diary

Sunday May 27th 2001
Iselin, NJ

I have arrived for the great American adventure. It's raining and I feel like death. Had the meal on the plane and woke up to someone kicking me in the stomach… at least that's what it felt like. I suppose it's nerves and I'm hoping that it'll disappear by tomorrow. No time to be ill now. Jim and Jack, my in-laws, have made me wonderfully welcome, and I basically have the run of the upstairs of the house. Can't quite believe that I'm here… well that I'm here for so long. I feel like Frodo at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, and at the moment I wish I were home. Incredibly touched by the send-off by family and friends over the last few weeks. So excited for me. I don't want to let them down. So tomorrow it's Richard Babe in the City. It's Memorial Day, so it won't be crowded. I have the train ticket, I have the schedule, and all I need now is to be fit and well ready to meet Aquila and New York!

Monday 4th June 2001
Iselin, NJ

Well end of the first week. It's all a bit surreal. I haven't seen a lot of New York as I've been mainly stuck inside Lincoln Centre rehearsing, but I've got little tasters now and again. One of them was meeting John Lawler and his wife Ellen in a bar downtown in the Nolita district. John is a New Yorker and directed me in Spin at the Battersea Arts Centre. He and Ellen are moving to LA, and this was to have a drink with their friends at their local bar before driving the 3000 miles across country... a five-day trip. It was great to see John and I tried not to take it personally that he was leaving just as I was coming into the city. They had ordered Pizza and there was some still left in the box, when this woman came over and asked us if anybody was eating it. We said no, help yourself... thinking she was a waitress. She thanked us and promptly walked out the bar with the box under her arm. "That's New York for you," said John.

The cast have all been very welcoming to us who are new to the company. I have found the physical work quite hard going, but it's getting easier now that the jet-lag is starting to wear off. I was disturbed to read that Aquila had described me as the veteran actor... but then realised I was the oldest in the company. Depressing how often this is the case these days. The dancing is my main concern at the moment. It has always taken me three times as long as anyone else to pick dance moves. I used to blag it when I was a kid and sell my personality, but you can't get away with that when you're older. I was just starting to think I had got the intricate moves of the masked ball under my belt, when I put the mask on. Suddenly all the moves disappeared... the mask was obviously interfering with the brain waves travelling down the legs! It's pleasing that the company is half British and half American, and with a good mixture of the surreal and movement-based actor with the more conventional text-based ones. I find the show very exciting to watch and even more exciting to be in. I may joke about the dancing... well no, I don't actually... but I love doing it. The whole concept of setting it in a 1960s TV series with homage's to The Prisoner, James Bond, Charlie's Angels, Danger Man...et al, I think is brilliant.

Travelling into New York on the train on Friday, when the announcer came on as we entered Penn Station. " Have a pleasant day, and a fantastic and Blessed weekend." so different from our own dear train announcers... who all sound like Eyore to me.

Big Ice-hockey Final The Stanley Cup is underway. Local interest is intense because once again the New Jersey Devils are one of the finalists. 2-2 is the current score. Best of seven.

Heavy rain over here, just like the movies. No drizzle or mizzle... just chucks it down... and then sunshine. Robert, the director and Tony, lead actor, got a cab into work and got soaked twice first from the front and then from the back by passing traffic.

Next week we have less rehearsal time and I'm trying not to panic. One of the venues we're playing on the tour holds 14,000 people. Heard from Robert that it looks like Tempest is going to the Bahamas at the beginning of January. Hurrah!

Wearing fantastic suits supplied by Beau Brummel of New York. I call them the Beau Brummel Sopranos. Three guys all dressed in black that looked like they had seen a great deal of the world... if you know what I mean. One of them appeared in front of me looking just like a cross between Anthony Quinn and Robert de Nero:

"Hey Richard... you're from England, right? You like the suit?"

I nodded enthusiastically. There was only going to be one answer. Kept thinking of Hugh Grant in Mickey Blue Eyes... fergeddeboudet! Apparently we are having a special celebrity gala evening for them. They supply suits to Regis Philbin, who does Millionaire show over here, George Harrision... and more. Could be quite a night!

Well got to get back to learning the script and prancing around the bedroom trying to use the opposite arm to the opposite leg. Why is that so hard?

Sunday 10th June 2001

On my way to meet up with the company for the beginning of our mini tour, I rode solo for the first time in a NY cab. It proceeded to take me the wrong way. Going uptown instead of down. Apparently he misunderstood the directions. Arrived outside the Aquila Headquarters at 10 o'clock where the awaiting band of players were suitably impressed.

The van is much smaller than I had imagined. It's a 10 seater, but we took the backseat out to put the luggage in. I couldn't quite believe that we were setting out on a 10 hour drive! The other hardened tourers of the company couldn't quite believe they were setting out on tour again. Most of the day was spent driving through the wooded gentle hills and dales of Pennsylvania. We passed quite a few dead deer, an Amish driving his horse-drawn buggy... and my first State-Trooper. On one of our relief stops I saw graffiti in the loos telling everyone to support their local militia. Tim McVeigh dies tomorrow.

Eventually we drove into Ohio... and everything became flat. We finally arrived at Sandusky at 8 o'clock in the evening. I think it's the longest journey I've ever made overland. We're close to Lake Eyrie up here and the mosquitoes were out looking for their evening meal. We went out looking for ours and had a jolly time. I drank too much beer. I'm sharing a room with Nate who plays Claudio. I haven't shared for years and I was surprised to be doing so. Spent my time trying to go to sleep and worrying about my snoring. Slept badly.

Wednesday 13th June 2001

The next day... watching the bizarre circus on US TV on the death of Tim McVeigh and sat trying to eat some breakfast as they tried to feed their public every twitch and nerve ending that they had witnessed seeing him die. For a civilized country it's bizarre that they seriously think that it is morally right to take a person's life. Relatives seemed disappointed that he didn't seem to suffer. Surely if you had kept him confined to jail for the rest of his life, that would have been far more painful. Tony said they should have shut him away in a cell with a very large black man, but Louis said that sounded like so much fun and was no punishment at all.

We continued our journey on to Midland, MI which was only 6 hours! This time - oh joy of joys - I was given my own room. I'm not good at sharing space and have always enjoyed my own company. Dates back to when I was 16 and started living on my own in London.

In the evening we did a dress rehearsal of the show at the venue. I don't think I have ever sweated so much doing a show, not even with The Invisible Man. Physical theatre at 43 is hard work, believe me. The theatre was quite large and it was gratifying to be on stage again.

The following day I went down to the restaurant and treated myself to blueberry pancakes. It would be my last meal before the inevitable nerves of the first performance. It's quite a proppy show and that has taken quite a long time to sort out. Found myself feeling under pressure for the performance. I suppose I wanted to justify Robert's faith in me. Anyway the show went as well as I could have wished. The audience took a little time to tune in, but about the same time as we realized it was going to be alright, they relaxed and the laughs started to come. We had a standing ovation at the end and everyone was happy. We went to a reception after the show and I met Dionne's parents. Dionne is Robert's wife. No alcohol at the reception... what a strange country.

"What I love about this country is that there's no class system. I would never be allowed to lecture over in England." said Peter Meineck, our Producing Artistic Director, Producer, Production Designer and Lighting Designer. He teaches at NYU; was a marine until they put him through university and discovered he had a brain and a gift for everything Greek. He is a classical Greek scholar amongst other things.

I believe that anything is possible here. It's hard to get a feeling of the country from the back of a bus except that it's big... and that everywhere I go, there are people who come up to me and say: "Love ya accent!"

 

Thursday 14th June 2001

Waffles for breakfast today. Eight hour drive to Somerset on the way to Hampton, Virginia. Peter runs the company a bit like a commando unit. It's taken me a while to tune into this. I suppose that with him being an ex-marine, it all makes sense. Unfortunately I have always reacted violently against any authority of any kind. However now I think I know what the scenario is from his point of view, I think I can enjoy it. I've decided take the role of Robert de Nero in The Deer Hunter - silent and strong!

The part of Pennsylvania that we drove through was very pretty, tree lined mountains and green valleys. Suddenly on top of one of the mountains we hit a major thunderstorm. The rain just fell on us like someone was throwing a bucket of water. Everyone fastened their seatbelts at the same time without saying a word. We drove through it without stopping. However the smaller van carrying the props and Louis, James and Lisa nearly came to grief. A highway patrol car pulled across them towards the roadside forcing them off the road. They stopped about an inch apart from one another and a foot away from a sheer drop off the mountain.

Room to myself again. Felt guilty because other people are sharing. However age must be afforded some comforts! No-one said anything about sharing. Explained to Louis about the techniques and traditions of pantomime at dinner tonight. Sounds ridiculous when you say it loud. Fell asleep at 11 and woke at 5. Still haven't settled yet.

Friday 15th June 2001
Hampton, VA

A lovely drive through Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia today. I got to sit in the front of the van and do a bit of navigating. It was all very confusing at first because the highway exits aren't numbered in the same way as the UK. Everywhere was very lush and green. We arrived at Hampton around 4.30 and find ourselves staying at the best hotel so far - The Radisson. A room on my own again... I'm grateful for the time and space away from the company... Not that I don't like them, but we do get to spend a lot of time together.

We all went for a curry tonight. It's something that's quite hard to find over here. It wasn't a patch on English curries, but the evening was full of laughter. Louis suddenly announced that he had been standing up for his country for the last four years because Tony was constantly putting it down. I said to Louis that he would have probably put the country down as well if it hadn't been for Tony and may be he should be surprised and intrigued that he had been given a different perspective. There is definitely a love/hate relationship with Europe over here. The American media is very sensitive to criticism of President Bush on his European visit. Breaking the Kyoto agreement and the MvVeigh execution seem to be the two main subjects. Most liberal Americans seem to be against the death penalty, but I suspect they're in the minority over here.

Here is a letter in USA Today:

EUROPEANS HARDLY FIT TO PREACH TO THE USA

While in Europe this week, President Bush faced recalcitrant European leaders who among other issues, disagree with the United States' use of the death penalty. This is interesting as much as:

* Spain is a country that gave us the Inquisition.
* England had a king who continued his tennis match
while his wife was being beheaded at his command.
* France is a country that came up with the "humane" way
to carry out a death sentence, the guillotine.
* And Germany gave the world an innovative use of gas ovens.
William H. Smith
Palm Desert, Calif

The remnants of Hurricane Alison is blowing outside. Everything battened down here. We overlook the harbor on the mouth of the river. The ocean can be seen in the distance. Jamestown is a few miles upriver which is where the first settlers from England set up shop. The Tempest is partly based on the Govoner's ship which was caught in a hurricane on the voyage over and was blown on to the Bermudas. It turned up a year later. The story was big news in Shakespeare's day. Alison has already dumped enough water to supply every American family for a year.

Hampton has a sweet little theatre which resembles the Stables Theatre in Hastings. As a consequence we have little room for all the physical acrobatics and have to be extra careful. Peter Meineck arrived having been away for a couple of days and brought his own hurricane and crazymaker energy along with him. The show went down very well although I was a bit second night-ish. One little girl in the audience, who sounded about six years old, found the whole play hysterical and took the audience along with her.

The set-up with Aquila and the tour reminds me of touring with Kate on Kiss and Tell. We are all responsible for our own props and costumes and get in and out very quickly. Found out that the bank had charged me $10 when Aquila wired them my first tour pay check. Nice to see the money in the US account at last. With all the wild weather around I am just chilling out today. Went to the gym and swam outside in the pool with the rain pouring down. Felt wonderful until Alex (Leonato) came out and told me that there was lightening around and that it might be a good idea to get out - pronto!

Sunday 17th June 2001
Hampton, VA

Had a sticky show yesterday. The audience were a little quiet. A saturday night and the foul weather probably contributed to that.

My father was spectacular in his temper when he was running the theatre, doing the marketing and directing, and Peter has some of that energy... which takes me right back to my childhood. It has positives and negatives of course.

Hurricane Alison has left us and it is a beautiful day today. Already I feel better.

Tuesday 19th June 2001
Ann Arbor Summer Festival, MI

Before we left Hampton I looked around the Virginia Air & Space Center. They had loads of old aircraft in there, a brilliant gallery full of old paintings and photographs of US Historical events, and the space capsule from the Apollo moon-landing.

Driving past Washington I could just make out in the distance the Capitol and the Monument. Thought of Planet of the Apes for some reason. The new film of it by Tim Burton is eagerly expected over here. Everyone says it looks great.



Very bumpy flight from Baltimore to Detroit. I prayed all the way. Saw Tomb Raider last night. Truly awful. Only consolation was seeing Ian Glen and Richard Johnson getting all that money and Angeline Jolie looking gorgeous and having what seemed like the time of her life. Nice hotel here. Very cheap food. I had the unusual combination of mussels with hot buffalo wings. Drank too much and had to get up early and work extra hard in the gym as a punishment.

Two dozen people have sighted an alligator in Central Park. One of the more popular urban myths is that alligators roam the sewers of New York.

Thursday 21st June 2001
Philadelphia

The Ann Arbor show was a good one. About 800 people. It was nice to be on a big stage again. They were slightly distracted towards the end when a huge thunderstorm crashed overhead and rain poured on to the stage. We improvised by coming on with raised umbrellas. Great reaction from them when Benedict says: "I will hide me in... an arbor!"

In transit at Detroit Airport we saw a review in the local paper which didn't like the show. It didn't really say why - just wanted Shakespeare to be Shakespeare. I think that the RSC coming here to rehearse and perform the Henrys might have had something to do with it. It's an opinion. I was called a nimble rubber-necked clown and a vaudevillian as Borachio which made my Don Pedro a dullard in comparison. Felt very chuffed being called a vaudevillian! Flew to Baltimore and then a two hour drive to Philadelphia found us at the very plush Warwick Hotel. I'm up on the 12th floor and have a wonderful view of the city and the thunderstorm and lightning flashes which are now crossing it. This where they signed the Declaration of Independence and house the Liberty Bell. It's strange being in a city again. This has a very wealthy centre but is surrounded by the worse ghettos I have seen so far.

We went out for a nice meal tonight to celebrate the end of the tour. Had duck and far too much red wine. Watched Traffic which I can highly recommend. Off to a workshop this morning and a 5000 seat stadium this afternoon.

Friday 22nd June 2001

Rather surreal to find yourself playing Shakespeare in a Rock arena, but first things first. Got out at about 11 and popped a flyer into the Wilma Theatre. I auditioned for them last year in NY for Spin. They put on a lot of good stuff specializing in Stoppard. I was interested to see they're premiering a new play by Jason Sherman, a young Canadian writer, who I came across in Toronto when he tried unsuccessfully to seduce my then girlfriend. Rather perversely I thought, she dragged me along to see one of his plays. Unhappiness turned to downright depression as I realized as I sat through the play that he was bloody talented!

Walked over and saw The Liberty Bell which is in a glass pavilion. It was attacked this year -on my birthday- by a dread-locked drifter from Nebraska armed with a steel rod. The park ranger excitedly told me the tale how he suddenly heard the bell ringing - the first time for centuries - and rushed with others to overpower him. Outrage from people all around when he told them they might be letting the villain out on bail. Nearest thing to treason over here I would have thought. I then popped across the road for a tour of Independence Hall. This is where they signed the Declaration of Independence and drew up the constitution. Felt a bit strange being English there, but then realized a lot of the people of the time were also English. Refreshing to see the simple design and layout and the lack of pomp and circumstance. Felt a tingle as you realized that this was the birthplace of modern democracy.

Tried a Philadelphia Cheese Steak... across between a kebab and the filling of a Shepherds Pie.

Baking hot in the evening. We were all radio-miked and looked we should be in a Madonna concert. By the interval we were soaked with sweat. Robert came to see the show and seemed very pleased. Then the mad dash back to New York. Everyone relieved and looking forward to the NY run. I missed the last train so I stayed in Brooklyn with Louis and Lisa. Got questioned by an undercover cop who was riding around in a taxi. What ever happened to the glamour of Starsky and Hutch?

Can't imagine what 8 weeks of touring would be like. Experienced members of the cast said this mini tour has been full of more action and drama than a couple of tours. I think I've probably had a baptism of fire.

Sunday 24th June 2001
Central Park

A free outdoor performance in Central Park in the Band Shell near the lake. It was wild and wacky, and despite competing with a free Salsa concert behind us, and losing gallons of body fluid, we triumphed. We had a loyal crowd of about 150 who stayed all the way through, and they were joined by hundreds more who were strolling by... an eclectic bunch of Sunday New Yorkers. At the end in the big reconciliation scene, two sparrows flew around our heads in a mating dance. It was just like a Disney film. We were the first Shakespeare company to be allowed to perform there, as they have their own of course with the Public free theatre. Our rivals this year are Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Christopher Walken in The Seagull!! Anyway it has generated a lot of publicity for us in the papers and on the web. New York Times yesterday had us in their Show section yesterday announcing that we were about to go into previews. Looking forward now to getting into the theatre on Bleecker Street and getting stuck into NY life.

 

July