Coming to the end of the tour

It is an unfeasibly hot day in Bournemouth. I’ve brought iPad, ordinary pad-pad, and a couple of books down to a stretch of water where wealthy, sockless middle-aged men in chinos and striped T-shirts are drinking afternoon champagne and boating with their similarly-striped, dramatically over-sunglassed female equivalents. I have never been the boaty type, but as one is grabbed under the armpit and dragged screaming and spitting through the supermarket aisles of life towards middle-age, it is comforting to find such self-contained communities of the griseous enjoying themselves with such opulent, rickety abandon.

My only worthwhile boating memory is from my twenties: that of hiring a rowing boat with my friend Joe in the Lake District. ‘Hiring’ is an optimistic term: the arrangement was that we would pay for the jaunt upon our return when, I imagine, the boat-man would know how long to charge us for. We rowed in the rain and sun, swigged Talisker from the bottle like the hardened seafarers we imagined we were, and played loud upon our harmonicas; then, when we realised too late that time was too short and the jetty too far to return to, we sailed on towards the train station we needed to reach, tied up the boat now several miles from the hire point, took a self-timed photograph of us stood triumphantly by the vessel we were abandoning, and fucked off home.

It was one of the best days of my life. Promises were made to myself to row more often, to canoe regularly, and to live the life aquatic. None of this came to pass. Instead, I have framed in my office, and holding pride of place, a glorious souvenir of us in our rain hats, flanking our boat and beaming.

Bournemouth, for readers of ‘Confessions’, was also home to my occasional Christmas family holiday at the Water’s Edge Hotel. My grandfather would treat us all to a few days by the sea. I had tried to find a picture of the hotel but found that it had since been pulled down. I am indebted to one Dean Watson, who found and emailed an old picture of said hotel and in doing so awakened some happy memories.

(On the subject of thank-yous: I received a copy of ‘Twitterature’ and a letter from a chap who worked at a book factory near or in Oxford: if you are reading this or might know him, I apologise profusely for losing your/his address. Do email me through this site.)

With just two more days of touring remaining, I shall miss the delights of new towns and lazy afternoons in eagerly acquired local haunts. The upcoming Shaftesbury Theatre London run brings with it its own peculiar pleasure, but somehow with TV concerns and other intrusions, the days don’t quite remain as carefree as I intend them to. There is, though, the private love of feeling part of a largely nocturnal stratum of London life known only to a bunch of actors and performers; a feeling of inclusion in something subterranean and steeped in joy. For a month and a half, one becomes part of London Theatreland, and for a lover of said theatre, that’s rather giddying. There are the concomitant delights of having ones social calendar cleared, save for lunchtime meets with those who might find themselves free in the days for the same reason, and of having a new home in the faded glamour of a west-end dressing room, available to make hospitable and homely according to ones whim. Of finding out who from the ranks of fame or friends might be in attendance that night, of stocking up on wine and treats to offer should they ‘come round’; meeting actor friends from other shows and discussing the idiosyncrasies of our audiences from that night; and of being on first-name terms with the doormen and waiting staff of local late-night clubs and eateries that cater for the post-show social artisan.

For my little crew it will be a blessed relief not to have to install and de-rig the set for six whole weeks, and for us all it will be a pleasure to tidy, make shiny, then primp and pimp the set with any extras which have been waiting for the convenience of the break to be installed. The show is always at its best in town. After a couple of day’s grace in which I will once again feel my bedroom carpet under my feet, perhaps watch a late-night movie with my beloved, and, excitingly, start painting a portrait of our very own Mr. Coops, the show will once again go on. A few nights to get up to speed, a press night, the reviews later that week which I won’t read (but will ask my director and PR personage for a general overview and to report any concerns worth attending to), and then the pleasure and challenge of re-creating the show six nights a week for a further six weeks without letting it ever feel like I’m merely repeating it.

Svengali, despite an error in the London Metro to the contrary, runs from June 8th to July 16th. Booking details and links are on this site. If you do come I hope very much that you enjoy it at least as much as I do. Before then, I shall soak up this impossible Bournemouth sun while I can.


Tour so far

The last two weeks have been a delightful hiatus in Birmingham, a city I really like. It was re-vamped a while back with such pride, and the area around Brindley Place in particular boasts enough great restaurants to keep a foodie like me very happy for a fortnight. Bank Restaurant is top of the list, being where I spent pretty much every afternoon, and Loves nearby was a really excellent new find.

It’s also a great city for the tour, as the staff of the New Alexandra theatre are beyond compare. We are lucky enough to have met some really excellent, super-friendly crews during our tours: the Alex bunch are a particular huge joy. Kim, the general manager, had made me an astonishing photo print as a welcome gift, along with some excellent whisky. More of that please. Thank you everyone there, it’s always such a treat.

The famous Brum friendliness was evident at stage door: numbers are so large outside now that it’s always a bit of a rush, but everyone was super-lovely and didn’t seem to mind. We added a tiny new bit to the show that seems to be working well, on top of the improvements we made back in Oxford. The process of continually trying to improve and tweak is one of the real joys of touring, and of course helps keep the show feeling fresh for me.

I donned the classic hat and shades celebrity disguise for a day-off trip to Alton Towers one afternoon with the gang, and we soared and dipped and vomited on Nemesis and Oblivion and Air and all the rest of them. I rather like 13, for what it’s worth. I like a bit of old-fashioned big dipperiness. A bit of plummeting punctuation to my rides. Nowadays it’s all on the one note, all the same velocity and turny-twisty.

Last year I remember riding everything, including the hilarious and terrifying Oblivion, as many times as I could, like a six-year old high on Fanta, and found later that I had strained my throat with all the tension and nearly lost my voice. So this time I was more careful. (Also, I remember, last year we had Jennie with us, who added stage blood to our faces and blackened up our teeth with make-up so we could look horribly damaged in those mid-ride photographs they sell at the exits. I recommend this game unreservedly.)

The past weeks also brought a night where a chap fainted twice on stage (during, for those in the know, THAT bit). Twice! I’m sure it all looked like part of the show, but it provided the sort of extra excitement that I live for.

Tonight is our first of three nights in Northampton. I believe it’s also home to a Torchwood convention this weekend. I wonder what sort of cross-over demographic will emerge. I’ll watch out for John Barrowman costumes or sudden bursts of ‘I Am What I Am’ in the stalls. (Do I have that right? I honestly don’t have a TV so I don’t really know what I’m talking about).

Righty-ho, carry on about your business. Pleased that the Rapture hasn’t affected show attendance, though I did find myself wondering at a couple of second-half empty seats in the front stalls last night.

The picture shows the rubbish collected from just ONE QUARTER of the stalls the other night. We’re such a filthy bunch.

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'Hero' Jack in Boxes up for auction



Matt Galley, star of ‘Hero at 30,000 ft’, is auctioning for charity the first two of the three jack-in-the-boxes left at his doorstep during the filming of the special.

Here’s what he says on his eBay page:

Hello my name is Matt Galley,

Last year i had the fantastic opportunity to be part of a Derren Brown special called Hero At 30,000…I was an ordinary guy looking for a break and a bit of a helping hand…

I found an advert to be part of Derren’s show and i knew that if i was going to break out of my habits then, as a life long Derren Fan, he would surely be able to help me.

For those of you who saw the show you will know that Derren left cool little Jack-In-The-Box’s on my door step to show my progress through the transition from zero to hero

I want to try and help someone in need like Derren did me, so as a result i would like to auction off two of the props so that i can raise some money for SAVE THE CHILDREN who help young children in Africa get clean water, mosquito nets and a education.

So if you are a Derren fan, and want to get your hands on a small piece of his history then please let’s raise as much as we can!!

Thanks to you all,

Matt

Click here to view the auction


Throats and floats

Losing The Voice. The fundamental fear of any touring performer.

After a week in Oxford working and rehearsing 10am-3am for a week, and then shouting every night with barely an evening off, the voice started to suffer. If it packs in, we have to start pulling shows, which is a nightmare to be avoided at all costs.

The first casualty is the signing queue. A few years ago, there were never more than fifteen or twenty people at the stage door, sometimes only four or five. Now there are normally seventy to a hundred lovely people who have decided to hang around in often freezing or rainy weather conditions to say hello and have me scribble illegibly on their programmes and/or chesty-parts. Already I’ve noted with sadness this year that this means I can’t spend the relaxed time I previously enjoyed chatting with people after the show: to get through so many people means something of a conveyor belt of scribbling and asking people to take photos as we go along rather than stop. On top of this, the tour schedule is relentless and with several 6 am starts, so the pressure is on to get back to the hotel and wind down and get what sleep might come my way.

So there were a few nights when I was unable to come out and sign, and there will be a few more on tour, I’m sure. I know it makes no difference to anyone who comes on a rare night that I can’t come out, but rest assured I do make more of an effort than most performers to spend time at stage door after a show. Most, sadly, devise ways to avoid people completely. I hope that in a run of around a hundred and fifty shows I’ll be forgiven a few where health issues dictate I have to sneak away to a warm bed.

Now some of you may remember the chocolate martini fun from last year in Newcastle. This year on arrival, I was greeted by the Mal Maison with Chris (the bar manager’s) latest version of what I now like to think is something of a classic. So top marks to them. The George Shaw exhibition at the Baltic in Gateshead (apologies for considering it to be Newcastle on Twitter) was just stunning. It may still be running. Running and stunning. Edinburgh provided the usual bright, lively and gorgeous audiences that it’s known for. The huge Playhouse was packed out every night and was a particular joy. I met up with my pal Richard Wiseman and had an excellent lunch at the Café Royale, which, I decided, is where I would spend every afternoon if I lived in Edinburgh. What a great city. I also bought there my first cravat. After a few weeks of tucking my scarf inside my shirt and quite liking the foppish look, I am now the proud bearer of a spotty, sporty number. It’s my ‘thing’, I’ve decided.
‘Derren Brown? Who’s that?’, people will ask. ‘The cravat guy’, others will answer.

Getting to Scarborough with our massive set and trying to get it into that theatre for the show time caused the same problems we had in Grimsby. The show went up very late again. It’s hugely embarrassing when this happens, and enormous, heartfelt apologies to those people who had to ask for refunds due to time restrictions. We have a harsh tour timetable and a walloping, time-demanding set which are not very compatible, and when we meet a theatre which is tricky to set up in, we do everything we can with all the tireless extra crew we have summoned, but have now twice been unable to make the start time. It was a real testament to the ladies and gents of Scarborough that they were still a hugely delightful, lively audience after that horrendous wait. Last night there also brought a series of odd outbursts from a lady in the stalls who then had to be asked to leave… a bit of drama, all rather exciting.

We’re now in Sheffield, after another horrendous ‘get-in’ and realising that one of our major props had been severely damaged the night before on the way out of Scarborough. These setbacks caused us to start a little late and Coops to confide it was probably the worst day of his working life, but we got there in the end and the show went well. Today I am writing with Iain, my co-writer, on next year’s TV projects. Finally, I am this morning visited by a mysterious flatulence of Wagnerian magnitude; the length, breadth and depth of which is pleasantly pervading the breakfast foyer of my hotel. Sadly, having arisen quite late, I am eating alone: my generosity is passing unnoticed. Perhaps I’ll come out to sign tonight only to be sent straight back in by the queue.


Week in oxford

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I’ve just come to the end of a wonderful week working on changes to the show. This is something which we always do with the tours: the joy is to keep improving and changing and getting it as good as possible. Andrew O’Connor, one of the producers of the tour came over from LA to work on it with me, and Polly and Stephen came up too. We’ve spent each day rehearsing and talking and trying out new things each night. Some of the changes are quite small, others are large: it’s been like being back in previews in Brighton.

The last couple of nights we’ve made big shifts with the very end, which has been hugely exciting. The changes seem to have worked: the audience reactions do appear to be getting better and better. We’ve been doing notes after the shows until 2 or 3am, then up again for breakfast work, all-day rehearsals and then of course the shows in the evening. All that work has ended today and tomorrow we’re off to Sunderland for some relative peace and rest. Sadly this work has not left me any time to explore Oxford: such a beautiful city and somewhere I would happily come to live. But the audiences have been bright and gorgeous and the theatre an absolute dream. After the show, a lovely chat with Nicholas Hoult and his lady Jenny, who had graced the auditorium along with Doug Hodge and his wife Tessa Peake-Jones: my first celeb visits of the tour. Very exciting. Though I wasn’t entirely happy with the show as a stupid technical problem with the new ending upset the rhythm of things at a vital moment… but hey, whaddyagonnado.

Before Oxford we all had a great week in Norwich. The highlight was most likely us all heading to Adam Buxton’s farmhouse for lunch with him and his wife Sarah: you’ll be delighted to know that the afternoon began with Sarah’s exquisite food and finished with Adam showing us silly movies on YouTube. They are a glorious, generous, bright and brilliant couple.

You may also be interested to know that my friend Patrick Hughes has a new book for sale, entitled Paradoxymoron – click here to view. It was at the launch for this book that Alexei Sayle came over to speak to me. I’ve always been a fan of the great man, who was wearing a black suit and shirt: I plucked a white hair from the front of said shirt as we spoke to find that it was joined to his chest. Great one, Derren.

My Highland Park has run dry and I must get to bed. We’ve been staying at the Old Bank Hotel in Oxford and I have to say I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such astonishingly brilliant staff. It’s a terrific hotel, and we’re all hugely grateful to the entire team for making this stay such a pleasure. Thank you.

Right, nighty-night. Can’t wait for the new changes to bed in and feel second-nature. And I hope you like them too. Sleep well. I have just a few hours to try to do the same.

X

PS the picture of me was taken in Cromer by Dennis Grasse, a member of our team who is a great photographer. If you ever find yourself in the greenroom of the National Theatre, those are his on the wall.