Understudy

I reach out and get

Maybe
Potentially
Hopefully
I’ll pencil you in

Ten years ago we just said yes
and where and when

Not
“I’ll text you”

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Lulu (The Dictionary)

Once upon the Forest of Dean, I was a young woman leaving home. I was packing all my things, and, of course, some of someone else’s. One of the some was a little red dictionary, bound in faux leather, with little dimples covering the cover. Being curious, I opened it up.

I don’t know that I was looking for anything in particular, but here, I found it. As if written solely to satisfy my hunger for mystery, there it was, scrawled in fifty-seven-year old pencil:

‘Merry Xmas ’48, Norman’ – which lead me off in one confusion, as this was my grandfather’s name – ‘Love, Lulu’.

Now, I didn’t know anyone called Lulu, and neither did my mother, whose dictionary it was, when asked. Nonetheless, I needed to know the meanings of words, so I stashed the little red dictionary in my big university bag, and left home.

No sooner had I set foot on the train, that I heard a strange, distant whine, like a dog pining for its owner. Can’t be mum, I thought, that’s just silly. But the thing called out, ever so slightly louder, and I heard… ‘Aardvark…’

I shook my head and settled down into the 1980’s carpet chair, dismissing the hallucination. Trains make all kinds of noises.

I was moving in with a friend from school and college, an old-timer, Melissa. We never spoke much in school, but had gotten to know each other in free lessons at college, meandering the field and annoying our psychology teacher.

We settled into a rickety cardboard student house, No. 8 Warwick Street, and came to be sisters. We ate together, watched three doses a day of Neighbours together, avoided essays and Freshers’ Week together. Sometimes, though, we were alone.

One of these times, Melissa had just gone out and I was alone in the house. I was drying my hair after a shower, gazing out of my bedroom window over the rows of higgledy back gardens and walls, trying to guess which one it was the infamous York rapist was living in, having read of his recent release. Supposedly, it was on our block.

Suddenly the hairdryer started to fizz and smoke, and within seconds, it blew up. Luckily I escaped the damage without a scrape, and grumbled off to buy a new one. I thought nothing of it when, donning my coat and locking the door, a little whiny thing I can only describe as red, whispered, ‘Careful…’

Six months later, I was alone again. Melissa had just gone out, as seems usually to be the case, having discovered a hole in the kitchen wall that allowed more-than-socially-acceptable noise through from what must have been a bathroom next door. Having slept through an unusually cold night, I was achy and tired, and a little jumpy. I put the kettle on. Approximately three-quarters toward the boil, the kettle started to sputter and shake. I stepped back just as the plug spat itself out of the socket, with such force that it knocked the kettle, that had burst into flame at the base, off the counter and into a convenient leak from the freezer. ‘Careful…’ I felt, in my ear.

Another six months later, I had a boyfriend. Wanting to be aloof, with a fresh start in a new city, I was playing it cool. I was an independent woman, throwing my hands up happ-e-y. I was alone again. Half an hour after said boyfriend had left my place, about as much time as it might take for him to make it home, make a cup of tea and get into bed, I heard something. Lying in bed, frozen still, I listened. Three or four different voices, young, male, aggressive, were prowling the back yard, that my window overlooked.

Not daring to pull back the curtains, I listened as the voices, clear as day, seemed to explore the yard and confer with each other. They went quiet for a moment. And then a stone hit my window. And then another. And then another. Independence was far from my mind as I reached for my phone. ‘Please come.’ I said. ‘There’s someone here.’

Obedient boyfriend agreed, and I waited. For roughly twenty minutes more, about the amount of time it might take for said boyfriend to get out of bed, get dressed, bump into a housemate, and then make his way back… the stones and the voices continued. There was a knock at the door. My phone went off. ‘It’s me.’

Sidling down the stairs like a child on a mountain, bum against the ground, I edged towards the front door. A dark figure loomed behind the circus-mirror glass. Boyfriend.

The pair of us crept upstairs and boyfriend took a furtive peek behind the curtain, before pulling it back completely.

‘There’s nothing there, Anna.’

Needless to say, that relationship didn’t last.

The next day was moving out day, and I was cleaning the house. Melissa had just gone out to get some more bleach. Scrubbing away at limescale that was probably older than me, my eyes glazed over the grey sink, whirlpooled the plughole, and stared down into the black.

A short, loud but muffled thump caught my attention. A stupid young bird had flown straight into the window above my head, which I’d even opened to clear the chemicals from the air. The thing could have flown straight in, or anywhere else, but it hit the glass. I looked down to the yard.

There was no bird.

Returning my gaze indoors, I shook my head, and in that instance, I saw…

There, etched into the glass in the bottom-right pane of the bathroom window, was…

‘Lulu’

The very same handwriting as in the little red dictionary. I reached out and pressed my finger into the name, recording the exact feel of the letters’ curves, the scratchy dips in the glass. ‘Merry Xmas… Love Lulu’

I grew up over the following year, became wise and cynical, forgot, dismissed all but science. I forgot all about Lulu. That is, until my third year of university. I moved back into Warwick Street with my friends who were still studying alongside me. Melissa had graduated already, not having taken a gap year. There were three of us staying together, and the house on Warwick Street was available again.

And Lulu wasn’t there. There, on the same old bathroom window, Lulu wasn’t there. Although, what was there, was a tiny little noise… A tiny little whine, that brushed through my hair with the words, ‘I told you…’

I never took anything that didn’t belong to me again.

Guilt

A retrospective post – a journal entry – now that I have enough distance to appreciate it as a useful document of a temporary emotion.

I want to talk about guilt. Guilt is taking over my life, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Third-generation inherited Catholic guilt. The guilt of being born into a first-world country in a first-world family, whatever that means these days. Biscuit guilt. Toilet guilt. Relationship guilt.

Too many times repeating the word ‘guilt’ until it sounds alien.

I feel guilty about things I haven’t even done yet. I feel guilty for entertaining the idea of having children, when our planet is already insanely overpopulated. I feel guilty about not living life to the fullest while I have a perfectly functional body and mind. Not everyone gets that chance. I feel guilty about how I am spending my time; what would my boss think of this? My friends? My family?

Should I be earning more to be able to do a certain thing, like adopting a mistreated animal, and if I had enough to do one good thing, surely I could be spending it on something even more ‘good’, like building schools in underdeveloped countries.

Surely I could have done something, made more effort, to make that relationship work?

Smoking and dropping cigarette butts. Getting a cat and letting it shit anywhere outside, most likely on other people’s, or public, property. This is stuff everyone does, so is it just a choice I have made to feel this way about it? Is it right?

Chewing gum and, even when disposing of it ‘properly’, knowing that it is a small contribution to the landfill waste that doesn’t decompose for god-damn ages, filling our planet with crap and gunk.

What is the point of guilt? How can we use it?

In Britain we seem to use it to get active in small ways. You see shudders of guilt-inspired activism on social media sites. ‘Sign this petition’, ‘Tell everyone’, ‘Come on guys, let’s stop this now.’ Knee-jerk reactions to a constant flow of seemingly well-intentioned propaganda. What next? Not a lot, it seems. A brief follow-up email. We don’t really see the change. And would we, if we lost those little fights? Would we notice?

At the moment, guilt is beginning to rule me. I feel guilty for not doing well in the different roles in my life, and instead of manifesting itself in an activist way, this guilt is driving me to paranoia and hopelessness. Why? How? Is it just a pride issue over getting up from the guilty place and making that journey back to where you are supposed to be?

The guilt of not writing. Of missing birthdays. Of not saying thank you enough, and soon enough. Of not spending time.

Guilt I recognise as being imposed from an outside body, and guilt I cannot separate from my own beliefs.

The guilt of how I treat my body. The guilt of not reading enough.

Guilt over decisions I have tried to enforce in my life to make positive changes, that seem to be working out for the worse. Of assuming a superfluous status. Of demanding too much. Of doing too little. Of being unaware.

On Casting

Are directors bad for the acting trade? Specifically, casting directors. Myself included. Actors are usually cast according to a small, specific brief of criteria, mainly according to how right they look for a part. How right they look for the part is usually determined within the same few seconds of a first meeting in which we decide whether or not a person is physically/scientifically attractive. The actor arrives in their own clothes, perhaps wearing their own make up, more or less in their own natural state. And this is what we base our judgement on. Instead, we should be observing the distance between this natural state and the things the actor does in the audition. The difference between the state in which they arrive at the audition, and the state which they arrive at during the audition. The gap between these two states is a hint at their potential. They are exhibiting what you should be looking at, in between the things you are actually looking at. And this is only the potential they are showing you. There could be more hidden inside them, waiting to be brought out by you, the inspiring and expertly manipulative director. Surely…

The Review That Got Me Fired

I’ve been writing reviews for a few years now, mostly for an online local arts journal, but before that, I covered a few shows for a print publication. I considered myself very lucky and honoured to be a part of the team, and took my contributions very seriously. One day, though, I stopped receiving invites, and the following review was the last I ever submitted. It was never printed, and I never knew why. Indeed, I never even heard from the publication again. I’ve been back and forth over it since then. Is it just not good enough? Did they have a special relationship with the performers I was unaware of and didn’t honour articulately enough? Did the draft I submitted contain hidden Satanic messages? I still don’t know, but having revisited the review again, I’d like to share my appreciation for the show, which I did really enjoy, here.

Music Review: The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
Grand Opera House, York, Wed 17th June 2015

From American Blues to Russian folk to British pop, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain have got it covered in their touring anniversary show, 30 Plucking Years.

Formed in 1985 “as a bit of fun”, the charm and energy of this eight-piece ensemble after thirty years of international touring is impressive to say the least, in an industry where most artists perish after around five years. It’s fair to say that the speculation on the Orchestra being a big part of the inspiration behind the current worldwide trend for turning every tune into a tiny, twangy cover is justified. Of course, the instruments may be small but the sound is anything but.

Willingly misleading segues and nonsensical, self-aware banter fill the gaps in a pleasing array of covers across genres including Kiss by Prince, Life On Mars by David Bowie and the inevitable Get Lucky by Daft Punk; all with their own individual twist. Each of the six men and two women take their turn in the spotlight with effortless prowess, hosting tracks suited to their various voices and tastes. The band allow the audience to let their guard down in the second half with some low-key numbers before a punchy, funky finale.

The group are fleeing to Germany – one of their “this song is very popular in…” inspirational travel destinations – for one gig before returning to the UK to continue their tour on the 27th June.

I believe this particular tour is over now, but you can read more about The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and their upcoming gig dates all over the world here.

The Siren Call of The Grotesque

My acting ambitions have changed somewhat since I first set my sights on treading the boards. Since I was young I have admired the graceful, feminine icons of the silver screen: Audrey Hepburn, Tippi Hedren ,Grace Kelly. The flawless, fashionable glamour was the height of sophistication; if I could pull off that aura, if I could be eloquent and graceful through anything, I would be untouchable.

Since then I’ve read a few plays. I’ve heard stories about characters that are damaged, desperate, marginalised, fascinating. I’ve acquired a taste for the grotesque.

One of my university lecturers, Harold, who passed away a couple of years ago, introduced me to Jean Genet. He impressed upon us the essence of Genet. The homeless man in town with a bleeding head. The pair of old women who always walked side by side wearing identical clothes.

I began searching for a kind of tragic truth in everything I read and wrote. Detail, pain, wildness.

Around the time of his death, I got the opportunity to act in my first Genet production; The Maids. A friend of mine runs a theatre company and shares a Harold-inspired love for Genet’s works, and we found ourselves very much on the same page. Our maids were feral women in lapdogs’ clothing. They were wild, hurt, angry, fired.

Perhaps there’s something of my old ambitions living in the hearts of Claire and Solange. The desire to be glamorous, fashionable, loved, untouchable. Despite their hatred of the bourgeoisie, while they’re chewing it up, they suck up all the juice. Why not take for yourself the best of both worlds?

Claire and Solange are ugly, twisted, animalistic rebels whose pain and frustrations might just resonate a little loudly with the public of today.

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Photograph courtesy of www.hedgepigtheatre.com