My Stagey Week -10
Updated: Apr 9, 2019
Social media is a strange beast. When it comes to writing a blog, it’s a beautiful tool for engaging directly with people and gaging their responses. Seeing what people like, and retweet, share and watch, gives you a strong indication of what people want, and in turn what you should be making for them.
But then it also taps in to your own neurosis, it’s easy to become obsessed by how many likes you get and how many followers you have, and you then begin to obsess as the number of followers goes up and down, feeling adulation when you get a new follower, and disappointment when you lose one.
This week I reached the milestone of my tenth Vlog, and with this my continued investment in making my blog bigger and better. I have decided to produce an audio version of my Vlog which I will release every week as a podcast. As well as these, I will return the focus to the written side of my blog, with this series of weekly journals. Designed as an expansion to my vlog, to give you more insight and more detail than you’ll find in the vlog.
As I sit down to write this, I consider for a moment what my objective is. Ultimately it is to keep you reading, to curb you from clicking that unfollow button, and as I think to myself what would Jason Donovan do, I am reminded of a lyric from his song.
“I’ll give you ten good reasons to stay”.
Earlier this week I watched Captain Marvel at the cinema which instantly took me back to the 1990’s, the time of CD rom, and dial up internet. This week also marked the thirtieth anniversary of the World Wide Web. Without which you wouldn’t be reading this blog now and the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ single and album, a song that I categorically still rank as my all-time favourite. It got me thinking back to 1989.
I was a seven year old kid, growing up in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, back when you either bought your music on cassette tape from Woolworths, or like me, listened to the top 40 every Sunday on Radio 1, and pressed and held down rec and play on your stereo to record music straight off the radio.
Back then I was obsessed with Jason Donovan. I would race home from school to watch him and Kylie Minogue in Neighbours. Posters covered my walls. I had all their albums on cassette and every VHS tape and had every issue of Look-in magazine with them on the cover.
I even tried to bleach my hair blond, much to my mother’s fury when I stained the carpet and my hair turned out a shade of ginger.
It was also around this time, that I became a little theatrical. Like any good blossoming stagey homosexual in the making, I would watch Top of the Pops and the Smash Hits Award shows and wanted to perform. Sat in my bedroom, I would cut out the song lyrics printed in magazines or the album sleeves –remember in 1989 the internet had only just been invented, and google search wasn’t a thing.
It was while I was studying the lyrics to Jason Donovan’s smash hit 'Too Many Broken Hearts' that I began to deconstruct the lyrics. As a precocious seven year old I remember distinctly condemning the line “I’ll give you ten good reasons to stay”, after which Jason only goes on to list two reasons. Even at seven, and unaware of what heartbreak was, I still felt cheated that he hadn’t given me all ten reasons.
This week Jason announced that he is going to be returning to the palladium for this summer’s all new production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, to play the Pharoah, twenty-eight years after playing Joseph and thirty years after the release of his album 'Ten Good Reasons'.
It’s inspired casting, and I am personally delighted that I already have my ticket booked. I saw Jason last year at Edinburgh Festival when he took his show Jason Donovan and his Amazing Mid Life Crisis, a part chat, look back over his career with video montages, and a couple of performances, Jason discussed openly that he has had vocal surgery, and if anybody saw him recently join Kylie Minogue on stage at Radio 2 Live in Hyde Park, where she snatched the microphone back off him during an impromptu rendition of ‘Especially for You’. Her defence was that she was protecting Jason who clearly hadn’t warmed up.
Whether or not his voice will be on form for eight shows a week, I definitely cannot wait to see Jason back on that stage.
I started the week in a frenzy, worried that I had taken too much on, and wouldn’t be able to fit it all in. But, the week ended up being less fraught, and I actually managed to take a bit of time out and saw less theatre than I usually do.
I began Monday by driving to Watford for a costume fitting for a new TV series I have been cast in. Pennyworth is a new ten part prequel to Batman centred around Alfred, in which I play a chef.
The fitting was originally scheduled for 10am but had been moved to 3pm, which pushed it closer to my evening plans. I knew I had to be in Wimbledon by 6.30pm, and was beginning to worry that I wasn’t going to make it in time. Fortunately, the fitting took less time than I expected, and I managed to get to Wimbledon by 5.30pm.
My first engagement of the evening was the press night for Pain(t), a play by Richard Forman revived by director Patrick Kennedy. I had been asked by Patrick to host a post show Q&A, which I was happy to. Patrick and I are old friends, and I have seen a couple of his shows before. I’ll admit, they are not for me. They are visually interesting, yet peculiar. As theatrical pieces they have no narrative, which leading into the Q&A, made me anxious. What would I have to ask about? How can we discuss the themes of the play, when the play has none.
This was only the third Q&A I have hosted, and was the largest panel, with all five of the cast and Patrick. I made some notes during the performance, as I sat in the audience. Awkwardly Patrick wanted to use a microphone for the Q&A, which meant passing it along the line between the seven of us, which I didn’t think was necessary for such a small theatre. With my first two Q&As I had felt in control. This time however I felt a bit out of my depth, as Patrick seemed to steer the conversation himself, I felt a little surplus. I credited myself that I had managed to learn all the actors names and didn’t get them wrong, I am never usually good with names.
The full Q&A can be found on my YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/SBcH0RIrzeg
The press night was attended by a collection of my friends who had previously worked with Patrick and appeared in some of his other productions. It was nice to see them all there to support him, as they all descended into the Weatherspoons across the road for drinks, I had barely time to pack up my tripod and lighting rig and had to rush straight to the tube station to travel across town to the Piano Works West End to host The Show Goes On.
As with every week, I am emailed in advance a running order for the evening by the company’s intern Luke. It includes the names of the performers and what they will be singing. I always then take some time to look up the performers, look throughtheir CV’s, and beginning making notes about them. Things to ask them about, any interesting facts. I am still very new to hosting my own show, so I like to be as prepared as I can be.
I was cutting it fine, but managed to make it just in time to say hello to everyone before the show started at 11pm. My friend Dev had come down to support me, and to compare notes. Dev has recently begun hosting That Cabaret which she makes look easy. We both have a similar why sense of humour which we both lend to our presenting styles.
The night was a lot busier this week, and there was more of a buzz, a couple of my friends and my old flat mate had come down too which was nice and very welcome. I was a bit deterred as the show was about to start, that I didn’t have a radio mic. Instead one of the crew was frantically setting up a static mic and stand. This wasn’t ideal, as I prefer to have my mic in my hand as I introduce each act and join them on the stage. None the less, we had no choice, and as we say The Show must Go On.
Part of what I love about hosting this show is getting to meet new people, each week I’m given a mix of six or seven performers, some have been working for years, some have only just graduated, and some are still studying. The range of experiences makes for a very eclectic range of performances which I find exciting. It’s a real chance to discover new voices. Tonight was no exception, with a stand out performance from twenty-two year old student Lorenzo Olivera. Still studying at the London School of Musical Theatre, he has one of the best new voices I have heard recently. As I stood and watched him perform I realised that he is definitely someone to look out for in the future.
On Tuesday I returned to the National Theatre to watch the understudy run of Follies. I was part of a small invited audience here to watch, with the exception of two, a full company of understudies. I sat with my friend Kate Parr, who has just finished playing Stephanie in the UK tour of Saturday Night Fever. Kate was in the production of Follies last year, so for her this was the first chance she had got to sit and watch the show as an audience.
I was excited to see Alyn Hawke who was playing young Buddy and Sarah Marie-Maxwell, who played young Phylis. Both were incredible, as was the entire company. The performance almost ran completely smoothly with only one short pause at the start of Tracie Bennett’s song, during which she delighted the audience by filling time with an impression of Patti LuPone. There was also a slight stumble from Sarah as she slipped during her folly, but she managed to carry on impeccably.
I gave myself a night off from the theatre and went to the cinema to see Captain Marvel, which I really enjoyed. Having grown up through the nineties, I absolutely adored the nostalgia and soundtrack. Plus Baskin Robbins have launched two new flavour icecreams which I managed to try.
Wednesday was a theatre free day as I was busy filming in Watford.
On Thursday I got the chance to visit the rehearsals of Maggie May, a new production of the Lionel Bart musical that is coming to the Finborough Theatre. I had been given the press release from their PR guys, and spent the tram ride to Wimbledon making notes about the cast and the show. I had an hour scheduled with them to interview Kara Lily Hayworth and James Darch.
I was excited, as I have known them both for years. Kara I met when she played Satine in the Secret Cinema’s Moulin Rouge opposite my friend Simon Gordon. I went along three times to watch the immersive show. James, I have also known as he used to date a friend of mine, and we used to go to the same gym. I really wanted to capture their chemistry and sense of humor with my interviews. We spent half an hour chatting about the show, with help from Matthew Iliffe and Suzie from the PR company. Although I had done my research, it was helpful to have Matthew and Suzie on hand to guide the questions. Matthew had directed a production called The Burnt Part Boys at the Park theatre that I had seen and adored, so it was a pleasure to meet him.
We were also joined by the musical director Henry Brennan, who I also happened to already know well. He had worked on the production of Twang at the Union theatre that was also written by Bart.
Henry played a couple of the songs from the show for me, and I got to film Kara performing 'The Land of Promises’. She sounded incredible, as James pointed out it was his favourite song from the show.
We wrapped up the interview and I left them to have their lunch. I had the rest of the day free and considered going to see a show that evening, but again I felt I needed a break. I was also excited to start editing the interview.
I film all the interviews I do with my I-phone, so that I can then immediately begin editing them on the go. I find commutes and journeys around the city are now conveniently occupied during the week by editing a vlog or an interview. I normally record around 30 – 40 minutes during any one interview, which I then aim to cut down to 10-15.
Friday was another theatre free day, as I finished editing and uploaded the interview with Kara and James. I was really pleased with how it turned out, and the guys seemed to like it.
Here is the full interview and song: https://youtu.be/ZRE8wRBxRzE
I also spent the afternoon recording some of my vlog, and the intro. I always enjoy coming up with the intros and being creative with them. When I began my weekly vlogs, I used to record them all in one go on Sunday evenings, but I have since begun to break them up and film them in two or three sections during the week. This means I can start editing them during the week and have less to do in one go. I feel I have settled into my style with them, and find them easier and quicker to film. The first couple took hours to make, and edit. Now, I can get them done quite quickly.
On Saturday I popped down to Bromley to watch The Mouse Trap tour. This is one show that I surprisingly have never seen, despite it having ran for 67 years. Because I see so much theatre, I tend to prioritize shows that are opening or closing or have a limited run. Shows like The Mouse Trap tend to fall by the wayside as I know they’re not going anywhere. But it was interesting to finally get to see the show which is famed for asking of its audience not to divulge or tell anyone who the murder is once we learn.
As a show it feels oddly farcical now and has clearly become a template for spoofs. Watching it you can understand the basis of films like Clue and productions like The Play That Goes Wrong. The heightened RP accents and plummy lines make it difficult to watch without scoffing and sniggering slightly, but it is everything you would expect from a play written seven decades ago, and the audience for it’s Saturday matinee was full. Gwyneth Strong from Only Fools and Horses heads up the cast which includes Saskia Vaigncourt-Strallen, the youngest of the all performing Strallen Sisters. I worked with Saskia once before on a production called The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Of the four sisters Saskia has committed the most to working in plays, so it’s nice to see her doing well.
Photo credit: Johann Persson
I ventured along to a new bar in Piccadilly Circus called Jack Solomon's on Saturday night. Ex performer turned singer songwriter Jack Hawitt was there celebrating his 30th Birthday, with guests including former S-Club Junior and recent Eugenius chorographer Aaron Renfree.
I was there however to support my friend Chris Clegg who was launching his new night ‘Drag- Live in Soho’. I first met Chris when he produced Daniel Boys in Wolfboy at the Trafalgar Studios, he then went on to produce Cool Rider and has now set up a company called Tuck Shop which manages drag acts producing the current tour Gals Aloud.
From Gals Aloud drag queens Cheryl Hole, Kitty Scott Claus and Ophelia Love were there to perform for the crowd. Kitty and Ophelia paid tribute to Millie O’Connell and Vicki Manser with incredible costumes and lip sync performances from the show Six.
Writer Toby Marlow even came down to watch. I chatted to him in a booth, and admitted I have an unhealthy obsession with the show. We talked about what he plans to wear for the Olivies where Six is up for five awards. We laughed and joked about how his obsession with trying not to look like Harry Potter. As soon as he said it, I had to admit I could see the resemblance.
‘Drag- Live in Soho’ intends to be a monthly event, so make sure you check it out next time.