From hirsute to hairless
From hirsute to hairless


“Yes sir?”

“I say Jeeves, rally round will you?”

“I shall endeavor to give satisfaction sir.”

“It would not be overstating the case to say that this is one of the scaliest dilemmas ever to have presented itself.”

“Indeed, sir?”


* * *


But hang on dash it all, I’d better go back a reel or two and unleash a bit of context for the general reader.

You see, when I was engaged to go to New Zealand to partake of the Midsummer Night’s Dream festivities, up to and including treading the boards with our friends from China, well I sprang like a young gazelle to take advantage of the jamboree.

Chinese and Kiwi actors in the Dream at The Court
Chinese and Kiwi actors in the Dream at The Court

After all, N.Z. what with the jolly old International Date Line and so forth, is exactly as far away as one can go without coming back! How and when in the world does a chap collide with an opportunity like that?!

Little did I suspect that whilst I was merrily playing games of Whizz, Bang, Pop, with my fellow thesps. at the pre show warm-up, fate was quietly slipping a powder of poser into the sherbet. Viz:

My old chum Philip Aldridge, Chief Exec. at The Court Theatre, was slated to play that master of comic prose Pelham Granville Wodehouse in a world premiere of a play called PLUM. Cutting to the headlines of the case, when yours truly hove across the horizon, the Aldridge, nothing if not a cove to seize upon the happenstance, put it to me that I might do a stint as his stunt double and undertake the portraying of the great man, myself.

It would be departing from veracity if I told you that I was all sympathy for Aldridge’s plight, he being somewhat more than fully occupied with the navigation of the various re-building considerations and negotiations at hand. No, the truth is, the opp. to play one of the greatest humorists that ever lived (albeit in this part of his life story a startlingly silly old duffer and one that made a profound mistake), well it was a chance that no aspiring performer could pass up.

That’s what theatrical types call the backstory, we now resume the parlay with Jeeves …


* * *


“You see Jeeves, two weeks ago I looked like this:”

As Peter Quince
As Peter Quince

“Indeed, sir.”

“And here is the publicity shot for PLUM:”

As P. G. Wodehouse in PLUM with Laura Hill as The Muse
As P. G. Wodehouse in PLUM with Laura Hill as The Muse

“Ah yes, sir.”

“You see the problem, Jeeves?”

“Quite so, sir.”

“Wodehouse the tweedy old fart in the semi-recumbent posture, this we can do, Jeeves.”

“The likeness is extraordinary, sir.”

“But what of Wodehouse the wordsmith?”

“Many have tried, sir. I fear few …”

“Peerless, what? Stands alone kind of thing?”

“Exactly so, sir.”

“And here’s the rub, Jeeves. Wodehouse the ex-sportsman, the cricketer, the rugby player of his youth? The trim physique, Jeeves.”

“Precisely, sir.”

“What’s to be done, Jeeves?”

“If I may suggest, sir. I fancy the time has come for the formal deployment of O.L.M.”

“O.L.M., Jeeves? Talk plainly man. This is no time for obscure reference.”

“Operation Leading Man, sir.”

“Good heavens, Jeeves!”

“Indeed, sir. As the latin has it: in mens sana in corpore sano.”

“Dash it all, Jeeves! I do wish you wouldn’t speak dead languages at times of crisis.”

“Quite so, sir.”

“But I say, one is known in three continents as a trencherman of considerable accomplishment …”

“It is the only way, sir.”

“What? Nix the carbs? Deep six the sherbet? Undertake strenuous exercises in the manner of those johnnies from the Indian subcontinent?”

“These and other measures, sir.”

“How ghastly!”

“Yes sir.”

“Well look here, Jeeves, mix me a stiffish brandy and soda, would you? And if you forget the soda, you won’t hear me complaining. A final snifter before the campaign begins, what?”

* * *

PLUM opens on 9th August at The Court Theatre, Christchurch, N.Z. and plays till 30th August.

O.L.M. is ongoing …

Acting Theatre

6.3 in 2011

On February 22nd 2011 an earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand. It destroyed many buildings, rendered many more unsafe. 185 people lost their lives. The Government declared a state of emergency.

Now it’s May 2014.

I’m here as the guy who introduced two bad-boys of theatre to each other. Philip Aldridge and Joe Graves. Their contact has resulted in two Chinese/New Zealand collaborations.

Some of the centre of Christchurch looks like a recent combat zone. Big metal shipping containers are stacked three or four high and three or four wide, and used to buttress surviving walls.

2014-05-02 10.50.55Turn a corner and a whole block has been razed where sometimes the residual gravel has been neatly raked, or maybe grass grows wild. There are plastic traffic cones everywhere, half the roads are temporarily one-way. Traffic is slow.

Among many buildings cordoned off is the old Arts Centre which housed The Court Theatre. No one is allowed in. The engineers say it’s unsafe. Inside the set for the play that was on when the quake struck, still stands. All office equipment, all lighting, all technical equipment, files, desks, books, pens and pencils are just as they were. All untouched for 3 years and 3 months.

After the earthquake the Court Theatre was at risk of closing its doors forever. I’m proud to tell you that my friend and sometime fellow actor Philip Aldridge steered a transformation. These days he is Chief Executive at The Court. He found a premises in a suburb close enough to the centre. It was an old grain shed. He persuaded Dame Maggie Smith to lend her name and support to the fundraising effort and The Court re-opened in The Shed, its temporary home in mid December of the same year in which the quake hit.

2014-05-17 09.36.06

Here’s the new box office. Shows what you can do with a bit of paint and a shipping container.

2014-05-02 12.12.17

The interior of The Shed now houses a large workshop for set construction, a wardrobe, a green room, a large rehearsal room, a 350 seat auditorium, a foyer with a second informal performance space. Those ubiquitous shipping containers with bright paint now supply the coffee bar, the bar, the loos, and behind the scenes, there’s a gaggle of containers for offices.

2014-05-17 09.36.40

In its new home the theatre is doing what theatre does. It supports the micro-economy locally when patrons buy coffees or drinks in the high street. It circulates cash in the incidental spend that comes with theatre-going—childcare, gas (petrol as they call it in N.Z.), dinner, and so forth.

I’ve written about Joe Graves at length in my book, An Actor Walks into China, so it seems right to tell a story about Philip Aldridge.

We were on a mildly unglamorous tour of Toad of Toad Hall up and down the U.K. One week we pitched up in Liverpool. By a theatrical mishap we were booked to play a 10 a.m. show in The Liverpool Empire. The Liverpool Empire seats 2,500. It was a Saturday morning. There were 108 (including kids and parents) in the massive auditorium. They were a tough group.

Philip, a splendid Toad, entered and gave it his usual bright optimism, “Hello Badger!” he enthused. Then he began a sotto voce monologue, “Lookatthat. Go-ontakealook. Goodisn’t it? Whaddyathinkofthat?”

From the other side of the vast stage I saw there was something on his lapel, so I crossed over to take a look. “SeewhatImean? Howaboutthat? Notexpectingthatwereyou?” whispered Toad, unheard by the audience who were about a quarter mile away, but perfectly audible to me.

Imagine my surprise when I perceived a three-dimensional representation of two toads engaged in the physical act of love.

It gets better.

The tableau of the two small toads on the lapel was connected to a squeeze bulb, and every time Philip, the big toad, manipulated it, there was action.

I don’t remember laughing as much on or off any stage before or since. Laughing uncontrollably in the middle of a show is not (technically) something you’re supposed to do. It was however, the moment I knew we’d be friends for life.

My point is, a man who can turn a badly hungover rainy Saturday morning in an outsize theatre in one of England’s biggest industrial ports into an incident that still makes me laugh 25 years later, well that’s the sort of bloke you want when you’ve got to fix up a temporary theatre in a stricken city at the other end of the world, paint some shipping containers bright red, and then go on to sell more than a quarter of a million tickets in two years.

I’m now playing Peter Quince in the second Chinese/New Zealand theatrical collaboration. This is ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ with 7 Chinese actors (working in English, Shakespearean English).

The rest of the cast are Kiwi/Aussie with an American director (Joe Graves) putting together a 16th century British classic, set in Athens, Greece.


Who knew?