Monday, November 18, 2013


For the past few months, I have been attending a drop-in acting class in Brighton and have acted in three productions. It has been a very interesting experience for me. True, I spent a number of years performing stand-up comedy and poetry, but have never really tried acting.

I have always wanted to do so.

I recall that, aged 14 or 15, in the Fourth Form at Poole Grammar School, I auditioned for a part in the school play, Romeo and Juliet.

I spent half a night up in my bedroom reading the play aloud, trying to understand the Elizabethan language, and practise the parts.

The next day, I read for a part, any part, and got nothing. Not even an extra's walk-on! I felt totally excluded.

It was perhaps my first experience of a clique in action, but I did not realise it at the time and was well put off acting.

I did, however, continue to be interested in show business of every sort and, while not-studying for a physics degree at university, was soon DJ-ing and doing sound and lighting for bands including some famous ones visiting the students' union.

In my final year, I was out of the blue offered a part in a German play, Bertolt Brecht's Der Gute Mensch Von Sezuan (The Good Person of Sezuan), in exchange for doing the stage lighting.

It was a great experience. I was in seven scenes, albeit with only one line (in German) in total.

I also designed and operated the lighting (and had an assistant for when I was on stage).

I had already to work my way through the showbiz disciplines, writing about theatre, film, pop music, comedy and television.

As a post-graduate journalism student in Cardiff, I spent a great deal of time writing theatre reviews and did stage lighting for a production of Harold Pinter's Landscape, which had a lighting change or two every single minute of the show.

In my first job, I was theatre critic of the Hull Daily Mail, reviewing the world premieres of John Godber's early work at the Spring Street Theatre.

I went on to work for national newspapers (and The Stage newspaper) writing about famous actors and reviewing their acting for more than a decade.

So, to get to the point, it seems weird to be trying acting myself - and to find out how hard it is.

I slipped into it by accident, dropping into my local pub, the Iron Duke, Hove, at last orders one night some nine months ago.

I was supping a pint of Harvey's and reading a novel, when a extraordinary bunch of characters swarmed out of the backroom and seemed to overwhelm me. There was a buzz about them.

I asked one of them what they had been doing and discovered that they were members of a drop-in acting class called Working Toward Performance.

I met the tutor, Steven, who suggested I join - and so I did.

The way the group works is that anyone can drop into the weekly class (£8 / £6 concessions).

Beforehand, Steven will have selected a number of duologues - two-person scenes - and he then tries various cast members in different scenes. The whole groups comments on the quality of the writing and whether to choose the scene for the production night.

People drop in and out of the class and, after various classes, Steven casts a number of scenes, ensuring that everyone still attending has at least one scene to appear in.

Then you practise and practise and learn your lines, although you are advised to take the script on stage with you for the performance.

Performance night is in a proper theatre space in a pub, with proper costumes and stage make-up, if required.

In my first run I played Mike (performing with Sadie) in Joe Orton's Ruffian On The Stair, at the Duke Box Theatre at the back of the Iron Duke.

I know Orton and has read all of his plays, so it was a fun one for me.

It went well, although I guess I looked at my script a bit too much on stage, out of fear of forgetting lines.

The second run saw me in a Patrick Marber play.

I know Patrick from Lewes FC matches (he is a club director) and from bumping into him in my old corner shop in Lewes (I once tried to persuade him to sign the shop assistant, Juan, who had played football professionally in Turkey!)

Strangely, I had never read any of his plays which was silly because Closer is brilliant. It needed almost no rewrite from him to become the screenplay of a hit Hollywood movie (starring Julia Roberts and Jude Law).

In my Working Toward Performance scene from Closer, I played (Dr) Larry who comes acropper at the hand of a seedy obituary writer (played by Francesco).

It was a thoroughly fun part, performed at the Hobgoblin Theatre, Brighton, and my best performance to date.

My latest effort, last week, was not such a success.

I have been trying to make some sense of a Neil Simon comedy called California Suite which was also a film starring Jane Fonda and Michael Caine among others.

It is a play in two acts, set in a Californian hotel, with different stories relating to visitors from New York, Philadelphia, London and Chicago.

The whole thing is good but there is one very quiet, fairly weak scene involving the Visitors from London, and, while suffering from the influenza last week, I made a real hash of trying to wring some laughs of a script in which a supposedly quintessential English antiques dealer has naff lines like: "I could have gotten a nice tan".

Unfortunately, my attempt at a posh, somewhat mauve accent sounded Monty Pythonesque after my voice started to go.

All the same, it was a good experience, particularly working with Liz, and you learn from every role.

Despite my efforts, the show that night was excellent. I particularly enjoyed Janice Jones and Bob Glaberson in a scene from Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf? Completely hilarious.

I shall certainly be going back for another go next season.

* I seem to have been sick for weeks and weeks - with a sore back, flu and now an appalling cold. I have rarely felt so ill for so long.

Alas, I keep going.

It was good to see my brother Nic in Oxford (he tried to teach me some guitar tips) and to see the Remembrance Parade with my Dad.

The weather has been very mixed, from the November unbelievably fabulous to the expectedly totally appalling.

On Brighton Pier one day, a wave went right over me and I was drenched to the skin.

And, yet, some mornings, catching the 7.14am commuter train, it is totally sublime.  

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