One into Four

Well, that was a very low-key first show in the run up to the Edinburgh 2017 fringe. Actually, no, not ‘low-key’: the bijou audience chuckled and chortled, even guffawed at times – ‘low-key’ suggests underplayed and Well Thumbed at the Rising Sun Arts Centre in Reading was anything but that.

What it was was very under attended. My one-man show was in danger of outnumbering the audience….

Where was everybody? Glasto? Tesco? Ascot?

I asked the paying member of the audience – all one of him – if he was happy for the show to go ahead. Of course he said yes. Then two of the Rising Sun volunteers volunteered to come in. And Liz (she’s behind the camera, standing where you are in the picture below) made four.

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 10.54.10

Well, nothing ventured…

I can honestly only remember two such nigh-on or full-on invisible audiences. The first was in a London fringe venue – Café Theatre (as was) in Leicester Square: four in the cast for a piece of Camus’ existentialist tragedy, and we definitely outnumbered the audience until both box office and back stage sat out front. That show went on, and then it went on to the Traverse in Edinburgh.

& then there was the Valentine’s night where I propped up a hotel bar with a fabulous actress. I can’t even remember where it was. We had been engaged to orchestrate and emcee an evening of romantic games. No one came. I can’t even remember where it wasn’t.

On the other hand, a few years back I was reviewing shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. There was a Steven Berkoff two-hander that tickled my fancy, performed by newly graduated students from, I think (but memories play tricks), the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Anyway, I got there, press ticket in hand. The venue had literally sprung a leak, the stage had been soaked; everything was running half an hour behind. I was the only member of the audience. The cast, both of them, came out to explain the situation and pleaded that the show must go on. The unwritten rule is never outnumber the audience. This could have been awkward. I was the only one in the auditorium… And it brought out the best in all of us. One of the best theatrical experiences I have had. The atmosphere was electric. The sparks that flew were figurative; they did not come as the result of a leaking roof.

So, back to last night. I can only judge it from my side of a lighthearted divide. Well Thumbed has found its mojo. It’s a happier, sillier show than it was, and it’s in very rude health. My thanks to a perfect little audience, all four of you. We made it. And it was fun.

Well, modesty should forbid but that was what they told me afterwards: ‘fun, educational, erudite and surprising’ and other words to that effect.

Looking forward: next week Well Thumbed rocks up at the Guildhall in Barnstaple

BridgeArtReady-2

and I am thoroughly looking forward to it. Well Thumbed has found its legs, now it’s using them to chase around looking for its audience.

I’ll be doing a spot on BBC Radio Devon this Monday in support of my 4 nights in Barnstaple. Well Thumbed artist Carl Chapple, who will be exhibiting the beginnings of his growing collection of Well Thumbed author portraits alongside the performances, has sent me this message:

‘Re the interview on Radio Devon – if a local reference might be useful, I grew up in and around Tavistock, and went to Tavistock Comprehensive. My art teacher was the marvellous Stuart Stephens, whom I can’t seem to find anywhere online, and I was rejected by Plymouth College of Art after making a terrible drawing of a cactus.’

There’s a lot more to Carl than that. Here’s a link to  Carl Chapple’s website and if you don’t have time for a full explore right now here’s a sneaky peak at some of his glorious little Well Thumbed pics.

Lawrence, Casanova and Twain…

And, if that’s not enough, here’s an entirely gratuitous portrait (by someone else) of  the author of the Beggar’s Opera, John Gay, summing up the wonders of Well Thumbed.

NT2

See you there.

Dystopias or Dystopiae? – neither is good.

These last months and weeks, really since the last time I was in a polling booth, certainly since Well Thumbed returned to my horizons, I have found myself lost in memories of cultural impedimenta and ephemera. I don’t really know why.

My symptoms: I have been watching old movies that matter to me, seeing my heroes struggle again within totalitarian dystopias: most recently Cabaret and V for Vendetta, soon I know I will turn again to if… & even before the50th  birthday hype, I have been listening to my teentime treasure, Sgt. Pepper.

As I said, I don’t know why. These classics have little or nothing to do with the content of Well Thumbed. Perhaps it’s just the 2017 times we live through. The threatening gloom that echoes in our foreshadowed world; a manifest o’twirling liars and their fiddling hoopla convictions.

Obviously this being right up myself is a nostalgic inevitability of the looming and ‘significant’ birthday, combined with re-rehearsals, re-shaping and remaking Well Thumbed for a series of revivified performances, including a month on the Edinburgh Fringe.

I realise too that these sporadic Well Thumbed blogs are more stream of consciousness than puff. Still, what’s a blog for if not self absorption? The rehearsal process for me needs a let-off-steam of consciousness. Besides, who’s listening?

books-1866844_960_720

My inward focus sharpened a bit a couple of days back when I semi-completed a questionnaire at artsculture.newsandmediarepublic.org in support of some performances of Well Thumbed at the Barnstaple Fringe Theatre Festival. Now read on…


When we heard Terry Victor’s Well Thumbed was ‘a show, I imagine, that would have Mary Whitehouse spinning in her chastity belt’, […] we put down our Fanny Hill, clipped on our own belt, and pricked up our ears.

‘Well Thumbed is a mischievous and very rude exploration of classic literature, conceived and performed by Terry Victor,’ says the blurb.

Which goes on to described it as ‘a libertine and ribald celebration that contains historically robust language and subject matter. Jane Austen’s dirty bits will be riffled for your pleasure.’

It’s will be playing at the Guildhall during the The Barnstaple Fringe Festival, with the refreshingly egalitarian price of Pay What You Will.



Here are my unedited and unpolished answers.

Who are you and what do you do?
I am Terry Victor, an actor who wears other hats – writer, lexicographer, director, storyteller. Actually, one of those might be a badge. I wear lots of badges. I create interesting theatre.

Why do you do what you do?
I have been doing it – whatever it is – for so many years now that, nature or nurture, it is part of my DNA. No choice, I have to make things happen.

How do you work?
I follow a notion, as far as possible, collaboratively. In the case of Well Thumbed, the show I have created and am performing as part of the Barnstaple fringe fest, I am collaborating with dead authors. Is it art? I don’t know.

What has been a seminal experience?
As an actor and deviser, being a part of Punchdrunk’s Masque of the Red Death. It freed me up.

What work do you most enjoying doing?
Writing, devising and rehearsing. What I am doing tomorrow

What themes do you pursue?
Freedom of artistic expression, the joys of language and the horrors of war

What’s your scariest experience?
The first time, every time. Sorry, that’s a bit glib. The first proofs of my books terrify me.

What’s your favourite art work?
Sunday on the Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, as interpreted by Stephen Sondheim

What memorable responses have you had to your work?
I remember tears and gasps more than laughter.

Should art be funded? 
Yes. End of.

What role does arts funding have? 
It gives confidence to society.

What makes you angry?
Not getting funding (for the wrong reasons)

What research to you do?
Deep vein. I should stand up more often.

What superpower would you have and why?
The gift of time.

Name something you love, and why.
Slang. It’s democratic art in the mouths of the masses.

Name something you don’t love, and why.
Intolerance. I can barely tolerate it.

What is your dream project?
I am living the dream. It’s my next work (I hope)

Favourite or most inspirational place (in Devon)?
Barnstaple’s Guildhall – I’m looking forward to it.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
When faced with a questionnaire hide behind the answers.

Professionally, what’s your goal?
To continue until I drop.

What wouldn’t you do without?
Breath. And books.

Well Thumbed is on during The Barnstaple Fringe Theatre Festival, at The Guildhall, Thursday 29th June to Sunday 2nd July @ various times. Pay what you will.

Barnstaple flier times and dates

Nincumpoop

Well Thumbed in Wigtown.  The unseasonal sun was shining in Dumfries and Galloway. The spirits of Robert the Bruce and Robbie Burns shimmered and shimmied in the party atmosphere. Wigtown Book Festival time!

Upstairs in the Book Shop  in Wigtown is where the authors (and performers) retreat. There, a charming photographer asked for a favourite word on his blackboard. I should, perhaps, have written Well Thumbed. Don’t blame me for being a nincumpoop. The resultant image was to form part of a display of festival folk. Here it is:

screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-16-38-41

My mum used to call me a ‘nincumpoop’. I know, spellcheck spells it ‘nincompoop’. Capt. Francis Grose defined it as ‘a man who has never seen his wife’s private parts’. Something like that. & so, Notional Theatre arrived in Scotland.

Well Thumbed played to about 30 people who laughed a lot. The stage was small and the borrowed armchair was beautiful. More or less the same show as Cardiff but different, tweaked and more confident – & the autoharp died!

screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-16-42-32

Back home the pretty way to a couple of pretty good reviews of the first night. I mean they’re not bad at all; critical but more than respectable; a really good start for a show that is not even planned to open until next year. (Honestly, I have given much worse reviews to really good shows that have had time to run in.) My favourite quote in the reviews is one you can bet will be  highlighted on the posters –

‘A show, I imagine, that would have Mary Whitehouse spinning in her chastity belt.’

One thing though. Both reviews draw a comparison with Brian Blessed. Why?

brian-blessed

I can’t see it myself.

Although, to be fair, I was at the Mill at Sonning Theatre recently to see a friend in a play that Brian Blessed had directed. I was sat in my seat, minding my own business, when the man sitting alongside leant over and said, ‘Brian?’

Anyway, now the real work begins. Making Well Thumbed all it can be. So, sorry ‘n’ all that but that’ll be the last from this blog for a wee while.

Oh & don’t worry about the autoharp – it’s under guarantee. It will be back.

Up and Running

Well, Well Thumbed is open and being tweaked as we speak. Way, way too knackered today to get into some kind of abstract stream of consciousness bloggery. This will be the most straightforward and unnuanced web log that I have, to date, attempted.

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-16-05-32

Well Thumbed was very warmly received, and nice things have been said & tweeted. Thank you all so very much.

As always the next show learns from the last. So, post-perf and overnight there has been a small change at the top and another at the bottom (a better end at the end). & a couple of squashy bits and bobs around the middle have been tightened up.

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-16-16-25

How do I feel?

Like an unpeopled stage set. Empty yet full of possibilities.  Exhausted but full of life. Exhilarated and unsatisfied.

& positively looking forward to the next outing – at the Wigtown Book Festival tomorrow.

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-16-23-37

The pictures here were all taken by Liz Gardiner, Notional Theatre’s administrator and more importantly (nepotism aside) the wife of the bloke in the pictures. Me. The location was pre-curtain-up at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff last night. The date was our 31st wedding anniversary.

Last year we celebrated our Pearl as visitors to the Wigtown Book Festival. And this year we’ll be back there with this show.

Now that’s what I call a date.

 

Away with the Fairies

In times of rehearsal the world shrinks around a performer’s shoulders, hugging, squeezing, keeping reality at a safe distance. The outside world bangs on the door, an inept burglar huffing and puffing, ‘Let me in, I want to steal your focus’.

Sometimes, stuff happens.  You get yourself sidetracked. Look! How big the world is. See! That e-petition really is very important. Ah! How small I am in the scheme of things…

That’s when an early morning, half-waking reverie makes Well Thumbed leaps of synaptic logic. I am Tom Thumb. I am Thumbelina. Lost in space. Lost to the world. Lost in rehearsals dreams.

What is every dreamy actor’s ultimate desire? A big hand.

427092-1

Then I get butterflies. You see, it all makes some kind of sense.

BTW, all credit to the fairy illustrators Vilhelm Pederson and E. A. Lemann.

I woke up this morning …  blinking away the fairy dust. And back in the real world it turns out that this is Banned Books Week. Oh Happy Day! I did not see that coming. Here I am about to perform in Well Thumbed, a show that draws inspiration from, y’know, books of that sort. Including, let it be known, one very, very well-known fairy tale.

banned-books-web-link-english

You’ll find all the Well Thumbed details you could possibly need on Notional Theatre’s homepage <www.notionaltheatre.com>.

Me, I am once more back on the helter skelter of final rehearsals.

Head on straight.

Concentrate.

Focus.

The world shrinks away.

But now I know that dreams can and do come true.

& no fairies were harmed in the making of this blog.

Thank you, Thumbelina.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despatches from the Thumb Wars

Singing for my supper & dancing to the media’s tune.          1, 2, 3, 4, I declare Well Thumbed war.

Yes, that’s me playing Thumb Wars with Mr Go Compare (yes, really) in a bijou publicity stunt inspired by the title of Well Thumbed. And, yes, don’t get me wrong, I was more than happy to go along with it. Wynne’s a lovely man. He let me win. It’s a Wynne-win situation. Besideswhich, the more and however the words Well Thumbed get out there the better the chance of finding an audience.

The interview for Wynne Evans’ show on BBC Radio Wales – following Taylor Swift out of the 11.30 news break – was fun and full of useful Well Thumbed puffery. I could have asked for no greater opportunity to recommend and enthuse.

But, and this is what’s on my mind, the memorable hook is Thumb Wars which has nothing (apart from a poorly pun) to do with Well Thumbed. It’s the final realisation that all  (and whatever) our creative efforts and artistic endeavours add up to is yet another product in the market place, fighting  a 2 star shoot-em-up at the local multiplex to get those bums on our seats. It’s a marketing rule of thumb. So, Well Thumbed is full of sex & violence – well, sex & sexy violence – artistically credible and commercially attractive.

Do you bite your thumb at me, sir?  Let’s fight for a share of the leisure and entertainment economy. Bring it on. & beware you 2 stars in a shoot-em-up, I do my own Thumb Wars stunts.

screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-17-49-38

This is a pic(k) of my actual thumb armour. There is now less than a week to go until Well Thumbed opens. I am in a whirl. My heart is already beating faster than a well strummed thumb piano. But I am so thumbs up for it.

&, please, no more thumb puns.

 

 

 

Middle for Diddle

It’s the weirdest thing, experiencing a show as it develops. Somewhere around the middle of rehearsals, as the outside world shrinks, the work becomes more than you ever realised.

On the other hand, the closer I get to my Well Thumbed performances the harder it becomes to write this blog. As if the thought process wasn’t abstract enough already. Trying to reflect moods and moments. What was going on in my mind without getting into rehearsal specifics. Or performance secrets.

Dear Diary: this last few days have been mixed bag of frustrations and, fingers crossed, triumphs. And inbetweentimes diddling with very bad puns. Like this one: screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-10-57-04

The script of Well Thumbed was pretty much finished and ready to roll weeks ago. But by the middle of rehearsals it had become apparent that there was something, I don’t know, not quite there. From the first words to the final thumbs-up, the production script has a logic, a rhythm and pace. It has a beginning and an end. And it doesn’t outstay its welcome. What more could you want?

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-12-33-14

A couple of restlessly tossing nights revealed what was missing. To be honest, it was the tiniest of things but, without going into details, Well Thumbed now has a middle. An axis. A pivot. A core. What was missing from the script was really nothing more than a non-textual metaphor, yeah?

I know. That sort of thing sounds terribly arty-ficial but finding it, the tinselly thing, really has opened up the piece for me. Made it, y’know, more.  OK, it’s a pretentious way of dressing up  and justifying a simple pun that no one else may even notice for what it is. Whatever. I diddled with the middle and now, for me, the show has a theatrical identity.

And relax. Unless you are stage management, in which case get your broom out; yes, sorry, my diddling does have SM ramifications.

  • Disclaimer: Well Thumbed is the product of many great writers (three of them may be seen in the picture above). However, the use of Edgar Allan Poe’s image elsewhere in this blog should nevermore be interpreted as a guarantee of that author’s place in the final performance script.

Notional Theatre is happy to acknowledge the support of the pun-loving Mr Poe for its @NotionalTheatre tweet-credibility marketing strategy.

Furthermore, Notional Theatre asserts that Virginia Woolf is getting above herself.

 

 

Subtexting

Subliminal undercurrents and esoteric motivations that drive a piece of creative work …

                       Eh, what’s that all about then?

I am wrestling with the subtext.

                       Oh, stop being pretentious.

The writer underpins a text with a personal philosophy

The director brings another, human appetites abound

This performer finds hidden truths in cups of coffee

And the audience interprets what is left to be found

                     I cannot believe you stooped to poetry.

I am trying to explain, as co-writer and sole performer, what is going on in my head as we bring Well Thumbed to the stage.

                    Go on then. Explain yourself.

This is like talking to myself in public…

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-17-37-29

Well, Well Thumbed is a compendious celebration. There’s no story arc, as such. Nor, with so many classic authors involved, is there much room for character development. Well Thumbed is a theatrical amusement. A mischievous diversion. The serious Well Thumbed subtexts are in the context and concept of the piece:

  • Humanity (here, in the form of great writers) has wrestled with sexual identity and contemporary moralities since the year dot but here’s proof that nothing has really changed.
  • Humanity is greater than any religious stricture or political morality.
  • Censorship always fails.

                    That’s not a whatchamacallit. Subsex. That’s the message.                                                         & you are up your own –

OK. Whatever.

                   So stop faffing about. The job is to entertain. Get on with it.

Fair enough.

                    What’s it all about?

Well, Well Thumbed is a saucy compilation of the finest mucky bits from classic authors. As many short and sweet bits as could be squeezed in to a single set of stand up literature. Well Thumbed is well read and well rude.

                    But is it funny?

Oh yes. Very. And you’ll never guess who turned up at rehearsals… Only one of the most banned authors of all time. See –

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-15-21-04

                      That’s Mark Twain!

You won’t believe what he put in the mouth of Homer.

                      Simpson?

Now you’re being silly.

                    Isn’t that the real subtext?

 

 

 

Secret Passages

You can’t judge the bookish by a cover story…

dafydd_ap_gwilym_-_frontispiece_john_parrys_the_welsh_harper

Try this (& don’t even get me started on e-books): take a stroll though the crime and thriller section of a busy bookshop. Pull out random titles and look at the front cover art.

See!

Ignore the words and favour the graphic.

Despite the very best work of paperback designers you really can’t tell a book by its cover, can you? Odds are that the cover art will either have eyes staring back at you (this is crime and thrillers, after all), or  will sketch the story of a central figure, leading you into the book, often in dramatic silhouette with enhanced perspective; a first or third person hero/ine on a quest, heading into danger. Don’t be mislead by the harp and the hand on the hip….

OK, so maybe you can tell a book’s genre by its cover but, as the throbbing graphic of indiscriminate thrilldom beckons you, dear hungry reader, you can’t easily tell them apart, can you?

Now step into Well Thumbed world. Imagine, just for a moment, that you are seeking fresh literary thrills in the serious leatherbound volumes of a classic library. Your quest, heroic reader, is to seek out the guilty pleasures of antique dirty bits.

well-thumbed-library

Q. How can you guess at particular contents? & which blurbless book might suit your requirements?

A. Look at the bindings. Find a well worn spine. Slip it off of the shelf. That book, you can be sure, will fall open at Well Thumbed pages. You are pretty much guaranteed that there is a passage to be found which has excited the interest of a previous reader (warning: if you discover scribbled marginalia you are almost certainly in the wrong book – unless phrases of pertinence to scholastic disciplines really do fill your needs). Your quest here, for the purposes of a fractured metaphor, is to run down the secret passages of a book.

the-penguin-archive-2

And that, in an ornately carved nutshell, or even dog-eared paperback, is the Well Thumbed concept. A unique theatrical event created by Notional Theatre, in a production that offers a classy blend of acting, reading and singing; mixing comedy with the frankly tragic; the well read and the well rude.

Oh, the picture of the man with the harp standing in a gateway… That’s supposed to be Dafydd ap Gwilym, a Welsh poet of the Middle Ages who is a surprisingly saucy contributor to the Well Thumbed script.

 

Enough digression. Back to rehearsals.

 

 

Who is he? Who am I?

This Well Thumbed instalment is nothing more nor less than one actor’s idiosyncratic rumination (self-obsessed or what?) on the explorative nature of finding a character in rehearsal.

Or, to put the headline other ways, which bit of him isn’t me? Which is the walrus and which is the whale and where does that leave the carpenter?

It’s a conundrum of sorts (with apparently random pop-culture references).

I researched, wrote and will play in Well Thumbed – of that much I can be blogging certain – but, now, the rehearsal process is messing with my head.

Getting into the performing of Well Thumbed’s Librarian and, inevitably, it’s beginning to get complicated. Always happens. According to my (official) version of the Librarian’s back story, he’s the one – not me – who researched, wrote and is performing Well Thumbed. But I am & am not the Librarian. There’s more to me than him. I am me. Maybe meta-me. It’s got complicated.

Not to worry. Performance uncertainty is a default that Equity members get with their actory settings.

Stop reading now! These random jottings can get no better than that world class pun.

Sorry, this fractured logic echoes the process of exploration and discovery in my world of rehearsals. That might be what I am trying to get at. So, meanwhile, back at the plot…

In some roles it is important for an actor to lose his or her identity into the performance. A method in the madness. Take 1tsp of character, stir with a soup spoon of performer.  At worst, a miscast actor will try to find an honest character(-isation) to hide behind. Exploring, balancing a tandem, maybe even a trandem identity. Goodie goodie yum yum. Yes, no. That’s not what is happening in the Well Thumbed rehearsals. I am perfectly well cast, thank you very much, and will deliver the goodies.

However, it is important to me that the Librarian should be more than just me. I am he and he is me and we are altogether. Goo goo ga joob.

One moment we, he and me, are being Richard Burton, the explorer (below). He has the Walrus.

British explorer Richard Francis Burton pictured in 1864

Then, at the very next line, we find ourselves trying to be ourselves. Disarming, charming.

Before switching into a character written by this fellow:

Herman_Melville_1885

By which time we all need a coffee. Anyone for Starbuck?

Well Thumbed isn’t all that complicated. But there is only one man on the stage. & he will be the Librarian. Not me. I’m just trying to work out what I am doing there.

& what about that pun, eh?