Saturday, 31 July 2010

What an actor's dressing table looks like

I’ve had lovely emails and comments over the past few weeks – thank you to all of you who have taken the time to write. It is both humbling and thrilling to know that I have readers from West Hampstead to the West Coast.

The fantastic Edward Petherbridge left the following comment under my most recent blog post and I really felt I must dedicate a post to it. I admire anything of a literary persuasion, and what I feel is surely the lifelong literary student in me takes great joy in beautiful words.

So here is Edward’s comment, inspired I believe by our series of photographs of the view from the room with the view.

‘Your sky-scapes perhaps gain from having no quaint or noble towers - only chimney pots and an aerial is it? Nature puts on her magical displays despite our banalities. A blossom tree round a couple of corners from us this spring would have graced a palace - once more made me marvel that it was prepared to display its white magnificence adjacent to the crude red brick and plastic framed windows of a block of flats.

Today, walking into The British Museum, I passed a man whose job was scraping the chewing gum off the stone steps under the magnificent portico - was he set to work there to remind us of our crudity in the face of thousands of years of high culture?

I feel like seeing the films you tell us about - even failing a Retro Tastic Cinema.

All the best, Edward.’

Here's Edward (and his daughter, the much featured Dora) in his dressing room at the Duchess Theatre, London, when he was appearing in The Fantasticks.

And just in case you ever wondered what actually graces an actor's dressing table ...

Edward Petherbridge's dressing table image by Dora Petherbridge

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Leaving (Partir): A Film Recommendation

A week ago I watched Inception, a visually stunning film, not entirely without emotional engagement. After all it is fundamentally (in my humble opinion of course) the story of a man trying to get home to his family. This is a story not unlike Homer's Odyssey, where a man must endure all manner of dangerous and fantastical adversities in order to return to his wife. One of the most striking performances of Inception was surely Marian Cotillard's Mal, the constant haunting presence of Cobb's subconscious. Indeed she is the Penelope to his Odysseus, the driving force behind Cobb's decision to take the one last job that is effectively his odyssey.

For all the explosions, high speed car chases and sharp tailoring, this is a movie about relationships; those based on power and love, all-pervasive but equally fragile. I suppose the beauty of cinema is that it can be a medium based on visuals and aesthetics. Those that demonstrate the labour of love that it surely is to make a film such as Inception. But cinema is also a literary format and the same concepts are just as easily explored in the dialogue that can be reinforced by the power of acting with one's eyes.

And this brings me to Leaving, a far humbler but arguably more powerful exploration of relationships, marriage, honour, loyalty and betrayal. Set amongst the French middle classes, the soullessness of privilege and bought lifestyle compete with the more basic human need for love and understanding. Kristin Scott Thomas is fabulous as a woman who enters into a passionate affair that challenges the illusions her marriage have created. Scott Thomas brings to the role the powerful ability to appear both austere and innocent in equal measure. Its all about the eyes I tell you. Well, the eyes and incredible bone structure. I don't wish to say much more about this movie - like I said last week, just go and see it.

On a personal level Leaving deeply affected me, indeed I left the theatre a little shaken. For it has been a while since a performance by a woman has so genuinely depicted the impossible situations we can find ourselves in; the choices, the gender power imbalances and finally the unpredictability of the human heart.

Film poster for Leaving, image by Dora Petherbridge

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The flatmate and the film

So I’ve been having a pretty rubbish week. I wish to remain opaque about the whole thing but I’ll say this; I’ve been upset by unkind and hurtful words, not in the blogsphere I hasten to add, you are lovely people, but in real life. Funny old thing this living business, you’d think your fellow peoples would make it easier on you, but quite often it goes the opposite way. Still, none of this is the end of the world: I have our view -

Photograph by Dora Petherbridge

and my fantastic flatmate, who incidentally is rather a lot more than that. She’s my best friend and she’s been looking after me in my hour of need.

So on Monday evening she took me to see the movie Inception. She promised it would be visually spectacular and provide a welcome respite from a week of bullshit. Indeed in the movie we entered a dream world, of which I don’t want to give anything away. Just go and see it. To describe this film would be as if to describe that amazing dream you had last night, the one where that awesome thing happened with that person, you know who ... erm oh wait, it wasn’t like that, or was it? I’ve said enough, it’s boring when people recount their dreams, they are always so imperfectly told. Suffice to say Inception was an exceptional piece of visual cinema with a wonderful cast – Leonardo DiCaprio, Marian Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were particular highlights.

We saw the film in our favourite ‘retro-tastic’ (yes, I coined the phrase) independent cinema and it played to a packed audience buzzing with a sense of excitement, the likes of which surely hasn’t been seen since the last media-hyped blockbuster I went to see. That was probably in 1998, and I think the film was called Titanic. It certainly wasn’t a film about blue people. The less said about that the better ...

By way of a bit of social documentation Dora felt the need to take some snap shots of the cinema and the film poster. So here you go -

Retro cinema sign advertising the latest films. How often do you see one of those nowadays? Not often enough surely. Photograph by Dora Petherbridge

And for good measure, the film poster. Photograph by Dora Petherbridge

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

A Room With a View

In way of a continuation, here's another evocative skyline. This time its all orange and firey swirls, befitting of a warm July night at sundown. We truely do have a room with a view here ...

'Firey Sky' image by Dora Petherbridge.

Tonight I'm linking back to Edward Petherbridge's 'Petherbridge's Weekly Post' which is full of literary insight into the world of an actor and the theatre. He also posts some wonderful poetry - that rhymes, always the best kind I think. Edward will be 74 this year and he's been in the business for about 57 years, so he's bit of a veteran. On his latest post he said positive things about our free-writing exercises, so by way of thanks I'm mentioning him in the hope that whoever drops by here might fancy a look at his blog too.

Recently I read something on a blog that questioned the motives of some bloggers, namely those who self promote by posting their blog's address in the comments section. This blogger made a point of saying they do their blog for free. One of the best pieces of advice I was given when I made my first tentative steps towards telling people that I wanted to write was, 'do it because you have to and don't expect to get paid. Don't let that be your motivation because your writing will lose its spirit.' I hold this to be true, although of course no one's going to turn down a book deal. But it would be foolish to go into a blog with the words 'book-deal', 'fame', 'fortune', 'name in lights'. I certainly don't blog for these reasons and I think I'd be plunged into an existential crisis if I woke up tomorrow and I had hundreds of followers. I could never imagine my random musings yielding such interest. I see a blog as a way for anybody irrespective of class or education to explore creativity and probably the majority do them for free. Edward said on his blog in response to our 'free-writing' exercises that he felt that this should be the nature of the blogging experience, a place where ordinary people can write from a perspective outwith the confines of commercial media and its chosen few. Self-promotion? Whatever ...

Let's finish on a high note, here's a rather wonderful picture of Edward as Pierrot. It was taken by his son. Photography clearly runs in the family.

Photograph by Arthur Petherbridge.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Jazz in an Art Gallery. 'Free-Writing' part two.

Photograph is of two postcards. Top one, 'Jazzy Waters'. Bottom is of Ertha Kitt by Ernst Haas, 1952.

Tonight we attended something of a 'happening' in the form of a free jazz ensemble in the auspicious surroundings of the National Gallery of Scotland. Beneath Renaissance paintings we were treated to jazz renditions by three talented players who according to the lady that announced the proceedings have performed for everyone from Bob Geldof to the Queen. Our motley crew of tourists, OAP's, art students and those who had happily stumbled off the street were clearly no pressure then.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I live in this city, where at any given time there is an outlet buzzing with cultural activity. Indeed we are after all surveying what truly is the calm before the storm, for next month will host the biggest fringe festival in the world.

In the spirit of last night's free-writing exercise we decided to make the most of the opportunity to listen to some free jazz in the National Gallery of all places, by committing to paper and memory a small snap shot of that half hour outwith the daily grind. I do believe it is a far better way to honour the experience than some of the ruder spectators who saw fit to flout the 'no-photography' policy by snapping away during the performance. Consummate professions the musicians didn't let it phase them.

Same as yesterday, Dora's is first and mine is second.

'The trio walked into the gallery all suits and sharp black, seeming rather formal for the somewhat ad-hoc proceedings – a jumble of folding stools and wandering rucksack-tourists, but joining the audience in its almost domestic repose, they took their places with informal humility. They were not grand with the ethereal harp, trumpet of brilliant brass and veteran double bass, but everyday, relaxed. At first I did not remember to look up at the paintings to see what they were doing while the musicians played their jazz. When I did glance up at Mary amongst angels, the servant girl with her geese, the pastoral scene, the anonymous lordly gents, I found the paintings mocked the music, remained aloof, wryly concerning themselves with other things. And in turn the music mocked the paintings, making light of the dull oils, cracking gilt frames and frozen figures. Until that is the trio gave us ‘I Fall in Love Too Easily’, and I’m sure something happened to the Crucifixion canvas high up on the wall – the tension in the picture leapt a little, muscles strained and the drama moved.' (Dora Petherbridge)

'The harpist tickles the strings with a lightness of touch, gifted by slim feminine hands. Standing her fellow player holds the bass like a woman he’s attempting to coax into a dance. A hand rests on the curvy waist of the instrument, mirroring a soft, yet firm femininity. A bald man plays the trumpet in defiant oblivion, blowing out the higher notes with an increasing vigour and reddening face. Jazz follows its own wild courtship, a union between player and instrument as the spectator watches on hot faced like they’ve just walked in on a pair of lovers. Although perhaps not here, where on the outer corner of the audience an old lady watches on, flannel hat clad head cocked to one side. Interspersed are the young, the old and the in-between, hands rest in laps, some close their eyes and rock to the tune, connecting the beat to an internal register. A sweetie is unwrapped and popped into a mouth. But if you’re watching and you're listening then your eyes will make their way back to the hands. The hands that convey a music of contrasts, the pinging of the strings and the masculine grip of the bass waist.'

Wednesday, 7 July 2010


I once attempted a creative writing class but couldn't quite get over the intimidating atmosphere where much more experienced writers (some were writing novels, for goddness sake!) read aloud their work to a room full of virtual strangers. I know the old saying strangers are just friends you haven't met yet, but in spite of this utopian ideal, I couldn't shake off the feeling, that with its mixture of expectations, sensitivity to criticism and fear, that this writing class might descend into a from of group therapy. Perhaps it was just my shyness but with a heavy heart and £70 lighter, I stopped attending.

With creative writing on my mind I give you two snapshots of Edinburgh. The first is by Dora Petherbridge and the second is by me. We did these exercises in 'free writing' so-to-speak, following some excellent writing advice found at Backwards in High Heels. If only those genuinely thoughtful words had been around when I'd pitched up at my writing course ...

'The layout of the city is folly – buildings perch on steep banks and tumble into deep gullies, play hide and seek under bridges and split themselves with narrow staircases. In the old town the stones crowd each other, nestling and nesting, while in the new, they stretch out in shamelessly graceful and decadent curves, lavishly channelling light into the streets between. There’s always space for green in Edinburgh, and a generous allowance for wilderness too – the Crags barely tamed by a path convicts cut out, and a glut of yellow gorse taking on the heights of Arthur’s Seat to be ravished by the wind. Tourists and walkers make it up to the precarious top of the Seat and stretch their eyes over astute landmarks to the flat of the Forth with its tiny stationary tankers beyond.' (Dora Petherbridge)

'Pink Sky' by Dora Petherbridge

Why Edinburgh?

'For the hustle of Princes Street and its mythological tram line. For the special type of beggar who is one part street theatre and two parts hustler. For a city of contrasts, propped up by natural volcanic rock, open to the elements and embracing with a festival for the fringe. For lush greenery against a backdrop of granite and the seemingly gated community of the New Town. For the disconcertingly quiet streets, hidden alleys and piss strewn passageways of the Old Town and its lurking history. For the deadening pulse under the cobbles where the secrets of the vaults creep round corners and cast shadows. For the twinkly fairy lights of the Christmas trees. For John Knox’s house, Mary King’s close and the pin point precision of the Camera Obscurer. For the over-wrought audacity of the Witchery all red and gold gilt cornicing and boastful guest book. For the simple privilege of walking through streets weighted with literature. Because I share the city with Miss Jean Brodie. Because anything goes: the unicyclists, the exhibitionists, the tramps, the wee hard men and the gentry. But mostly for the elements. For the way the clouds chase each other in October. For how the wind howls sending unpredictable gusts that blow up immodest skirts and permanently tussle hair. For the setting sun with its pink sky and the light peppering of snow in December.'