Thursday, 26 May 2016

First day back at school..well sort of...

...that's what the first day of rehearsals feels like! This special day is always filled with so many emotions - excitement, trepidation, fear... It all boils down to the moment that you have to open your mouth and speak the lines you have been appointed to speak, and you're hoping you don't mess it all up and the director realises they have made a horrible mistake...

Of course, the lovely thing is that everyone else is in the same boat! Looking around the room seeing your new family for the first time - the people you are going to be spending the next 10 weeks with. Complete strangers at 10am on Monday, but who by 4pm Tuesday you've jumped on the back of or professed undying love for (their character not the actor by the way!).

It's a funny feeling that never really goes away. Our first day this week for The Comedy of Errors was terrific, and any fears one had of others thinking "Is he REALLY going to do it like that?!? Hmmm...Bold choice" were instantly dispelled. For me there were lovely familiar faces who have worked with GSC before and have become great friends, as well as being new people to play with. In fact for 4 days now we haven't stopped laughing! I'm exhausted!

This week we've also had some form of publicity event every day - set up photos, BBC filming, rehearsal photos - so choosing one's outfit for each day has been incredibly important, naturally.

The BBC filming was for a regional news story for BBC South Today, where we, along with Salisbury Playhouse, Newbury Watermill and Southampton Nuffield, are being profiled. The programmes are being aired in June (I will try and find a link so those out of the region can watch on line). It was very strange to have a film crew with a camera and sound boom under your nose in the rehearsal room, because - to borrow a phrase - 'what happens in the rehearsal room stays in the rehearsal room'. By that I mean that this is private place for artists to try things out, get things wrong, mess up, speak their thoughts and 'play'. Put a camera in there and you naturally feel the need to 'perform'. The crew were very sensitive however and the cast being filmed were fabulous.

I do love the fact that despite all the modern technology we have in our world, the rehearsal room is still a sacred, secret place - the foundry, the workshop, where the alchemy of performance takes place.

Errors is a bonkers play, and I will write another blog about the play later. This first week of rehearsals is about finding our style of playing, getting the story clear and mapping a blue print for the 'shape' of each scene. Importantly charting our own characters stories through the play. Whilst at the same time discovering your character's relationships to others and as actors and director creating the physical comedy moments the play requires. The aim is to have a staggered run of the first half by Friday! EEEKKK!

Last Sunday I did also manage to squeeze in a short training walk up to Martha's Church, the final resting place of the actress Yvonne Arnaud...

There is such glorious views from up here. Probably to steepest bit of walking I've done so far too. 

Thankfully the Percy Arms in Chilworth was there to revive spirits.

Just a short blog today as I need to go and finish sorting out the programme!

Monday, 16 May 2016

BIG Walk No.2 - 18.5 miles

Last Saturday I decided it was time to undertake another long walk in my training for The Bard-Walk in August, and so set myself the goal of walking from Sydenham Station to Richmond Station - an 18.5 mile walk following the Capital Ring.

And so armed with my trusty Ordnance Survey map, my new water bottle (very important - Oh and I recently discovered the joy of popping quarter of a piece of lemon into the bottle with the water - transformation! Who knew?! ...ok probably lots of you...), and a sausage sandwich inside me, I headed out into the wilds of South East London.

First of all I have to say how impressed I was with the Capital Ring markers...

Following the route on my OS map was fairly straightforward, but actually quite often unnecessary - as you navigated small side roads, twisting left and right, and doubling back on yourself, there was a little green arrow at every turn. I was equally amazed that very few had had any Just William treatment and turned to point the wrong way...but on the odd occasion that did happen, my trusty OS map was there to hand.

...and here's another observation. OS maps are simply brilliant. I recently watched a documentary on the history of the OS map (the kind of riveting evening I have at Pinches Towers) and was totally blown away by the complexity and ingenuity of the cartographers, artists and innovators who brought these incredible documents into being...and regardless what people say about their user-friendliness, if you get the folds right they are as simple to hold as a pocket map (bit cocky there wasn't I? I'll put it down to being smug that I didn't look like someone trying to look nonchalant reading the Sunday Times on a roller-coaster...

Anyway, first port of call was Crystal Palace. Aside from the assembled masses of dogs who had brought their owners out for an RSPCA human-walking event, the thing that grabbed my attention most in the park was this...

A wrought iron open are stage, set on a pond, with all the lights and sound and everything...just rusting away. The poor wooden stage all rotten. There is something so sad about places like this that are just left to ruin - the memories that so many people - performers and audiences - have of events here make up their lives, and the cradle of those memories is left to rack and ruin...if I could have picked it up and transported it to Guildford I would have. Whoever commissioned it should be applauded. Whoever let it go to ruin should be found and brought to account.

I also saw the site of Crystal Palace (1854-1936) - the location it was moved to after the Great Exhibition of 1851. Love catching up with bits of history that I have heard about but never seen.

Around Norwood New Town I came across this. Now perhaps this is where I do get a bit geeky. For some reason I have (albeit quietly) always liked loking at post boxes - particularly their designs and the monarch's cipher on them. Again perhaps it's to do with the billions of lives that have come into contact with them: letters, Birthday cards, Christmas cards, competitions (in the days when you put your answer on the back of a postcard to the BBC), Valentine's cards, job applications...or perhaps it was just that Danger Mouse used to live in one...who knows. Anyway, this I found was rather special...can you tell why...

Edward VIII was never actually crowned Edward VIII - he abdicated before his coronation, and though he didn't appear on any coins, his cypher did make it to 161 post boxes around Britain, about 15 or so of which are in London. Edward 'reigned' for only 326 days in 1936, following the death of his father George V.

Onward now to Norwood Grove and Streatham Common. As I kept discovering, eveything is actually quite close together. I was fascinated by how areas and districts that on a train can feel quite disparate are easily blended together. So often, and I suppose this is true of all towns, it is the natural boundaries of rivers - and now railway lines and main trunk roads - that separate communities. Indeed I noticed the biggest change in crossing the railway bridge at Wimbledon Park. One moment in the retail wasteland and Dog Track of Wimbledon, the next the leafy Wimbledon Park. It fascinates me that communities who to all intents are rubbing shoulders with each other can be so poles apart.

This was a rather attractive Pumping Station in Streatham. I find the glory and the pride with which Victorian (in particular) architects and builders invested their work, truly edifying...built in the 1880s to a Moorish design...if only we did the same today...

At Tooting Bec Common I decided to take a little detour from my otherwise faithful Capital Ring and headed for Tooting Broadway, so I could see my first home in London: Tooting Broadway.

It was 2002 when I first came to London. I had graduated in 1998 and had been living between Manchester and suitcase up to this point. The move to London came as a result of director in Manchester (who shall remain nameless) insisting they only ever cast actors in London and also having met a fabulous cast I was with in Bath for Spring Awakening,who seemed very much more glamorous, worldly and actorly than I did. The director, by the way, never gave me a job once I moved there! Not much had changed since 2002: the same pubs were still there, the preacher outside the tube station was still there and the strange mix of High Street shops and Tooting covered market still attracted busy shoppers on Saturday lunchtime. As Wolfie would say 'Power to the People!'.

From here I worked my way across country back to rejoin the Capital Ring at Wimbledon Park, which was lovely and the view of the roof of Centre Court very nice. Suddenly the houses quadrupled in size! Crossing the road I entered the woods of Wimbledon Common and try as I may I COULD FIND NO WOMBLES.

I thought there might at least have been a statue or memorial or recycling bin dedicated them.

Getting a little lost on the golf course in the middle of the Common (surely there should be a health and safety thing going on here?!? but then, no, wait, I quite like that we have to use our common sense for once...and not just because we're on Wimbledon Com...oh Matt really? C'mon!), I managed to find my way off the Common, across the A3, and through Robin Hood Gate into Richmond Park.

Now if I had thought Wimbledon Common had been quiet this took things to another level. Majestic and wild, you could not hear a thing. I had never been before and was totally in awe of the place. From Spankers Hill (tee hee!) to White Lodge (did a quick jete, a couple of soubresaut and finished off with an iced-cold caramel frappe), then past the Pond Pens and on to Henry's Mound.


White Lodge, home of the Royal Ballet School
However during this route I had possibly my most incredible encounter. Just after I'd hugged a giant oak tree (never done that before, but having been with nature all day, it just seemed like the right thing to do) I met this gentlemen...

Wow! Incredible. So noble and calm in the afternoon May sunshine, not caring a jot for the attention he was getting. I had seen a pack of roe deer earlier in the Park but this chap was something else. I had never seen a stag in real life before - a truly remarkable and elegant animal.

Henry's Mound was a fun feature - you could see St Paul's Cathedral through the bushes! After a quick ice-cream (how much, Mr Richmond Park Cafe?!?!) I descended towards the Thames and Richmond itself. The last half hour of the walk wasn't too eventful, though it was fun to watch some Americans trying to feed a cow, who was frankly not impressed.

...and so there we 18.5 miles walk took me just over 6 hours...and I did without stopping too. My longest day is 25 miles so hopefully in terms of daily endurance I'm building up quite well.

Before I go I must say thank you to Swiss Cottage B&B in Marlow who are the first people to offer me complimentary accommodation in August on my walk. So kind. Here's their website if you're going that way any time.

In fact if any body knows of anyone who might like to donate some accommodation to me on route I would love to hear from you or them!

Thanks for to learn some lines...rehearsals start in less than a week!!!!

My first sit down at Richmond Bridge...

Friday, 6 May 2016

That was a fast one!

My walk this morning I mean! Though I just did my usual 6.5 miles from home to GSC HQ, I managed it 15 mins quicker than usual!! Weirdly I could actually feel myself walking faster...maybe it was the new walking jersey I have, or maybe the new water bottle I purchased, or maybe just the return of getting some sleep now that the Birthday Bash and Sonnet Walks are over!!

A lovely walk though on which I spotted:

and a bulldog, whose facial expression was very similar to the little boy's in the push-chair that he was tethered to.

It really was a gorgeous morning and this blossom caught my attention in particular

By the way, if you were in a car on the A320 this morning and saw a chap singing away to his heart's content with his headphones on that was me - there's nothing better than singing out loud and not caring if anyone can hear you. The same goes for learning lines - I love getting outside and learning my lines in the open air. After all these (the words, the phrases) are the tools Shakespeare gave his actors to tell the story and convey the characters' feelings and thoughts - they have been chosen and put together in a certain way to make the best of the open-air setting - so where better to learn 'em! (in the words of Mr Toad).

Tomorrow it's a production meeting for Much Ado, yesterday it was day 3 of Grimms Tales Research and Development, today I've been collating items for our Muse of Fire Exhibition in's all go go go!

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

New Bard-Walk logo!

I've got a new logo!

Thanks to my fabulously talented friend Emma Swift who designed this - and who also designs our programmes and Sonnet Walks maps!

Monday, 2 May 2016

Not of an age, but for all time...

Hello folks!!

I'm so sorry there's been no posts recently, especially with such a lot of Shakespeare activity going on...but therein lies the reason. What a fabulous couple of weeks it has been for the playwright from Stratford-upon-Avon! Almost every time you put the radio or TV on there he was!

Needless to say it has therefore been pretty busy for GSC too. Our Will's Birthday Bash events all sold out which has been tremendous: from the talk on his will at Hatchlands in the presence of the Cobbe Portrait, to the Sonnet Walk Weekend and just last Saturday a wonderfully fresh and visceral staged reading of Cymbeline. In between all these we have also managed to squeeze in a special event for The County Club's St George's Day dinner and two award ceremonies! (and of course the day-to-day GSC business!)

The talk at Hatchlands, which was introduced by Alex Cobbe, was such a rare treat. To speak in the magnificent yet intimate Music Room at Hatchlands in the presence of the portrait and talk about Shakespeare's final years has been something I have long-hoped to achieve for GSC; so it was great to have been able to do this in this special year. Apologies though that I ran 20 mins over!!!

The Sonnet Walks once again sent people on a route that introduced them not only to new pieces from Shakespeare, but also new actors with GSC and new venues. The opportunity to perform in the otherwise private St Catherine's ruin was such a coup. Again it was fabulous to have such great support from local businesses, pubs and organisations, helping to make the two days possible.

There really has been so much talk of Shakespeare recently that I could pick up on so many different topics and discuss but, I suppose the one questions that was continually asked, was WHY? Why is this man and his works so popular still? Why is Shakespeare so important?

The Cobbe Portrait (by kind permission of The Cobbe Collection)
“Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

…but the writer of these words certainly didn’t leave us with nothing: 38 plays, 154 sonnets, 3 narrative poems and 1700 new words.

"Words, words, words" says Hamlet...and it is these 31, 534 different words across his works that have made him so important. Thanks to Shakespeare we have lonely, majestic, amazement, frugal, zany and bump....and it's not just words...consider that without this man we would not have leapfrog, foregone conclusion, mind's eye, fancy free, laughing stock or break the ice - phrases we use everyday. Whether he coined them or not, their place in his works signify their first recorded use.

Shakespeare is the 2nd most quoted source in the OED with over 33,000 entries (just beaten by The Times with 36,000); when I put his name into Google I get 86.8 million results; 24 of the planet Uranus’ moons are named after his characters, and two of his works, Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing, have even been translated into Klingon.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon stated that their contribution from attractions and events adds £45m alone to the local Stratford tourist industry....fascinating when you consider that the Stratford Corporation back in 1602 banned playing, imposing a fine of 10 shillings, rising to £10 when re-enforced 10 years later!

Did you know that plantation slaves in America's Deep South would perform his plays; just as Wild West frontier towns hosted travelling tragedians. 64 million, that’s 50%, of the world’s children study him. Every 4 minutes a production of Macbeth is staged somewhere on Earth…the play that quote above comes from.

So why does he endure? Why is Shakespeare important? Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers, is noted as saying ‘After God, Shakespeare created most’. An apt description for his plays touch on every conceivable human emotion and he puts into the mouths of kings and queens   the same fears and desires that afflict lovers, prostitutes, mothers and gardeners.

"What light is light is Julia be not seen?
What joy is joy if Julia be not by?"

...says Valentine of his love in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and who, as a young man or woman in the throes of love and passion, hasn't felt the same?

We cry, laugh, envy, fear and champion his creations because they are us – we have all been Romeo or Juliet, all asked ourselves what are doing with our lives like Hamlet does, all had to hide our feelings like Viola, all dreamed to be more than we are like Malvolio, and even to a greater or lesser degree dabbled in the same manipulations as Iago…and if we have not experienced these things we have certainly witnessed them in others.

The plays themes are universal, because at the end of the day Shakespeare’s works are not just about about kings or jesters, mistaken letters or shipwrecks, but rather they are about the human condition - to love, to hate, to grieve, to lust, to yearn, to regret, to dream - which has never changed.

By 1605, the height of his artistic output, he has already written 29 plays, had two poems very successfully published and in the last 5 years has completed a tour de force of drama: Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Othello, Measure for Measure and All's Well That Ends Well. Just around the corner are still to come King Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra… His output at his time is incredible: 29 plays in 15 years....and although his output will dramatically lessen (by half) in the remaining 10 years of his life, he keeps writing and creating.

Ben Johnson, Shakespeare’s friend and rival, wrote in the frontispiece to the First Folio compiled in 1623 that his friend was ‘not of an age but for all time’...surely the most befitting answer to that elusive question, WHY?

BTW I have still been walking!