Monday, 29 February 2016

R and R

It's been a day of r and r. Nathan worked at the box office. I sat on a sofa wrapped in a towel watching episodes of Frasier. I know for a fact that I have seen every episode of that show: Nathan and I got the box set and watched it beginning to end over the course of a few months. Despite this, every time I watch an episode out of context, I can't remember how it ends. It's like I'm watching it for the first time!

So I watched Frasier, had lunch in the local spoon, tidied up a bit, threw on yesterday's smelly clothes and headed off to central London to see Beyond The Fence. Reviews have been predictably luke warm, but audience reactions on websites have been extraordinarily positive, proving that, although critics might not like a formula, the general public does.

I was heartened by my Mum today who said she recognised every single one of the women on that stage, and that the show had taken her back to our long days on the CND commune. I asked if she thought the women should have been more political and whether we should have had them engaging in more political debate. "Absolutely not" came the response, "that's not how we were."

My cousin Bridg was watching the repeat of the documentary on Sky Arts tonight and sent a text to say how proud she was of us. She'd apparently been shouting things at the telly like "I was his mother's bridesmaid!" I just look at it and watch the progression of a man putting on two stones in weight!

The show was great tonight. Good and clean. A stack load of friends were there including two of the NYMT mothers, which was just fabulous. One of them, Robin's Mum, has instantly bought herself tickets for tomorrow because she loved the show so much.

Nathan had some of his knitting folk in and my publishers at R and H were also there. Dean, who was the MD on Taboo came, along with John Hay from Channel 4 and, as he put it, "loads of people I recognised from your wedding" including Amy Bird and Luke Fredericks, whose friend said he wanted to put Annie Wensak (who plays Margie in the show) on his mantelpiece! I agree.

There was a talk afterwards where members of the audience got to interrogate us about our process and look a bit perplexed at the answers we were giving. We finally got a chance to publicly thank Kat Mace, who was in the audience, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes with Clarissa the Cloud Lyricist, sifting through heaps of nonsense to pull out the few phrases and words which actually made sense. Throughout the process she's been nothing but a joy to work with... She's operated boom mics, filmed sequences, done research and smiled every single day. She's a precious ray of sunshine.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Scones

I woke up this morning unable to hear. I've felt the wax building up in my ears for some time but think the cold I had a week ago has somehow dislodged it. Noises were echoing inside my head almost as though the sounds were reverberating in a cavity between my ear drum and the wax itself. A year or so ago, Nathan, who has always had problems with his ears, discovered a rather special NHS walk-in clinic in Parson's Green where they do syringing, and fortunately it's open on Sunday mornings, so we immediately hot-footed it over there.

I turns out that my Eustachian tubes are blocked, and that there's no issue with wax whatsoever. Apparently they'll clear by themselves, which is a shame because I love having my ears syringed. The warm water. The clicking. The rush of treble as the wax and water dissipate...

Before I forget, I must take this opportunity to put the record straight on a statement I wrote in my blog last night. I rather blithely mentioned that I wished the producers of our show had invited CND activists to see the piece. It turns out they have. In fact, they've been hugely thorough in their efforts in this regard. So there. I apologise for any offence caused.

From Parson's Green we drove due East to Philippa's house in Columbia Road where we spent a much-needed, very charming couple of hours playing with my god children, making scones, eating scones, cutting shapes out of play dough, and painting. I appreciate that I tend to write about nothing other than being ill and eating on this blog, so today's entry is like a mega-cliche!

Philippa's writing career is really taking off. I'm so thrilled for her. She has two feature films which will be released next year and has so much writing work she's booked up for a year! It's time for me to get an agent. My last one didn't feel equipped to represent me in telly work, so it felt a bit silly to continue our relationship! So many of the problems we had on Beyond the Fence would have been fixed by having an agent. Everything becomes so much less personal. I've always longed to tell someone who's being a bit tricky to "talk to my agent." It's the polite version of "talk to the hand..." My mate Matt always tells me I need an agent when the shite hits the pipe!

It is blissful to have a day off. This is the first day we've had off with nothing hanging over us for four months! Imagine that?!

I've come home to watch the Voice with Nathan. My mate Harry has tipped me off that there's a trans performer singing Kate Bush on it, which, let's face it, is my idea of heaven!

Rally

This morning Nathan and I were up with the lark, and being bundled into a taxi to Isleworth where we'd been invited to talk on Sky News' breakfast show. We were the final interview of the morning, and sat in make-up whilst last year's British Eurovision hopeful talked about the two lads who have been selected to represent Royaume Uni this year. The song was chosen last night. I haven't yet heard it but have been told that Brother Edward and Sascha were in the front row of the selection show.

We were interviewed by a lovely chap from Cumbria with a blingy taste in rings which felt rather incongruous for a newsreader in a suit and tie. We exited into the cold morning light covered in foundation and looking like wax works. Why do they put make up on blokes? A bit of powder on the shiny bits is surely enough.

We were deposited back in Highgate, had breakfast in the local spoon, and then made our way into town to attend the anti-trident march, which started at Marble Arch. I was instantly taken back to my childhood as we walked through the streets waving our placards. The chants have changed. When I last marched against nuclear missiles, we shouted "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie. Out, out, out!" I felt proud to be there today. 34 years on. Still flying the flag. There must have been 20,000 people there. Maybe more. To me it was astonishing that such a huge anti-nuclear demonstration coincided with Beyond The Fence. If only the producers of our show had thought to invite some CND supporters along.


I made the mistake of reading one of our reviews today. It was passable, but, as I predicted, did what all reviewers of new musicals do and predicted that the music we'd written wouldn't stand the test of time. I don't really know why reviewers bother to comment on music they're hearing for the first time. Surely no one can accurately predict whether a song will have longevity based on one hearing. I'm also going to get rather bored of the typical "anti-computer" response which inevitably leads to the cast being praised for breathing emotion into emotionless material. Dull. I'll read no more!

There were two shows today and lots of our friends and family were in. Too many to mention. The matinee was a good clean performance. The audience were very quiet and polite, but then went crazy at the end. Lots stood. There was a huge amount of cheering.

We had tea with Nathan's family, Tina, Uncle Bill and Mezza and then returned to the theatre for the evening show. The cast were exhausted. It's unsurprising. And the audience, again, were quiet - perhaps even more quiet than they'd been in the afternoon. I could sense the actors waiting for laughs which didn't come. It was all a bit strange, because, once again, at the end, lot of people stood up.

Meriel sat next to me in Act Two and fell apart during In Our Hearts. I held her hand. I hope the experience was cathartic rather than traumatic. Philippa reported a group of girls so distraught at the end that they couldn't leave their seats. I kinda thought we'd written a comedy! Confused.com.

I was deeply proud of the cast, who came onto stage for their bows holding the placards we'd carried on the march and left backstage. It felt like such a wonderful and appropriate way to show their solidarity.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

The experiment is over

So, this evening our show, Beyond the Fence, officially opened at the Arts Theatre in central London. It's been a struggle, but we made it! Tonight's performance was a gala which was filmed in its entirety for Sky Arts. The audience were hugely receptive. Many stood at the end. The applause was good and long. Most cried. My mother, sitting next to me, sobbed for most of act two. The show took her right back to her days with CND. She wore the CND logo on a pendant around her neck. The cast were well-focussed and full of energy. Everyone raised their game.

Nathan and I had mugs made for the cast and crew with the show's logo on them. We handed them out to everyone and I think they went down a storm.

The after-show party was well-attended which is always a good sign. People slope off rapidly if they think a show is a turkey. I don't think the press will be kind, however. They tend not to be particular gracious about new musicals (only time can decide if a show's score is a classic) and I think the scientific/ computer aspect will mean that reviewers will feel the need to "spot" something wrong.

The debate rages on about whether we've under-played the central relationship in the piece. This evening I felt we'd got it right. There's a wistfulness. A subtlety. An elegiac "will they, won't they" quality which doesn't undermine the Greenham Common backdrop of the show. The last image you see is the women protesting against nuclear missiles and that feels right.

I hope the show lives on. I really do.

At the end of the party, Nathan and I were taken into another room for our final camera interview for the documentary. It was a deeply emotional moment. Nathan revealed that the scientists had told him Clarissa, the word cloud lyricist, the computer system which we've battled with, hated and resented over the last four months, was being taken off line... The computer equivalent of euthanasia. For some reason the news hit me like a brick and I burst into tears. I was laughing and crying simultaneously. It's so strange. I realise that I've needed to humanise every computer system in order to be able to farm it for emotional material. Somehow, I've needed to feel that a system wanted me to feel something specific rather than merely offering me a random selection of zeros and ones which I've interpreted in my own way. The idea that Clarissa is dead signifies that the experiment is over: the experiment which has engulfed us for four months. And that's a both a great relief and a great sadness.



Friday, 26 February 2016

Bionic

Am I the only person who gets a little embarrassed when disabled athletes on telly are described as being "super human?" It seems you can't turn Channel 4 on these days without someone talking about the Paralympics and using that kind of language. For me it's deeply patronising: you can imagine some sort of focus group sitting around the table saying, "how can we empower these poor little people?" "Should we call them bionic?" "No. That implies they're made of metal..."

I feel rather similarly about people who describe little children with illnesses as "brave." In the early 1980s, male game show hosts had a tendency to ask audiences to applaud women who said they were "just housewives." Ghastly.

How about we simply call them athletes? If they win gold they are the best disabled athletes in their field. I'm sure they don't require our pity. And until I see one of them flying or showing me an actual super human trait, I will refuse to call them anything other than what they are.

We were at the theatre all day today doing publicity for Beyond The Fence. We spent a large part of the day with Michelle Miller from CBS news in America, who was charming and fierce (in the true American sense of the word.) She was approachable and knew exactly how to get the very best out of her interviewees. She also described me as "├╝ber masculine" which I rather liked! The American crew were highly complimentary about Nathan and me in general and seemed astonished that we were able to finish each other's sentences. We chatted to our new friends for much of the rest of the afternoon, taking on pretty much every subject under the sun.

A Japanese crew was also in. Rather predictably they were only interested in the technology and computational side of the experiment, so we weren't required to talk to them. Is it racist of me to say that one of them looked like a Pokemon?

Tonight's show was good. It wasn't the cleanest or most energised we've had, and, I'll be honest and say that I'm not sure I didn't miss some of the material we were encouraged to take out yesterday. It's very confusing. You spend days and days writing material and then get given an hour to unstitch it all. Theatre is hard!

There was a Q and A after the show which happened on the stage. Many of the audience stayed behind to listen, which was lovely. It showed that there's genuine interest in this process.

We had lots of friends in the audience. Shannon and Cam. Brother Edward and his crew. Tash all the way from Northampton. Julie and Sam. Abbie and her family. Jordan, Alex, Perry, Laura, Tom and Jack from NYMT. It was like one of the parties we used to throw at Fortess Road in the late 1990s! Everyone seemed to enjoy what they saw. Of course, as writers, you spend your time reading between the lines and getting paranoid about what your friends say afterwards, "darling, I'm so proud of you. You created a thing..." Was perhaps the nearest we came to being damned with faint praise today!!

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Roller coaster

Today has been something of an emotional roller-coaster. We were in the theatre bar at noon with our director Luke, who greeted us with an outrageous idea for a comprehensive script rewrite he thought might fix the issues we've been having with audience responses to what can only be described as the "declaration of love" sequence. Luke outlined his proposal. I immediately rejected it. He came at it from a different angle. We thought for a while, and then rejected the idea again. He tried a third angle. We put pen to paper to see if we could make it work. Nathan stormed off because he thought he couldn't. I persisted. Nathan came back. I went for lunch whilst he persisted. We coaxed and cajoled the script into something we felt happy with, put it on its feet with the cast, and, when it seemed okay, the change went in... Luke's instincts were correct.

It was a very stressful few hours! I think perhaps it was worse for the cast who were handed new sides at 4pm, given a couple of run-throughs and told they'd be performing it in front of an audience that night. As the scene rolled in, Nathan and I grabbed each other and crossed our fingers nervously... but it worked. And it worked very well.

There was a shift tonight. The cast felt it. The musicians felt it. We now have a show which has been bedded in - and it's one that people feel relaxed about and confident in. There was a different attitude in the bar afterwards. People hung about. The cast were smiling. We've cracked it as much as the show will ever be cracked in this run, and we are collectively relieved.

We went out for a drink afterwards. I'm playing Cupid with two members of the company and a weirdly synchronistic thing happened between them today, which I'm taking to be a great sign... When you get to my age, and are all settled down like an old married men with a pipe, slippers and episodes of Ru Paul, you take great delight in fixing people up. Well I do anyway... But then I always have.

The relief was followed by the weird pain/ pleasure sensation of the cast of the new version of Brass finally finding out the results of their auditions. Some are sad. Some are happy. God I hate this business sometimes. It's a tough old world and when you're right at the start of your career, it can be a desperately painful one.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Preview two

We got to the theatre this morning and sat in the stalls with the cast whilst the director, choreographer and music team gave their notes. The most extraordinary thing happened at one point when the entire cast suddenly started screaming, like some sort of insane Toronto Blessing. It was bizarre. I thought I was in a production of The Crucible. The hysteria spread through the velvet seats like a wild fire! Even I started yelling, thinking one of the cast was having a fit, or something had fallen from the ceiling and decapitated someone.

It turned out a large beetle had run across the floor. A blessed beetle! Not even a rat! What a load of fuss about nothing! 

We rehearsed through the afternoon and hastily rewrote a scene. Poor Ako in the cast bore the brunt of changes - I watched his face panicking as we continued to change sequences.

That's the nature of a preview period. For a show with an open-ended West End run, the previews would last up to a month, and herald major changes. Numbers get cut and re-written. People lose their songs. Some cast members go from having principal roles to becoming members of the chorus. I think Memory in Cats was written in previews. It's a crucial period.

We have a very complicated moment in the show which involves a declaration of love. I won't say more than that because I don't want to spoil anyone's enjoyment. It does seem to be shocking people, however, and causing rather extreme and weird responses from the audience. On the first night someone laughed really loudly... So we're re-writing the scene in an attempt to ensure this doesn't happen again, as it's a little off-putting for the actors. 

Lots of friends came to see the show tonight. Ellie arrived just after 6pm, and we sat and ate macaroni in the circle whilst the cast warmed up onstage. 

Little Welsh Nathalie and Little Michelle were both there. Michelle brought her Dad and Ben. David Gregory from the Rebel Chorus was also in the audience. Luke the director seems astonished by the amount of friends we have. Perhaps he doesn't like us very much! 

I overheard a woman talking in the bar. She said she'd read in the Guardian that the show was about Greenham and had to come along. I turned around to see a woman with greying hair in a pair of crazy plaits who was plainly once a Greenham women. We had a little chat and I explained that I was the co-writer of the show. She shook me by the hand and thanked me profusely for "remembering us." I explained that I'd been really worried that the Greenham women would hate the piece as a result of the writers being men (and a computer!) She rolled her eyes to heaven: "if I wanted to write about Napolean, no one would complain that I wasn't French!" I liked the fact that she'd come to see the show because of its subject matter rather than its scientific premise! 

She loved the show. I could hear her laughing and cooing in the audience behind me. She came up to me afterwards to thank me for triggering so many memories. I felt rather chuffed.
The show was better today. Neater. The cast were a little flatter in terms of energy, and there were one or two eggy moments. Someone tripped. Someone forgot to make their entrance. Typical second night. But the audience loved it. No one stood, but the applause lasted through the play out and beyond. Hurrah. 

We went for a drink afterwards with Nathalie, David and Llio in a pub with a Welsh flag flying outside. It was the first post-theatre-show drink I've had as a working West End professional since I worked on Taboo 13 years ago. It felt good. I'd like to do it more.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Openings

So, tonight Beyond The Fence opened in the West End. It was a somewhat surreal experience, made all the more surreal because I only slept for an hour last night and have been nursing a cut on my forehead and bruises down my arms all day. I had to keep reminding myself to drink things in. Walking into a theatre with a huge lit up marquee with "Beyond The Fence" written all over it, and our names on a poster outside, is something which isn't going to happen to me every day of my life. In fact, I may never experience it again after this two-week run.

The cast were brilliant and technical issues were limited to a few glitches on the projections. We finally got to see which jokes were landing, and, largely speaking, our instincts were good.

Michelle of the Turkie was there, along with Nathan's Dad and Wicked Step Mother and Ruby and Ben from the original cast of Brass. No one from this year's casts has yet been told if he or she has been given a part. I think they're expecting the news on Thursday. It's a horrible wait for people. And possibly worse for me because I know that some of them are going to be hugely disappointed whilst others will be thrilled. The theatre world is a cut throat place. You go up and down like a yoyo.

Fiona came up to see me in Highgate today. Her presence was like a breath of fresh air. For some bizarre reason we met in the local post office and I got hugely emotional when I saw her face. When I was younger I had a recurring dream about losing my mind, and locking myself in a loo cubical, not being able to work out who I was. In the dream the only voice I could recognise from the outside was Fiona's. It was an odd dream: probably an indication of how much I value her friendship whilst simultaneously telling me quite how much I fear losing my mind. I thought about that dream as I walked into the post office. Fiona gave me a big "I'm here now" hug and everything slotted into perspective. Here's to old friends.

We spent the afternoon together like we've spent so many an afternoon, walking for miles and talking quickly.

I've actually felt incredibly loved and supported throughout the night and today. Lots of people texted and emailed to wish us luck for the show, and others called when they realised there was something wrong, including Matt Lucas, who phoned from LA at 4am this morning as I sat up staring wistfully at the television set. It was so lovely to hear his voice, half way across the world.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Recalls

I sweated like cheese in cling film through the night. Nathan said he went to the loo at one point and describes the act of getting back into bed like rolling into a puddle. I kept having to turn the pillow. Ah! The joys of colds! Getting out of bed was deeply depressing and I realised I was not going to get through this really important day without some sort of heavy-duty medicine.

The trouble is, when I get tired or ill like this, I lose even more of the few filters I have when talking to young people. As those who know me will attest to, I never think about what I'm saying. I speak fast and regret/ repent at leisure. It simply pours out of my mouth in a torrent of profanity and inappropriateness. I dread to think what will happen when I'm senile!

Does anyone reading this find themselves looking at the "baby on board" badges women wear on the underground and wondering if the person wearing it is actually pregnant? Is that a really bad thing to say?

So recalls for Brass went spectacularly well. They were brilliantly organised by Jezza and we saw some supremely talented actors and had really intense sessions with them. I'm dreading some of the young people finding out what has happened, and excited about others...

It was fabulous to see so many former Brassers there. Many of them are now at drama schools and have improved beyond all measure. There's a gravitas and focus developing in them which was thrilling to witness.

Some of the young people were hugely well-prepared, others hadn't really bothered. One girl, a Yorkshire lass, made the ludicrous decision to tell our prospective assistant director that she wanted to be in Spring Awakenings so hadn't looked at her material for Brass. Her audition was disastrous, she felt like a fool, and she went from top of my previous list to bottom of my new one!

Others hadn't bothered to learn their scripts or the songs. We heard every excuse in the book. At one stage I just wanted to scoop one lad up and say, "there are so many brilliant kids who are off-book and acting their socks off, why on earth would I give you a part?" Bothering to learn a page of sides tells a writer and director that you care about the project, and furthermore that you're going to learn your lines and not throw down excuses willy-nilly in the future.

In the end, the casting decisions needed to be made by Hannah the director. Quite a number of original Brassers haven't been given their original roles, which made me feel awful, but, I'm hoping they'll have precious memories from the last time which will carry them through. Others have been offered ensemble roles.

We ate pizza and spent two hours making our decisions, and then a further hour mopping up after one of those inevitable clashes you get with NYMT when two productions want the same actor to play leads. If neither have an alternative, there is no amount of negotiation that can be done, so the actor is called and given the choice. On this occasion we lost out, so had to scramble around, desperately swapping people about.

We got there though, and I'm so excited to see how the show starts to develop.

I came home and had to wade through a hefty wad of nonsense in the form of the sort of out of hours incendiary emails which have become the benchmark of my life. There was a bit of a scene and I got incredibly distressed, managing to walk two miles. I don't know where I thought I was going. I then didn't sleep.

Bullying is a funny thing. I remember being in the third year at school and this girl who used to prod at me constantly, making cruel and snide remarks. I'd repeatedly tell her to stop, but she continued. In the end I told her that if she did what she was doing one more time, I'd punch her. She did. I punched her. Not very hard. But she burst into tears, went to tell a teacher and I got into terrible trouble.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Well ropey

I woke up this morning with a cold ricocheting through my body. It was never going to be a good day to get ill. With NYMT recalls all day and a dress rehearsal this evening, I needed to be on my A-game. Instead of this, through most of the day, I felt like someone had stuffed jay cloths in the cavities of my head and run a wheel barrow of bricks over my body. I was snorting like one of those dreadful pug dogs on the tube this morning. A hoity-toity woman kept shooting disapproving looks in my direction. I wanted to yell at her and tell her that sitting in a tube was infra dig and that she shouldn't expect too much of her fellow travellers, but then I heard myself sniffing and thought she was probably within her rights to be horrified!

I wonder if anyone's ever tried to iron a pug dog?

So today we had the first day of recalls for Brass. I had a special guest judge in the style of Sinitta off of the X Factor, except my judge was a lot more exciting and took the form of Jake Brunger from the writing partnership Jake and Pippa who wrote last year's NYMT new commission, Prodigy. Our director, Hannah, wasn't able to make today's session, so it was vital I had someone with me who could take an objective view. I have to be very careful when it comes to walking the line between my natural desire to cast the young people who did the show last time and wanting to offer new opportunities. My decision has been to wipe the slate clean and cast the show entirely based on what we see in the audition room.

Recalls are very tiring for everyone. We have two and a half hours to work with a group of just fifteen young people, so everyone gets worked incredibly hard.

I, of course, meticulously planned everything, but the best made plans always go to pot, and quite a number of the kids came to the wrong sessions, so I was scribbling names on pieces of paper all over the place. I was also trying to film everyone for Hannah, which was a nightmare because my phone kept running out of both battery and storage. So irritating. Particularly in the throes of a cold.

I went from NYMT to the Arts Theatre to the dress rehearsal of Beyond the Fence, which was as heartening as it was terrifying!

And now I'm home feeling well ropey!

Friday, 19 February 2016

BBC interview

We woke up in Manchester this morning. Our hotel room at the Holiday Inn in Salford Quays is almost painfully geared towards BBC staff and their guests. I've stayed there before. There's free wifi, a big swanky desk in each room, and power sockets on every inch of wall.

It annoys me slightly. The BBC must waste the most astounding amount of money getting their guests and part-time staff from London to Manchester. I'm afraid no one on earth will ever convince me that major shows like BBC Breakfast have benefitted from moving to Manchester. How many of the big-named guests and politicians that people genuinely want to see interviewed are ever going to be passing through a Northern city? Or, for that matter, be that fussed about heading up to one for the sake of a five-minute interview? I'm a great fan of regionality, but by far the largest number of theatres and cultural institutions are in London and, because of this; that's the place where the interviews need to happen. End of. Television Centre should never have been closed.

The interview itself was a bit surreal. The presenter was charming, but I instantly did the thing where I realised I was being watched live by 2 million people and just wanted to swear! When there's three of you on the sofa, there's always someone else who can jump in. Usually Nathan!

I realised when people started tweeting pictures of us on air how much this gruelling project has affected the way I look. I'm two stone heavier and embarrassingly jowly. The fact that I've comfort eaten my way through the hell makes me feel rather ashamed and angry with myself. I genuinely can't wait to sort my sorry self out!

We took the train back to London and worked all the way. I've been carefully prepping this weekend's recalls for Brass. It turns out I've recalled far fewer young people than I'd initially thought, which means we'll really have the time to be able to work the auditionees hard and find out who has the right spirit to be a Brasser.

During the afternoon we attended the technical rehearsal at the Arts Theatre. It's all going well, I think. They're getting through the show at a good speed and the teams are brilliantly efficient. The dress rehearsals start tomorrow. Cressida the choreographer and Luke the director had things very much in hand, so we felt a little like spare parts and took ourselves home for the evening to recharge a bit before the final push next week. I will be at the theatre now solidly, every night, for the next two weeks.

I'll leave you with a pearl of wisdom from the lovely (if not a little macabre) Sharon Needles from Ru Paul's Drag Race

"If anyone boos you off stage, that's just applause from ghosts."

Manchesterama

We’re in sunny Manchester, except, it not sunny, it’s raining, because it always rains in Manchester. We’re here because we’re going to be on BBC Breakfast tomorrow morning talking about Beyond The Fence. We’ve been put up in the Holiday Inn at Salford Quays. The lovely Cat is also here and we’ve just had a hot chocolate night cap down in the bar. It was a Starbucks hot chocolate. I’m told the hot chocolates in these sorts of places are filled with so much sugar that I can expect my teeth to fall out any moment. It didn’t taste that sweet. Mind you, that said, we had a raspberry jelly on the train up which apparently was laced with 10% of my daily recommended salt in take. And that was cheesy-cheek sweet. What the hell’s going on?!

They’ve been teching in the theatre all day today. I’m never sure how to spell that word. I have a similar problem when writing about micing/ miking things. Spell check refuses to acknowledge either word.

I don’t think I should ever be allowed in a tech. I always make myself unpopular by being unable to keep my mouth sewn shut when something goes wrong. Actually I think they’re going at a brilliant speed, so I don’t know why I’m panicking. I’m hardly taking my own advice and allowing this to be an exercise in letting go!

We met a horrible man on the tube from Leicester Square to Euston. It was rush hour and, as he got onto the train, he shoved me from behind and shouted for every one to move down within the carriage. At the next stop a few people got off, and he decided to push past me angrily to stand further inside the carriage. He had mean little eyes, and horrible hair. He got off the train with us at King’s Cross and decided to walk behind me on the platform and kick the little suitcase that I was wheeling along. He pushed past me (again) and then stood, waiting for a fight at the end of the platform. “Why the hell did you kick my bag?” I said, “why the hell are you dragging it along behind you? It’s plainly light enough to carry under your arm!” “I don’t want to carry it under my arm. That’s why it’s got wheels…” And so the insults flew… We stormed away as I shouted, “get a haircut…” I’d plainly run out of sensible things to say, but I like to think he’ll take this particular piece of advice to heart. He’ll be much happier with shorter hair. I know these things.

I was lucky enough to get the chance to meet up with my brother Tim and his husband John when we arrived in Manchester. We took ourselves to Canal Street and had a drink in an empty bar. The bar we’d initially decided to drink in was apparently being haunted by a terrible drag queen so Tim and John had gone running for the hills.

Thursday night is drag night on Canal Street and I quite like bad drag… But it was lovely to be able to sit and natter rather than shout over the top of someone lip-synching for their lives.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Letting go

We've been at the Arts Theatre for much of the day today, largely with the band, running various section of the show, firstly in a rehearsal room (where we were constantly interrupted by people asking us if we could keep the noise down) and then in what's known as a "seating call", where the band play for a while in the place where they'll be sitting during the show whilst various sound people rush around getting levels and positioning mics.

We also saw the set for the first time in most of its eventual glory and, my God, those who come to watch the show are in for a treat. The Arts Theatre has never before housed a show with so many lights and extraordinary visuals. It's a very small theatre for the scale of the show, which means those watching are going to be knocked sideways by the power of the piece. They're going to feel like the actors are right there in their laps. It's hugely exciting. Please please come!!

It's quite astounding to think how much our project has grown. Our decision to feature an eponymous fence in the show, and have the women climb over it, for example, means that enormous teams of people needed to be brought onto the project to fix the problems which this particular idea presented. We needed a giant fence. We needed to be able to get the women over it safely. The fence needed to be designed and built. And so it goes on with every one of the challenges our script posed.

The thought that people (actors, directors, designers, musicians) have poured over our script, practised complicated little musical runs, got their heads around the meaning of certain phrases, painted signs, ordered and made props simply to bring what we've written to life is hugely thrilling.

I don't know why all of that struck me today. Maybe it's because we've been able to stop running around like headless chickens and simply observe for the first time. Perhaps it's because Nathan has continually encouraged us both to drink some of these moments in. Seeing our names on a huge billboard outside the theatre helped. It suddenly made us feel validated - like all the way along on the project people knew how much work we were doing to keep the experiment on track, interrogating every system, pushing every computer process as far as it could be pushed, even down to allowing computers to select the names of the characters... All the tiny little things that will eventually be forgotten or brushed aside by the headlines of the project.

Anyway. I feel proud. Terrified of course. Scared that things will go wrong, or not be as good as they could be. I'm a natural-born worrier. I like to work out everything that can possibly go wrong and how it might be fixed, even though, on this project, I realise the worrying is always someone else's job. I can merely sit in the audience and enjoy the show.

This has never really happened to me before. I've always needed to be hands on. The night of the London Requiem I was directing the television coverage. When the Fleet Singers perform my work, I'm often singing. Or conducting. Or rushing about. Or taking notes. Or panicking. This is a fabulous exercise in letting go. But am I too much of a control freak to allow that to happen?

We'll see...

In lights

This morning was a morning of admin. I got myself a giant list and ticked the points off one by one. I'm now in a hurry to tie up all the loose ends on Beyond the Fence, so that I can actually start to think about the rest of my life... Which is an empty chasm right now. I walked into our kitchen yesterday and stared miserably at the piles of rubbish on the floor; the unwashed dishes and the clothing spewing out of the tumble drier. It's time to reclaim my life and that reclamation begins with spring cleaning.

As of today our show is in its tech, so, apart from finding a few more trims to get the overall length down by another five minutes, there's a limit to what I can or should try to achieve. Famous last words...

The big news is that I've finished my compliance documents which give the scientists who want to write papers on the experiment all the information they need in terms of what musical phrase came from which computational system. It's vital stuff in terms of evidence but hopelessly dull. The lyrics have all been through the same rigorous analysis and yesterday it was revealed that 25% of every word being sung in the show has its origins in computer processes. A much higher percentage than we'd thought.

I went to osteopathy at lunch time and exited feeling like a cloud. Nathan realised he was meant to be working at the box office today so there was a mad panic as he rushed off to work. I called in on him on my way to the theatre for rehearsals and saw quite what a smash hit the show Motown has already become. It's only just opened at the Shaftesbury where he works and has already extended its booking period to next year. The phones were ringing off the hook and a steady flow of customers were coming to the windows. Its advance is mega.

It's a little sad that an unremarkable juke box show like Motown would sell so well. The majority of people coming just want to sing and dance along to the songs. I do wish that the same people would also think about coming to see something a little more grown-up, thought-provoking and original.

We had rehearsals all afternoon at the Arts Theatre and it was really exciting to walk up to the venue and see the marquee with all its flashing lights and the words "Beyond The Fence" written in huge letters. I was proud to see our name all over the poster outside. We have to keep reminding ourselves from now on that however awful the ride has been at times, we are about to see our first musical in the West End, which is exciting beyond words.

We're not yet able to rehearse on the stage, and, in fact, the show's designer wants Nathan and me not to see the set until it's ready, so we were rehearsing in rooms above the theatre... Rooms which got double booked in the evening, causing us to hot-foot it round the corner to the Actor's Centre for the evening session.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Three degrees cooler

It's very icy in Highgate tonight. In fact, as usual, it's two degrees colder here than it is anywhere else in London. Our car thermometer always confirms this fact.

Today started in central London at the Arts Theatre where we were interviewed for Radio 4. I think we're on a show called PM on Monday afternoon, but I don't listen to the radio at that kind of time, so don't even know what PM stands for. One assumes post meridian?

The chap who interviewed us also spoke to us on air when we got married. He reminded us of this particular fact when he shook our hands. I don't remember much about the whirl of interviews we did the morning of the broadcast of our wedding. It was only two days after the wedding itself and we'd barely slept. We were running around from pillar to post, taking taxis across London. I even ran into a live TV interview half way through. It was all very surreal.

Anyway, today's chap was most polite, erudite, intelligent and, in a nutshell, brilliantly old school BBC. His sort have mostly been replaced by gurning, vapid 25 year-old women who nod like ludicrous nodding dogs.

They're doing the "get in" at the theatre at the moment. There were tree trunks all over the place. I guess that means the trees on set are real trees!

We had a lovely lunch with Cat afterwards. Cat's the brilliant woman who designed the experiment and directed the TV show, the first episode of which we saw two nights ago. It's brilliantly done: informative, witty, tongue-in-cheek... There's an incredibly uncomfortable moment when I'm talking to the man in charge of our computer music system which will, I'm certain, make everyone's toes curl!

We came home, did a little homework, and then decided to take ourselves off to Thaxted. It's been our first evening off in an age, and I haven't seen the parents for far too long. My Mum managed to whip up a Moroccan dish for us to eat, Nathan knitted a scarf for a teddy bear and we went through my Mum's special box, where she's kept piles of photographs, cards and newspaper cuttings. There was an open fire, lots of mini chocolates and tea on tap.

We travelled home in bright moonlight. It took twice the time we'd expected due to the M11 being closed. We were forced to take an astounding diversion through Hertford of all places.

This evening we also listened to a wonderful and deeply moving radio documentary about the Coventry Blitz by my brilliantly talented mate Siobhan Harrison, which is totally worth a listen to. Get your hankies out!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p036cb83

Sunday, 14 February 2016

My Brassy Valentine

You know when you write an entire blog entry, press a button by mistake and somehow manage to irreparably lose the lot? That!

It's Valentine's Day today, and Nathan and I have just had a rather lovely meal in a little Turkish restaurant on South End Green. We had "his and her" moussakas. Mine was vegetarian. His had meat in it. And we shared a Greek Salad.

The rest of the day was spent back in Pimlico, not with the cast of Beyond the Fence, but running auditions for NYMT.

Today was the last of the first round of auditions. Next weekend, the recalls take place. It was a record breaking session with around 100 young people, split into four age groups, and the day started with a mega-selfie taken by Kate Golledge, the director of one of this season's other shows.

The NYMT is such a happy family. Our grandad is Jeremy James Taylor, who founded the company exactly forty years ago. Jeremy Walker is everyone's Dad. And I guess I'm like a naughty uncle. I adore spending time in the auditions. I always feel so welcomed and valued. It's like a Oasis of warmth in the middle of the arctic blast of the rest of my present life.

Today I was running acting auditions with young Jordan, who is assisting Nikolai Foster on Spring Awakenings. Because of the dark and angst-ridden subject matter of that particular show, NYMT has decided that no one below the age of 16 can be in it. The same age restrictions have been put on Brass, but that's more to do with licensing and the fact that it is written specifically for people aged 16-23.

Anyway, our acting auditions always start with improvisations based on the themes of Spring Awakenings, which are dark with a capital D. Rape. Drug abuse. Abortion. Sexual deviance. Suicide. The shocking list goes on and on. No wonder the original novel was banned for so long!

Anyone running sessions which explore these sorts of issues has a duty of care and I found myself constantly telling them all that they didn't have to say anything which made them feel uncomfortable and that if anything they took part in or watched triggered a strong emotional release it was worth talking it through with a trust-worthy adult.

I always reckoned Brass was something of an adult-themed show, but compared to Spring Awakenings it starts to resemble a Flintstones cartoon! I always use script from Brass because I find it hard to tell from improvisation alone how good an actor is. They may be brilliant at making stuff up, but if they don't know how to handle text, our battle becomes that much harder.

Those who get recalled for Brass do have to show that they can do a Yorkshire accent. There is no point in casting anyone in the piece who is likely to come unstuck in this respect. I was fairly astonished that quite a few of the young people today didn't know what a Yorkshire accent even sounded like! It is always such a thrill when a genuine Yorkshire person gets their hands on the script and doesn't even question a line like "I can't believe they sent t'Bradford lot out there just to cut t'grass." It is my goal to have as many legitimate Yorkshire folk in the show as I can. This production ought to be as authentic as possible. It marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme after all and tells the story of two real life groups of people.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Sitz

I spent the morning running NYMT auditions. I was only able to attend one session and we had some wonderful kids. It's really hard to make decisions about who to recall. When all the first round auditions have finished I think we'll have recalled 100 actors for just twenty roles. 2000 or so people have auditioned this year, most of whom have been absolutely brilliant, but my calculations suggest there's just a 1 in 100 chance of getting a role in the show. The sadness, of course, is that most of the people who audition are by far the best performers in the schools and drama clubs they come from. They are used to being heaped with praise and having their choice of roles, so not even getting a recall may come as something of a shock to them. I remember my brother once talking about the difficulty the bright kids from comprehensive schools had when they got to Cambridge university and discovered there were hundreds of other students who were as bright or brighter than they were. It's a horrible thing when you discover for the first time that your own star doesn't shine quite as brightly as you'd hoped.

I went from the auditions to King's Cross where we had the Sitz Probe for Beyond The Fence. A "Sitz" is the first time the band meet the singers of a show. Everyone is usually seated and the show is sung through. It gives everyone the first sense of what the show is all about - musically speaking. Singing new material with a full band is a very different experience from rehearsing with a pianist. The headline response was that the cast hadn't realise the music was going to be as rocky as it is. It's the first time I've written a proper rock score, so I suppose it's new territory for me as well. I'm proud of myself.

The rehearsal was a somewhat bitter-sweet experience. There are still lots of dodgy corners which make me nervous, but I was hugely relieved that everything hung together and that the cast seemed to be lifted and inspired by what I'd written.

Thank God for Llio who spent the whole rehearsal giving me the thumbs up and gestures of approval. The show's orchestrations are the only part of this entire process which no one can take away from me. No computer process is or can be listed as co-orchestrator, so a little part of me crumbled when everyone but Nathan and I got publicly thanked afterwards. It was an oversight of course. It shouldn't matter and if I weren't exhausted and hadn't nearly killed myself doing the orchestrations, I wouldn't have given two hoots, but I genuinely wanted to slope off and hide this evening. It's easy to think of me as a somewhat bombastic, perhaps arrogant individual, but underneath the bluster is someone who's handing art to the world - and that's one of the most vulnerable things you can do.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Interview

Days are lasting for years at the moment. We're so knackered that we ended up on the wrong branch of the Northern Line, and then, on our way back to the right station, we almost forgot to get off the train again. Earlier in the day, whilst heading to Elephant and Castle, I got off at the wrong stop, and had exited the tube at Kennington before I realised the errors of my ways! Gah!

Elephant and Castle is a horrible place. I've never really spent any time in that particular shit hole before and today I realised why. The whole district is a bewildering mass of market stalls, dangerous concrete underpasses and grotty-looking shops and garages stuffed into railway arches in the middle of a giant roundabout. Trying to get anywhere from any of the exits is almost impossible. It's difficult to even leave the station. There's only one lift. I queued for ages...

I was in Elephant and Castle to meet the lovely theatre critic Mark Shenton at the Southwark Playhouse. He was interviewing me, one assumes, for an article in the stage. I really like him. He is the only British theatre critic who truly gets and actually reveres musical theatre. His opinion really counts. He is the reason why Brass won the UK Theatre award and he is a huge supporter of my work. I hope he likes Beyond The Fence.

I was keen to speak to him so that he could get a real sense of our project: its genesis, its goals, and the nitty gritty of how what is seen on the stage has been created. I think many critics will instantly want to slate the piece. The computer angle will mean they'll almost certainly put everything good that they see down to a talented cast, and look for every flaw they can possibly find to blame on computers. I'm resigned to that as an idea, but I'm really pleased that Shenton will be able to judge the show from the perspective of inside knowledge... It was a pleasure talking to him because the questions he was asking demonstrated his true understanding of the form of musical theatre. "How on earth did they expect you to marry computer-inspired lyrics to computer-generated melodies?" He asked. "Thank you" I said, "you're the first person to realise the enormity of that particular problem..." He got it. Entirely.

Whilst I was being interviewed, the cast were running the show back in Pimlico. Act 1 is now a lot tighter. It's a full three minutes shorter, which is a relief because the running time of the show needs to be no more than 2 hours for television purposes.

This evening we were back in King's Cross for another band call. I managed twenty minutes on my own in a silent studio, sitting on a sofa whilst eating a sandwich. It was blissful. It was the first moment of calmness I've had on this project. I have delivered all the material and there's nothing more to do now other than watching other people doing their jobs.

I can finally start to focus on myself. What do I now need? Can I go back to the osteopath and sort out my back? Can I go back to the gym and lose the two stone in weight I've put on in the last four months! Do I need a holiday? The answer to all questions is yes.

Directing traffic

We've just spent the last thirty minutes directing traffic on the Archway Road. Half the road has been dug up and the temporary lights at the cross roads outside our house have broken. We exited the tube to a scene of absolute carnage. There was a massive traffic jam and everyone was beeping their horns. The scene suddenly started to get really dangerous and we witnessed three or so near head-on collisions. We called the police. They told us the problem had been reported by many people and that they were trying to get "someone down." A couple of near crashes later, Nathan and I were on the phone to each other from different ends of the street, managing the traffic and risking our lives in the process. People in these instances can be absolute bastards. I'd rush out into the road, stop a car, tell Nathan he could let his stream of traffic go, and then some impatient dick splat behind the car I'd stopped would pull out and screech off whilst I screamed down the phone to Nathan that he needed to stop his traffic again.

It was exhilarating and terrifying. We were shouting at passers by to call the police and explain to them that members of the public were trying to prevent traffic mayhem... We were, however, very successful and kept the traffic moving well for at least half an hour.

Eventually two utterly hapless coppers arrived. They passively watched on as we continued to stop the traffic and spent some time trying to work out who was responsible for the lights. Eventually I asked them if they might relieve Nathan from his duties at the other end of the road. "Lights go down in London all the time. We don't ask members of the public to risk their lives trying to be heroes." With that, he wandered off, and I wondered why I'd bothered.

It's been a long old day, which started in Pimlico under headphones. I finished my last arrangement at 2pm, just after doing a live interview on Radio Northampton about the importance of the arts and before the cast did their first full run of the show.

The run was great. The show really hangs together and was in much better shape than I'd expected. Luke and Candida have done some wonderful staging.

At some point in the morning we had a bit of fun. We have been banned from using three typically 1980s politically incorrect terms in the show which the documentary programme makers consider offensive by today's standards. For the record those three words are flid, spaz and spastic. I took to Facebook to find less offensive alternatives and was besieged by wonderful suggestions which took everyone reading right back to the good old days of our childhood:

Benny, Spanner, Mecon, Spam, Prannie, Boff, Tube, Twonk, Dipstick,
Wally, Tool, Toss pot... The phase itchy chin seemed to excite a lot of people!

I got the actress who utters the insults in the show to read out the list of alternatives to the rest of the cast to see which ones generated the most laughter. The winners were: Der-brain, Plank and Slap Head.

We rushed from Pimlico to King's Cross to rehearse the band in an exhausting and gruelling session. God there's a lot to do... And a lot of notes to polish before our sitz probe on Saturday.

And here we are in front of Ru Paul, falling asleep...

Night night.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

One more

It's been quite a harsh day today. I've been in the kitchen at the rehearsal space orchestrating music underneath a pair of headphones all day whilst the cast rehearse in various rooms around me. With a random theatre in education show also being rehearsed in the same building, there's a hell of a lot of music mooching around the corridors. At one point, two of the songs I could hear were in the same key. It was the strangest mash-up I've ever heard. We were rehearsing the campest number in our show - all Disney harmonies and things - and the TIE company were working on a version of that song which goes "so call me maybe..." You know the one? It's probably by Taylor Swift. It has an annoying string sample in it with a load of fake violins playing an octave downward scale in a mili-second. Sometimes I worry about string samples. As my mate Fiona said, "everyone now thinks pizzicato strings sound like the nonsense music on Bake Off." And it's true. Very soon people will start being disappointed with the real thing because real players can't play the same things as midi can! Ahh.

It's 3am. I've just finished for the night. I have one more song to orchestrate. One more! And then I'm free. I can go jogging. I can wash the dishes. I can clear away the bucket in the middle of the sitting room floor and invite friends and relatives to see the show!

Nathan is still working. He says his brain has stopped working. We need to sleep.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Band call!

We had our first band call today, and it was a hugely exhilarating experience. The band is sensational. The work is scored for two keyboard players, drums and percussion, guitar, bass and cello - and every player is being kept really really busy. I've worked with two of them before, both of whom played on my Requiem. Obviously I'm keeping a discerning, avuncular eye on the 'cellist, Dom, who is doing a fantastic job. He's a brilliant player with a fabulous tone. I have written a deliberately exhausting and somewhat fiery part for him to play. I kept glancing over and seeing his face getting redder and his brow getting sweatier. He'll certainly lose a few pounds playing all those notes eight shows a week!

We're rehearsing in the "Green Plus" room in a set of studios in King's Cross, which feels like a good omen for a show set at Green Gate, Greenham Common. We're in the very room where I rehearsed two years ago with the great Roy Harper who has, I'm thrilled to report, recently been found entirely innocent of the ludicrous crimes he was accused of committing. He's a good, kind man. I was vociferous in my support of him when the accusations were made and feel it's really important that his innocence is as widely reported as the initial allegations.

Our MD, Candida, is leading the troops ably. There's much work to be done but I'm excited to think where we'll end up. We still have three arrangements to finish off. I wish I could relax for a few days but there's no rest for the wicked.

We left the main rehearsals in Pimlico at lunchtime. I was downstairs in the kitchen under a pair of headphones throughout the morning, but Nathan, who was formatting parts in the main space, tells me everything was looking amazing.


Our lead actress, C,J bust a rib practising a fight sequence yesterday. She was back in rehearsals two hours later after trip to A and E. Now that's what I call commitment to the cause. And there was me going home yesterday for a massive whinge fest! (Apologies for that!)

They're rehearsing some sort of theatre in education show in the same building as us, which sounds like a show I'd love to miss. All I can hear is a group of people singing songs by One Direction to terrible backing tracks. At one stage I thought it was our cast singing along to their physical warm up music and got very surprised that they all knew the words! I guess it's work for the performers, but surely there comes a time when you have to wonder why you went to drama school!

We got home and suddenly realised it was pancake day, so rushed to the shops to buy some lemon before knocking up a couple. Nathan's was, as you might expect, perfect. Mine looked like an old duster.

Eyes closing

I always know when I'm too tired to work. There comes a point when the ears start playing tricks and, in my case at least, everything starts to sound really bassy and mushy. It happened to me for the first time whilst mixing Brass sometime during the all-nighter that PK and I did. I've just spent the last two hours thinning out an orchestration because every time I listened to it, it sounded more muffled.

My voice is giving up the ghost as well. It sounds all crusty and weird. Again, a product of sheer exhaustion!

It's midnight, and Nathan is slowly losing his mind in the kitchen. Unfortunately a music copyist hasn't been engaged on this show, so Nathan has stepped into the breach for no extra money. It's a massive task, particularly as he's not hugely au fait with my music software programme. Right now we, as writers, should have the head space to be able to make changes to the script and tiny alterations to the music. Sadly, we're sitting in rehearsals formatting music parts and creating tailor-made scores, whilst getting increasingly panicky and exhausted. I have to say, when I read in the press that we're responsible for the "lyrics only" on this show, I really want to hack a random hack to death with a tuning fork! There would appear to be a basic lack of understanding of music demonstrated by the way that a lot of people are talking about our role in this project. If anyone dares to suggest the orchestrations had anything at all to do with a computer I will set fire to my favourite teddy bear!

The sky was an extraordinary shade of pigeon grey this morning. The sun was out, so the whole thing seemed to be glowing somehow, like the sky had been touched up by an online editor. It's been very windy for the last few days. At lunchtime on Saturday, I was attacked by a giant cardboard box bouncing its way down the street. It hit me in the face. I laughed. It didn't hurt. But then I thought about my mate Nic who was hit in similar circumstances by a flying neon sign. She still has a scar, and was apparently lucky not to have been killed.

The local Gregg's to our rehearsal rooms has an "eat in" price for every item it sells, despite being the shop being the size of a postage stamp and not having so much as a seat or counter where one could theoretically sit down. What's that about? I assume it's a fast food tax thing?

Monday, 8 February 2016

Pamela

At 10.40pm this evening, just as I'd decided to take a break from an entire day sitting at the kitchen table orchestrating music, just as I'd sat down to watch an episode of Ru Paul with a plate of rice and vegetables, an entire river of water burst through the middle of the ceiling in our sitting room. It then started pouring down the walls. We ran into the loft and found that it was also flooding through one of the windows up there. It was like a scene from the Poseidon Adventure. I was Shelly Winters. Nathan was Pamela Sue Martin. Typical. You spend a day busting a gut and award yourself an hour off, and spend it mopping water off the floor, and trying to rescue possessions which are in the line of fire. Or, more specifically, in the line of flood...

It wasn't the nicest thing to happen, especially as I have another two hours of work to do before I can go to bed, but I suppose worse things happen at sea. And in Chelmsford...

There's nothing else to report. I've worked solidly since 9am. I make that sixteen hours under headphones! No wonder my tinnitus has returned.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Abbopoly

It's been another long old day which started with a car journey down to Pimlico with Llio and Nathan. They were heading to rehearsals for Beyond the Fence and I was booked in to run NYMT auditions at Westminster Under School less than half a mile away. It was funny to think of the two sessions running simultaneously.

We met some great kids. As usual. I was running the singing sessions. I don't really have any filters when I'm in these sorts of situations and tend to say some pretty outrageous things to the auditionees. I hope they have fun, however, and that they learn from my bizarre ramblings. We finished one session a little early and were able to run a Q and A, which I was pleased the young people really used to ask questions about the industry, largely about auditioning.

The only former Brasser in today was Laura, who was our original lead actress, Eliza. She sang I Make the Shells, which was fabulous to hear. It's funny: when someone sings a song from the actual show they're auditioning for, it's quite hard to think of anything to ask them to do again differently, so we simply sat back and enjoyed the experience. Poor Charlie the pianist got his knickers in a twist having to sight read the song in front of its composer. I didn't help matters by stopping him twice: once to slow him down and once to correct a mis-read accidental! He's a brilliant pianist, though. I was watching him today and marvelling. He plays really loudly which really gees up the singers.

We went from Pimlico to North London for an evening playing ABBA Monopoly with, of all people, Stef from the alternative rock band Placebo. Stef, like the left-field psycho-balladeer John Grant, is an unlikely fan of the Super Swedes and we owe the evening to a chance conversation we had when I lent him my cello for a gig where I told him my friend Jim Zalles had sent me details of a version of Monopoly with ABBA songs instead of street names. Stef instantly went out and ordered it, and the invitation to play it came a couple of weeks later.

We had a blast and met some wonderful people many of whom had seen our wedding which was rather lovely. It's actually the first time I've ever finished a game of Monopoly, and, quite rightly, Stef and his partner won, although, at one stage, it looked like we had the game in the bag. It's amazing how quickly fortunes can change in that game!

It's been quite refreshing to have a full day off from Beyond The Fence but we will have to work very hard tomorrow to compensate. Band rehearsals start on Tuesday, and there's still a bewildering amount to do!

Friday, 5 February 2016

Bomb alert!

As we walked down to the tube this morning we realised we were being pursued by a rather handsome robin. He hopped onto a fence, then a car bonnet, and eventually onto the pavement in front of us, seemingly entirely unfazed by two giant humans staring right back at him. I'm a big fan of robins. I like the fact that they remain loyal to the UK all year round, and stay with us through thick and thin. I get irritated by these flighty creatures who naff off to Africa whenever it gets a bit chilly. I also like the fact that robins are genetically programmed to be inquisitive about humans, so if you ever have the sense that you're being followed from branch to branch by one of these delightful creatures, the likelihood is that you are.

There are many theories as to why this might be the case, most of which revolve around the fact that robins know that we keep our gardens neat and tidy and that we have a tendency to regularly overturn soil which offers them a plentiful supply of worms. Sparrows are apparently the same, but tend to be more skittish than their prettier cousins.

Far more interesting than all of this is the fact that British robins are considered the friendliest robins in the world! Fact! Non-migratory birds will often evolve very differently on an island like ours than they will on a continental land mass. British robins have apparently evolved to be more inquisitive than robins anywhere else on the planet. Perhaps us Brits spend longer gardening or have a larger percentage of cultivated outdoor space. Perhaps we're just nicer to robins.

So, when you're next out for a walk in the country, keep an eye open for a robin, because he's almost certainly watching you!

I saw an advert on the tube today for the Emirates Airline, which is the cable car which, for some unknown reason, runs from North Greenwich tube to Royal Victoria DLR station. Can anyone please explain to me why I might want to go from North Greenwich (that's the O2) to an obscure dockland development in East London? Surely a cable car from Greenwich Village to the O2 would have been a) more useful and b) more of a tourist destination?

I took the Victoria line down to Pimlico this morning, and was a little startled when our train ground to a halt in the tunnel outside Victoria. We could hear an announcement drifting out of the station which informed us that "due to a reported emergency would all the passengers leave the station immediately." The carriage went silent and the colour drained from a hundred faces. For about five minutes we held our collective breath, wondering if smoke would suddenly start drifting through the carriage, feeling like absolute sitting ducks, before the tube hurriedly passed through the station and deposited us all at Pimlico.

It turns out it was an unexploded Second World War bomb which rather like. I often wonder how often these "unexploded" bombs actually go off. Are they an actual risk or are the authorities being too cautious? Nathan later told me that his work colleague was also in the station. The escalators suddenly stopped and everyone started running about in genuine terror.

Whilst we were in rehearsals today, another set of actors were attending auditions in another one of the rooms. I think they were being seen for a touring Shakespeare play because they all seemed a bit worthy and there was a lot of shouting coming from the room they were in! It strikes me that classical actors do nothing but shout at one another in rather damaged husky voices. The kids love it.

I was attempting to orchestrate music from the show in something of a panic this afternoon, and took myself to the quiet kitchen area for a bit of head space. This happened to be where the Shakespeare hopefuls were hanging out. One, a typical RSC type, wanted to be the centre of everyone's world. He talked to anyone who'd listen, and when he saw I was trying to write music, he hovered behind me and started whistling... When the other two actors left the room he started singing (as it happens, rather beautifully) and then reading his lines out loud. Before long, the inevitable happened and he attempted to engage me in conversation about what I was doing. I answered his question quickly and politely before disappearing under headphones to continue with my work, only to realise he was asking me more questions. He sounded like everyone on Midsommer Murders.

Still up...

It's been a long old day. It's 1am and I'm still working on arrangements having been in rehearsals all day, essentially scoring. Reading the newspaper articles about the project you'd think computers had done all the work. In fact, the Mail today said that the man entirely responsible for the music was the guy from Durham responsible for the "Android Lloyd Weber" programme. He was part of the team, of course, but it takes a lot of work to breathe life into the material his computers have been spitting out. The Mail said that Nathan and I had been solely responsible for lyrics... Which was wrong in itself. A significant amount of lyric content in the show is computer derived. The Guardian article, which so much subsequent journalism has been based on was actually fairly comprehensive. I'm not sure why people have run with the headlines without managing to get the facts right. Sometimes it feels like we're putting in an awful lot of work on the project just to be seen as silent partners or ghost writers. Introduce me to a computer programme that can even get close to orchestrating a West End musical and I'll happily eat my computer-generated words.

The rehearsals went well today. Apparently the cast worked late into the night last and broke the back of the harmonies in the last few songs in the show. There are a lot of harmonies to learn, that's for certain, although I wonder whether perhaps they allowed themselves to believe the task ahead of them was slightly more complicated than it actually is. With Sondheim shows and pieces like Angels in America and London Road out there, I think there's a fairly well-established president for musicals which are a bit of a vocal roast! I think the trouble is that there are only 8 main singers in the cast, which means there's nowhere to hide in an ensemble. Everyone has to be fierce and that's really scary. They are doing brilliantly, however. I think this will prove to be one of the strongest companies of actors ever assembled. Each performer is utterly unique. When they stand in a line, I guarantee you won't know which one you want to watch the most.

Right. I better try to go to bed. I'm up very early in the morning to continue with this non-stop process of orchestration. There is light at the end of the tunnel. There has to be. The first band rehearsal is on Tuesday!



Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The Pond

She's a bit nippy today. I went out for beans on toast in the late afternoon and could swear there was frost in the air. Yet again Southwood Lane has been blocked off as a result of gas works, which makes me wonder whether the whole neighbourhood is destined to explode in the biggest peace time disaster to occur on British soil. I like to go big with my doomsday scenarios.

I have not gone in to rehearsals today and instead have stayed home to work on arrangements in a quiet atmosphere. I am working on a bitch of a song, which changes time and key on numerous occasions, so it requires a great deal of thought... And a shed load of notes! The target is to finish the song and have another one started before heading off to Dalston tonight where the lovely Philippa is celebrating being suddenly very old. Quite how I managed to get so old that people in my school year are celebrating their 42nd birthdays I'm not sure, but here I am. Older. No wiser.
...
I didn't make my target. I got to the last chorus of the song and then completely froze, totally unable to finish, feeling I'd written everything I needed to write in previous choruses! I started another song because a change is as good as a rest, but then it was time to go.

Dalston is a funny old place. The shops on the Main Street are universally stocked with things I would never want to buy. There's even a 98 pence shop! That's deflation for you.

We bought Philippa a little gift bag and filled it with a random set of presents. There was a candle with a depiction of the crucifixion on it, two plugs, some silk flowers, a pair of plastic medals, a "Happy 30th birthday banner" and a no entry sign with handy screws to fix it to the wall... She was suitably bemused.

We celebrated her birthday at The Pond, a Hawaiian restaurant which is owned by Hilary and Rupert. The food was exquisite. We had a sort of taster menu, which means lots of different plates of food are brought to the table for everyone to dive into. The vegetarian dishes were the last to arrive, so I was beginning to panic, but they were well worth the wait. I had celeriac with mushroom and samphire tempura and a whole heap of glorious vegetables. Hawaiian food, it appears, is definitely on the South East Asian taste spectrum with a hint of American... Probably almost exactly what you would expect!

It was so lovely to see Philippa, Moira, Rob, Fiona et al, and brilliant to catch up with Oliver and Lucy who have to be two of the nicest people in the world. Happy days.

Philippa got very drunk at the end and told me at length what a special person our Meriel is and how she feels Meriel is suddenly going to rise like an all-knowing angel.

We came home via the Archway roundabout, which is soon to no longer be a roundabout. They're turning the whole area into a pedestrian zone, cus God knows everyone who visits Archway wants to sit on a bench outside a charity shop eating their sandwiches at lunch time. Some evenings I might suggest to Nathan that we go for a promenade down there. Or not. There are certain places which just don't want to be glam'd up, and Archway is one of them. Apparently we're due eighteen months' traffic chaos as a result, which will undoubtedly badly affect us up in Highgate.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Dancing on the silos


Today started like some kind of scene from a cartoon in a tube so packed with people there were seemingly disembodied limbs and bits of human body in every inch of space. The merest little shuffle would open up another game of Guess Who. Whose arm is around my waist? Whose hot breath can I feel on my neck? Please tell me that's a banana in a bag pressing against my thigh...

As I stood, like a baked bean in a mini-tin, I imagined the panic that would ensue in such a crowded space if there was a fire or a terrorist incident...

We changed trains at Euston and had to wait on the platform as the doors of three tubes opened up but were so jam-packed not a single person was able to get on, which meant that the station platform got fuller and fuller, significantly raising the risk of someone being pushed into an on-coming train. The tube network is a horrifying mess in the rush hour. Some poor bastards with 9 to 5 jobs have to deal with this nonsense on a daily basis. It's inhumane.

It was all worth while, however. Today the cast and artistic team of Beyond The Fence got on a big bus with a film crew and drove down to Greenham Common. We were joined for the excursion by my mate Penny, who is a former Greenham Common woman and was on hand to answer any questions the cast had which were triggered by walking around the hugely atmospheric location.

It has been one of those golden days. It was raining heavily as we left London, which made us all incredibly uneasy, but the clouds cleared as we hurtled along the M4, and with the exception of one quick shower, the weather was beautiful for the rest of the day. It was a little chilly and quite breezy, but the sun shone relentlessly: a message from the universe, we decided, that the project is meant to be.

We were given the opportunity to go into the restricted area around the silos where the nuclear missiles used to be stored. It was an incredibly eerie experience. At one stage we were able to walk into one of the darkened tunnels within the silos which were the exact spots where the weapons were kept. Heaven only knows what it must have been like for Penny. These silos (which look like medieval tumuli) represented everything she was fighting against. They were a symbol of evil. A reminder that the world was not at all safe...

I felt proud to have Penny there, and the cast really valued her presence. I was also reminded how proud I feel to be bringing the story of Greenham to a group of people who knew very little (if anything) about it before we engaged on this bizarre and wonderful journey.

We ran up the grassy slopes to the top of one of the silos. They're a good twenty or thirty meters tall, so the views up there are incredible. You can see for miles. At one stage, I watched the two little girls in the cast skipping across the top of the silo with CJ who plays a woman called Mary in the show. It seemed such a natural sight and so bizarre to think that, 25 years ago, they'd probably have been shot for doing that.

I did a little impromptu photo shoot with Llio in some long, tall, straw-like grass. Her red hair and blue eyes looked extraordinary against the yellowing backdrop.

At one stage the cast danced on the tops of the silos, just as the women had done on New Year's Day, 1983. I stood at the bottom of the silo and looked up at them, silhouetted against the sun, laughing joyously and singing When the Saints Come Marching In, and I felt a rush of deep affection and happiness.

After lunch we went back to "Green Gate" the only original gate and section of the old fence still in existence. It happens to be where our show is set, and also the gate where Penny lived when she was protesting. She showed us where the tents were and we sang a number from the show to her, which was a very magical moment for me.

She took us on a wonderful walk along the perimeter fence away from Green Gate, through a glorious silver birch forest and past a series of little streams to a place where she set up "Emerald Gate" to keep a closer eye on a pair of silos which were situated a long way away from the others. She set the gate up with three women and they remained there around the clock for many months. Hearing her stories inspired everyone so so much.

As we walked back to the bus, the sun began to sink in the sky, and all the silver birch trees started glowing orange.


We've had an incredibly magical day. One of those days I doubt I shall ever forget.

Men arriving

This will need to be brief. It's 1am and I've only just finished work for the day. I have orchestrated one and a half songs today, which feels like a good place to finish. There's not much else to say apart from that I'm totally knackered. We've been moving keys about to suit the singers a little better today. The slightly peculiar thing about writing for an ensemble of women is that, in order to make them sound rich and full, you have to push them to sing both very high and very low. So finding the right keys for songs is both very important - and fairly tricky when your songs cover large ranges.

The men in the cast came into rehearsals for the first time today and it subtly changed the energy in the room which was very interesting to watch. Thrilled to report that two of the cast are first language Welsh speakers, so I was able to enjoy listening to them speaking Welsh to one another.

That's all I can write. My bed awaits. See you tomorrow...