Ipswich and Southend

Ipswich brought great audiences. A little slow to warm up on the first day, Thursday, they were lively and forthcoming soon enough, and the auditorium has a fresh and bright sound from the stage. The shows felt good. We were staying in the excellent Salthouse Harbour Hotel, and looked after by a hugely friendly staff. Rather nicely, there were only ten or so people at the stage door each night, all pleasant and unassuming, which meant charming, relaxed hellos and time to chat.

Southend’s first night was fine but did not feel great to me. After a couple of loud houses, The Cliffs Pavilion’s auditorium stretches far back, away from the stage, and the balcony sits at its furthest reaches. It means that from the stage, you only hear the front half of the audience. On top of that, the Sunday night crowd was typical of those from that day: tired from an afternoon’s sloth or activities, aware of work in the morning, a little unresponsive. There is a classic pattern, known to actors and entertainers, of a rising enthusiasm from the house as the week moves on, generally peaking on Friday with a lively and attentive audience. Saturdays can be boisterous, but are also slacker than the Friday, and made up of larger, less attentive groups. Sundays generally are a little quiet, unless there is a Bank Holiday the next day (which will in itself tend to offer another tired and unengaged crowd).

The show was good enough, but I was surprised by the relatively quiet audience and unfulfilling feedback due to the ungenerous architecture, and the strange energy loop  that exists between the audience and me on a good night did not make itself known. Pushing to reach the seemingly silent reaches of the auditorium, my voice was also rather cracked.

The second night – yesterday – was much better. The crowd was lively and responsive, and I had got used to the unhelpful acoustics of the room. My voice was stronger and the audience were once again part of the dynamic of the show. We were also joined by our lovely friend Stephen Long who has worked on previous tours, and who has come out to help out for a couple of nights. It was rather fun to see him carrying things on and off stage: such little changes help keep the show feeling fun and alive for me.

Southend proves to be a pleasant place to sit and read overlooking the sea: I am hugely enjoying Simon Callow’s Being An Actor and a break from the laptop. I have not been Twittering or blogging recently either: the former has started to feel a tad exhausting and joyless of late, so I shall for the moment at least give it a little break.

It’s blustery and wet today, and I think the sea looks its best when it’s grey and bleak. Some poor girl in a flapping anorak is running, enervated, along the sea-front through the miserable weather, and a lady is having a dispiriting sandwich from a plastic lunch box on a bench under a beach shelter. All, in a grim, glum way, is right with the world.

Leicester again

Great second night at the De Montfort Hall. We stayed at a terrific boutique hotel ‘Maiyango’, which was just lovely, and has a great restaurant attached. Worth seeking out. And pop into Alfred Lenton’s next door: an odd gem of a downtrodden second hand bookstore that has been there for 40 years. Also wonderful is The Case, a superb restaurant where we had a truly excellent lunch, and wished the lovely Fran the Happiest of Birthdays. She’s in the picture at the back, all birthdayed up.
Hardly any time to explore, but what a beautiful city. And another terrific audience last night, so thank you everyone. Voice was better too.
Now heading to Ipswich, fattened on a splendid lobster lunch. We’ve just headed off and I definitely need a wee.

Recent few days

Some brief time off from the tour. We all hugged and wished each other excellent weekends, and then disappeared into our other lives for a few days to do laundry, lie in and snuggle with other halves. Friday morning I pottered about the place, noting with amusement the legacy of six weeks or however long on the road: I walked into a couple of things in my cluttered home, having forgotten they were there, and when talking to a friend about going to the theatre that night, kept calling it a ‘hotel’ (on tour one is for ever going from one to another, referring to one or the other; sometimes verbally confusing the two, in a way that sounds very daft when there are no hotels around of which to speak). Around lunchtime I was picked up for filming: I was part of a Kevin Bishop sketch where he was playing his character Darren Brown, my resentful and less successful twin brother. There’s a clip of the character in a different sketch here. I arrived at a delightful residential house that had been lent to Kevin’s crew as a set for the day, and after a few wides, mid-shots and close-ups, we had the sketch done and dusted. As a curious piece of trivia, you might like to note when you watch the sketch, that the house we were in belonged to a Christian family, and the bookshelves (although they probably won’t be caught on screen) were stock full of religious titles (such as Knowing God, which I imagined would be thicker), and there’s a Christian magazine on the table in front of us. None of that plays any role in the sketch, and neither was the magazine placed there by any of us, but if it amuses you to know that these two characters are sitting surrounded so densely by such things, then there we go. The sketch was very well written by, I believe, Nico Tatarowicz, so thank you Nico, and I hope I came some way to doing my part justice. It’s for the huge C4 comedy gala night, which is a live event at the 02 on March 30th, and which airs on TV on the evening of April 5th. So, as one twitterer pointed out, it’s a filmed piece for a live event which will be filmed: I hope that’s clear.

Friday evening I went to the always brilliant Menier Chocolate Factory to watch and hear Hannah Waddingham – multi-award winning musical star, outstanding singer, actress and I imagine all-round Gay Man’s Best Friend – melt and excite us with her excellent, excellent work. She possesses an incredible range: able to sing Nina Simone as Simone would, and then switch to her devastating Send In the Clowns, via Thriller and any number of madly inspired songs (including an awesome rendition of Judas’ belter Heaven On Their Minds from Jesus Christ Superstar). Her CD is coming out soon, and if you’ve missed her show-stopping performances in London (I first saw her as the Lady in the Lake in Spamalot), then this will be a great way of at least hearing her work. Her sell-out run at the Chocolate Factory is now over, but hopefully she’ll return, or repeat elsewhere.

Saturday, after a trip to the cinema, I took a group for a fantastic but too-quickly-bolted-down dinner at the River Cafe and then went on to see my co-creator Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s Ghost Stories at the nearby Lyric Hammersmith. The atmosphere in the auditorium is electric and it’s a fun, sharp show; scary and well-performed. Definitely worth seeing, particularly if you’re a horror fan. It plays until 17th April at that theatre but I can only imagine will see plenty of life beyond that.

Sunday I started a new painting: a new 5′ x 5′ Judi Dench, and part of a new, ‘straight portrait’ route I’m taking. Sadly I won’t get to finish it for a month or so until I’m back in town. In the early evening we headed off to the Olivier Awards for a genuinely fun night. Jodie Prenger as Nancy (from Oliver!) and Hannah Waddingham (twice in one weekend!) outshone, In My Humble Opinion, some great performers taking the stage that night to sing in-between the handing out of awards. The Mountaintop and Spring Awakening triumphed, and personal highlights were talking to Mark Rylance and his wife Claire (Mark won richly deserved Best Actor for Jerusalem), Jez Butterworth and Ian Rickson (writer and director of the same astonishing play, now on at the Apollo), and meeting Tim Whitnall and the truly lovely Bob Golding, whose hugely acclaimed Morecambe rightly won Best Entertainment. I’m desperately hoping to catch it on tour – details are here.

Monday I painted until the last minute and then nearly missed my train to Leicester, for last night’s first performance at the De Montfort Hall. I was, as tends to happen after a few days off, a little scatty and not quite as on form as I would have liked, but it was nonetheless a fun night. My voice was a little croaky and I found myself reaching for the water more often than normal. It’ll take a night or two to warm the old voice back up again. I had a drink afterwards with a friend who is an art teacher at a local school, and whose pupils seemed to be constituting most of the volunteers on stage. I’m now sat in a very pleasant, empty hotel lounge, feet up; bemused that I have more time to relax when on tour, than I do in the breaks. But I must get on with m’book editing, which is happening piecemeal in lounges like this across the country.

Right, onwards and upwards.


Happy Birthday Gary Oldman

Gary Leonard Oldman born 21 March 1958 is an English actor, writer, director, producer, voice-over artist and occasional musician who is well known for his roles as Sid Vicious in 1986 biopic Sid & Nancy and The Count in the 1992 blockbuster adaptation of Dracula. He has garnered critical acclaim for his diverse performances and portrayals of real-life historical figures and is noted for his avoidance of the Hollywood celebrity scene, often being referred to as an “actor’s actor”.

After coming to prominence for his award-winning portrayal of ill-fated rocker Sid Vicious in 1986 biopic Sid & Nancy, which was featured in Premiere Magazine‘s “100 Greatest Performances of All Time”, Oldman found further recognition during the late 1980s and early 1990s via starring roles in films such as Prick Up Your Ears, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead and State of Grace.

During this time he earned considerable critical respect, with Janet Maslin referring to his work as “phenomenal” and Roger Ebert calling him “the best young British actor around.” Oldman subsequently starred in one of his best-known roles as Lee Harvey Oswald in 1991’s JFK. Since leading Dracula the following year, he has starred in such popular motion pictures as: True Romance, Immortal Beloved, Léon: The Professional, Murder in the First, The Fifth Element, The Contender and Hannibal.

In recent years Oldman has become well known to younger audiences as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter film series and James Gordon in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. In 1997, Oldman directed, produced, and wrote the award-winning Nil by Mouth, a movie partially based on his own childhood.

Oldman has received various awards and honours throughout his career but has at various times expressed his lack of regard for the Oscar and the presenting Academy. Several of his roles – particularly Sheldon Runyon in The Contender – have brought forth predictions of an Oscar nomination, but to date he has yet to be nominated for such an award despite a critically acclaimed film career spanning three decades.

The above painting by Derren from 2008 is available as a limited edition print in the art store.




It’s the nature of touring that you rarely get to know a city at all, even if you come back year after year. The Mayflower Theatre in Southampton is a regular venue for us: about 2300 strong, it’s a good size and always sells out quickly, despite the huge Bournemouth BIC just down the road where we play later on. As familiar as I am with the brief walk from stage door to the Waterstones in the shopping mall round by John Lewis, I still have no sense of the city. However, I have an inkling of the people.

You can get a sense of a town by two factors on tour: the audience and those people who come to stage door. The sounds and energy of the audience betray the general liveliness of the place (bright, dynamic Bristol goes mental after every routine and roars with approval when the show starts; tranquil Eastbourne sits quietly or coughs), and the amount and style of Twittering in the interval says a lot about them too. Even the local level of intelligence can be broadly gauged by the jokes it laughs most at, and this too varies hugely from city to city.

Stage door is trickier, as it is only the less casual attendees who are prepared to wait around in the cold after the show. Many of these have travelled, but the locals or locally studying are easy enough to spot. Southampton, I think more than any city so far, has provided the loveliest bunch at stage door (competition is high: you’re always very lovely to meet). Only a smallish handful of 20 or so gathered, which is a nice amount of people to take ones time with, and all bubbly, polite, pleasant and relaxed. Some were hugely excited to meet me, but none had the solemn urgency of the too-strongly-fixated; programmes were signed and snapshots snapped in a particularly congenial atmosphere. I was delighted, but not surprised, to hear yesterday from a particularly likeable cabbie (who was rueing the fact that after dropping me off at my remote hotel, he would have to drive back alone through the New Forest in the thick, eldritch mists of midnight) that Southampton has just been voted most friendly city on the UK. (Not ‘in England’ as I tweeted last night, apologies). London, of course, came proudly last.

Tonight is a return night to gorgeous Bristol, and a long day for us all. We must drive to Bristol, the crew must build the show (while I have meetings), run the show, dismantle it and then drive home around midnight. This is the first time back for quite a while, and we get to have a few days off. Tomorrow I’m filming a sketch, and on Sunday night I’m off to the Olivier Awards with my lovely Andy Nyman to lose happily Tom Whitnall’s Morecambe. Back on Monday, in Andy’s home city Leicester, with the silly, upbeat energy that always comes from not having done it for a few days.

Right. Must check the local papers to make sure that the cabbie last night got home safely and was not, as I suggested when leaving the car, slaughtered, bum-raped or both. Hugs.


PS Yes, I know that’s a different Southampton on the map.