And now, readers, we would like to thank Chris Cadman for the loan of his wonderful Theatre Diary , which he so kindly shares with us here!
Theatre Diary 2005
Version 1.0/June 16 2005
I Auditions .......................................................................................................................... 2
II Rehearsals ........................................................................................................................ 4
III Performance ................................................................................................................... 11
IV Epilogue ......................................................................................................................... 20
My wife Liz and I go to see an excellent production of Julius Caesar at Stratford .
I receive an email from the Young Vic (As a keen theatregoer, I am on their mailing list and receive notifications of upcoming productions). However, this email is an invitation to APPEAR in an upcoming production. The play is, coincidentally, Julius Caesar , the location is The Barbican. There will be a cast of 130, made up of:
• 30 professional actors doing the speaking parts (They are known as the Principals – one of them is to be Ralph Fiennes, as Mark Antony)
• As the Roman mob, a mixture of 40 professional actors (known as the 40, or the Equity 40) and 60 amateurs (known as the 60 or the Community 60).
If I am interested in being one of the 60 amateurs (no experience required), I should contact Gabby at the Young Vic. I have absolutely no experience of acting, but it sounds like it would be a lot of fun, so I call Gabby and she invites me to attend an initial audition. If successful, I will be invited back for a second audition. I assume I won't be successful, but I have nothing to lose. Both auditions will be at the company's rehearsal studio near The Oval, south of the river.
First Audition: January 16 (Oval)
I arrive early. The assistant directors, Will and Doug, run the audition.
We are advised that Simon Russell Beale will also be in the cast, as Cassius.
I seem to be the only person present aged over 35 (actually, I am 59-and-three-quarters). This could work in my favour if they want a mixture of ages.
The rehearsal studio is just a very big hall, with some tables and quite a lot of chairs.
We start with a game that tests our memory and also helps everyone to learn each other's names. We stand in a big circle and first everyone identifies themselves by their first name, preceded by an adjective that describes them and that begins with the same letter as their first name. Thus, I announce myself as “Cautious Chris”, and others are “Radical Raphael”, “Mad Mike” and “Random Rachel”. After everyone has named themselves, you go round again, repeating your own name and having to recall the name of the person on your left, and then again, this time having to recall the name of the person two positions to your right.
Other games test your physical co-ordination (simultaneously doing one thing with your right hand and another with your left hand) and your short-term memory (having to follow a complex set of instructions).
Finally, we almost get to do some acting. Everyone (there are around 12 people in each audition) is given a card with a line of dialogue on it. You memorise your line. You are then split into six pairs. Each pair then performs the same routine in turn. The other ten, together with Doug, Will and Gabby, are an audience at one end of the room. At the front of an imaginary “stage” are two white chairs. You and your partner walk very slowly to the back of the hall (a considerable distance, or so it seems). You pause. Then, using some unconscious process of empathy (i.e. without talking to each other) you set out simultaneously to walk towards the two white chairs. On arrival, you pause again, then sit down. Another pause, then you turn to look at each other. Another pause, then each of you in turn speaks his or her line (the second line may or may not bear any relation to the first). It sounds silly, but is rather fun: it's as if you are in a Samuel Beckett play. Managing to end all of your pauses simultaneously with your partner is nerve-wracking, and I am amazed at how many of us are able to do it fairly successfully.
I leave, thinking I have done better than expected, but not well enough to get to the next stage.
Gabby calls to say I have got through to the next stage. I am surprised and very pleased.
Second Audition: January 29 (Oval)
Gabby greets us all as we arrive. As well as Doug and Will, this time also in attendance is Deborah Warner, the Director, and Joyce Henderson, the Movement expert.
I can recognise only two people from the first audition. There are more old people this time. I am more nervous (there is more at stake) and am feeling unwell with a cold.
We are told that Fiona Shaw has been added to the cast, as Portia. Whoever next?
We start by repeating the exercise we used at the first audition to remember each other's names. I fail to remember the name of a person standing next to me – bad start. We go on to do a number of exercises that involve walking briskly around the room, feigning death, role-playing and hugging each other. Frequent hugging, as I will learn, is an indispensable feature of theatrical behaviour.
I feel I have done particularly badly in the role-playing exercise; you work in pairs, and one of you tells the other to give you their coat, while the other refuses – you invent your own dialogue and actions. I am paired with Robert, and we are too polite to be convincing.
The exercises are conducted largely by Joyce, with some help from Doug and Will. Most unnervingly, Deborah says little, but stands at the back and annotates the Polaroid photographs she has of us all.
Gabby calls to say I have been chosen to be in the production, if I am still interested. I am!
The realisation that one is to be part of a world-class cast under a world-class director at a major venue is quite stunning. I can't believe my luck.
Pre-Rehearsal Get-together: February 15 (Oval)
I arrive at 7 p.m., as requested. Many people don't arrive until 8, so the first hour is spent standing around making polite conversation – a situation I hate, since I am particularly bad at making polite conversation. I compensate by knocking back as much cheap Sicilian white wine as possible.
• Two of the Principals (Struan Rodger, whom I have seen often on TV and I think not at all in the theatre, and Rohan Siva, whom we saw recently in The Country Wife at the Palace Theatre, Watford)
• Three or four of the Equity 40
• Around 40 of the 60
• Various other people from the Young Vic organisation
• A model of the stage set – lots of marble and glass, and some little plastic people to represent the mob.
Apparently there are still 15 vacancies in the 60. This is quite flattering to those of us who have been chosen – over 120 applicants, and we are among only 45 to have been chosen.
We start with yet another repeat of the exercise in which we have to remember people's names. Then we have a good game in which you sit opposite someone and you ask each other three questions that are on cards you have been given. These questions are good at starting off discussion and revealing people's character. For example:
• What's your favourite song?
• Are you a morning or evening person?
• If you could be 18 years old again, what would you do differently?
• What's your favourite day of the week (and why?)
After the third question you move on to a new person and three new questions. We finish with a Pub Quiz event (without the pub). We are split into four teams. My team comes equal third (i.e. equal last).
After the end of the quiz, I tell Rohan that I saw him in The Country Wife , and he is very pleased. He tells me the Principals have already been rehearsing for 10 days. I ask him how Simon Russell Beale manages, since he is still appearing in Macbeth at the Almeida (Liz and I saw it recently). He says Simon sometimes has to leave rehearsals early, but is always the first to arrive and is full of enthusiasm. Rohan also comments favourably on Ralph Fiennes, whom he describes as down-to-earth and friendly, with no airs and graces.
We are given copies of Julius Caesar , the Penguin Edition. At the weekend, I had bought a copy of the play, but in the Arden edition. Oh well!
March 5 (Oval)
This first rehearsal has been twice postponed, so we are all ready to go. There are one or two new people, but there are still apparently some vacancies, as they are struggling to find suitable people.
I meet Doug en route from Oval Station to the rehearsal room. He tells me the rehearsals with the professional cast are going wonderfully well, and it is going to be a great production. I am getting used to theatrical people having a very positive attitude.
We waste the first half hour, first waiting for latecomers (despite there having been dire warnings about the importance of turning up on time), and then going through the laborious process of receiving our travel expenses.
Joyce conducts the rehearsal by herself (Doug and Will observe from the sidelines). There is no reference to the play – all we are doing is learning to move, or as Joyce puts it at one stage “finding our verticality” (this means learning to stand up, or not fall over.) Standing up is important, since the audience are coming to see the professional actors act, not to see the amateur actors fall over. This reminds me of W. G. Grace, who on being given out first ball instructed the umpire to reconsider his decision since the crowd had come to see him bat, not to see the other fellow umpire. Ironically, I do fall over, quite heavily and a little painfully, in one of the exercises when some of the more enthusiastic younger guys take three steps back (having been instructed to take ONE step back) and mow down three of us.
The exercises mostly involve walking around, stopping, changing direction etc. There is some emphasis on working instinctively together: stopping and starting movements simultaneously, for example, without a word of command. There is one fun exercise where you form a circle of six people. Each person holds hands with two other people, neither of whom is immediately adjacent to him/her. You then have to disentangle yourself, without letting go of the hands, so as to get back to a simple circle with no crossed or overlapping hands. This creates endless possibilities for getting on top of, across or otherwise closely entangled with one or more of your circle.
The whole session is very hard work, fun and tiring. In total, it last around 150 minutes. We get a short drink break around halfway, during which some of the younger guys play football and most of us just sit down.
We are given some homework. We should observe people singly, in twos and in larger groups to see how they move and interact.
Finally, we receive a letter of agreement to sign. This commits us to things like turning up on time and respecting confidentiality. It's not as strong as a contract of employment, but a little similar. Unlike most contracts of employment, there are some nice clauses, like our entitlement to two free tickets, and our invitation to the first-night party.
March 10 (Oval)
Not so much time wasted – they start handing out expenses before the advertised start time of the rehearsal, so we only start work about 15 minutes late this time.
More exercises, broadly along the same lines as last time – throwing and rolling balls, walking about, paying attention to what others are doing, and generally working collaboratively. This is all conducted by Joyce, with Doug, but not Will, in attendance. Also present: the costume designers (three of them!) for the production. They wander around taking photos of us while we are doing our exercises. Apparently, they are looking for inspiration (God help them!) and ideas for how to clothe us. They don't look too inspired by what they see.
There are some new faces this week. Apparently we now have 59 of the 60 amateurs, so there is just one further recruit to be found. Although everyone is very enthusiastic, I am amazed at how many people arrive late without apology or explanation (in one case one hour late for a rehearsal that only lasts for two-and-a-half hours).
Before we leave, we are given copies of the Young Vic Good Practice Guidelines . Extracts:
7. It is important that all participants respect each other's personal space and maintain a safe and appropriate distance with each other. If necessary, seek agreement from another participant or professional practitioner prior to any physical contact.
10. It is inappropriate to swear, smoke, drink alcohol or take recreational drugs whilst taking part in the project – rehearsing or performing. If any participant acts inappropriately they will be asked to leave the project. If participants choose to go to a bar or pub after any rehearsals or performances they must be over 18 years of age.
I suppose Brutus and co. will have to seek agreement from Julius Caesar before they stab him in the back! I also note that many of the exercises we have to do in rehearsals involve lots of close physical contact.
We are all pleased to learn that the next rehearsal will be on the main stage at the Barbican, and that we will spend some of the time actually working on the play. Will encourages us to read it, and says it's not as difficult to follow as we may fear.
March 12 (Barbican)
We have to report to the Stage Door. This makes us feel special (we are easily pleased). After pausing for drinks in the Green Room, we walk through a maze of corridors and stairs until we are on the main stage. We all fall silent, overawed by the huge space in which we find ourselves. The stage is bare (no scenery as yet), very wide and very deep. The auditorium is also huge, with a capacity of over a thousand.
Despite what we heard last time, there seem to be at least six new people here today. There are no introductions, so we have to find out gradually what they're called.
Gabby is not around. In her absence, we are looked after by Kate and Abi.
The first two-thirds of the rehearsal are taken up with the usual games and exercises. That is to say, every game is different, but they are all similar!
The rest of the rehearsal sees us split into groups of 8 or 9 people. We are given a synopsis of the plot of the play, and we have to read it aloud to each other, taking it in turn to read a sentence at a time. When we have finished reading, we have to agree on seven significant sentences that are most crucial to the plot, and work out how to enact them in mime. We are given very little time to do all of this. Each group in turn then goes up on stage and presents their five-minute silent version of Julius Caesar . Ours is not one of the better ones!
There is a Rehearsal Photographer in attendance throughout, taking innumerable photographs of all of us.
Before we go, we are told that next Thursday we are back at the Oval, then provisionally next Saturday the whole cast of 130 will be present at the Barbican.
Observation: The majority of us are amateur actors in two senses: we do it for love, not money; and we are not very good at it. Failings include: overacting; not listening to the director's instructions; and excessive shyness.
March 17 (Oval)
Not a good evening. There is a sense of anti-climax on returning to the Oval after being exposed to the Barbican stage. Joyce arrives late, the exercises and games are becoming boring, and everybody seems a little disengaged. One exception occurs during a game where two people have to pretend to be speakers at Hyde Park Corner and the rest of us have to react to them. This produces two excellent rants, one from Rav extolling chips, and one from Ilona attacking fried food in particular and bad diet in general. It's difficult to tell whether this is convincing acting, or two statements of genuine belief. Either way, it's very enjoyable.
Doug conducts the last 45 minutes. We run through Act III, Scene 2. This is known as the Oration scene, in which we are addressed first by Brutus and then famously by Mark Antony (“Friends, Romans, Countrymen …”.) Doug assigns us our “lines”. This involves groups of between two and twenty of us repeating or generally reacting to the lines of one of the plebeians or Brutus or Mark Antony. In each case, Doug calls for volunteers, but has to exercise some directorial control, since some young enthusiasts insist on volunteering for every line going.
Our first attempts at doing all of this are pretty feeble. No doubt it will get better with practice.
March 19 (Barbican)
A number of people turn up late, which delays the rehearsal by 30 minutes.
Perhaps to punish our lateness, one of the exercises we do is singing My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean , moving from a standing position to a crouching position (or vice-versa) whenever we sing a word beginning with the letter B. For those who are not familiar with the song, the chorus goes:
B ring B ack, B ring B ack, B ring B ack My B onnie to me.
B ring B ack, B ring B ack, B ring B ack My B onnie to me.
That's 14 movements in the chorus, with more in the verse. And we have to sing the song three times. This exercise makes me go very weak at the knees.
We have been promised that the Principals and the 40 will be in attendance, but this turns out not to be the case.
We do a lot of work on the play. We read through Act I, Scenes 1 and 2. Some of Scene 2 seems not relevant to us; we are not present during the dialogue between Brutus and Cassius, and the monologue of Cassius. I guess they want us to understand what the play is about, and this is of course a good thing. Doug is like a good schoolteacher: he takes us through the scene and asks us questions to check that we understand what is going on. He does this rather well, given that he has a mixed ability class of around 60 people.
We finish by practising acclaiming Caesar and Mark Antony as they enter in Act I, Scene 2. This is known as the Lupercal scene; we are enacting what might have happened on the Roman equivalent of a Bank Holiday. We are held behind metal barriers and restrained by security men, but we cheer wildly and attempt to touch Antony , whom we are encouraged to regard as the equivalent of a Pop Idol.
We are given some homework: some reading matter on the Feast of Lupercal and a short biography of Caesar.
March 22 (Oval)
When we start, there are only 40 people present. Another ten roll up in the first half hour.
We start with a few warm-up exercises. The rest of the time is taken up with working our way in detail through The Lupercal and Oration scenes. There is no excitement, and we have finally got down to the hard grind of rehearsal which, like every job, has its boring routine as well as its moments of pleasure. I don't sense that we are getting any better, and I assume that somehow “it'll be alright on the night”.
Some of us – not including me – are scheduled for costume fittings tomorrow evening. The rest will have fittings next week.
The next rehearsal will be back at the Barbican. Again we are promised that the Principal actors will be present. We shall see.
March 24 (Barbican)
Upon arrival at the Stage Door, we are asked to check the spelling of our names, so that they will appear correctly in the programme. While sitting in the Green Room, we are greeted with a tannoy announcement: “Will the Julius Caesar company please make their way to the stage”. All this lulls us into feeling that we are real actors.
This evening, for the first time, we work with the 40. Again, there is no sign of the Principals. The 40 seem much more extrovert than us, more competitive in the exercises and games, and less respectful of Doug.
Doug runs the rehearsal, with Will acting the part of Julius Caesar. After a little warm-up, we spend the whole rehearsal working on the Lupercal scene. Work has started on building the set, so it's easier to visualise how everything will work.
Towards nine p.m. four members of the costume department grab me and four others and take us away for a costume fitting. The younger ones get jeans, bomber jackets, trainers etc.; the older ones get more formal wear. I get a DAKS suit, a Harrods shirt, a BHS tie and some Bally shoes. I ask where all this stuff comes from; mostly it's from a trawl of Charity shops in and around London . Before leaving the costume department, each of us is photographed.
Observation: The Lupercal scene is easier for us than the Oration scene. All we have to do is get very excited by the presence of Caesar and Antony . In the Oration we have to start out loving Brutus and end up loving Antony . Our reactions, particularly to Antony 's “Friends, Romans” speech have to modulate with some subtlety. I'm not sure that subtlety is our forte.
March 29 (Barbican)
Just the 60 for this rehearsal. We are told that the 40 will be back tomorrow, and the Principals probably by the end of the week.
Fairly routine: some warm-up exercises, then a lot of work on the Lupercal scene and some work on the Oration scene. To finish, Joyce teaches us how to do some soft-shoe shuffle movements, as if we are the chorus in a musical. This has nothing at all to do with Julius Caesar , but it's a pleasant way to round off a busy evening.
March 30 (Barbican)
The 40 and the 60 work together today. It's just a long, hard slog, repeatedly working through the Oration scene, with breaks for Doug to discuss with us how we should react to the speeches of Brutus and Antony .
Observation: It's much easier to react to a good actor than a poor one. Tonight one of the 40 plays Brutus (very well) and one of the Stage Managers plays Antony (not very well), and the difference is notable.
March 31 (Barbican)
We do a couple of warm-up exercises; one is a relay race across the stage in which one has to progress by making waltz movements. For me, the world's worst and most reluctant dancer, this is very embarrassing. The rest of the evening is wholly devoted to the first half of the Oration scene. For the first 45 minutes, the 60 work alone, then the 40 join us.
As we leave, Doug promises (not for the first time) that we will be working with the Principals on Saturday.
April 1 (Barbican)
The 40 and the 60 are together for the whole evening. We start with two warm-up exercises, the first of which is, in my view, a hopeless waste of time. It takes longer for Joyce to explain the rules, which no-one understands, than for us to play the game. It's all fairly pointless, but I guess Joyce is allowed one failure.
We work exclusively on the second half of the Oration scene. It's difficult to show our changing emotions as Antony wins us over to his point of view. No doubt Ralph Fiennes' performance will help us in that respect.
Immediately before the mid-rehearsal break, the Barbican Fire Officer tells us what to do in the event of fire, be it before, during or after a performance.
As we leave, we hear – yet again – the promise that the Principals will be present tomorrow, and Doug asks us, since there is so much to do, to turn up at 10:00 rather than 10:30. We agree, wearily.
April 2 (Barbican)
I enter the stage door, note someone coming along behind and hold the door open for him. He says “Thank you” in a very nice voice. It is Simon Russell Beale.
The 40 and the 60 do their warm-up on stage, and then we start working on the Lupercal scene. Simon is in the stalls doing his crossword and occasionally looking up at us. I doubt if he is impressed. Gradually the other Principals arrive, except Fiona Shaw (ill) and Anton Lesser (unavailable). Anton has replaced Paul Rhys (exhausted) as Brutus. One of the Principals brings two children, apparently both aged under 10, with him. He sits them in the stalls, and they remain mute and uncomplaining for hours on end.
We work all together on the Lupercal scene. Now Deborah is in charge, and she changes all the routines we have learnt with Doug. We do stuff repeatedly, with long gaps of just standing around between each attempt. This becomes a little boring. There is a momentary release from the boredom when one of my amateur colleagues, Nick, accidentally punches me in the face when making a very thespian gesture without looking to see if anyone is standing near him. It sounds and looks bad, but doesn't hurt. Nick is extremely apologetic, and those standing nearby are alarmed, but it's soon forgotten.
Ralph Fiennes seems to be overacting in this scene. Also, he varies his interpretation each time we go through it again. I don't think he's doing this just for effect; I believe he's just experimenting with various approaches. He is clearly very good at his job.
There will now be a third scene in which members of the mob appear. This is Act III, Scene 1 – the entrance of Caesar to the Senate, known as the Senate scene. But they only want 40 or so of us, so they make an (apparently) random choice of people from among the 40 and the 60. I am not included. I would like to have been chosen, but then again, it's nice to relax in the stalls and watch other people working.
After lunch, we move on to the Oration scene. This gives us a good chance to observe Ralph doing his “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” speech. He regularly forgets his lines and calls for a prompt, but once he gets the prompt he continues at the same pitch of emotion as if nothing had happened. His acting impresses me. This is not to say that the others are not good; they have so little (and Ralph so much) to do in the scenes we do that it's difficult to form a judgement.
Afterwards, there are free drinks in the Green Room. I give it a miss, as I have to be in Gloucestershire for a weekend holiday booked before I knew about this production. I should have been there by Friday night (today is Saturday), so I have some catching up to do. I think I am full of adrenaline after a day spent with the likes of Ralph and Simon. As a result, I drive too fast and, on arrival, drink far too much and fall over.
April 6 (Barbican)
This is the first technical rehearsal. We are assigned a dressing room (I am sharing with fourteen other blokes), and change into our costumes. Everybody admires my smart suit. My feet look big. I realise this is because my shoes are size 10 (I normally take size 8). We go down to the backstage area. We are not required to do any exercises or games – hooray!
We watch six of the Principals rehearsing Act I, Scene 1. Things are different now – not only is everyone in costume, but the set is complete (even the glass has been polished), and everything is in place – costumes, props, lights, sound effects, music. Because of the lights, it is very hot backstage, and one of the older members of the 60, Estelle, feels faint after a while and has to sit down. Fortunately, she's off stage when this happens.
The Principals do the short first scene three or four times after we arrive (I can't tell how many times they did it before we arrived). There are frequent interruptions from Deborah to refine things and introduce new bits of business.
Eventually, we move on to Scene 2 (the Lupercal), so we can join in. Both of Saturday's absentees (Fiona Shaw and Anton Lesser) are present this time. Fiona seems very jolly, and Anton yawns a lot. The yawning is excusable, since neither has anything to do in this scene except stand around. Simon Russell Beale also stands around amiably. He is playing Cassius, and it occurs to me that he will have to act very well to live up to Caesar's comment that “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look”. John Shrapnel (Caesar) does well. He has a very commanding voice.
We spend the rest of the evening, apart from a fifteen-minute break, doing this scene repeatedly. This means that poor old Ralph gets soaked in imitation champagne rather a lot.
As well as the pouring of the champagne, the pre-race ceremony also involves two girls from the 40 (Dee-Dee and Jo) breaking eggs over Ralph (a fertility ritual, apparently). At some stage, Deborah decides that each should have a proud father to push her forward. Doug chooses me as Jo's father. Then they decide that the fathers should each have a wife. My wife is Sheila, another member of the 60. Since Deborah changes stuff around frequently, I can't be sure that I will get to do all of this in live performance, but it's gratifying to have been chosen.
This ritual is not in Shakespeare's text; Deborah has invented it after researching what used to happen on the feast of Lupercal. Theatrically, it makes for a rousing start to the play, and my respect for Deborah begins to grow.
We learn there are now only 54 of the 60 left. I don't know if the total ever got as high as 60, but even so there must have been some recent drop-outs.
April 7 (Barbican)
This is a long, hard evening. The 40 and the 60, together with the four Principal (i.e. speaking) Plebeians, work repeatedly through the Oration scene. This is all done in a hot, cramped, subterranean rehearsal room. It occurs to me that the performances will be a lot easier than the rehearsals.
At the end of the evening, as we make our way by lift from the rehearsal room to the dressing rooms, the lift stops at some intermediate floor and John Shrapnel gets in. We all automatically greet him by chanting “Cae-sar, Cae-sar, Cae-sar”. He accepts our acclaim gracefully, and goes on to tell us about the washable suit he is getting that permits the “blood” from the stab wounds to be removed easily after each performance.
Dressing room space is limited when you are dealing with such a large cast, and it becomes clear that our dressing room, F7, is not a real dressing room at all, but a store room. The rest of the 60 have couches, and each individual has his or her own chair, mirror and locker for storing valuables. We have one mirror for 15 people, 8 chairs, no lockers and a small refrigerator.
April 8 (Barbican)
A most frustrating evening. We are to be ready in costume by 18:30, but we are warned that things are running a little late. In fact we never get called on stage, so we spend most of the evening eating, talking and playing cards. Despite doing nothing, I still feel very tired.
April 9 (Barbican)
Robert has sprained his ankle, but has come along to sit and observe.
It is a tough, but seemingly successful day, occupied exclusively with the Oration scene. From 13:00 to 16:45 the whole company runs through the scene repeatedly on the main stage. It is very hot. I feel faint for a moment in mid-afternoon, but it passes very quickly.
There follows a long meal break, at the beginning of which I buy a £1 ticket for the Grand National sweepstake that one of the 40 is organising.
We go to the rehearsal room, where Doug and Joyce implement some further refinements of our performance of the Oration scene. Just before we start, I learn that I have won first prize in the sweepstake – £20.
We are allowed to leave at 20:00 (two hours before the scheduled time). Just before we leave, Doug dismisses the 40 and gives the 60 a pep talk – this is going to be one of the productions of the decade; Ralph and Anton are so much enjoying working with us; our performance is outstanding; nobody had realised exactly how good we were going to be; we are all marvellous; the first night party will be unbelievable, and is to take place on a boat (I can see a few drowned actors that night). This is all very enjoyable stuff, and we all depart (some to the pub and some to their homes) in a suitably euphoric state.
April 11 (Barbican)
It turns out that Robert has broken rather than sprained his ankle, is on crutches and is likely to miss the entire run. This is such a shame for him, and today is his birthday.
The 60 and those members of the 40 not playing soldiers in the second half of the play all go to the rehearsal room and work at further refining our performance.
Before we start we are introduced to ten new people, who are known as the 10 or the Understudies or the Supernumeraries. They have the unrewarding task of understudying the 40 and the 60; if any of us misses a performance for any reason, one of them will step in. They have the next couple of days to learn what it is we do. I hope they are professionals, and they certainly appear to be.
Things seem to go well, and Doug lets us out early, at 21:30 rather than 22:00. He tells us that tomorrow we will do the whole first half of the play in the theatre – a sort of pre-dress rehearsal.
April 12 (Barbican)
This turns out to be a full-scale dress rehearsal of the first half of the show. All the actors, particularly the professionals, are nervous as they stand in the wings before the start. Jo (my daughter) clutches my arm repeatedly. Jim Hooper (Fourth Plebeian and a very experienced actor) goes on in Act I, Scene 1 and completely forgets his lines. As far as the two scenes I am involved in are concerned, I think we have done them better in earlier rehearsals. The Lupercal scene is rather marred by our not getting a cue to go on stage, which makes our entrance less dramatic than it might have been.
We finish around 21:15, but have to wait around for Doug to join us in the Green Room to deliver his and Deborah's verdict. Apparently, we were wonderful. Tomorrow they are to do the second half of the play in the morning and early afternoon, and then we will run through the whole play from around three p.m.
April 13 (Barbican)
This is a tough day. We start with some difficult warm-up exercises with Joyce, which involve simulating various emotions while walking around. If I ever doubted that I have no potential to be an actor, this would have removed those doubts.
Doug then gives us an extensive set of Notes about what we did wrong yesterday. The messages are somewhat mixed: we ARE giving a fabulous performance, it's just that everything we do is wrong. I am relieved that I am only included in various general criticisms and that I avoid being picked out for specific individual criticism. Many are so picked out, and it's not fun.
We have a meal break, and then do the first half of the play. There are photographers and a BBC film crew in attendance – we are to be on Newsnight Review , it seems.
I fall over during one of our false exits in the Oration scene. It doesn't seem to have done any damage, and I am in the middle of a crowd when it happens, so Deborah and Doug may not have noticed it.
We can stay on and watch the second half from the gallery, or go home. I go home. We all wait in trepidation to see what Notes we get tomorrow.
April 14 (First Preview)
I wake up with pain in my knee from last night's fall. The show must go on, however, as we thespians say. I take some painkillers, and put on a support bandage.
I treat myself to double egg and chips, tea and bread and butter at a greasy spoon in St. John's Street before I go to the theatre.
Inside the theatre, there is an enormous buzz: lots of first-night presents, lots of hugs, and lots of adrenaline.
In the rehearsal room, we get another extensive set of Notes from Doug, again accompanied by excessive praise. Then we work yet again on the Oration scene, concentrating on the difficult transition from admiring Brutus to being won over by Mark Antony. Finally, a blessedly brief but very effective warm-up exercise with Joyce.
We are called to the stage to rehearse the curtain call. This is pretty ragged, but like other things, Deborah will refine it as we go along.
Time for more food, then into costume and into the wings. Apparently there is a full house tonight. I don't get time to notice the audience, but I can sense a change of atmosphere induced by the presence of an audience. I also think that Ralph and Anton give more powerful performances than in rehearsals. As ever, Ralph varies what he does from night to night. I can't comment on the other actors, as Ralph and Anton are the only ones who have much to say during our scenes.
At the end the audience applauds and there is some cheering. There is an enormous sense of exhilaration in all of the performers, not least myself. I am upset to have to miss the first-night drinks party – we don't get off stage until 23:20 and I have to do a quick change and rush off to catch my train from Baker Street .
April 15 (Second Preview)
The atmosphere is completely different; much more relaxed, much less tension. I observe two reasons for this: firstly, relief that we have got the first night out of the way; and secondly, the fact that many of the cast have been partying all night and have massive hangovers. Members of the 60 who have been at work all day are particularly affected.
We start with more Notes from Doug. In fact there is just one general point; we were TOO powerful last night (no doubt this was the result of first night adrenaline). One unfortunate side effect of this is that Anthony, Celia, Joseph and Jim – the four Principal plebeians – had to shout to make themselves heard, with the result that three of them have sore throats today and one, Joseph, has lost his voice. Additionally, Anthony has damaged an Achilles tendon when banging into a barrier. It amuses me that professional actors, who spend so much time doing exercises to improve and protect their voices and bodies should fall prey to these problems.
The problem of Joseph's voice is solved by the heroic and multi-talented Doug going on stage with him tonight – Joseph will make sure Doug is in the right place, and Doug will speak the lines.
Lots of the 60 are unwell too.
Observation: acting is a dangerous profession.
Recommendation: Don't attend the SECOND night of any production; the cast may be hung over and their performance may be impaired.
Before we go on, we receive written instructions for the curtain call. The word “Principal” is consistently misspelled as “Principle”. These instructions are also displayed on the Green Room notice board. I cannot resist correcting the spelling on the notice board: once a pedant, always a pedant; I can't act, but I can spell.
I tell Clifford Rose that I saw him in Much Ado About Nothing at Stratford in 1961. He responds by describing some of the roles he played at Stratford between 1960 and 1968.
Some of the 60 go to the pub during the interval and second half, returning to take their bow. One or two go home at the interval, citing extreme tiredness.
When the rest of us go on stage for the curtain call, we receive an enthusiastic reception, but maybe it's a little more muted than it was on the first night. There are some empty seats in the Gallery.
As we return to the dressing room, one of my colleagues draws my attention to the “blood” stains that have appeared on my suit. I must have brushed against one of the bloodstained conspirators as they rush from the stage after the assassination of Caesar. I put the suit into the laundry basket that has providentially appeared in our dressing room.
As I leave the Stage Door, I see a crowd of fans eager to catch a glimpse of the likes of Ralph, Fiona and Simon. They seem a little disappointed when I come through the door.
April 16 (Third Preview)
We go to the rehearsal room at 15:00, and work on our entrance in the Lupercal scene, and our responses to Mark Antony in the Oration scene.
One of the 40, Max, asks us to be careful when we run on in the Lupercal scene as he has to stand on a very shaky column and he is worried that we will knock him off. He explains that he is worried not just for himself but for anyone he might fall on top of. Doug responds, amusingly: “Don't mind Max, don't mind the other extras, but if any of the glass scenery is broken, then that WILL be a problem as it is ENORMOUSLY expensive and irreplaceable.” We are all delighted to learn that the scenery is more important than us, the actors.
My shirt has been washed and ironed, and the bloodstains have been removed from my suit. There is a sign in our dressing room to tell us that for the rest of the run Tuesday is laundry day for our room.
There should have been a warm-up at 18:00, but Doug is still concerned about the Oration scene, so he has persuaded Ralph Fiennes (Mark Antony) to come down and work on the scene with us, and he has also got Patsy Rodenberg, the voice coach who has worked at the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, to advise us how to shout without damaging our voices. She is certainly a charismatic lady. She says she will give us only three tips – breathe, yawn and let it out! She demonstrates “letting it out” by shouting “Fuck Off” at one of us, without any warning, but with a subsequent apology for her use of bad language. She is only in the room for two or three minutes, but impresses us all deeply.
The four Principal plebeians are still in a bad way, and Doug again has to say Joseph's lines. Additionally, Celia has enormous bruises on her face from walking into a lighting rig.
There is talk of a pundit on Radio 4 who has said that this is the best Julius Caesar he has ever seen. Let's hope it's not his first. Somebody has a copy of today's Times that describes the production as boasting “a Roman mob of 100-odd carefully rehearsed, scrupulously individualised yet plausibly violent non-professionals.” Since all of the 40, and a few of the 60, are indeed professionals, they will not read this with unalloyed pleasure, but it sounds good to me.
I read an interview in today's Guardian with the actor Mark Strong. One paragraph reads:
“Acting,” he says, somewhat portentously, “is all about fear management. You stand in the wings waiting to go on, and your heart's pounding and the adrenaline's hammering and that's the moment you walk out and conquer your fear; and that's the great stimulant, the almost aphrodisiac rush of the first five minutes, when you're up and running and the story is being told. There's nothing like it,” he says, rather lasciviously. “There's nowhere else to be. You are absolutely in the moment. No past, no future. Only now.”
I fear that “portentously” is a euphemism for “pretentiously”, but nonetheless for me he has summed up very precisely how it feels to be on stage.
New instructions are issued for the curtain call. I am delighted to see that I have had some influence; the word “Principal” is now spelled correctly.
The show goes well, except for three little problems. Firstly, one of the 60's mobile phone rings while he is waiting in the wings. This is inexcusable. Secondly, one of the 60, who has forgotten Max's pleas, barges into the column which wobbles dangerously. I happen to be standing nearby; I and one of the 40 steady the column and Max survives. Thirdly, three of the 60 haven't read, or have read and not understood, the revised curtain call instructions, which means that they wander on stage to take a bow when only the Principals are supposed to be bowing. They wander off sheepishly when they realise their error. The audience and most of the actors find this amusing.
Again, there is a large crowd outside the stage door as we depart. This will be the case throughout the run.
April 18 (Fourth Preview)
A rather flat evening. We have a few Notes from Doug, and Joyce does My Bonnie again as our warm-up exercise (see March 19).
The performance is OK. Joseph's voice is back, so Doug doesn't have to go on.
I suspect that everyone is gearing up for the Press Night, rather than focusing on the present.
April 19 (Fifth Preview)
Doug gives us Notes. Now we have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous: we were over the top, particularly on the opening night, but now we don't display enough energy and commitment. He gets Ralph and the four Principal Plebeians to do the Oration scene with us yet again. It feels OK. Time will tell.
Apparently, there was a brief mention of the show during an item on the current General Election, on the BBC Ten O'clock News last night. Someone must have noticed the parallels between Brutus and Blair.
An official Dress Code is published for the Press Night Party: “Smart casual, or Glamour”. I don't think I can manage “smart” or “glamour”, but I can handle “casual”.
I think we hit off the Oration scene much better tonight. I hope Doug is satisfied.
Deborah has introduced yet another new, and even more complicated, curtain call routine. We get it right, the Principals mess it up. More practice is needed.
April 20 (Press Night)
I repeat the prescription of double egg and chips, tea and bread and butter, which seemed to work on the first Preview.
A large table is set up at the Stage Door for first Night cards and presents. There is a great buzz about the theatre, even more so than on the First Preview.
The 60 have not been forgotten – delivered to our dressing room are goody bags with programmes, T-Shirts, cards and other memorabilia. Very gratifying.
At 6:15, 45 minutes before the show starts, Doug gets us down to the rehearsal room to run through Mark Antony's Oration with Ralph one more time.
During the Lupercal scene my eye is caught by a mayoral chain worn by a woman sitting in the middle of the front row. She is observing with enormous disapproval Ralph's suggestive antics with the two girls.
During the interval I encounter Deborah as I walk down stairs. Our dialogue goes like this:
Deborah (with big thumbs-up gesture) : “Well done, good work”.
Me: “Thank you”.
Deborah: ”No, Thank YOU”.
I am as susceptible to flattery as the next man, and it's very gratifying to be noticed by her.
I think the show goes well. There are only two curtain calls at the end (we were warned that there might be three), but it's still a fairly enthusiastic response.
As I make my way to the Stage Door, I bump into Richard Eyre (former head of the National Theatre), Jeanette Winterson (distinguished novelist) and Francesca Annis (Ralph's partner). I hear that Lauren Bacall is also present, but I don't get to see her. The Principals are for the time being swigging champagne with their guests, and the rest of us get on coaches to go to the First Night party, which takes place on board HMS President, moored on the North Bank of the Thames opposite the Oxo Tower . It is very crowded, very noisy and very exuberant, with lots of “You were wonderful, Darling's.
I get home by 2 a.m. Others plan to carry on much later. I hope we're all in shape for tomorrow's performance.
I start the day by searching the internet for reviews. The Times, the Telegraph and the Independent are very enthusiastic, the Guardian less so.
I am feeling very tired, and I fall asleep on the tube while en route to the theatre. Others look similarly afflicted, some worse so; Karl comes in with a crutch, and Jane has a bad limp brought on by excessive dancing last night.
Not many Notes from Doug, but we do a vigorous warm-up with Joyce, and once we get near the stage the adrenaline takes over, and everything seems to go well.
From now on, we don't have to arrive for evening performances until 19:00, and curtain calls are optional for the 60, which means that we can go home at the interval (around 21:45).
John Rogan (Artemidorus) falls down on his way home after the performance and fractures his spine. This is very serious and casts a pall over our day.
During our Notes session, Doug tells us we were OK last night, but could afford to up the intensity a little.
John Rogan is having an operation on his spine today; it will last at least 8 hours. I expect we will get more news on Monday. If I were religious, I would be praying for him.
Doug tells us our performance last night was our best yet.
There are some celebrations, singing and a cake: Doug and Jo (my “daughter”) have birthdays today, Carl (one of the 40) has a birthday tomorrow, and Malcolm (also of the 40) has his Ruby Wedding Anniversary today. Our dressing room, F7, also gets a box of very good organic chocolates from our dresser/laundry person, Caroline, who appreciates the “consideration” we have shown her. She is charming and beautiful and – I assume – not highly paid. Her gesture is very touching.
As seems to be the case every day, there is another injury absentee. Ashley, one of the two juggling acrobats, has twisted a knee or ankle. He should be OK by Monday.
It is a long and hard day – our first with a matinee and an evening performance. All goes well, but I am exhausted by the end of the day, and I have caught a cold.
My cold is a little better.
In Doug's absence, Will conducts the Notes session. Saturday night was excellent, but we have to run through the Mark Antony part of the Oration scene with Ralph yet again.
Ashley is still away. There is no news of John Rogan.
My cold is a lot better. Before I leave home, I stub the little toe on my left foot quite painfully on a table leg while I am walking around barefoot. It doesn't hurt too much when I wear soft trainers, but I am concerned about how it will be when I switch to the leather shoes that I have to wear on stage.
On arrival at the theatre, we all get a written warning about taking phones and other electronic devices on stage. Apparently, last night one of the 60 had a mini-disc player in the wings with him, and he accidentally pressed “PLAY”.
Ashley is back. John Rogan is out of Intensive Care and is in recovery in another ward.
Again, Will runs the Notes session. I understand that Doug has gone off to Paris to start rehearsals there (the production will play in Paris, Madrid and Luxembourg after its London run, but of the London cast only the Principals will be involved). We will miss Doug.
Notes are given on the main stage tonight, not the rehearsal room. In summary, we need to be more animated. Joyce gives us a particularly energetic warm-up. One of her exercises requires us to react to a series of words and phrases that she has taken from Mark Antony's Oration – for example: “rent”, “pluck”, “stabbed”. Our reactions are supposed to be physical and not verbal, but I can't help saying “boy” when she says “rent”; maybe I'm too frivolous to be a serious actor.
The Lupercal scene appears to go well. My feet do hurt when I wear leather shoes, but at least it's not for long. The bruising on my toe and surrounding areas is spectacular.
Mick is a colleague in dressing room F7. He leads a very busy life (he runs a delicatessen), and is occasionally just a little late for rehearsals. Tonight he excels himself. As we run off the stage at the end of the Lupercal scene, he runs into the wings. The scene only lasts five minutes, and he is only five minutes late, but the collision between the departing actors and the arriving Mick is rather comic.
Our dressing room, F7, is becoming notorious as the hell-hole of the Barbican. During a thirty-minute period when I am alone in there, I receive visits from two groups of two young female members of the 60. They can't believe how poor are the facilities in our dressing room compared with all the others and they want to see for themselves. I should charge for admission!
The Oration scene also passes off well. There is a slight sense of complacency setting in. With the best part of three weeks still to go, we must try to overcome this.
Joyce conducts the Notes session and the warm-up. Apparently we were good last night.
There is an amusing sign on the wall above a Props table:
Please do not touch the Cigarettes
They are props!
(This means you, Rohan!)
Last night, some pupils and teachers from the Drama department in Liz's school came along to see the show. Apparently, they all thought it was wonderful.
Jo (my daughter in the Lupercal scene) has injured her leg in such a way that she can run sideways but not forwards. This will present a challenge for her, as she normally runs all over the place after Mark Antony has touched her.
Doug is back. He gives us a few Notes, and Joyce presides over a very strenuous warm-up.
The Lupercal goes well, despite Jo's problem.
At Tarek's suggestion, I go down to the wings on stage right to watch Portia's big scene with Brutus. Tarek is right – Fiona Shaw's interpretation is excellent.
I really enjoy the Oration scene today, and feel that this is (relatively speaking) perhaps my best performance so far. Somebody treads on my foot, but there is no harm done.
Doug tells us we got the Mark Antony part of the Oration scene just right, but we need to inject more energy into the Brutus part.
Jo's leg is a lot better. Everything seems to go well.
A big day: I have nine relatives and friends coming to see the show. I take along some shoe polish for my stage shoes so I can look my best.
Notes are OK – Doug thinks we were good last night.
The matinee is good, apart from a fire alarm in the last minutes of the play. There is much confusion. Those of us who are in dressing rooms hear the alarm (it is quite deafening) and leave the building. The actors stay on the stage and continue acting. The audience see a red light at the back of the stage, but assume it is part of the production. We get the all-clear to re-enter the building at the precise moment when the play ends and the audience start applauding. This means we have to rush headlong down four flights of stairs to make the curtain call. Some of us enter the stage at the wrong time during the second call, but nobody seems to care.
As before, doing two shows is a strain, but at least we have two consecutive days off (Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday) after this.
Doug is away, and there are no Notes, just a warm-up on the main stage with Joyce.
The performance goes well, I think. There seem to be a lot of absentees tonight among the 60.
The show has speeded up a lot in the course of the run, and the length of the interval has been cut by ten minutes, so performances now finish somewhat earlier.
Warm-up takes place in the rehearsal room with Joyce. Again, Doug is not around. We understand Friday is to be his last day in the UK , so someone takes up a collection to get him a leaving present.
Our performance seems to me to be a little underpowered tonight. Ralph does something at the end of Antony 's Oration that is either new or previously unnoticed by me: he runs around the stage showing Caesar's will to the plebeians. I am one of the ones to whom he shows it; I also get a pat on the arm.
It's time for another lunch of double egg and chips etc. to help me get through two performances in a day. This time I go to a different caf é in St. John's Street : 20p cheaper, but a smaller helping of chips.
There are quite a few absentees for the matinee, and there are gaps in the crowd during the Oration scene.
More of us turn up for the evening performance, which goes better.
During the evening performance, I am sitting in the dressing room reading Dickens ( David Copperfield , yet again) while half listening to Julius Caesar through the tannoy. I reflect that this is a wonderful way to spend an evening, in the company of two of the greatest exponents of the English language.
Liz has arranged for me to go to her school next week to give a talk to the A-Level Drama students who came to see the show on April 27 about what it's like to be directed by Deborah Warner. I suspect this will make me more nervous than being on stage ever does.
There is to be a Cabaret session on the last night, Saturday May 14. It will take place during the second half of the show, for those of us (all of the 60 and many of the 40) who aren't involved in the second half. Volunteers are invited to put their names forward.
Still no Notes, and we start our own warm-up without waiting for Joyce to arrive. When she does arrive, she advises us that our last three performances have been our best yet; we are developing a “group intelligence”. Doug joins us. Rav makes a genuinely moving speech of appreciation for what Doug has done for us, and there is a presentation of a gift to him. Later in the Green Room, I get Doug to help me with my talk by telling me his ideas on what are Deborah Warner's methods as a Director. He talks of, among other things, her vision, her attention to detail, her avoidance of the obvious and her willingness to let actors find their own interpretation of a part.
The performance goes well. We are all trying to give Doug a big send-off.
When I get home, I find that Liz has got a list of questions that her school's Drama students want me to answer. They are:
• Why did the director choose to contextualise this play?
• Did you do any off-text work (and what was it)? What did you do at first rehearsal? Are there any specific drama exercises you found useful?
• What was the purpose of the chorus according to the director?
• How did you enter/exit stage? Why were these directions chosen?
• Were the scenes where the chorus members were moving rapidly choreographed?
• Were the costumes your own?
• What did the green lines projected on the back wall in the second half represent?
• Did the director make any references to past performances/past performance conditions?
• Why did the director make the decision to contextualise the costumes but still have the toga-style material in one scene, and wreaths?
• What was the intended climax of the play?
I have a sleepless night worrying about these questions, and particularly about the meaning of the word “contextualise”.
I get to the theatre early with a view to researching the girls' questions. I track down Simon Russell Beale and Jim Hooper in the Green Room and they are very helpful, then I find Will, one of the Assistant Directors, and he gives me more advice. Finally, when discussing all of this in our dressing room, I discover that Joe, a very helpful young guy, did Drama A-Level last year. He explains that “contextualise” is a part of modern educational jargon, particularly in Drama studies. This now means that I understand all the questions, and can provide some kind of answers to them.
Warm-up is fun, particularly when Joyce gets us all singing a simple traditional gospel song. Three months ago, I could not imagine myself not only doing this, but enjoying it so much.
Maude, one of the 60, has a birthday today. There is a party in her dressing room, and one of the 40 provides a stripogram service.
John Rogan has had a second operation, and is still seriously ill.
Today's injury: Abi gets VERY hot tea poured all over her arm. She is badly burnt, and has to be taken to hospital.
The matinee performance goes well. We seem to be getting better as we get more used to what we are doing.
For the evening performance, I act upon a Note given to me by Nick, one of the 60: this involves undoing the top button of my shirt and loosening my tie in the Oration scene to underline my mental state, which should be quite different from what it was in the Lupercal scene. Of course, the audience won't notice anything, but it makes me feel good that I am introducing new details into what I am pleased to call my performance.
I think that the evening show is very good. We reflect that after this we enter our last week.
At nine o'clock I am at Liz's school to talk to the Drama students. It goes very well. I am rewarded with a round of applause, a thank-you card and a very nice bottle of Chablis. Three of them enjoyed the show so much that they queued for Returns (all performances are now fully sold out) so that they could see it for a second time.
Instead of warming up, we rehearse the Mark Antony section of the Oration scene with the four plebeian Principals and Ralph. This is for the benefit of four last-minute additions to the sixty. They probably don't learn much, as there is an end-of-term atmosphere about the rehearsal room, and Ralph delivers the oration in a high camp, almost Kenneth Williams-like style which reduces us to laughter and gets in the way of our demonstrating to the newcomers what they should be doing.
Despite everything, the evening performance goes quite well. Some of us in F7 pass the time between our appearances on stage by playing silly word games.
The girls at Liz's school were so nice to me yesterday that I resolve to send them a good luck card for their imminent A-Level examinations, and to get that card signed by Simon and Deborah, about whom they were particularly enthusiastic. No problem with Simon; I catch him outside his dressing room, and he is happy to comply. I go to Deborah's dressing room and knock on the door. The dialogue goes like this:
Deborah: Who's that? Come in. What do you want? Who are you?
Me: I'm Chris. I want you to sign something.
Deborah: Now's a bad time. Come back later.
Me: No problem. When would be a good time?
Deborah: Can't say. Later.
Her lines are delivered in very brusque tones. I retire in confusion. With some trepidation, I try again in ninety minutes' time. She is all smiles, apologises for being under pressure earlier, invites me in for a chat, tells me how well I am doing, and is delighted to sign the card. Phew!
This is our last chance to warm up on the main stage, and Joyce allows us to do again the soft-shoe shuffle that we enjoyed on a previous occasion.
Warm-up with Joyce, followed by Notes from Will (our first Notes for a little while). According to Will, we have improved immensely since the First Preview, but there are still a few little things we could do better.
In the dressing room, I agree to compose a little tune (or rather, write some new lyrics to an old tune) for performance by members of F7 at Saturday's cabaret night. The lyrics will describe our plight in having the worst dressing room in the Barbican, and the title will be F7 Blues .
I think tonight's performance goes rather well.
There is a cast party after the performance, but I give it a miss, partly to ensure I get a train home, and partly because of sheer fatigue.
The corridors are all lined with packing cases, ready to transport the costumes and scenery to Paris . I am reminded of the closing scenes of The Cherry Orchard . The effect is very melancholy.
This is our last warm-up with Joyce, and there is a card, a presentation and a speech, as there was for Doug. We have learnt a lot from Joyce. Volunteer members of the Principal cast (and Deborah) will do the remaining warm-ups.
Robert (see April 11) turns up. The plaster has been removed from his foot, and he is going to do the last three performances. This is great news.
Rohan Siva (see February 15) conducts our warm-up. He says he is going to introduce us to some of the routines that the Principal actors use in their warm-up. In fact, it turns out that they use the same exercises and games as we do.
Half-way through the warm-up we are summoned to the stage. There is to be a presentation (card, cake with candles, gifts) to mark Deborah's 45 th birthday, which occurred yesterday. She makes a gracious speech thanking us for all our efforts.
A routine performance, apart from Anton, whose Brutus is particularly powerful today.
May 14 (Last Night)
A glorious day, full of the joy of comradeship and the sadness of parting. It starts propitiously: as I arrive at the Stage Door, one of the usual crowd of autograph hunters asks me to give him my autograph. I comply, proudly.
We all receive another copy of the programme and a Press Pack – copies of all articles and reviews about the production. Another great souvenir.
Ralph Fiennes conducts the afternoon warm-up. He is charismatic as ever, but doesn't offer anything much that we haven't done before, apart from yet another game that provides an excuse for lots of hugging.
Before we go on stage there is a knock on our dressing room door. Simon (Cassius) and John (Caesar) have come round in person to thank us and wish us luck. This is a very thoughtful gesture.
After the afternoon performance, we retire to the pub for a quick drink.
Deborah conducts the evening warm-up. It is electrifying, particularly the exercise where individual actors run at top speed (accompanied by chanting and foot stamping) towards a five-deep, twelve-wide group of actors, and hurl themselves onto the top of the group, who then pass the individual back over their heads to the rear of the group. There is enormous potential for physical damage, but none (or at least nothing major) occurs.
Our evening performance is good, but not great. Maybe we are trying too hard, this being our last chance to achieve perfection.
In the cabaret, the opening act is Paul Shearer, late of The Fast Show . He is one of the Principals, and has a part to play in the second half of the show, but he kindly comes down to give us a good start. He wears army boots and a red wig and a skirt. He gives us a spirited rendition of It's Raining Men .
Three of us (Rav, Nigel and I) perform my new song ( F7 Blues ) to the tune of House of the Rising Sun . I do a little spoken introduction that explains the context of the song, and why our dressing room is so special to us. This gets some gratifying laughs. When we do the song, Roland, one of the 40, accompanies us on guitar.
Leaving aside the F7 Blues , there are some good acts – songs, dancing, conjuring, impressions etc. Variety is not dead!
After curtain call, we remain on stage when the audience departs and Deborah and the “principal” Principals – Anton (Brutus), Simon (Cassius), Ralph (Mark Antony), John (Caesar) and Struan (Casca) – take it in turn to stand on a chair and tell us how wonderful we are. A wag waits until Anton is standing on the chair, and then suggests he might like to try standing on a chair. This is a cruel reference to his lack of stature, and is taken in very good part.
Among the Principals' kind remarks:
The play is NOTHING without the crowd.
The Principals have been inspired by the crowd.
We have played to 33,000 people over 31 performances.
We have been part of an historic production – nobody will dare to do Julius Caesar again for many years, for fear of comparison with us.
After this, which makes many of us tearful, we climb up to our dressing rooms to discard our costumes for one last time. On the way, I bump into Tim Potter. I tell him how much I have enjoyed his performance as the Soothsayer.
We change, and take taxis to an informal end-of-run party at the Phoenix Club, an after-hours drinking den for actors in the Charing Cross Road . Their door policy is not strict. The dialogue goes like this:
Doorman: Julius Caesar?
Doorman: Go downstairs.
The club is a very smoky cellar (actors, when not doing voice exercises to protect their vocal cords, spend a lot of their time smoking). Present, apart from what appear to be a lot of West-end thespians, are a large group from the 40 and the 60, and at least three Principals, Simon, Struan and Anthony. There is much conversation, and lots of tearful partings, accompanied by the usual hugs. Many of us have developed strong bonds in the short time we have been working together, and are sad to be parting.
I leave at 2 a.m. Charing Cross Road is heaving. I am to spend the night near Waterloo station, at the flat of my son and his wife. I had planned to take a night bus, but the pedestrians are moving faster than the traffic, so I walk. Just after I cross Waterloo Bridge , two thirty-ish men accost me. One of them says “Hey mate, can you tell us where we can get a good shag round here?” I assume they are not interested in carpets or tobacco or ornithology, and I can't be sure whether they regard me as a source of information or a potential provider of services. I tell them I can't help and walk off, anxiously. Fortunately, they go off in the other direction.
I get to bed at 2:30 a.m. It's over.
The Young Vic is to offer us acting classes. This sounds interesting.
I will look into the possibility of doing some Film and Television extra work.
Liz is going to take me to Paris for a weekend in June. I will get to see Julius Caesar .
Deborah is one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. As some of my comments in this diary suggest, she is not a perfect human-being, but her single-minded ability to conceive and successfully carry out such a massive project is beyond praise.
I have a much more positive view of actors than previously. I used to think that they were self-important prima donnas. In this company, the vast majority, particularly the most important, are warm, modest and kindly.
During my career as a “performer”, I – who am close to tone deaf – have in 1966 performed with and shared a dressing room with The Who, and now I – who have no acting ability – have shared a stage in 2005 with the likes of Simon Russell Beale and Ralph Fiennes under the direction of Deborah Warner. I must regard myself as having been extremely lucky.
Julius Caesar Conquers Paris Chris Cadman give us views on J.C. Parisian style…
My wife and I went to see JC in Paris on Saturday June 11 (the last Paris performance, in fact). For the first time ever in my life, I was nervous before the beginning of a play that I was watching. I suppose I couldn't adjust to watching it instead of being in it. The performance was sold out, and I was impressed to see a crowd of people outside the theatre holding up little pieces of cardboard saying they wanted tickets for the show.
There was a new poster and a new programme cover, both featuring a naked male chest with the words "Julius Caesar" carved into it. A major difference was the venue - it would be impossible, in London or anywhere else, to imagine a more impressive location than the Theatre de Chaillot - on the place du Trocadero and with a long uninterrupted vista towards the Eiffel Tower, which you can see either from the terrace at the side of the theatre or through the huge windows in the theatre foyer.
The performance was as excellent as ever, despite the fact that (as my informers told me) there had been an early end-of-run party on Friday night that only finished at 5 a.m. on Saturday. We were having a pre-theatre meal at one of the brassieres on the place du Trocadero and we saw some of the principal actors arriving late (no time for warm-up) and in one case carrying a heavy "Nicolas" bag. (Nicolas is France 's biggest off-licence chain). I will also refrain from naming the principal actor who was due to be in the Lupercal scene and who was still imbibing in the theatre bar, not in costume, 15 minutes before the start of the play.
The crowd were as well drilled as they had been in London . I recognised some of their costumes, although I couldn't see my smart suit. I found myself joining in at times (e.g. shouting "read the will!").
During the whole of the London run I was struck , as I was waiting in the wings before the Oration scene, by how Rohan Siva, as Octavius' servant, in response to Mark Antony's "You serve Octavius Caesar, do you not?" delivered his line ("I do, Mark Antony") with an enormous pause between the "do" and the "Mark". (It's strange what obscure things catch one's attention). Anyway, having paused in every performance in London , Rohan dispensed with the pause in Paris, much to my disappointment!
We ran into Hetty during the interval and had a nice chat.
In London, as far as I remember, we never got more than two curtain calls, even on our first and last nights, but here there were four calls and a standing ovation and Deborah was called on stage to take a bow.