Following my premature exit from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the summer of 1979, I enjoyed a reasonably extended period of success as a professional actor, appearing first in a Christmas tour of the pantomime “Sleeping Beauty” thanks to my munificent first agent Barrie Stacey, and then, in early 1980, in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” directed by Richard Cottrell at the celebrated Bristol Old Vic.
Appearing in the latter were Daniel Day Lewis, future oscar-winning character actor of fabled perfectionist genius, and Nickolas Grace, best known for his superb screen portrayals of complex dandies both real and fictional, and they both made an immense impression on me, as did other members of an incredibly gifted and charismatic cast.
Prior to the opening of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, I had been fortunate enough to witness a BOV production of one of my favourite ever musical comedies, Frank Loesser’s “Guys and Dolls”, which I can quite honestly say afforded me more unalloyed joy than almost any other theatre production I have witnessed before or since, and in which Clive Wood made a mesmerising Sky Masterson, while another future screen legend Pete Postlethwaite played Nathan Detroit.
Cottrell’s “Dream” was lavishly lauded, and there was even some talk of its becoming as renowned as the revolutionary 1971 production by Peter Brook, whom I met very briefly in the late 1970s, so much so that it relocated to the London Old Vic in the summer where it was equally successful.
Towards the end of its Bristol run, in tandem with several other actors who didn’t have overly demanding parts, I undertook a small role in an obscure play by the celebrated cinema auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder entitled “The Freedom of Bremen” (Brehmer Freiheit), which was directed by Michael Batz, but in the studio rather than the Theatre Royal. Michael, also a writer, is currently the artistic director of Hamburg’s Theater in der Speicherstadt in the city’s historic Warehouse district.
As companion piece “Along Whiteladies Road” evidences, my time in the city of Bristol was quite unsettled.
Initially, I stayed in an elegant little dwelling in the affluent Clifton area to the west of the city centre, much of which was built from profits from tobacco and the slave trade, but was asked to leave by my landlady because, if I’m not mistaken, my room was imminently required by a relative, whereupon a friend from the Vic, Kathy, realising that I was now homeless, most generously asked if I’d like to stay awhile with her in her own house (or apartment). I took her up on her offer, and in the course of my brief time with her, one of my best ever friends Dom Barlow who’d come to see me perform in “The Dream” shared the floor in a makeshift bed beside mine in a spare room for a night or so; but before long I’d relocated to a boarding house.
Dominic and I had met at the Guildhall School in the City of London, where I was studying drama, while he was a music student, before going on to form an artistic partnership which produced several song collobarations among other works. We also enjoyed a short-lived residency at a restaurant in Putney, south west London, in which I crooned Pop standards to Dom’s piano accompaniment.
While still in his teens, Dom was the composer of astoundingly mature songs in the Classic Popular style of Hoagy Carmichael, Cole Porter &c., and for which he and I made a series of demos. He went on to enjoy a career as a professional musician, and the last I heard of him which was just before Christmas Day 2006, he was touring the world with an acclaimed musical spectacular.
The following year of ’81 found me working as an assistant stage manager, percussionist and walk on actor in “Satyricon”, based on the original by Petronius, and directed by Peter Benedict, thanks to the generosity of the then Company Stage Manager, Haydn Davies, a refined and cultivated man of humble London origins who had attended both the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) as a young man, becoming a close friend of my fathers’ at the former. Soon thereafter, I contributed to an audio project of his known as “The Poetry People” with, in addition to Haydn, John Pine, Kay Clayton, and Maria Perry. Maria went on to become a highly successful historical writer and broadcaster, whose books have included “The Word of a Prince”, and “Sisters to the King”.
As 1981 progressed however, my career faltered somewhat, and so a family decision was reached to the effect that I should become a mature student at the age of 25. Accordingly, I passed interviews for both the University of Exeter, and Westfield College in leafy Hampstead, part of the University of London.
Again according to a family ruling, it was jointly at Westfield and the nearby Central School of Speech and Drama, that I found myself embarking on a Bachelor of Arts degree in French and Drama in the autumn of the year, while resident in a room on campus, much, as I recall, to my initial discontent, the latter being at one stage so vehement that I desperately auditioned for Barrie Stacey for work as an Assistant Stage Manager as a means of escape, but without success.
Some time thereafter, while strolling at night in the South Hampstead/Swiss Cottage area of north London, close by to the aforesaid Central School, I was besieged by a group of my fellow drama students from Westfield, who were clearly delighted to see me, and to this day I vividly recall the thrill I felt at being accepted so unconditionally. They appeared to me to incarnate the rapturous vitality and sheer carefree joy of life of youth, and soon thereafter if I’m not mistaken, I became entranced by my time at Westfield, coinciding as it did with the first half of the 1980s, last of a triad of decades in the West of total decadent irresponsibility among the end of century young.
The piece featured below had as its starting point diary notes committed to spare scraps of paper, only to be consigned to a series of receptacles, and then retrieved over two decades later to be revamped for the internet. They pertained to a single evening at Westfield, almost certainly taking place in 1983 (perhaps ’82), and which amply illustrated my painfully acute social susceptibility and unceasing need for attention, affection and approbation within a social setting.
Hindsight, buttressed by my strong Christian faith, informs me that such extreme social dependency was a form of idolatry destined to lead in time to wholesale psychic disintegration, although thanks to the infinite mercy of God, I survived this zerrissenheit, and recovered my sense of completeness by degrees.
Only a fraction of the original notes survived to be melded together, versified, and freshly punctuated, before being awarded a title, which I have applied to this piece of writing as a whole, thereby completing the process.
Those sad faces
My soul was
I couldn’t speak!
I felt like the nice guy
On the sidelines,
Of the spells of calm
And the hysterical
I’d only approached
By my third
And Gail said
Your eyes are
You must be
Back at the flat
S. said: “I’m afraid…
You’re not just
Of the spells of calm
And the hysterical