grow alfalfa. Getting paid for actively not acting. Although being ready, willing and able to do so, should someone twist an ankle.

At my age the capacity for Guinness is not what it once was. So although Mick’s company was highly agreeable, I had to slip away after about a gallon or two. We did spend a little time actually working on the accent and the next day I got the job. I started work last week. We preview October 2nd, open October 21st. Mick, I owe you.

The Ferryman tells an epic true story, but the play is threaded with mythology. I’m now convinced that selected newborns in Ireland are taken by the ankle and dipped in the river of Guinness that runs, with tributaries, through all of that magical land.


Five go Drinking in the Underworld

If Enid Blyton had written The Seafarer (reviews here) I’m pretty sure that is the title she would have come up with.

200px-Scotland_relief_location_mapOne time I was involved in a World War 1 play. The set was an abstract of sand bags and scaffolding and we were invited to play at the St. Magnus Festival on The Orkney Islands north of the northern tip of Scotland across the Pentland Firth, one of the most treacherous stretches of water in the navigable seas.

We drove a van up the length of Britain from London to Thurso all through the night, and at an early hour before the sun came up one of the company filled the gas tank with diesel, not petrol, and we came to a full stop on a lonely road just about dawn. The highway services came to our rescue but we lost 2 hours in the confusion.

We reached Thurso (as far north-east as you can go in Scotland) to see the ferry which we had booked to take our set and costumes steaming out of the harbour.

What was to be done?

Our entrepreneurial assistant director was off round the moorings and he cut a deal with a fisherman to take us and our sandbags and scaffolding across the Pentland Firth in an open boat. The fee was £50, and “all the beer I can drink”.

Fortunately word of this madness reached the harbour-master and he immediately put a stop to it, otherwise I would be writing this from the sea-bed. We were able to re-book our berths on the next ferry but logistics meant there was no room for our set. So we abandoned the aforementioned scaffolding and sandbags (which we had transported the length of the country), repacked our costumes into suitcases and, catching the next ferry, gave our performance in the Festival on time.

Every now and there’s a stand out gig in an actor’s progress (to say career would be too loose a use of that word). The Seafarer was such a one for me.  Great role, great cast (yes, the five who go drinking, ah lads…), great company – the Irish Rep, a brilliant triumph, as all theatres are, of the improbable over the impossible. Huge thanks and kudos to Charlotte Moore and Ciaran O’ Reilly, co-founders, and to all who work there.


Mick Mellamphy as Ivan, Colin McPhillamy as Richard in

The Seafarer at The Irish Rep. Photo Carol Rosegg

Tangentially and speaking of the sea and of ferries… I’m delighted to say that in September I will join the company of The Ferryman, a London transfer to Broadway. In a later blog I will disclose details of the patentable Mick Mellamphy Magical Method which assisted me to this forthcoming gig.

Big thanks too, to Carol Brennan  who writes pacey, spicy crime fiction, for letting me crash on the sofa bed in the funky East Village when the commute got out of hand!

Next stop far north-eastern Maine and the Bagaduce Theatre – as far north-east as you can go without hitting Canada and New Brunswick where my maternal great-grandmother was born and at a young age in her early adult life as an actress sailed to Australia under a seven year contract to J C Williamson, theatrical producer, but that’s another story.