Cardiff and Woking and Coco the Mind-Reading Parrot

The curious phenomenon of audience identities continues: Cardiff crowds (though I expected a big raucous crowd) were very quiet, but saved it all up for the end. Which was a relief the first night: after that, I knew to expect it. I, to the amusement of many, struggled with audience members’ names and answers, as I did in Belfast and Dublin. The combination of unfamiliar names, strong accents, microphone amplification and the wobbly acoustics of the auditoria made this an unexpected comedy highlight. I do apologise.

Woking brought great, enthusiastic audiences – or rather ‘brings’, as I have one more night there tonight. The house has a resonant, bright sound, which helps the show enormously – it’s lovely to hear every reaction clearly. We have all benefited from a day off and time at home – although my builders have all assembled to work at mine this week, which has made the long-awaited time at home more stressful than being on tour. But hey, whaddyagonnado. Tonight, Andy comes to see the show: he hasn’t even seen it this time round, being taken up with Ghost Stories (transferring to the Duke of York Theatre on June 25th). That’ll be good.

The voice is improving, and I imagine I’ll be back to signing once we get to Stoke on Tuesday.

What else? This:

‘Tis true. Our very own Neil, from the Parrot Zoo, of which I am Patron Saint, presents Coco The Mind Reading Parrot at SkegVegas – the tourist attraction centre for Skegness. Coco has been trained in all sorts of arcane mentalist techniques and presents them to the public for the price of a pumpkin seed and a chunk of finger. Here’s Neil and Coco practising their elaborate two-person code  (man on left saying ‘Is it a cup of tea?’):

Expect further updates from Coco as they unfold.


PS Thank you also for your response to the Dench portrait. I did anticipate the request to see it in its various stages: once I’ve absolutely finished it and have had it properly photographed, I will post a little step-by step thingette in case it remains of interest.

New Picture – “Grand Dame”

With some afternoons at home, I’m finishing a new portrait – a second one of Dench – still not quite complete but I’ll finish it when I can. Brand new easel too: my old one cost me a few quid from a Bristol Oxfam many years ago – I finally treated myself to a great big easel with a crank and everything – just wonderful.



Dublin audiences have a certain mischief about them absent in Belfast, and probably anywhere else I’ve come across. The Grand Canal Theatre was wonderful: it has only been open a few weeks in there, and it is great to play. And a long time coming: the crumbling Olympia has its charm, (it’s a unique experience to perform with rain coming in through a hole in the roof onto the stage), but the new theatre, part of the O2 empire, is a triumph. My voice (thank you for the well-wishes) has become stronger, but I still have to be careful to rest it before and after shows.

The final night in Dublin was not as raucous as I expected. The final night was not the best, (a certain punch was lost in aspects of the second half) , but the crowds each night were marvellous, oddly giggly and very demonstrative. There is another unique aspect to performing there: evenings out start late in that city, and a 7.30 advertised starting time, I was told by locals, is taken as 7.30 for 8. Each night, ready and poised to start the show as 7.30 on the dot, we were still awaiting around 600 people. Each night I eventually walked out around 7.50. I’m not aware of this happening elsewhere, and am unsure whether we should advertise it for 8 next year, or whether that will be taken as an 8.30 start… A curious but somehow fitting idiosyncrasy of that very special city. And the Guinness… oh yes.

Sunday morning we left for an early ferry at 7 am. This is what the rest of the bunch look like at that time:

It was a very long day. We slept a bit on the ferry, and got up only to go and watch an advertised magic show on the deck below. It turned out to be a show for the very young kids who, sensibly, would benefit from the distraction, so we left the cheery chap to do his best with them. Although I did consider standing at the back and staring him out for the whole thing. After hours of intermittent napping and trying to get the internet to work, we poured out, onto a coach, and then onto a minibus that got us into Cardiff for about 8pm. It was a long, scenic route, punctuated by a stop for truly disastrous fish and chips in Aberystwyth. Here’s Coops and popular new boy Jonas at unnamed café:

It was a long drive after a long ferry-ride: we were exhausted and it was difficult to sleep. Conversations, bleary and hallucinogenic, at one point turned to a hushed discussion of how, if we absolutely had to, we could best kill the driver and dispose of the body. Iain, as we knew, is something of an expert on mass murderers, and much of our solution hinged on whether or not Jennie had anything in her kit which would allow us to grind the driver’s bones down to dust. She didn’t, and he was spared.

Tonight’s show is at St Davids: another concert hall, but another guaranteed very good crowd. I’m being spoilt at the moment. Maybe see you there.


Lazy days

Two sublime, silent days resting in Dublin. Euro-less, I have not left the hotel (except for the show), but awoken late, taken breakfast at the end of the allotted time or in my room, and shuffled everywhere in my slippers at one-third speed. I have been reading Thomas Mann, drinking honey and lemon, barely existing in a kind of limp reverie, quite at odds with the spirit of this vibrant, rowdy city, whose inhabitants pass by on the other side of the hotel windows with the augmented velocity of characters in a silent movie.
As Ash Wednesday lingers over us, we are forced to take an impossibly early ferry tomorrow morning in order to get to Cardiff to build the show. Last night’s Dublin audience was delightful: surprisingly less rowdy than Thursday’s, although I imagine that tonight’s will prove a force with which to be reckoned.
Rested to the the point of inconsequence, I must dig deep to summon the necessary energy for tonight. Perhaps a quiet little stroll.


Belfast was just wonderful, thank you any of you who came along and packed out the Waterfront Hall with astonishing noise and energy. The response from the house was astonishing, and seeing everyone leaping to their feet in such a huge open hall was really fantastic. Thank you.

We visited the Giant’s Causeway, which, though I’m sure it’s just obligatory school trip territory to the locals, was a lovely afternoon trip. I realised the image I had carried around in my head of the Causeway since primary school was quite, quite different from the real thing. We had lunch at the Bushmills Inn (the whole of Bushmills smells of its famous malt) and headed back for the show.

The shows were very good, but on the third night my voice suddenly became worryingly absent. Two late nights with friends, a change in weather and a long run of shows had taken their toll, and I had to perform the last night with a more controlled tone than normal. This is a huge worry when this happens: keeping the voice strong is always the priority. If it goes, we have to pull shows, which is terrible.

Therefore I was not able to go out for signing on the last night, and unfortunately this will have to be the case for the next few nights until my voice is back to normal. It’s straight back to the hotel and into bed, rest as much as possible and then not speaking during the day. Steam, water, honey and lemon fill my wordless days until the shows. So a thousand apologies to anyone hoping to catch me after the shows: I am whisked away quickly, so please don’t waste your time waiting at the stage door for now thinking I’m still in there.

Hopefully things will be back to normal after a few days. I’ve also had to cancel meetings and interviews until this period passes.

Dublin tonight was huge fun: we were only the third show to appear in the brand new Grand Canal Theatre. Its a fantastic place. From the stage you can here each of the 2160 people as if they were sat right around you. The Dublin audience is different from those of Belfast: rowdier, funnier and very present. They were huge fun and a well-placed shout from one audience member had me and the backstage crew cracking up. So thank you for tonight, Dubliners. Looking forward to the next two.

Apologies again for not being able to come out and sign afterwards. Will let you know how that goes.

Meanwhile I must try to enjoy Dublin in silence…