Archive for March, 2010


25 Days three-quarters open pathways

March 31, 2010

A day with three halves.

First half. Worry about the Front of House set-up, how we’re going to receive and seat 340 people in less than half an hour. It can be done. It will be done. It will take precision planning with some allowance for unforeseen chaos. This is good. This is life. Stop worrying.

Second half: actions, do this, do that.

Whilst Katie locates and prints a small library of documents, scripts, journeys and other stuff to be distributed to various parties and components in this great living organism that is now The Southwark Mysteries…

Phone – then send press release to South London Press and Southwark News. Anna Arthur is doing our press and PR. She already got our Quest for God in The Independent and is setting up some radio and TV interviews – it makes sense for us to use our local networks to publicise the event. Frinstance…

When I called Dan Frost at SLP he was ‘quite’ interested until a penny dropped and he suddenly said: I know you! I went on one of your walks! I bought your book!’ Reckon we’re in with a good shot for some local press coverage.

And later, doing my rounds, delivering posters and flyers to some of our partners – Better Bankside, Forster – for local distribution, I bumped into Leigh Hatts, another local writer who also does inSE1, THE listing magazine for Borough and Bankside. His son James operates the online news: he it was who did us our first audioboo (more soon). And Leigh’s wife Marion is the driving force behind the St George in Southwark festival, in which we feature prominently.

Networks, at work and play… Also dropped off posters at the John Harvard library (though since it was reinvented as a multimedia fun-palace (mainly good – so some old fogey’s like your author still cry: Where are the books? *There are still some* ¬†ūüėČ by high-concept architects with clean straight lines and glass and no community notice board >the old unreconstructed library had two entire walls of an otherwise useless antechamber dedicated to every which kind of community activity, including posters for The Southwark Mysteries first time around, whereas now there’s a puny little square half covered with the library’s own notices). Friendly librarian says she’ll do her best to put it up before Easter.

Another drop at Cafe Riva by Borough tube station, which Pam from the community cast had arranged with John the owner. Having meanwhile rushed in & our of Sainsbury’s (not my favourite local shop – but good when you’re out of time to eat) for tuna fish cakes with and a bag of young spinach. We eat fast but relatively relaxed.

Third half: best of three good halves: community rehearsal at Edric Hall, LSBU. I walk there with my near neighbour Daisy, who’ll play Mary Seacole. It’s Daisy’s first workshop so introduce her to Florence Nightingale (Pam), Betty and the rest of the community cast. She takes to it easily and gets worked into the group Pieta, her arm round Annetta…

The highlight of a very intensive and very productive evening. First Ita worked with the women on the ritual gestures of grief and supplication, then Sarah developed their responses, before working the Sick and Infirm, the Sisters of Redcross, Mary Magdalene and Jesus into the entire Crucifixion scene. As Mary cradles the dying Jesus, the grieving women take up his cry of the Outcast God dismembered and scattered in all of  the oppressed, in all of  suffering humanity:

Pieta. GOOSE/MAGDALENE cradles the dying JESUS.
The COMPANY join her, holding him, connecting in a collective body, echoing his words in a murmur of prayer.

JESUS           I am all the death and pain of two thousand years and more.
The unidentified body washed up on the foreshore.
I am Abel slain by Cain, Esau cheated of his birth-right.
I am Stephen Lawrence walking home. Footsteps in the night.

and COMPANY     So mock me, revile me, do your damnest to defile me,
Make me crawl my crooked mile to Calvary Hill,
With sticks, with stones, with bottles and bones.
I am the last man alone with his suicide pill.

I am the Paddy navvy come to drain St George’s bogs.
The Windrush family reading the sign:
‚ÄėNo Coloureds. No Irish. No dogs.‚Äô
Thalidomide, I teach my stumpy hands to open doors.
I am the child raped and murdered in the place of dead souls.

So hang, draw and quarter me, lamb to the slaughter me,
Don’t forget to water me before night falls,
With poles, with pikes, with ditches and dikes.
I am the battered bride who’s always walking into walls.

I am the bartered Child in the Slave Mart of Babylon,
The woman who died in a burning house trying to save her children.

Give me your hate, your rage, your Mob on the rampage,
Your riot on the front page of yesterday’s news,
With fingers, with fists, with blades that switch.
I am the bare light-bulb twitching in a cellar full of shoes.

(from The Southwark Mysteries by John Constable, Oberon Books)

Some tickets are still available for the Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th performances, though they’re going fast.


Day 26

March 30, 2010
‘Why this is hell, nor am I out of it. Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God and tasted the eternal joy of heaven, am not tormented with ten thousand hells in being deprived of everlasting bliss?’
Christopher Marlowe Dr. Faustus

Well, it WOULD be just a teensy bit drama queeny to claim the above as an accurate description of my Life as a Producer these past 100 minus 24 days, but it shines a ray of truth on my dark interior…
That, though I rejoice to give the work away to the director and actors, to let it have a life of its own, this process of letting go, even ten years on, is, without indulging too many ‘my baby’ metaphors, painful.
And, to have this work, born of a Crow poet’s delirium and a Goose’s outcast cry, to have it performed in the Cathedral I love the best of all Christian places of worship – all this is a blessing and an honour and yet…
And yet, even as I gain a little piece of the world, my pauper’s soul cries out, with Goethe’s Faust:
‘Two souls, alas! are lodg`d within my breast,
Which struggle there for undivided reign:
One to the world, with obstinate desire,
And closely – cleaving organs, still adheres;
Above the mist, the other doth aspire,
With sacred vehemence, to purer spheres.
Oh, are there spirits in the air,
Who float `twixt heaven and earth dominion wielding,
Stoop hither from your golden atmosphere,
Lead me to scenes, new life and fuller yielding!’
The best times are when I lose myself completely in the involvement of others, as at yesterDay 27’s community cast workshop. For the feedback, the topic was: One thing I’ve learned about Southwark’s history. We had some classic answers: ‘Charles Dickens Dad was in the Marshalsea’ and ‘Charlie Chaplin went to Victory School’; ; some more anecdotal oddities ‘Temple of Isis was on South Bank’; ¬†the personal Andy ‘discovered where I live was a former stew’ and Alex ‘my uncle was an underground tunneller’; the practical ‘the first tube train under the Thames went over to near Monument’; to the apocalyptic from Kelfin: ‘At the end of time, Christ will fight Antichrist in Lud’.
My favourite was from Ed, who’d attended the last 23rd vigil at Crossbones: ‘I learned there’s this crazy writer who’s been doing an unbroken monthly vigil for the past 6 years!’


full production ignition Day 27

March 29, 2010

the blognoscenti will know that means 24 days to first night – Day Zero being the Sunday after the third, April 24th, performance.

10am Sarah’s very welcoming rehearsal space in Forest Hill. While the actors do a warm up, Katie and I have coffee in the Green Room with designer Annie and helper Lizzie, production manager ¬†Kate (Schofield), stage manager Kate (Driver) and the director’s assistant Gazmend. Followed by a brisk read through in which we take turns to read each block of text or stage direction – thus freeing the actors from feeling they have to give a performance.

Enjoyed that first session with the cast – some old friends Michelle, Charlie, ¬†Tom, Dan; new friends like Ollie and Caroline, who I got to know though the workshops; and Simon who’s almost a neighbour. ¬†I feel a lot of trust with the work and was happy to duck out after the read-through to run around doing producer stuff.

Like paying some modest cash funds raised into the bank, and drawing some petty cash for general rehearsal expenses.

And, if it’s Monday evening, it must be community cast rehearsals. REHEARSALS, please note. The cast have taken their collective quantum one step beyond mere community drama WORKSHOPS!!¬†It’s very rewarding the see the progress they’re making – as individuals and as a group – in a relatively short time.

Once again a lot got done! After Gazmend’s warm-up, ¬†Ollie conducted our voices up and down the scale, then organised us in his Cromwell persona, regimentally. He got us all had to recite together, in the same rhythm: ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’ – straight, then leaving blank spaces in the rhythm for specific words – first the “up”s, then the “down”s, then omitting everything except those words!!

Pep talks. Sarah introduced core cast members Dan (Satan), Simon (MD, Beelzebub), Tom (Abaddon), explaining how from tonight the various casts will increasingly be working together. ¬†Annie talked about the design, asking all characters to choose from their own clothes a ¬†‘neutral’ base costume on top of which their outer costumes will go.

Sarah had the Devils working with Satan, Beelzebub and Abaddon, on the Mary Magdalene / Seven Devils scene. You could already see a shape to the scene.

I meanwhile run the Tunnellers through the routine in Studio 2, and was pleased with what they later showed back to Sarah. She then worked with them, encouraging them to find their own journeys through to their spooky realisation that they were digging up an unconsecrated graveyard.

Simon and Tom led the group singing of The Ballad of Mary Overie AND taught everyone the third verse of The Goose’s Song AND Sarah variously talked and walked everyone through the entire opening, with John Taylor interrupting The Ballad, The Tunnellers entrance, the appearance of the Devil’s Band, The Bishop and The Goose and the singing of her Song which segues into John Crow’s Riddle and we all sing:

‘With a hey ho, jolly Jack Crow
And his merry merry band of outlaws O
Never stumble when he trips
Mad clown of the apoc-apoc-apoc-apoc-apoc- ‘


28 Days

March 28, 2010

holding firm, even with a rough chest.

Katie and I spent time adding up ticket sales and those promised to the Cathedral and other supporters, to estimate remaining stock. Looks like Thursday is close to full, still some room on Friday and Saturday.

And I spent an hour or three editing the draft programme, adding a credit here, cutting a line or two there.

Tomorrow is first day of rehearsal with core professional cast at Sarah’s fh space: 10am. Then evening with the community cast. Full on.

Give me strength! And fortitude!


Day 29 down the line

March 27, 2010

Always dangerous to relax. Today our coughs and sneezes took hold a bit more. No Saturday night parties for us!

Spent much of the day revising the programme, pasting in the Cathedral’s edited history page, and making sure everyone is properly credited on the centre pages.

(Thanks too to the hundreds of good friends who’re not directly involved in the thing itself this time around but have been part of it last time round or somewhere on the way to here – they know who they are, though there’s no conceivable way to mention them all by name, except on some future exponentially expanding blog!)

If you’re in it and see someone I’m missing who should be mentioned, remind me while there’s still time to revise this draft programme. (pl pls ignore the erratic layout: haven’t quite got the hang of wordpress layout tools. It will all be nicely lined up in the printed programme, we trust)

“Roll credits!”

The Southwark Mysteries
a contemporary Mystery Play by John Constable


JOHN TAYLOR                                  Kai Simmons
MOLL CUTPURSE                             Caroline Garland
JOHN CROW                                       Charlie Folorunsho
THE TUNNELLERS                          Erik Fuller, Adam Taffler, Ivan D’Evan, Toby Haggith,
Rowan Finch, Shaun Phillips, Lesley Gay, Andy Lockwood
TUNNELLER 1                                  Ed Lynn
TUNNELLER 2                                  Pete King
FOREMAN                                         Alex Madewell
GHASTLY CHERUB                        Jeff Merrifield
THE DEVIL’S BAND                       Simon Jermond, Tom Baker
THE GOOSE                                        Michelle Watson
WINCHESTER GEESE                     Michelle Malka, Georgie Davey, Elizabeth Dallas, Natalie Amber, Madregal Ward,                                                                               Pauline Murphy, Susanna Lafond
SATAN                                                 Daniel Copeland
CROMWELL                                      Oliver Langdon
PURITAN SOLDIERS                    School-children from Victory, St Jude’s and Goose Green Primary Schools
WILL SHAGSPUR                           Kelfin Oberon
JESUS                                                 Merryn Owen
PETER                                                 Toby Haggith
BEELZEBUB                                       Simon Jermond
ABADDON                                        Tom Baker
DEVILS                                              Sarah Heenan,  Aileen Richmond, Louisa Cath, Tara Bristow,
Kim Shankar,  Zoe Young, Pippa Moss, Dom Search
JUDAS                                                Rowan Finch
THE SISTERS OF REDCROSS      Irene Anderson, Joanna Vignola, Annie Cole,
Annie Greenslade, Phillipa Millward, Jane Bartlett,
Catherine Dale, Annetta Tang, Hazel Agar
Betty Peart, Laura Murray, Laura Wirtz, Faye Smith
THE SICK AND INFIRM              Ed Lynn, Pete King, Alex Madewell, Ivan D’Evan,
Erik Fuller, Shaun Phillips, Andy Lockwood
DOCTORS                                         Jennifer Cooper, Tinsel Linton
NURSES                                             Rosey Walbancke, Sheila Murphy
OLD TED                                           Leslie Gay
MARY SEACOLE                           Daisy Blake
A DRUNK                                          Shaun Phillips
THE CONSTABLE                          Adam Taffler
MORE DEVILS (IN HELL)         Catherine Dale, Annie Cole, Faye Smith
THE LOST SOULS                         Irene Anderson, Joanna Vignola, Annie Greenslade,                                                                                                                                           Phillipa Millward, Jane Bartlett, Betty Peart, Annetta Tang, Hazel Agar,
Laura Murray, Laura Wirtz, Jennifer Cooper,
Tinsel Linton, Rosey Walbancke, Sheila Murphy
ANGELS                                             School-children from Victory, St Jude’s and Goose Green Primary Schools

The action is set in Southwark on the Day of Judgement

Director: Sarah Davey-Hull

Designer: Annie Kelley

Adult community cast workshop leaders: Oliver Langdon, Ita O’Brien
Workshop assistants: Gazmend, Pat, Di Sherlock
Schools workshops: Jill Donker Curtius, Helena Easton

Costumes assistants: Sarah Abigail Weightman, Liz Donker Curtius

Song lyrics (and music to John Crow’s Riddle) John Constable
Music (to The Goose’s Song and Ferry Me Home) Richard Kilgour
Musical Director: Simon Jermond

Production Manager: Kate Schofield
Stage Manager: Kate Driver
Company Administrator: Katie Nicholls

Press and PR: Anna Arthur at Arthur Leone PR
Photography: Dom Search ©, Nadja Niemann and Yee Lei Sheng
Blog Wrangler (100daysofsouthwarkmysteries): Saj
Programme design: Beccy Allen
Poster and flyer design: Adam Concar, Robert Soar, Victoria Ollerton @ Forster

co-producers: John Constable, Sarah Davey-Hull, Katie Nicholls

dedicated to the memory of John Joyce, actor and enthusiast
who played The Bishop of Winchester in Shakespeare’s Globe and Southwark Cathedral
at the world premiere of The Southwark Mysteries, 23rd April 2000

part of the St George in Southwark Festival 2010

special thanks to the Dean and Sub-Dean of Southwark Cathedral, to Rose Harding, Paul Timms and everyone else who made it possible for the Cathedral to host this performance.

to Sarah Green and Claire Wilson (More London) for use of The Scoop.

to Bronwyn Murphy at London South Bank University for use of the Edric Hall for community cast rehearsals; to Martin the ever-patient techie, and to Maxine and the other LSBU Student Ambassadors who made us feel so welcome.

for our principal supporters: Dan Clarke (NEO Bankside), Jilly Forster (Forster), Dee Mair and Jane Boswell (IPC Media), Bronwyn Murphy (LSBU), Annie Shepperd (Southwark Council), Pauline Stockmans (Allies and Morrison), Giles Semper (Better Bankside), Barry Mason (Southwark Cyclists), Jacqui Woodward-Smith, Land Securities, Izod Evans, Beccy Allen (step)

for SOUTHWARK MYSTERIES: Andy Lockwood, Giles Semper, Lisa Murphy, Irene Anderson-King, Jacqui Woodward-Smith, Barry Mason,  Paul Newman

for SOUTHWARK MYSTERIES DEVELOPMENT GROUP: Anne Wolfe, Giles Semper, Rachel Fitzgerald, Beccy Allen, Pauline Stockmans, Lisa Murphy, Barry Mason, Synthia Griffin


There’s a lot of ¬†‘God willing’ / ‘Insha’allah’ about all this. If it all goes to plan, all those people will have played their parts and all those thanked will be proud to be associated with the production.

Only we can be fairly sure it won’t ALL go to plan. Close observers of the Dramatis Personae will see we still haven’t clinched the God deal. I have to report that Sir Ian McKellen, further to my popping the Big Question to him on his way to the theatre, wrote to say he can’t help us as he’s busy all through April. We have various Divine contenders stamping away in the stalls – must consult further with my Oracle, Anna.

Only we do have to think on our feet, and be putting the programme together ourselves, on the hoof, with a little help from our friends, so we might as well be transparent and post our draft credits right up here.

Credit where credit’s due.


30 Days – eek!

March 26, 2010

because as any dedicated hard-core 100daysofsouthwarkmysteries bloghead knows, we’re counting down to a Day Zero AFTER the 3 days of performances, which means first night is less than a lunar cycle, just 27 days away.

Thank my guardian angels for getting me this far, through the minefields and the sloughs of desponds. Thanks all you good people, old friends and new, who’ve given me support in terms of voluntary contributions or even just an encouraging word. Thanks most of all to Katie, who had to go through this rollercoaster ride enlivened by the volatility of her partner producer. Testing times for us both, that can have us running on pure adrenaline, blowing up, blowing over…

So today, Friday, we sneaked off work for the first full day off work (not counting Shabbats) since we started SERIOUSLY producing all this back in the Day 100.

To Eastbourne. Yea! Faded grandeur with a new lick of paint. We wind through the backstreets, digging the quirky architecture,¬†¬†up around by Hippodrome Theatre, down Seaside Road, sit on a wooden bollard on a shingle beach in the pale sun, stroll to the end of the pier and back ground, look back and sea the entire beacj scallopped, shining …

And it’s full of old people, which makes us feel so young! Then as we relax and unwind and breathe the sea-air we both suddenly get so sleepy we have to mainline coffee in the Italian art deco seen-better-days cafe.

Now home. Yes, we needed that! Doctor’s orders. The morning before I’d woken with a headache and in cold sweat of fear that loose threads could yet pull it all apart, all this patient careful work, this beautiful living tapestry made up of so many remarkable people, all of them facing up to their own fears and then daring to go one step beyond.

The Southwark Mysteries is, you’ll have gathered, a bit more than a modern Mystery Play, for me at least. So I’m not surprised, nor do I complain (“Not ‘arf!” Ed.) that these 100 days have themselves taken on the shape and form of a spiritual work, a journey, with its highs and lows, its tests and trials and miraculous affirmations.

What it teaches me, first and last, is that I can’t do this alone. Obviously. There are more than 20 professionals working with 100 community cast members, with as many people again offering their support in many different fields.

No, but more than this… WE can’t do it alone. If we try to control everything we only end up worrying our problems into existence. We need faith and trust in the unfolding of the process, in the work itself, which is bigger than any of us, not least the author.

I’m at my John Crow best when I just get out of the way and surrender to that which is bigger than me and let it unfold. This was how The Southwark Mysteries was received and written, which made almost everything I’d written before then seem forced and contrived.

So, although I do my meticulous accountant’s-son best to scrutinize every aspect of this production – and to ensure that the structures are in place to enable the production team to deliver an unforgettable dramatic experience – yet I know that ultimately all theatre is a leap of faith in the face of all manner of disaster, that’s why we love it, it makes us feel fully alive!!! reminds us that we’re all in the hands of God, the Goddess, however else we conceive the Unknowable that is both more and less than anything we can conceive yet which allows all conception to coexist…

As here, in The Goose at Liberty.


Day 31 much to be done

March 26, 2010

Like, just for example, at yesterday’s production meeting it came up that the schools all want comps for the parents of the children who play Cromwell’s soldiers and the Angels. Fair enough. Only we’ve already sold half the 340 tickets, with the other 170 odd tickets promised to sponsors and supporters and other benefactors, plus even one comp each for us and the cast and crew and before you know it…

So today wrote to all our supporters asking confirmation of names for their first night tickets, they having already kindly agreed to reduce their ticket quotas for VIP night so as to ensure that any spare tickets can be speedily reallocated. Seeking the middle way: not to double-book, but nor to end up with a bank of empty seats from being too cautious.

This evening was much more fun. Southwark Lore with Scott Wood, Neil Transpontine, Chris Roberts, Vanessa Woolf-Hoyle, Niall Boyce, Nigel of Bermondsey and your blogger, briefly released from his producer’s straightjacket to channel some Goose at the Old Carpet Warehouse, on the corner of Borough High and Trinity Streets, my back yard.

I did The Book of The Goose and The Book of The New South Bank. Started with a poem from The Southwark Mysteries that I rarely perform, but like a lot. It was inspired by the building just up the road from the Carpet Warehouse / Temporary Autonomous Gallery in which tonights SELFS event was taking place, the building I would often pass on my after midnight walks with The Goose, back in the day when night security could smoke at their desks:


warning recently removed, Old Ted
glassed in with his cobalt CCTV
and the smoke of his forty-a-night


says the luminous dead
-eyed digital lizard
the bell rattle the key

we‚Äôre ‚Äėere to Keep
The Night Watch
you and me
All’s Well.


For me the highlight of the night was Nigel of Bermondsey singing his Bermondsey suite, intercut with Vanessa Woolf-Hoyle doing her dark tales of a bygone age. I was listening intently to Nigel’s first song when it occurred to me he was singing a haunting song about Crossbones.

Exquisite chill!


32 Days

March 25, 2010

Countdown to Liberty! The Day after, God willing and By The Grace of Our Lady,  the three Judgement Days of April!

This morning spent frantically locating and printing out documents in preparation for:

Production meeting 24 March 10 @ Caffè Nero (St Mary Overie dock Рwhere else?)



Get-in including moving chairs
Rooms available
Start plan for show nights

Budget / spend update
Kt and KS meeting feedback

Cast Update
Community cast
Schools – monitoring
Core cast and crew ‚Äď contracts

Design update

VIP list / event update

Things to do
Press and publicity plan for 4 week run-up – ideas
Get more flyers and distribute
Liaison with sponsors

Crew update
Annie’s assistant

Anything else
Ticket sales and allocations
Publicity and Quest for God
Schools – need ethnic monitoring breakdown

So far, so good. Just need to be perhaps a jot more specific in an agreement with an esteemed partner.

This evening: Wednesday community cast, 36 people. Like Monday, a sense of getting down to the nitty gritty, that “acting is hard work” as someone said during the feedback session.

Di Sherlock, who played The Goose in the origjnal production, a writer director in her own right, led the warm-up starting with a Big Bertha chanting game, developing through lots of yawns and stretches into a vocal warm up.

Ita then got everyone walking in a circle, in step, very slow and contained. This formed the underlying rhythms for the Pilgrimage scene. Ita  worked the entrances for the Sisters of Redcross, working in the men who play the Sick and Infirm.

Then Di did some intensive vocal work with the Sisters, getting them each to really understand and feel and project their lines. It felt like another leap forward, as the community cast rose to the challenge. Although, as individuals they were more exposed, being put on the spot to deliver their line with conviction, someone aid later how they’d felt very supported.

After the break, Ita ran the Pilgrimage entrance, with everyone reciting their lines By The Grace of Our Lady Mary Overie, keeping up the energy whilst walking to that creeping pace as the Sick and Infirm process to be healed by Jesus.

Musician Tom Baker said he choked up just listening to it.

After the break, Tom, Di, Katie and I took the Whores off into Studio 2 to rehearse Ferry Me Home, the song sung by The Goose to Jesus in which she complains how long she’s been waiting for him to come and save her:

Lord I have walked the streets of Eternity
Waiting for my Lord to come ferry me home.
(music: Richard Kilgour)

Meanwhile, Ita worked with the Sisters on their second major scene, culminating in the the Pieta. ¬†C/cast member Philippa ¬†was in Rome last week and saw the Michaelangelo statue in St Peter’s.

Time was up and we didn’t cover everything Sarah had wanted us to, but there was a sense that Di’s extended vocal work had produced results, as evidenced by the feedback to the topic ‘One thing I learned…’

There’s no end to acting! (lots of laughter of recognition)
There IS an end to acting. (Leslie, who plays OLD TED, and who knows his theatre ūüôā
To project the voice.
To sit down and give my focus.
That Southwark has the most magical energy.
The space is 30 paces long.
“There’s no people like show people!”
To depend on the person in front of me.
Learning to lose my fear.
You can trust the script.
I experienced the beauty of that slow walk.
After a lifetime of saying I can’t sing, I really enjoy it!
How much we blossom and grow with a bit of personal attention.

That the circumference of my head is 22 inches.
(costume measurements, conducted by Kate – we do multitask, we mysterions)

“Pam’s walking stick is scarily comfortable.”
(Paul I think, who borrowed it to play one of the infirm)


March 23 / Day 33

March 23, 2010

old skool 23 sort of a Day

started out a workaday producer’s day-to-day, receive and reply to emails, try to tie up loose ends and stray¬†threads…

Then, it being March the 23rd, and believing as I do in the power of that prime number to open invisible doors, I decided to trust my producer’s intuition and resume the er… ¬†Quest for God.

Simon Callow, Tim Spall, Arthur Smith – working, away, would’ve loved to but alas. Anna our publicist suggests we try Graham Norton, Paul O’Grady – either of whom I could just imagine being fabulous celebrity Gods – though Alan Carr? Heaven defend us!

But before we ahem… lower our sights…

The part of God is written to be a cameo for an hugely famous and respected actor, someone of true stature who may be willing to gently send up their own celebrity in the name of transformational community drama. Although true to form, the Devil has some of the best lines, IMHO, God has the ABSOLUTE BEST line in the play:

‘When I was offered the part of God, I was given to understand it was the lead.’

So I write Sir Ian McKellen a cheeky letter:¬†‘Dear Sir Ian,¬†What do you offer the man who‚Äôs played all the great parts from Gandalf to Estragon? Well, how about playing God in The Southwark Mysteries in Southwark Cathedral?’

etc. I bundle it up with a copy of the production script, a flyer and a copy of the book, address it to him at the  Haymarket Theatre and determine to deliver it by hand this very day to the stage door.

First though, today being a 23rd –

I have my voluntary duties as John Crow the keeper of Crossbones Graveyard to attend to. Katie managed to obtain some cleaner greener funding for the new ivy planters for our shrine at the gates in Redcross Way. She’s recycled the old planter troughs which are now bright with primroses and violets and has done a new pot of sweet peas she’ll trail up the gate. We hired a zip-car to cart the planters up to Crossbones, then spent an hour or so sweeping the area behind the gates and around the Red Cross Mary Virgin / Goddess statue, ¬†clearing the concrete block ‘altar’ behind, setting out the candles in their glass bowls –

preparations for the monthly 7pm vigil.

We work up quite a sweat. Then Katie goes shopping while¬†I come back to pick up the bundle for our intended God, then can’t find my travel-card, also can’t find four of the seven tabards worn by Goose Samurai (it’s complicated! – you’d have to read back to Day whatever!), the long and the short is I’m getting flustered and a tad stressed – like I often say, it’s the little things… So I’m just leaving when Katie comes back with the heavy shopping and rather than offering to help her carry it upstairs I’m stressing about my travel-card and being lumpy and unfair.

I’m still fuming away about this and that on the tube, so when I come out at Piccadilly I make a conscious effort to slow down and breathe and put myself into that trusting state of surrender to The Goose and Her Mysteries through which so much good is already come, especially to JC on a 23.

My spirits lift when the angelically pretty girl inside the Theatre Royal – when I ask: please where’s the Stage Door – comes outside and to point the way round to the back of the theatre. On my way there, to deliver the bundle for Sir Ian, I walk past the great man – not as I tend to think of him (immaculately turned out) but bearded and slightly scruffy, the Estragon persona but unmistakably – Ian McKellen, talking to a woman who reminded me of my agent Nicki (though she wasn’t). They’re still talking when I come back and even I’m not quite such a clod as to interrupt a private conversation. However…

As I turn out of the street I glance back and see that Sir Ian has left the woman and is ambling up the street. Carpe diem and fortunately without too much forethought I quickly discover that, by retracing my steps at a slightly faster pace, I get to intercept him on his way to the stage door:

‘Sir Ian McKellen? It’s OK – I’m not a stalker.’

Well you have to say that, don’t you? Under the circumstances. Because he did look just very slightly alarmed. And truth to tell, I HAD been stalking him, even if only for roughly 20 seconds and with entirely honourable intentions.

He was, as I expected, very gracious, listened politely – once I’d established that I was a writer who’d just left him a script and a book at the stage door and wanted to offer him the part of God and ‘this isn’t a joke!’

I think I may even have said that twice, which shows that, plucky as I may have been to presume upon Greatness upon its way to its Place of Being Great, I was still a bit star-struck and nervous and blurty.

Sir Ian thanked me courteously.¬†We shook hands and parted. I am not about to say it’s a done deal. There are many reasons why he may nay say. But even if he does, he kind of made my Day. And at least I can sleep easy in my bed tonight, knowing I went that extra mile for God – because if you never ask.

At least I didn’t blurt out that I have be off now because I’m officiating at a Christo-pagan vigil at the gates of the Crossbones Graveyard, where John Crow received The Southwark Mysteries from The Goose.

Too much information. ūüėČ

Although I trust anyway who saw me in action at the gates tonight or on any other 23rd vigil when I’m doing the honours might say: He’s not quite as mad as he first appears!

And this 23rd, the honours were well and truly done.: with flowers, by the plinth, by Red Cross Mary, and growing in the planters behind the gates and in the vases tied to them; and lights, the star of candles at the foot of the Virgin, the candelas on the walls, in jars, inside the little box shrines; and songs…

I sang John Crow’s Riddle with everyone joining in the Apocalypse Chorus – and then I introduced Charlie and explained how some people think I am John Crow and well, yes, tonight standing at the gates, I am – but in a months time, I’ll be in Southwark Cathedral watching Charlie be John Crow in The Southwark Mysteries, because John Crow like The Goose is not a fixed entity, more an energy, an activity, a shape-shifter.

When I am John Crow at the gates on a 23rd it’s like everything I think of as “me” just goes silent and clears out of the way and then John Crow speaks and I hear him and listen carefully to what he says. It’s not THAT spooky!

Tonight, for instance, i heard him explain that a lot of people want to get into the garden and try to possess it, but Crossbones teaches that the more we possess the more we are possessed. This is why we focus here, for now, on the gates, where we, the living, stand in the public space, in the little spur of pavement around the gates (our Goose Samurai in their reflective tabards keeping the living inside the yellow line, safe from the rat-running traffic – we don’t want to add to the estimated 15,000 resident dead!) and look through the gate, through the PORTAL

to the empty space behind, to commune with the transmission of intelligence that links the dead, the living, the unborn. Some say.

Those of you of a more secular, agnostic or atheistical bent, may be uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the urban shaman paradigm. You are welcome to view the Crossbones shrine, the works and the vigils as a collective work of performance art / living art-work. And The Southwark Mysteries as a matrix of performance works which climaxes every decade in an epic (in scope, not length) performance of the Mystery Play.

We hold lights in silence to remember the outcast dead – and to remember who we are – then make our own totemic offerings, the ribbons, the necklaces, the little artifacts that keep our shrine forever changing, forever new, all speaking the whisper prayer: ‘Here lay your hearts, your flowers, your Book of Hours…’ – spoken here every 23rd for 5 years and more, and every Halloween for the past 13 years.

New old friends – Lila, Susanna, Kevinj, Noyumi, Nancy and Sondra, and Bernie – and Ion Will, frail with a walking stick back from his hospital operation, tells the crowd his big idea that we have to do The Southwark Mysteries every year!

I do a mock collapse in exhaustion. ¬†Say if it’s to be done every year we need a producer – and having given it a try, so far, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. ¬†Good to have him back, expounding his Big Ideas!

Dorothy is there with daughter Juliet, small but fearless, interrupting John Crow to ask: How can you have been dead if you’re alive here? John Crow deftly segues from death and rebirth to the flowers growing back in the spring. The cycle, says Dorothy helpfully. Juliet is fine with that. She likes the way John Crow plays guitar. She plays a ukulele.

There’s Ed, Kelfin, Ivan and Leslie from the community cast – Jennifer too, though she’s Crossbones family, time out of mind, our tattooed Sister of Redcross – Alison and others who know The Ballad of Mary Overie and The Green Man Is Come To Bless Our Garden which we sang towards a rousing finale. Sarah Scarlet did the honours with the gin, sealing us in close to the gates for our final benediction:

‘Goose, may your Spirit fly free!’


Show must go on Day 34 stuff

March 22, 2010

Thrice last week, I stood in the yard of ¬†Southwark Cathedral telling groups of children from three local schools how they’d be performing in there, playing Cromwell’s soldiers and angels and stuff, and how William Shakespeare’s brother is buried there, buried in the morning because they had a show in the afternoon. “And the show?” ¬†“Must go on”…

Today more stuff out of left field to keep your producer from thinking he might for one moment relax. No, you don’t need to know about stuff like that. Nothing malicious – just people not stopping to think about how overstretched we are already and making demands of us that they haven’t really thought through.

The Monday community cast rehearsal was harder work than on previous weeks. I wasn’t the only one who came in looking a bit beat. Director sarah wasn’t in today and her absence was felt. Even so, Pat got us off to a flying start with an aerobic work-out!

Then Ollie got the male Tunnellers and female Devils (apart from Dom) into two groups moving around the room whilst each staying closely connected with their own group. Fascinating: the Devils were cat and bee-swarm like, playful, curious, predatory, daring; the Tunnellers initial macho swagger rapidly modulated into something more subtle, more tremulous and vulnerable.

Pat and I went next door to work with the Tunnellers. I told them to punctuate their chant with a freeze at the end of a verse or a completed action. Otherwise everything tends to run into everything else.

There was a spell when all the Tunnellers started asking very technical questions and even making directorial suggestions. I sought to focus them on the task at hand, reminding them that until they had mastery of their own song and dance routine they didn’t need to worry too much about the bigger picture. When Andy starting asking about what was happening with the cart, I grinned and said: ‘The cart knows what it’s doing! It’s the Tunnellers we have to work on.’ By the end of the session they had made some real progress, working much more in unison.

Having rejoined the other group, we worked once again on setting the opening, the entrances and exits and the singing of The Ballad. A lot of it is asking people to remember where they come in and go out – and reminding them that, even when they think they’re offstage, they’re not.

The feedback at the end was quite telling, reflecting a new realism and getting to grips with the task at hand.

The topic was: ‘One thing I’ve learned so far.’

‘That I quite enjoy acting!’
‘Use of quieter levels.’
‘It’s a lot harder than you think.’
‘Learned some history of Southwark.’
‘To relax into new things…’
‘Learned to forget personal space and get cosy.’
‘Acting is actually work!’
‘Trust your instincts and you’ll get there.’
‘It’s great to be brave and come out of the woodwork.’
‘Work with the rhythm, work with the rhythm, work with the rhythm…’

‘There should be only one director.’ ¬†(Leslie)