Sunday, November 23, 2003

“Albert’s Bridge”

The play ended last night with a strong final performance. I’m both grateful and sad: grateful that I will now be able to sleep properly and get some work done; sad at losing the camaraderie of the play.

A Tom Stoppard play was always going to be popular, but we had a great four-night run with houses that were consistently two-thirds full to almost-sold-out. Being the late show also helped, as people are pretty willing to drop in for an hour-long play for £3 after 11: whether you’ve been at a formal dinner, the pub, or studying it fits in nicely.

That said, word of mouth did us proud – we seemed to go over really well as a tight, well-performed show. Two of the guys in the cast were stand-out comic talents: Rowan Atkinsons in the making and the first thing most people mentioned about the show.

It was a really good cast, often I forgot I was working with people mostly ten years younger than me: I enjoyed hanging out with them, and it was only at the cast party – despite how horribly tired I felt – that I realised I would miss them. Sure, that’s the feeling at the end of any play, and it fades, but it doesn’t make it less real at the time.

But I was tired: rehearsals on top of classes for the week before the play; then these last four days with an 8.30 pm call for an 11.00 pm performance, getting off stage at 12.10, helping reset the stage for the main show, a wind-down drink at the bar and getting home 2 am at the earliest. No wonder I was a zombie most of the week.

The play itself passed financial break-even on the second night, and our profits will bail out the debts of the main show, David Mamet’s “Water Engine”. The main show had a much less sympathetic script to work with I think, Mamet’s characters (think “Glengarry Glenross” and “The Spanish Prisoner”) tend to be hard-boiled and two-dimensional. We also had a smaller, tighter cast and a shorter play, which I think made it easier to pull together on four weeks’ rehearsal.

The main show was terribly well-acted and well-staged, I just don’t think people responded to the script (and the actors all having to do American accents probably did not help).

So last night was the cast party, and I do not really recall the last time I partied in a bar until 5 in the morning. (If the theatre bar is closed to the public for a members-only function this country’s bizarre last-orders rules don’t apply.) I was great to meet the guys from the main show at the party (as well as being daubed with chocolate face-paint by fellow Albert’s-Bridgers): one of them wants to apply to direct Macbeth for the Cambridge American Shakespeare tour. I can feel an urge to play Duncan rising ...

Duncan wouldn’t be a big leap from “Dad” in “Albert’s Bridge”: an old, bitter man who’s given his life to the job and doesn’t much enjoy it. Several people told me I did the role of the tragi-comic bridge painter with understatement and feeling. I have to admit the part grew on me: the embittered ex-solicitor in me really came to the fore.

That and a strong touch of Eeyore.

I do want to try and write something for two of the guys from the play, the two who did the comic roles so well.

It’s a pretty weird feeling that I am now taken seriously on the drama and debating circuits in Cambridge. (I was also told by a main show director that I was their second choice for their lead. Quite wacky.)

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