;I don’t find it as insulting as my other half does; he is 100% Irish blood but was born here and speaks with a London accent. Growing up, he spent every single school holiday back at the homestead in Donegal amongst his aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. But regardless of the farmland being in his family for centuries and most of the headstones in the local cemetery bearing his mum’s maiden name and his dad’s surname, he fought against the title of “Plastic Paddy” when back home.
Whereas I AM a Plastic Paddy, I hold my hand up.
Officially, only a percentage of my DNA is Irish. But the pull of the Irish side of your family is strong: Even distant relatives claim you as Irish kin; An Aunty in Dublin once told everybody from taxi drivers to bar staff, “She’s Irish, really,” whenever I opened my mouth.
This is understandable when you consider Irish history; centuries as a downtrodden and subjugated nation who only finally gained their independence in 1922 after a valiant fight against the colossus of their colonial rulers.
The Irish, for a long time, had been economic refugees. And so being Irish outside of Ireland meant being part of a strong community identity.
And then that becomes its own culture passed down through generations and sticking two fingers up to official DNA.
So when you have an Irish surname (an elderly Irish scientist once made me do an unwarranted 80-mile round sales trip because he "wondered if I was related to Tony Doyle the boxer,") and you have the cliché dark curly hair with pale skin and red cheeks, and teachers at school described you as a “colleen” but you had to go look the word up in a dictionary to understand what they were on about, and from early childhood your dad taught you that you supported the men in green shirts in the rugby, buying you an Ireland Rugby shirt for your 18th birthday, and your distant relatives in Ireland insist you ARE Irish, then I propose that Plastic Paddy is a culture, not an insult.
A 2nd generation immigrant Jamaican friend once said to me, “the only difference between the blacks and the Irish was that you could see a Jamaican immigrant descendant, but the Irish look like the English.” I totally get that.
And then there are the parenting skills that infiltate generations; things like taking the piss out of your kids to bring them down a notch or two if they ever show signs of getting too big for their boots (or as the rest of the English-speaking world would call “developing any self-esteem.”) You quickly sink or swim as a kid, you either pick up the gift of quickfire responses and banter or you sink in self-pity.
I’m not going to broach Catholicism. Suffice to say that whilst all my cousins are Catholic, we’re not. We’re not anything – A bust-up between my dad and his father about the denomination of my dad's future spouse finally sealed my dad's opinion of organised religion.
My dearest friend, coincidentally or not, happens to be from County Clare. We met when she worked over in England and I guess my Plastic Paddyness made her feel more at home when she was first settling in.
When my dad died suddenly 13 years ago she flew over to come to the funeral and seeing my extended family in action she said we were the most Irish English family she’d ever met. For all of our percentage of Irishness.
Her own father died the other morning after a long illness. Though the loss is the same, our two dads deaths couldn’t have been further apart, with him they had weeks of notice to plan it as he wished it. I rang her as I walked home from work that evening. The Irish wake was beginnng. She was bearing up, bless her but I know the pain.
Then she said, “in those last few months I poured my heart out to him, I had nothing more to tell him and I am at peace with myself but I know you didn’t get that.”
In that moment I had to fight tears back in the busy London street. No wonder I went off the rails years back – the author of my Plastic Paddyness had died without me ever getting to tell him anything in my heart.
That’s the stuff of another blog post – but not a weepy one. It changed my life profoundly and I don’t think now there is anyone in my life who doesn’t know what they mean to me, just in case, you know.
As the 6 Nations kick off for another year, I treasure the happy rugby memories shared with my dad: In fact, the last time I ever saw him was on a 6 Nations Saturday afternoon when he had been sent out on an errand by my mum and "just happened" to be passing my house as an Ireland match was kicking off. He made it until half-time when my mum rang to find out if we'd seen him, as he'd been gone an awful long time.
Plastic Paddy and proud.
I just posted this rant on Facebook. But I thought I'd bung it here too. As a reminder. To keep momentum:
We voted to come out of Europe and I was stunned. In fact, that's a pathetic choice of word for how I felt. I didn't see it coming - I thought that UKIP's rhetoric appealed to only a few.
Only then we began to realise how out of touch we all were with one another in this country. I see that as one positive, at least. It's time to face up and deal with it.
Then I saw American friends on social media laughing and sneering at the Brexit situation. That made me livid - there was nothing funny about Brexit, nothing funny about the future of millions living, and those yet to be born, drastically altered forever by a campaign of rhetoric. Nothing funny can be found in the subsequent spike in racism, homophobia, ageism, classism that began to spurt out like vomit through closed fingers on the hands of this country. This continent. This world.
It surprised me then how little they seemed to grasp the real pain that Brexit had caused and is causing us. Nor the relevance of that vote on the whole world, including their own nation.
So this US election result didn't shock me.
I was hoping I was wrong but many of us over here saw it coming - we'd just been through it here. Now it's time for America to have it's own mea culpa. But you won't see us Brits sneering at them - we understand perfectly how it all came about. This is their Brexit.
Yesterday Sami called me "Mrs Politico-Facebook" . Social media is a weird phenomenon: Feeding back to us everything we choose to believe (I didn't come up with that, Adam Curtis did, but he's right). Judging by everyone I followed on all platforms, I was CONVINCED that Labour would win the last general election. And then it dawned on me that the internet only feeds me what I want to see. You browse for a new lawnmower on Argos - and then for weeks after, Facebook and Google are popping up adverts and advertorials for new lawnmowers.
And so I realise that me writing this achieves little, if nothing. And that's fine because it's like a diary, I've said it and got it out and it feels better. If you choose to read it, that's very kind of you.
The best US election result-related post I've seen was written by my dear old friend Rae Earl: I hope she doesn't mind me quoting her,
"...The reaction to extremism has to be something more creative than more extremism. It's money where your mouth is time. We need the scientists and the writers to create. We need the comedians to be funny. They've got good raw material. Moreover we need people to get into politics instead of talking about it. The cynicism about the system per se has to stop. Moaning just doesn't cut it anymore. We need CONTRIBUTORS...Trump is a vile aberration but none of us here are without some power. Well, BOLLOCKS - I am. I just refuse to live in fear induced paralysis because you know what - that's what people like Trump want. Tits to it. It's time to DO..." and that is why I Iove that woman, our political rantings go back to when we were 11. Only then it was about Thatcher.
But that is where I'm leaving this. Yes I like to air (too much) on social media, it makes me feel better and feel relevant and included and it passes the time. But it's also up to me, each and every one of us to DO.
Last night I watched a fabulous speech posted by Peter Bramley of one of Rose Bruford's 2nd year students who happened to have their political speeches module fall yesterday. A young American drama student who delivered an impromptu heart-felt response to his country's election result. Perhaps I can share it here if Peter doesn't mind.
I realised that as long as there are people like him around, the world will be okay. We need to multiply that and we need to DO. Do what Rae said, and with this, be kinder to people on the tube, at the check-out, in the car, in the bus queue. Demonstrate in the little gestures that we are all in this together.
There is an opportunity here to fix things and turn the tide. It starts inside every one of us.
And I shall continue to post long-winded bollocks on facebook - it makes me feel better by getting it out there. x
After living and training at Rose Bruford in Sidcup for 3 years, it was of no surprise to me that Bexley was one of the few London Boroughs to vote "Leave" - the area has the enviable reputation of being the location for the Stephen Lawrence murder up the road in Eltham, same location where the EDL idiots came out in force during the London riots. My local in Sidcup was the BNP meeting place, a fact I learned after walking in one evening to a load of 60 year old skins singing "Land of Hope & Glory". I wrote this story about some of the people I saw whilst living there. The bit at the end is partially true. (No connection intended between the title and the drink blaa blaa blaa - it's only a play on words.)
His obituary would read Dedicated his life to the service of his fellow countrymen, or something along those lines, such as, Worked tirelessly to help the community.
Albert Smith; 78 years on God’s planet. Albert Smith; as English as Fish and Chips, Margate Pier and Sunday Dinner. If you cut him, he bled the true English red of St George. Albert Smith; pinning all his hopes for future generations on the British National Party.
“Ah di’nt face all that artillery at Dunkirk f’naffin’ y’know,” he growled at anybody who cared to listen without questioning the Maths.
“Fought for me country ah did, laid me life down for ‘is Majesty. We got them boys back off the beaches,” he announced to agreeing nods and murmurs down his local.
“And this is the thanks I get. The bloody country gets invaded anyway. I walk down me own High Street and no bugger speaks English. I’s all sprechen zie Pakistani instead. I’d ‘ave preferred German – at least they wear proper clobber.”
“Want another in there, ‘Bert?” Said his drinking side-kick, Alf, seizing the opportunity as Bert drew breath – Alf was always keen not to let politics interrupt the flow of Pride.
“I will, thanks, Alf. Another pint of London Pride. Tha’s what it’s all about innit? The Pride of London – tha’s what we are. ’Old off for a minute, though, I gotta go and turn me bike around. I’ll pop out for a fag on the way back.”
He shuffled off to the Gents, struggling with the zip in his suit trousers, muttering to himself, “And tha’s a facking cheek ‘n’all. Fought for me country an’ I can’ even ‘ave a fag inside me own local. Gotta freeze me nuts off outside wiv’ the homeless ‘n’all them asylum seekers.”
“Two more of the usual, please Errol, when you’re ready,” said Alf.
The manager acknowledged him from the other end of the bar. “I’ll be there after these, Alf,” he said, nodding to the Guinness order he was finishing off.
Bert’s empty bladder and nicotine dose made for a sprightlier return shuffle. That and the sight of another full glass of brown liquid placed on his side of the bar. He hoisted himself back onto his perch.
“’Course, you don’t count, do ya, Errol,” he said to the manager with an evil glint in his eye. “Someone taught ya to pull a proper pint of ale – practically one of us now in’tcha?” Bert let out a phlegmy chuckle.
“Yeah, Errol,” Alf chipped in, “I’ll swear you get whiter every time I come in ‘ere.”
The pensioners chuckled uncontrollably, wheezing, they coughed and spluttered. “Gnaf, gnaf, gnaf, gnaf, gnaf.”
The bar manager flashed his white teeth at the pair. It could have been a smile but then again animals bare their teeth before they attack. But this wasn’t an ambiguity the old double-act wasted any time pondering.
“Anyway Bert,” Alf said, wiping the tears from his eyes, “’Ow comes you’re looking so snappy today?”
“I’s my grand-daughter’s wedding today, innit?” Bert said. “I only stepped in ‘ere for a couple before ‘eading down the Registry Office.”
“That’ll be nice,” Alf said. “You’ll be off in a bit, then,” he added with a faint air of disappointment.
“I ain’t going too early,” Bert reassured his drinking buddy, “Only be queuing in a crowded waiting room full of some Paki wedding.”
“Can’t even escape ‘em at yer grand-daughter’s wedding,” Alf lamented into his pint glass.
“Like vermin,” Bert said finishing up his pint, “anyway, I’d best be off and get the train.” He slid off his bar stool. “Make sure she don’t marry one of ‘em by accident, eh? Or else it’ll be curry instead of cake.” He slapped Alf on the back and left the bar chuckling to himself.
“Send ‘em all back to the jungle where they came from,” Alf muttered. “Not you, ‘course” he said to Errol, nudging his empty glass towards the relevant beer tap. Grimacing, Errol took the glass.
Errol Brown had heard all the jokes: “’Ere Errol, I believe in miracles - is a free pint of Pride on the cards?” And then there was, “Someone’ll think you’re a sexy thing, Errol. But not me, mate, I like mine a bit less burnt.”
It probably didn’t matter to anybody that he was more cockney than all of them put together; the only one to be genuinely born under the Bow bells. A man could flip in the end.
Svetlana Federava straightened her skirt and took a deep breath before heading back into the main conference room of the hotel on Brighton sea front.
The irony of the occasion wasn’t lost on her - years spent scrubbing toilets and changing soiled hotel bedding with stains on that people wouldn’t dream of making in their wildest fantasies on their own beds. Hours at evening class learning “Ingliski” and an eternity of bad jokes about being Nikita incognito.
Finally, yes finally, after working her way up to Head of Entertainment Services, her first wedding reception of the year would be the local BNP candidate’s daughter’s nuptials – an entire wedding reception full of people who’d have her flung out of the country on her ear as soon as look at her. After all that. You had to laugh.
The old man, the granddad, now he was hard work. And drunk. The rest were just drunk. Grandpa had already tried to get his nicotine stained hand up her skirt as she poured the toast. The old boy making some joke about the cold war definitely being over or some cliché like that.
Svetlana quickly recovered herself and flashed her assassin-blue eyes at him before moving on with the Moet. She hadn’t scrubbed skid-marks off the hotel’s best Armitage Shanks for nothing – he was no match for her. Nobody was going to get in her way now.
Bert leaned over to his neighbour from the Groom’s side. “Now, I don’t mind ‘em coming into the country if they’re blonde and fit as a butcher’s dog like what she is. That’s one thing them Ruskies got right – making ‘em all dominate in world gymnastics.” He chortled another phlegm ball. “Not like them darkies, they don’t want to work - all they do is run corner shops and drive taxis.”
“Ain’t that just right,” said his neighbour. The pair fell silent as they eyed the Hors d’Oeuvres.
“Mini lamb samosas with onion confit?” The head waiter said, holding his serving fork expectantly over the platter.
“Sam-what?” Bert said.
“Mini samosas, Sir,” repeated Sanjeev Patel. Correction. Dr Sanjeev Patel, or at least he would be when he’d finished his internship. Dr Sanjeev Patel, specialist in geriatric care and lifetime master of patient acceptance of white man ignorance.
Too right. Night shift work in retirement homes wiping a production line of old peoples’ bums had seen him through sixth form. Sanjeev Patel possessed first hand evidence that the likes of Bert Smith and his pals had neither the smart arses nor big balls they were the pretenders of. And with exam time being extra stressful, it wouldn’t take too many Bert Smith-isms to push Mr Patel past the patience boundary tonight.
“’Ere, Gupta,” Bert leaned over to Sanjeev with a confidential air. “Can’ you bring us some chips or wotnot? Y’know…English food…stuff what you know’s in it.”
“I’ll ask the kitchen, Sir” Sanjeev said, using his well practised pacifying tone. He caught Svetlana’s eye as he headed towards the exit. She rolled her eyes and swiftly followed him out the door.
“Ah need a piss,” Bert made the announcement to the table of total strangers as he stood up, swaying back and forth. “And ah need a fag,” he concluded, raising his glass of bubbly before it was time. A medley of polite chitter-chatter acknowledged his statement as he disentangled himself from the table cloth.
Fumbling his way through the mirrored doors of the banquet room, Bert Smith searched for the “Gents” sign. The usual routine; attending to bladder requirements first made for a more pleasant nicotine intake second.
“Awright, Helga?” He blew a kiss at Svetlana as he passed Reception heading for the revolving doors to the main entrance.
“Dirty old git,” Svetlana cursed under her breath.
The following ten minutes were never properly accounted for. The other wedding guests were certainly oblivious to the snuffing out of Bert Smith by the sign on the wall outside saying Please Extinguish Here.
One instant he was sucking away on his favourite Benson & Hedges, as the waves across Brighton sea front sucked away from the shingle. The next instant saw the life sucked away from Bert Smith.
Like a tree felled at the roots, Bert Smith toppled backwards, rigid as an ironing board, B&H still in hand. Only the waves on the beach heard his head hit the planter behind him.
Svetlana peered through the entrance doors. “What is now?” she said tutting as she went to scoop up the bigoted old drunk from the Begonias.
Bert Smith’s steel-grey eyes stared at her as she approached. They stared, unblinking. Svetlana’s assassin-blue eyes met his. The assassin-blue eyes widened. The steel-grey eyes still stared, unblinking, unchanged. Cigarette ash fell from the fag frozen between Bert’s yellow fingers.
“My God, old git is dead,” gasped Svetlana rushing back inside. “Call ambulance,” she shouted at Reception. “Get doctor!”
A small crowd gathered as Bert continued to stare. His cigarette burned. A small trickle of blood left the cut on his head. The old git had gone.
Sanjeev pushed his way through the onlookers. “Excuse me, excuse me. May I see? I’m a doctor.” He arrived at Bert’s side. “Ah, cardiac arrest,” he said. “Has somebody called 999?”
“Two fingers from the sternum,” Sanjeev muttered to himself, placing his hands on Bert’s chest before pumping all his weight into him. “Come on, old man, come on,” he said, recalling current resuscitation guidelines…if in doubt, pumping the chest in time with ‘Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive,” is the best rhythm for heart massage…
A man in morning dress pushed his way through the group of onlookers.
“What the fack is that Paki doing to my Granddad?” he shouted.
Sanjeev looked up at the man. “Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive,” he said, beating on Bert’s chest.
“He’s facking mad. Get him off!” the man shouted. “The Paki’s just done my Granddad in and now he’s singin’ fackin’ Voodoo Bee Gee songs over ‘is corpse. Get off ‘im!”
A fist swiped Sanjeev’s right ear knocking him off balance as Bert Smith burst into life with a gasp of breath.
“He’s back,” Sanjeev pleaded, looking up at the cluster of morning suits stooped over him. “He’s back, he’s back, he’s back.”
“He done ‘im in,” the first man said, “look at Grandpa Bert’s ‘ead, he mugged the ole bugga. Get him, lads.”
Paki-bashing. It’s like modern-day stoning. Sanjeev curled up and took it with patient acceptance of the white man ignorance. Least provoked, soonest ended.
“I’ll teach yer to mug an old man. Fought for ‘is country ‘e did. What have you done for ‘im, Paki?” the man said lifting his right foot as the ambulance pulled into the hotel loading bay.
It was the steel toe cap in the temple that did it.
His obituary read Born in Shoreditch, London, Sanjeev Patel dedicated his life to the service of his fellow countrymen and specialising in geriatric care he worked tirelessly to help the community…
I typed “What is an artist?” into Google. Here are are a few of the definitions my search returned:
“A person who creates paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby.”
“A person who habitually practises a specified reprehensible activity.” ????
“A person engaged in one or more of any of a broad spectrum of activities related to creating art, practising the arts, and/or demonstrating an art.”
As an actor I have a hard time thinking of myself as an artist. I remember one time back in drama school, we all happened to be struggling with a particular task we'd been set and one of my peers commented, “that's just not the kind of artist I am.”
I cringed. Badly. Still do. At 21 years of age I didn't know what kind of human I was (still don't), let alone whether I was an artist, and what kind of artist. What unbelievable wank. It sounded like pretentious bullshit ego speak. “Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art” – as Mr Stanislavski once said.
Our tutors would always refer to us as artists in the context of our professionalism, instilling a rigorous demand for excellence and exploration. The insistence on truth in our work, following a process, having something to say and a commitment to growth. They taught us to continue to demand this of ourselves as individual artists once we'd graduated and were out into the big world of day jobs, bit parts, feature films, auditions, theatre, fringe, theatre in education, children's theatre, West End, TV, student films...well you get it.
So I still don't really see myself as an artist – I think for an actor that's not a term I should concern myself with, and certainly not at the point of doing; making, playing, creating, performing. But if an artist is someone who continually tests and stretches themselves, broadens their horizons, observes the world, tests boundaries, holds up a mirror and asks difficult questions of themselves and others – then these are tenets by which I'm happy to live as an actor.
And so that's why I've decided to contribute to the staff exhibition – even though I can't draw, paint or make anything for toffee. Somewhat daunting, given my piece is surrounded by the work of my hugely talented colleagues for whom I have so much love and admiration. And I can't wait to see all the pieces they've put in here.
As well as acting, I do also like to write stories though I rarely share them to be read by others. You can't put a short story up on a wall and call it art – but I did want to share this story with you in a way that would be more visually acceptable.
The story I've picked, “The What Ifs and The Might Have Beens” was adapted for this exhibition. It initially began life as a story within a short story called “Left Hand Envy,” which was a response to (but not about) the break down of my marriage in 2009. It's an observation that ultimately, we all want more or less the same thing but often are unwilling or unable to express it, or offer it, or make ourselves vulnerable and available to it. If you want, you can read the full story "Left Hand Envy" HERE. (the blue is the piece that is now "The What Ifs and The Might Have Beens.")
I wanted it to be hand-written because it's a personal story, from me to you, and it's about all of us.
I would have loved it to be written on a large rococo evil-queen-from-snow-white kind of mirror to add to the fairytale “ancient legend” feel. But size and cost were a constraint – struggling actors aren't wealthy people!
When you read the story, the background mirror means you are always in the picture, seeing a reflection of yourself. How does this story apply to you?
So you get this bright idea and go, “I know, I'll write my story on a mirror – easy!” Erm, no.
I had to stop and continually remind myself that this piece is not about demonstrating my non-existent free-hand sign-writing skills. This piece is just about the story, so please forgive the unevenness and messy hand-writing, the flaws, the lop-sided bits – they're what make it a personal note from me to you.
It's not the easiest to read. My hand-writing is a bit flourishy and then the mirror gives it a double effect and I decided I liked this. It takes a bit of extra effort to read the story – just as it sometimes takes a bit of extra effort to understand the deeper meaning behind a person's words and behaviour. Just an extra split second to stop and consider.
I hope you like it
I'd like to introduce you all to Kermy. My photographic skills don't do him justice.
My dad and I shared a love of The Muppets. Dad found a "make your own Kermit" in a magazine and when I was about 5, he set about making me Kermit, complete with half ping-pong balls for his eyes, and pipe cleaners for his fingers. Despite running his own business, supporting his wife, 3 kids and a handful of employees, I have a foggy distant memory of him on a Sunday evening, stationed at the dining room table, awkwardly navigating his way around my mum's sowing machine.
I've been thinking about him a lot his month, as March 2015 marks the 10th anniversary of him leaving us, very suddenly. !0 years already - bloody nora! I think about him a lot, anyway, because I constantly do and say things that remind myself of him. So I thought I'd share with you some of my favourite Pop quotes:
things Pop said
When I was a 24 year old single mum and getting grief in my corporate job for having to leave on time, yet again, he said:
"You tell them 'Tony Blair wants me in work and if I wasn't in work the tax on your salary would be going to support me sitting at home on single parent benefit, so what would you prefer, huh?'"
Parent/teacher meeting when my Art teacher complained to him how I spent all lesson talking to Shelly about drama, he said:
"What specifically do you want me to do about it, you're the one in the classroom when this happens, I'm not."
Whenever I rang to say I was stranded that the latest shitbox I was driving had broken down again, he'd say:
"I'm on my way"
When he was intensive care after having a heart-attack, he said:
"I heard this guy fighting for his life in the night. They were trying to bring him back, and I was lying in bed
thinking 'come on mate, you can do it, hang in there mate' but they lost him."
A newspaper clipping found after he died, with a Spike Milligan suggested epitaph, saying:
"Bugger, and I'd just got the hang of it."
Me: Dad, I'm sending a card to your friends Val & Gordon, what's their surname?
Dad: It's Bennett
Card gets posted to Mr & Mrs Gordon Bennett. Their surname wasn't Bennett.
After walking home from school in winter, he'd say
"You've got a good colour on you. Good Irish cheeks there".
Coming home from school after P.E as a 5 year old, he'd say
"Good rugby playing legs there. Solid forward prop I'd say." (Paranoid about skirts/legs-out thing ever since!)
"My grandma taught me how to thread a needle."
"Every child should grow up knowing how to fix a bicycle puncture."
"Stop that, or you'll get a thick ear."
the day-dream, by dante gabriel rossetti
The thronged boughs of the shadowy sycamore
Still bear young leaflets half the summer through;
From when the robin 'gainst the unhidden blue
Perched dark, till now, deep in the leafy core,
The embowered throstle's urgent wood-notes soar
Through summer-silence. Still the leaves come new;
Yet never rosy-sheaved as those which drew
Their spiral tongues from spring-buds heretofore.
Within the branching shade of Reverie
Dreams even may spring till autumn; yet none be
Like woman's budding day-dream spirit-fann'd.
Lo! tow'rd deep skies, not deeper than her look,
She dreams; till now her forgotten book
Drops the forgotten blossom from her hand.
So the picture is called The Day-dream, which accompanies the poem above by the same name. The model is Jane Morris - she modelled for him A LOT. She was his muse - he was besottedly in love with her - she was also his friend, William Morris' wife...would love to know how that worked...
Flashback to Feb2012 - There never was before, and never will be again an adaptation anything like this one of Gogol's play...Amazing director @PeterBramley
Today I was reminded of why I'm an actor. For 2hours15, there was a unity of time, place and a common purpose of defiance shared between the actors on the Globe stage and the audience.
The Belarus Free Theatre performed King Lear in their own unique way.
It was bold and risky, and so it deserved to be, given the fight the performers have had to be there...and I'm not talking about the banal list of western actors' woes of poor finances and extreme competition for roles.
These guys are banned from performing in their own country, Belarus being the last dictatorial state in Europe where people are still imprisoned for their political beliefs. The Belarus Free Theatre are forced underground to rehearse in secret locations.
I realised how lavished with freedom of speech over here makes us gluttons; lazy with our theatre and lazy with our acting. Not the case for this theatre company.
The play was as lean as the actors. Sinister, volatile, visceral and brutal. King Lear had that dangerous, sexy psycho appeal. His gaudy, dominating daughters Regan and Goneril, like the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella would have sat well as the Madams at the head of a sex trafficking ring, Edmund shoots up, whilst Edgar smears himself in faeces for the authentic “insane” disguise. When Edmund lusts after Goneril it seems more like rape than consensual – except that's normal in the brutal world we're painted. Cordelia's hanging leaves nothing to the imagination.
I was given the tickets free, and as it was in Belarusian, I honestly thought I'd see how the performance went with a view to ducking out at the interval - after all, Shakespeare you can't understand?...
But I was captivated.
I've never seen anything like it before – Shakespeare done Belarusan style. I didn't need to understand the language (although the captions helped). It jolted me with a reminder to be bold and brave as a performer, I don't want to be cosy and western – that's not what I'm about. I care about people, and I want to challenge, question, tickle, provoke, entertain and highlight things we should all be caring about. Not in a “ram it down your throat” kind of way, but in the way that has someone go home and consider something differently for a moment, or find themselves questioning that which they have never questioned before, or experiencing another perspective. An interesting parallel is the need for these performers to be bold and brave as artists.
At the end of the performance the head of the company came on stage and explained that as a peaceful protest against the regime, and to show that the “artists are stronger than the regime” the show had just been live-streamed to Belarus. Then, with the live stream still running, she invited the audience to join in with a shout of “Zhyvie Belarus!” - Long Live Belarus! - words that would have you put in prison for uttering in Belarus...and here we were at The Globe theatre, on a London middle-class autumn Saturday afternoon shouting it in unison. I was honoured to be reminded to never stop being bold and brave in my work, to never stop pushing the boundaries, and to never take my freedom of expression for granted...and so to use it wisely.
Found this while I was going through my notes and files from drama school. In my opinion this was a brilliant exercise, which began our gradual preparation in 2nd year for approaching complex text, and Shakespeare.
Over the course of several weeks, we chose a political speech from history; any speech, any context, any era, any speaker, any subject matter. We then edited it down to approx 2 minutes, and worked on the rhetoric, imagery and bringing the speech to life and making it our own.
The final litmus test being delivery of the speech in the school courtyard, with an audience who could come and go as they pleased dependent on how compelled they felt to listen. So here was my speech...
The original speech was made by Padraig Pearse - gaelic scholar turned rebel leader, and the speech was given in 1915 as the graveside oration of the old Fenian rebel Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin (I've got family buried there too.) It's said that 60,000 people attended the funeral. A year later, Padraig Pearse was executed by firing squad for his part in leading the 1916 Easter Uprising; it was Pearse who read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic on the steps of the General Post Office. To understand the context my research took me back to the 1600s, and through films like "the wind that shakes the barley" and "michael collins."
I guess I felt a personal attachment to this speech because of having family living in Dublin at the tiime. But this brings me to another point; one of my favourite things about this acting malarky is the living history, and living experience of other peoples' lives. You have to be constantly curious.
Not only did I have a good grounding in the speech exercise, I learned so much about irish history.
actor, general alright person and tree-climber extraordinaire.