I cannot heave my heart into my mouth

It’s been more than a week since we finished and I still do not know what to say.
It was an incredible experience from which I learned pretty much all of life’s lessons from scratch and needless to say I was exhausted by that.
In terms of Waleses, I need a rest from it for a good long while, but Edinburgh was not the last that will be heard of it. Heard being the operative word.

I learned that nothing’s impossible, but you can’t half make it difficult.
I learned that my guns are worth sticking to. All the mistakes I made were as a result of flinching.
I learned that I know everything and nothing.
I learned that I really hate being in charge but no one else likes it very much either.
I learned that I’ll be back next year if my schedule permits.

Hopefully in a few weeks I will write up the whole experience cohesively with funny stories and pretty pictures.

Or maybe that’s it for this blog…

It certainly isn’t it for Asterion Theatre.

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You’re taking the fun out of everything, I don’t want to think at all

I really had expected to blog far more about the show once we were up here, but other than doing the show, flyering the show and seeing other shows, there’s not much to say and very little time for me to sit down and say it. We’ve had some lovely moments flyering, we’ve had great results from the on the night walk-ups apart from last Thursday when it was horribly rainy all day so we didn’t get out much. Yesterday, Stephen went to see Gráinne Macguire’s show dressed as Tony Blair and I believe she did a couple of bits with him responding in character.

We were watched by 3 reviewers last Tuesday and only one of those reviews has yet seen publication, it would be just our luck for the print press review to come out on Saturday.

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The performance is great now, everyone who sees it up here says how much slicker it is since Camden. We have had a little criticism over the songs, but that was a directorial choice a) Edinburgh fringe late night show billed as a comedy: it’s supposed to be fun! b) we have a lot of fast changes because we’re an ensemble and I hate empty stages c) if you’re too young to remember anything (our audiences have had a lot of 14-24 year olds in them) at least there’s something to clue you back in to the era.

Anyway. We are a successful Edinburgh show – people know about us, we play to audiences in the 30s and 40s most nights (I wish I had trusted my own instincts on that number back at the start, I have a very good head for business and projections, and I allowed myself to be swayed rather too much by patronising know-it-alls) I am at that stage of any festival where you think to yourself “Never again” but actually…I have now consolidated so many parts of what I’ve learned over the last 20 years that I would be a fool not to do this again as soon as possible.

There is also a remote chance I may get to direct another RSC Open Stages project, which would be delightful. I’m usually sad when a show ends, but as my old friend Clarissa said to me in 1988 when we set fire to a whale, a house and a ship at the end of Nick Darke’s A Place Called Mars and I cried…”Endings are only the beginning, Sarah”

Perhaps I’ve finally grown up.

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I seem to have left an important part of my brain somewhere in a field in Mid-Lothian

And so we are in Edinburgh. I should of course have been blogging away, but we had so much to do in terms of rehearsing our street stage show, teching the play, publicity and you know all of that stuff, that this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and write about it.

War of the Waleses photos by Neil Ballinger Virgin Money Street Stage The Man on Your Back

One thing I hadn’t quite thought of was the slight problem in walking around in a Union Jack t-shirt, on the whole the people of Edinburgh are very groovy about it, and if anyone starts talking to me about it I always start with ‘Yeah, I’m really sorry’ and there’s nothing a Scot likes better than an ashamed English person. However, at one point I walked past an Irish pub and I had the following exchange:

“You’re brave, wearing the butcher’s apron”
“Agh, yeah, I’m on my way to perform, it’s not what I would normally wear, honest. It’s for a show and we make fun of monarchy and Britishness”
“Ah well, if it’s for art, then that’s alright”
“Yeah, it’s for art. I’m not a wanker.”

I got a big laugh and they wished me well.

An itinerant gentleman of questionable sobriety said
“Are you taking the piss wearing that here?”
“Yeah, I’m sorry, it is for a play”
“I wish you no harm lass, but you want to be careful”
“Er, thanks”

However, one of our cast was accosted by a Scottish Conservative Unionist who was delighted to see us.

Oh dear.

We had a fun time glowstick flyering last night, once a few people had them, it really sparked people’s interest and I’d say we got at least 8 people in off the street to see us.

Take a look at our photos, we look really great (and partly insane)!

Oh, I need to go as we have a lot of stuff to do today, but we could not have got through the last 2 days without our tech, Dave Balfour and our SM Bronia Kupczyk. Words cannot express, and all that.

We’re making a move we’re making it now, we’re coming out of the sidelines.

Good heavens but I’m hilariously idiotic.

Our programmes ended up in a production hole last week due to problems with the uploading website and my reluctance to buy a copy of InDesign and so theyhave been delayed until today – in the interim I’ve been printing out a mock-up of the actual brochures on plain old paper and then carrying them round in my director’s satchel – I lost my oyster card the other night and assumed it had ended up in my bed or some random post-show nonsense, but no – as I put the programmes out last night, I felt something hard and card like. My oyster card. A few programmes on, my bank statement appeared lurking inside one.

On second thoughts, having funded 70% of the production costs myself, handing out my bank statement to audience members might be exactly what I need to generate some sympathy.

I refuse to do audience analysis, in fact I think the same thing happened on the Wednesday night of our Lion and Unicorn run, you have a raucous giggly audience on the Tuesday and the cast are airpunching, then the next night you get an audience that are just as responsive and attentive, they’re just not quite so loud and the actors, being actors hold their wrists to their forehead and say ‘But what did I dooooooo wronnnnnggggg’ Nothing. It was a superb show. We really will be firing on all cylinders by Edinburgh. We are now!

On a personal note, when I took the role of Diana I think people thought I’d gone a bit mad. I am not a skinny thing, or a tall thing, I am a medium sized “character” actor – and I am sure (as my Diana says) ‘many people doubt me’ but there were practical reasons…1 – I needed a cast/crew of 8 – if I was just directing, I’d have had to stage manage (which I am useless at) to warrant being in Edinburgh with the team, and quite frankly if you’re putting up several thousands of pounds to fund a show, you really want to get the Edinburgh experience as part of the package…if I am honest, I am a writer/actor more than I am a director. I’ve learned to have a very thick skin over my appearance, but it still drives me mad that people cast by looks. I never have, it’s the path to disaster, what’s the point of lights, costume and make-up? Get good actors, a strong cast and you can make them act and look however you want. This is the stage, not the screen, I’ve got a woman in her early 30s playing a 66 year old queen. I can be Diana. And it turns out that I really can be.

What I will say is that directing whilst acting required slightly more discipline than I am capable of, I owe it to the other actors to watch them when I am not on stage (Diana rarely acts with anyone else another reason the choice made sense) but that means in earlier rehearsals I couldn’t take any time to get into my part, or do a quiet line run in my head which I usually do before going on stage in any role so I probably didn’t believe I could really do it until the first time I looked the audience in the eye. But I do now.

Next week I just have to sign off the PRS paperwork and the house contract, make sure the flyers and posters get loaded into a car – make sure all the actors take their stuff. Not lose the train tickets. Really really not lose the train tickets. Our original show photographer is covering our Edinburgh dress/tec…and then it’s all sell sell sell.

These are the dreams of an impossible princess

Our second night was it. We got it. I know as director I’m supposed to know before the first performance, but yeah, we’re a satire, a crueller satire than we were a year ago, but one with some sympathies. And there is a reason – I must admit I was made utterly furious by the coverage of the birth of the Prince of Cambridge, several real news stories were well buried that day by a picture of a door. You’d be forgiven for thinking a woman in a nice frock with brown hair had done something far more remarkable than give birth in a really nice comfy hospital. My friends who have given birth in some London hospitals in the last 2 years could tell you far more newsworthy stories about their experiences.

Am I a monarchist? Absolutely not. Am I a republican. Sort of. On paper. I should be. But I was quite giddy about last year’s jubilee – but then I was 3 in 1977 for the silver jubilee and it’s the first jelly and icecream I can remember and I got to dress as a cowboy (I actually think I spent all of 1977 dressed as a cowboy, but that’s what I remember) when we came to write Waleses I found I had absorbed every work of Morton’s book without ever having read it. I grew up near Highgrove, I have a friend who unwittingly knocked Prince Harry off a haybale….I know more about the royal family than I do my own extended family. And yet…they cast some sort of a spell. I rather like pageantry and it’s nice to have a group of people trained to wear heavy crowns and ridiculous cloaks properly…but the amassed wealth and the privilege just from lucking out on birth? Nope. Don’t like that bit.

People think I’ve come down hard on Di. Well. I think Hilary Mantel struck a chord in this article when we were rewriting

http://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2007/sep/09/greatinterviews

Banal little words, which look flat on the page, can wound and sting, and coil into double-meaning. In this stupendous piece of theatre, the pauses were everything. We can know what she said, but only fallible and subjective memory preserves the all-important matter of how she said it. On the page it is so quickly over. You can read it coolly. But when you were watching it, then – suffused with shame for her, and shame for those about her – you thought it would never end.

And so that is why I play the interview the way I do. I feel sorry for her, but I can also see her game.

I don’t know if you actually watched Panorama in 1995, but my entire house at University did and we sat there gawping at how batshit mental she allowed herself to appear. We weren’t alone. She did manipulate the press almost as much as she was used, I did admire her – especially when she had the Testino shots done and seemed to be creating a life that she wanted for herself. It’s a strange thing – I was awake the night she died, but not listening to the radio. I had put a CD on on getting home from work. The last song I listened to before I went to sleep was New Dress by Depeche Mode.

Jet airliner shot from sky
Famine horror, millions die
Earthquake terror figures rise

Princess Di is wearing a new dress

That song is probably why I wrote the play I did. It’s why I wrote Diana’s sonnet.

The next morning I had to be at work for 7. I turned on the television for my usual Sunday breakfast fix of Teletubbies only to find Robin Cook standing on the steps of a plane saying he felt sorry for the two boys. I was bewildered. It look a long time for it to get round to Peter Sissons spelling it all out. I do remember. I remember the anger, I remember everyone cheering at Earl Spencer’s speech and then I see what the media have done with Kate Middleton this week and I want to drag them back in a time machine and throw them to an angry weeping crowd outside Kensington Palace and tell them what the rags are going to do to the wife of William in 16 years.

But I don’t have a time machine. I only have this play.

And if London burns I’ll be standing on a beach with my guitar

We did it!

We did the whole show without stopping and without breaking anything. Well – we lost a bit of the table and had to resort to taping it precariously and I lost my clothes during the get out because I am an idiot.

It was a first night without previews and with limited rehearsals in the last two weeks, I’m not making excuses, there’s little to be excused apart from occasional bewilderment and doing a slight sidestep shuffle as you wonder where exactly the spot cuts out. And then a few quick changes that needed more cover…but other than that…

I love the show, the cast work hard and have so much fun and our not inconsiderable (but our first not full house in London) audience were warm and attentive. My hair was a bit of a disaster because I lost my gel, so from here on we should be pitch perfect (not because my hair will be better, but just – we’ve got over that whole festival first show hump…)

17 more performances. I haven’t done a run this long since the 90s!

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Today is gonna be the day

All for your delight we are not here

Tonight at the Tristan Bates Theatre, The Actors Centre, 1A Tower Street, London (Near Seven Dials, Covent Garden)
9pm – 10:30pm War of the Waleses returns after 11 months off the stage!

It’s opening night! 6 months since we started confirming venues we are ready to go up. Simon (our magnificent Magnate) came to pick me and the furniture up just before noon, Waleses tech stalwart, Pirate Dave got us set up and ready to go for just after 1pm. Even the predictably late Mr Russell didn’t hold us up too much and we were through the cue to cue in about 1.5 hours. This gave us time for a full dress (even though I had forgotten my top and kept leaving my kazoo sticking out of Diana’s cleavage) and it went pretty well – I need two more music tracks to add to the CD soundtrack and to pick up a couple of costume bits and possibly a Union Jack surprise…

Simon Mathis, our wonderful associate director gave us great notes and laughed in mostly the right places. I got overexcited before the rave scene, forgot a speech still had to be done and had to go on stage half-dressed and almost played Diana fantastically bedecked with glowsticks. Needless to say I now have a cue script for backstage as I clearly can’t be relied on to remember it all just yet.

We were joined by our original Camilla who was standing in for Lex yesterday, it was rather lovely to reunite her and Will again.

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I am very fond of our new home, The Tristan Bates…and true to Waleses tradition we are kept holed in to a tiny box backstage (but at least there’s a backstage)

My favourite email from the a cast member this morning ‘My kazoo needs a new vibrator’.

My favourite bit of the play is now when I set up the furniture with Matt and excitedly chat about Tony Blair.

I have no idea what my real voice is at the moment. I am having to be posh so much that in real life I’ve gone proper mockney to counterbalance it.

So all there is to do now is knock 5 minutes off the runtime and make sure we remember to go on stage.

I’m looking forward to it!

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Do buy your tickets in advance – this is our last ever London run. (I think!)

Tristan Bates ticket sales
Box Office 020 7240 6283
Email: boxoffice@tristanbatestheatre.co.uk

Camden Fringe ticket sales

Riding on any wave, there is the luck you crave

We’ve been busy, can you tell? I will get a bit more bloggy once we’ve got to our first night, I promise.

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WOMAN HAS BABY
And then all of a sudden I remember quite how topical this play about the events of two decades ago really is…history keeps on repeating itself, only moreso.
Jeremy Vine pointed out on Twitter the other day that there were two TV cameras present at the birth of Prince William, 71 for Prince George. The reverse angle on all those heartwarming shots of a tiny baby with its shiny new parents is vile. Beyond vile. They say people want to know. Yes. Yes we do, no really – I find our monarchy interesting, irrelevant, but it would be silly of me to say I’m not fascinated by them and the fact they exist. But it’s only a small person, we just need one photo. Leave the small person and its quite tired parents alone, you monsters. Remember how angry we got with you after Diana died? Remember how everyone liked Earl Spencer’s speech? Anyway, without wanting to exploit the small person in any way, I made a tweak to the end of the play. And obviously people are going to be interested in the play for slightly different reasons.

Acting
Wednesday night’s run was a triumph of sorts – we’re still a little shaky around the edges, in a good way, I can assure you – that right amount of roughness that means you’ll work hard to smooth it out.
As a director what I saw last night was a group of actors starting to pull it all together, I love Sarah, our Broadsheet when she starts hitting the mark – you can sneak up behind her on stage and she will know you are there and incorporate the noticing into what she’s doing…I adore watching her perform because she has that alert aliveness that makes actors so engaging to watch, the same goes for the rest of the cast, actually, I could ride an elephant across that stage now and they’d all find some way of dealing with it. (I won’t, I promise)

When actors get to that degree of performance – I laugh. I always laugh when people nail their characters, it’s my inner delight at the magic of doing good acting – or I dunno, “truth” if you want to get all Theatre Studies A’level about it. I laughed a lot on Wednesday night. And I was tired, so I’m delighted I laughed so much.

As an actor however, I draw a bit of a veil. I’ve got my work cut out, but I have two days to really concentrate on it all now.

Producing
Alas this week has coincided with a house move and some of the more wrangly production stuff. I could have done without one of the jobs, but actually I am rather pleased and it’s sort of a reward to the cast for all their hard work – even if it will arrive 3 days late, we’ll have it in time for Edinburgh.

Camden
We open on Monday! I know! It’s all very exciting. Do get your tickets as soon as possible, I know what it’s like, some of you have seen the show before, if you have, it is different, the journalists have a story now, Diana’s script is very different, we have the creepiest Martin Bashir impersonation you’ve ever seen and we do a lot more dancing. Also, and I don’t know how to reiterate this enough…GLOWSTICKS.

Edinburgh
Ticket sales are going really well for Edinburgh, I’m not just saying that, I am delighted by them, we should have a fantastic atmosphere on our opening night there.
We’ve also got slots to perform on the Upper Stage near the Fringe Office as part of the official Fringe Street Events – so for a quick burst of 90s song, some silliness and a few bits of Shakespeare, Waleses style and some words from HM The Queen and the Prince and Princess of Wales and Our Mister Blair you should wander past at the following times.

Sunday 11th August 18:10
Wednesday 14th August 18:10
Friday 16th August 17:50
Monday 19th August 17:50
Wednesday 21st August 18:10
Friday 23rd August 18:10

Every performance night we will be on the Royal Mile at around 8.30 with our special War of the Waleses glowsticks – during daylight, if you see a bunch of us in union jack t-shirts handing out the Charles and Di flyers, that’s probably us too.

Eeeeeeeeeeeee
Exciting secret squirrel things are starting to happen for the show. I cannot possibly tell you about them, but what with FringeReview listing us as one of the top 10 things to see at Camden Fringe…and other…stuff, it looks like War of the Waleses is going to be one to watch out for at Edinburgh, but obviously I’m biased. I’m still excited though.

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