Wednesday, 18 August 2010

A-whelping

I’m currently sitting in the bar of the Soho Theatre. It’s our American friend, Carey’s birthday, and I’ve ventured into town for a bite to eat and a lengthy chat about the state of British Musical Theatre. It’s astonishing to see how the grass is always perceived as greener. Carey swears that the climate, the culture and the nightlife of London knocks New York into a cocked hat. I think he’s very much mistaken.


The music in here is inappropriately loud. This is a theatre bar, not a night club.

I worked this morning until I started shaking; a mixture of caffeine and pent-up energy, I suspect. I’m writing in incredible detail at the moment. It’s lovely to have the time to really get into the notes, but it makes my head hurt. Periodically, I have to stand up and do lots of stretching and staring into the middle distance because I’ve been hunched over the computer with my eyes glued to streams of tiny little dots.

Today is my parents’ Ruby Wedding anniversary. That’s 40 years of marriage, which I think is astonishing. At the moment they’re with the extended family in Dorset. There’s a party for friends this weekend, which we’re going to. Brother Edward and I are going to do speeches and Edward will undoubtedly put me to shame. He’s a toastmaster extraordinaire and structures his speeches like mini stage plays. I remember him doing a speech at a sort of school reunion a few years ago and I’ve never felt so proud. I fear I’m far more shambolic and will no doubt wander around the tables muttering to myself, whilst feeling incredibly emotional...

That said, I suppose one of the benefits of writing a daily blog is that words have started to come more quickly into my head. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of making a speech in public, and probably would have chosen to sing something instead, or just sat watching the others, wishing I’d had more courage to get up. When you’re a composer, you get very used to thinking you’re no good with words. Even as a director, I never felt particularly articulate. I just used to wave my arms around and tell people to try something different if I didn’t think it was working. I learnt a very valuable lesson about being too prescriptive with actors early on in my career. I watched an actress giving what I’d considered to be an Olivier Award-winning delivery of a song. After she’d finished I told her exactly what I thought she’d been playing as subtext and how moving her interpretation had been. I was incredibly shocked, therefore, to discover that she’d simply been thinking about what she was going to have for tea that night, and whether she’d be able to get a lift home with one of the other actors! From then on in, she tried to think all the thoughts I’d told her I’d seen, and her performance was never as good...

I have a very tight chest today. Perhaps it’s the weather. The rain has made things very muggy and the air feels incredibly heavy.

350 years ago, and Pepys went to Westminster by water with his wife. He landed her at Whitefriars and gave her 5l to buy herself a petticoat, which seems like a fair old price to pay for a petticoat in those days. He should have gone to Matalan. I think he was expecting some change, because he was “somewhat troubled” when Elizabeth reappeared saying that his father had recommended she buy a “most fine cloth of 26s a yard, and a rich lace” which not only maxed out the budget, but required Pepys to dip his hand into his pocket again. Elizabeth knew that she was becoming a trophy wife!

During lunch, Captain Robert Ferrers appeared. He had a tendency to do that. He’s one of my favourite characters from the diary, because he’s plainly unhinged, prone to mania and no doubt came from the family who gave their name to my childhood town of Higham Ferrers. Ferrers, like the volatile cad he was, whisked Pepys away to the Cockpitt Theatre where they saw The Loyall Subject, remarkable only in that it featured Edward Kynaston who was one of the last “boy players” (boys who played women on stage) of the Restoration period. The doors had recently been opened to women and would never be closed again. Pepys nevertheless writes that Kynaston “made the loveliest lady that ever I saw in my life.” He was so impressed that he took the lad out drinking afterwards. Pepys eventually found his way home but went to bed, leaving Elizabeth up with their dog, which was “a-whelping”, or giving birth.

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