The crowd of actors who read for us were a wonderful and hugely talented bunch. On one side of the table sat two actresses, Nicola and Annabelle, whom I'd done student drama with, and on the other sat Laura, Andrew and Adam who were all in the NYMT productions of Brass. It was like looking into a giant mirror and seeing two generations of the same group of people.
It was such a treat to have Nic and Annabelle with us. Both are hugely well-respected actresses. Annabelle actually plays Kirsty in the Archers, which, as I get older, becomes something that seems to excite more and more of my friends! She's a genuine Scouser as well, so hearing her reading a series of cameo roles in the genuine accent was hugely gratifying.
I focussed on finding actors who came from the place where the characters were from so that they were able to give me the heads up if there was an issue with dialect or believability. Llio, for example, read the role of the Welsh girl, Bron, but because she's a proper Welshie, was able to tell me that the language and style of the character I've written is more South Walean than the girl from North Wales I'd initially imagined, so I feel like I'm on an almost constant learning curve.
During the read-through, we sang some of the songs. Top marks went to Laura and Llio who performed Warwickshire and Delusion with breathtaking beauty. Nathan's rendition of You Will Be Loved was similarly heart-stopping. I had to sing three of the songs. Heaven knows how I did. I get so tongue-tied and nervous doing anything like that, that I can end up completely freezing over. I genuinely don't have the mentality of a performer.
Hannah brought two wonderful young actors into the fold in the shape of an Irish lass called Maeve and a Scottish lad called Steven.
We were also joined by the luminous Clare Chandler from Edge Hill university, who's been advising on Em from the beginning, and Llio's Mum, Silvia, who happened to be down for the weekend, so I was thrilled to be able to invite her along. She always finds a way of saying exactly the right thing about my projects. She talks from the heart and was hugely touched by the story and music.
The rest of the crowd were all very friendly people from Central who will be working on the production in various different behind the scenes guises.
We went for a drink afterwards in the Weatherspoons next to Liverpool Street Station. We sat outside in an area which turns out to be a Mecca for homeless people. We were joined for some time by a somewhat volatile young man, who told me he was from "Michigan in Flint." "Do you mean Flint in Michigan?" I asked. "I am Marshall Mathers" he said; a rather strong Eastern European accent cutting through. It was all rather strange. Nothing he said made any sense whatsoever but he seemed quite happy simply to be sitting with us, periodically making bizarre interruptions which felt like a small child sticking crayons in a bicycle wheel.
We all get told off for being snobbish Londoners and completely ignoring homeless people when they approach us, but the sad truth is that being friendly can occasionally backfire. Our friend today suddenly stood up, yelled at the top of his lungs, grabbed the first thing he could from the table, and started brandishing it aggressively. Fortunately, his weapon of choice was a plastic water bottle, but he could easily have chosen one of the glass beer bottles which were sitting next to the water. He then grabbed my nose and pulled incredibly hard. He was plainly off his face on alcohol and completely out of control. Bouncers arrived and he was escorted away from the bar. He looked really sad as they marched out. I felt a sense of great relief. Five minutes later he was trying to kiss a young woman who was waiting for a friend at the top of the escalators into the station. It was all so desperately sad. I wondered how anyone could get into such a desperately sorry state. He was young as well. It's such a waste.