Ready to go on

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

school trip!

Oh, the excitement! A trip, a company trip!

Alright, it was only to the main square in Nottingham after the matinee, but Uncle Sam (not the American one, Uncle 'Sam' Simon Williams) invited anyone who wanted to join him to go on the big wheel in the town square. Typically, he payed.

So off we traipsed and up we went. It was high and I'm not great with heights, but I was alright - until Jules, our ASM, stood up when we were at the Apex of the journey and started to swing the car back and forth. I, somehow, had ended up in the car with all the young women from the company. Sheer chance, as I'm sure you appreciate. I'm afraid that my sudden attack of vertigo and extreme age made me revert to 'dad' mode and I blurted out, "No, stop! Or we'll get in to trouble with the man!". What the hell does that mean? It's just the sort of thing that you say to small children to bring them up short. It didn't work with the twenty-somethings that I was with. They just rolled around with laughter and keep saying, "The man!! Ooooh!". If anyone tells you that age brings wisdom, ignore them. It certainly hasn't in my case.

I'd sort of deliberately forgotten that I don't like heights. I've never been very good with them, but have often been asked to endure them, particularly when filming. I always seem to be the one that is asked to stand on the edge of a cliff or hang off the top of a church tower, and somehow, despite being fairly terrified inside, I hide my fear and go for it. This has led to me being known as fearless, which I am far from.

I once filmed a series for the BBC which was aimed at teaching English to Spanish children. This required me to talk slowly and clearly in various locations around the country. That was about all I had to do, actually, so it was a very enjoyable trip to some beautiful locations with very simple, minimal amounts of lines to learn and a lot of rather enjoyable, expensive hotel suppers. We filmed episodes about Britain with a different subject matter for each episode. One of them was on English cathedrals. You can guess where this is going? I abseiled down the front of Coventry Cathedral to show off the lovely glass etchings that they have. The cameraman next to me seemed fine but I was almost frozen with fear. I'd never abseiled before and yet, with one brief lesson from our expert, I had to lower myself over the incredibly high parapet and walk backwards down a sheer glass wall. Bloody terrifying! If anyone has a copy of it then please destroy it, now.

Actually, that job did lead me to do one of the things that I am rather thrilled to have done. I can tell you now, that I was the first person to speak Shakespeare's words on the Globe Theatre stage since the original burned down in around 1608. This fact is not recorded anywhere so I am glad to be able to put it on record, officially.

We were filming an episode about Shakespeare and visited various locations associated with his life. The Globe Theatre was just being completed and we were given the morning to film there before the official opening later in the week at which all sorts of theatrical greats and dignitaries would declare their love of Shakespeare from the stage.

On the morning we were filming we were constantly interrupted by loud hammering as the workmen on site nailed the final few planks of the stage in place. When they finally stopped we quickly did our bits to camera, the last bit we me standing on this newly completed podium.When there was a break in filming I asked the carpenters if anyone else had been on the stage and they said, "No mate, you're the first." Well, it was an opportunity that I couldn't resist. I apologised to the workers for what I was about to do and asked them to indulge a sad actor, and then I launched in to the "How all occasions do inform against me and spur my dull revenge" soliloquy from Hamlet. It was, in fact, the one I had learned for Sir Anthony Quayle (I refer you to an earlier blog on that subject).

When I finished the builders, who had been watching, gave me a polite round of applause, then got back to work, tidying the site. If only they had known the thrill that was coursing though my body. The sequence was Richard Burbage, then me. I was the first person to speak those words on the Globe Stage since him, with a small gap of some 500 years.

So, when you visit the Globe and you see the photos and plaques commemorating the opening of the theatre and you read that Vanessa Redgrave, Zoe Wanamaker, Derek Jacobi and Judi Dench were the first to appear at the globe, delivering Shakespearean speeches at it's opening ceremony, you can smile secretively to yourself in the knowledge that you know better!


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  2. That was a smashing read, Mike, thank you!

    Can I ask a really silly question which has nothing to do with heights or Shakespeare but everything to do with stages?

    (Thank you)

    This has been on my mind for a few days now but I've been a bit reticent about actually asking.

    Given that all theatres - and therefore, presumably, all stages - are of different sizes and proportions, when a production is going to tour... how does the company know that the set will always fit on the stage? Is it somehow adjustable or...

    Do I look like a complete noodle now?

    Sophie xx

  3. Hi Sophie,
    Most theatres have a stage that is larger than the set so you put the set up and have lots of room back stage. The management check the dimensions before they book the theatre and most have plenty of room. Sometimes you only just fit in and the backstage space is really limited.
    I should imagine that, if this tour continues after I leave, they will play some of the smaller theatres and may have to adjust the set, but for now we are playing large theatres and they have massive sets.
    These large theatres are odd backstage. You rattle around in them. They are designed for massive musicals and pantos.

    Love Mike x