August 2001

After the explosion of writing on my arrival here, there has been a gap… a space… not because I didn't have anything to write about, but because I have either been too busy or too tired to get it together. I suppose writing about things that have opened over the last one and a half months I will have to be vague and précis… and of course not writing it at the time, events lose their immediacy, but however… here goes: I think I left off after our triumphant opening night.

After that New York Times review, the other ones that really counted were The Voice and Time Out. Both were raves. We were Time Out's Critic's Choice and I got a nice mention in dispatches in The Voice. Other reviews were just as enthusiastic and so we became a smash hit… quite unusual for a Shakespeare. Our rivals also did quite well. I mean La Streep, Kevin Kline, John Goodman, Christopher Walken, Natalie Portman et al in The Cherry Orchard in the Park. They didn't have the rave reviews… although unanimous in their praise and homage to La Streep, but the tickets were free and people were queuing up from 5 o'clock the day before and sleeping out over night.

It is quite something to have experienced and survived a summer in New York. The temperature reached up to 102 degrees, but it was the humidity that could be so debilitating. We had a period of time where the air conditioning was blowing out luke-warm air and the audience and we were in danger of dehydration, but then Nate, our company manager, discovered that it was missing Phearon(spelling?)… anyway the magic ingredient that cools the water… and we were all blessedly cool again. Until we stepped outside onto the concrete, which you could probably, cook on… How on earth did they survive before A/C? No wonder it was so violent! Which brings me to a point of observation. What you do notice here is the absence of aggression or hints of violence that often pervade the streets of English cities… even on Saturday or Sunday nights… it just isn't there. It's a pleasant change not having to watch your back all the time.

Conditions inside improved up to a point… we got rid of the red gnats and there were no more Suree mouse reports… although last week a rat, the size of a small cat, was seen scuttling away in the basement area below the stage! We are now coping with the dust because the same said basement area is being turned into another theatre space… so builders and dust are flying around… However it gives us actors something else to moan about which we love to do…

The big development as far as the show is concerned is Peter decided to extend it. It is now moving to another theatre The Manhattan Ensemble Theater in SoHo from the end of September. I won't be going with it of course as I'm committed to Prospero and the tour…(leading the company!). Other replacements are for Alex who is leaving to do Mice and Men in Washington… and Nate (Claudio) who is coming with me on tour to play Caliban and to get married to the beautiful Missy!!

I think they hope to run the show there at least until Thanksgiving. For the company of Aquila it's quite a major step, raising their profile in New York. It means they'll have two companies, touring and NY based. Peter is also seriously pursuing a real estate deal for an Aquila theatre in Manhattan. So exciting times for all. I'm relieved that Much Ado has proved such a hit for Robert and it has given him and all of us the boost of energy that we needed for the run and for The Tempest… mind you, it's just as well… Robert is now rehearsing three plays, the recast of Much Ado, The Tempest and the Iliad… not to mention the teaching that he still has to do!!

We had an evening of great excitement when Valerie Harper of Rhoda TV fame came to see the show. A genuine icon and star over here, she was just about to open on Broadway herself. After the show Peter brought her down into the bowels of Bleeker, so she could say well done. Her husband who was with her asked if any of us were members of SAG. It seems she's going up for President of it… at least I think that's what he said… anyway we said that we weren't but if we became members… We then had to leave her to go and reset our own props and costumes… which confused Valerie… potential union leader.

The big disaster of the summer months was when I had my wallet stolen. I had absolutely everything in it… Green card, social security card, credit cards… I had gone to the juice bar and left it on the counter. Somebody walked off with it… they used the cards to get subway tickets and that was about all, but the headache of replacing everything that was in there was a nightmare. First stop was the police station… 9th Precinct. Which if things hadn't been so tragic, was exciting because it fulfilled everything that I had expected… huge desk sergeant… very laid back officers… wise-cracking policemen. There was even the huge guy in handcuffs; tattoos all over, who was hysterically funny as he was trying to look so innocent. It was obvious just by looking at him that he was as guilty as hell! The police were as helpful as they could be and were very courteous, and I suppose as far as crimes go in the city it was pretty small. No one got hurt after all. It was just stuff… oh, and the wedding ring which I had put in the wallet for safekeeping during the show… but besides that!

Now living with Robert and Dionne up at Morning Heights on 125th. It is so convenient for rehearsals as Lincoln Center is 20 mins door to door. Always something going on there. Richard Eyre was next door to us in the studio, casting for The Crucible, which he is doing with Liam Neeson on Broadway next year. Tony tried to gatecrash… which I observed with admiration. Last week the MTV Music Awards took place across the road and the Met… so the place was buzzing with security and limousines. Puff Daddy kicked us out of our rehearsal room to rehearse his act. Michael Jackson made a surprise appearance on stage and stole the show. Lindsay Rae (Miranda) saw him for his tribute concert at Madison Square Gardens and said it was wonderful. Apparently Marlon Brando was there which would have been enough excitement for me.

Things have reached an incredibly busy stage. We are into the last stages of The Tempest and Iliad and doing Much Ado at night. I have been very tired over the last couple of weeks, but once I leave Much Ado, things will be much easier. We had a bit of setback at the beginning of rehearsals when Aussie Mark (Trinculo) injured his knee in the storm… and had to go off and have surgery. On the mend now… and hopefully it will make a full recovery with the breaks and traveling on the tour. But just brought it home how precarious you are in a physical theatre company. I had a great idea for putting the lovely Miranda on my shoulders… she however wasn't so sure that it was such a good idea and she went one way and I went another and consequently I pulled something in my back… which still twinges two weeks later… Guess I'm not as young as I once was!

The cast for the tour is very nice, (well I have to say that as they might read this!), and young… always a good thing to have the fresh energy around to give you a different perspective on things, and I think we'll have a good time. We've got some very organized people or who are good at organizing, with Nate Terracio at the controls for the first part of the tour.

Film of the summer for me was Moulin Rouge. Flawed certainly, but daring and with great visual flare and wonderful music. All in all the films have been pretty awful… Tomb Raider, Planet of the Apes, Musketeer being some of the risible examples… only compensation was seeing English actors shamelessly taking the money!

I have just returned from a wonderful thunderstorm. The weather in New York seems to be always dramatic… I have yet to see drizzle or even light rain… it just lashes down. Most of the days are bright sunshine… which makes a wonderful change from drab British weather.

It was with some astonishment that I realized that England Germany world cup qualifier was timed miraculously when I happened not to be rehearsing and before I had to be at the theatre for the Saturday matinee. The search was on for a bar downtown to watch the game. New York and indeed America hasn't quite cottoned on to the importance of the world game, and New York was awash with Irish and English searching for the best venue… very few bars were showing it. Finally found Nevada Smiths, an English run bar downtown… the only trouble was the Irish game was first thing in the morning… so when I arrived with Alex, a great football fan, unusually for an American, we were in severe danger of not getting in; infact I was within a whisker of giving it up as a lost cause. But at the last minute we were ushered in, and having paid our $20 cover charge, we found ourselves in the bar's packed basement. The next couple of hours were joyous as I was transported back home by my fellow countrymen. An English football fan is the same in whatever country… some Irishmen tried good humouredly to wind us up, especially when Germany's goal went in, but after that it was like birthday, Xmas and New Year rolled into one as we thrashed the Germans 5-1. The only problem was trying not to shout too much with the joy of it all. 30 years is a long time to wait, but I reckon it was worth it just for the joy of humiliating the Germans on their home turf… and if that sounds cruel, well you obviously haven't seen the Germans celebrations when they beat us in the Euro 2000 penalty shoot-out.

Afterwards I had to make sure that all the company knew just what a momentous international event had occurred and proceeded to drop in references throughout the Much Ado performance. Happy day!!

One more week of Much Ado and I have to say I will be relieved to be able to concentrate fully on Prospero. This schedule is tough working 10 til 10, which it has been for most of the last seven weeks.

I feel tremendously strong about Prospero... the challenging big parts you have to wrestle with, fight, and sweat blood over... they demand tremendous concentration and thought… meditation... and I'm just talking about the preparation... and if you are brave, they can bring out the best in you. I have an idea about a stroke … is valid in so many ways... he is after all by their high wrongs struck to the quick... it's a good illustration of life without art... or at least how I feel about it... and The stroke, if indeed that is what it is, is an instinctive idea... I just think that the epilogue is not as cosy as it first appears... and may be the biggest freedom is the undiscovered country... the image of human life as a masque whose action must pass away, as no doubt the great world itself will pass away. Is sleeps a name, a euphemism, for extinction: or is our life a dream from which we shall wake to behold a world of reality incomparably more wonderful than we can imagine? This is the burden that weighs upon Prospero... Peter Brook describes the epilogue in detail in a lecture he gave in Berlin... and talks about its metaphysical make-up, but also the enigma... the unexplained... so what has all this got to do with me dying at the end? Have absolutely no clue, except it feels like it might be a good idea! On the other hand I might decide it's crap tomorrow. Purists I'm sure will hate it, but out in Iowa…?

Have been taken on by an agent called Francis DelDuka who works for Fifi-Oscard. He saw the show and asked me to come in and talk. Not much he can do for me at the moment, but hope it might lead to something later on. Still can't do us both any harm.

My daughter Sam auditioned and got into the drama course at Lewisham College. Since she left school at 12 this is very encouraging news. Brave of her and brave of Jane who runs the course to take her on. I spoke to Sam today and she had a good first day and (God be Praised) liked her fellow pupils who are a great deal older than she is! I am keeping everything crossed.

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