Sunday, 22 July 2012

Chaos Theory and Royal Company

I have to note down here the events of Thursday evening as although they will be memorable it is only right that I record the details in this blog. So far on this site I have traced the random path of events which started with my own ‘big bang’ of starting work in London nearly a year ago and some of the very wonderful and strange happenings which have occurred since. They have built up slowly so I have been able to take everything in my stride, although, as I have written about before, sometimes things happen which made me take stock and open my eyes in wonderment at the things life throws at me.

I was for a while rather unsure about attending Ben’s lecture, as it seemed foolish to spend money on seeing a guy I’d got used to so openly and freely being able to chat to. Additionally, the idea of me going to a science talk seemed ridiculous, as everyone who knows me will attest. However, I knew he’d make it interesting and when I suggested to him on twitter I came he said I should. I did want to see him again as I’d missed him and so the idea of a night off in favour of a trip down to the Royal Institution became simply too tempting.

I arrived in Mayfair early, so killed some time in Starbucks before heading onto the venue. I was beginning to question my sanity again until I stepped inside the building: it was a hugely impressive place and the walls were adorned with portraits of famous lectures which had taken place there over the years. One’s imagination couldn’t help but be captured by it. There had been a time at school when I genuinely did love science, was fascinated by astronomy and enjoyed Chemistry and Biology enough to take them through to A Level. Of course, those higher level courses soon got the better of me and I defiantly bucked against them, throwing myself into literature and giving the labs as wide a berth as I could get away with. I lasted a year of AS level Chemistry and dragged my way through 2 years of A level Biology, hating every second; twitching painfully at any mention of fruit flies; genomes; photosynthesis or quadrats. By the time I left school, science had scarred me for life and all I wanted to do was read poetry, novels and drama texts. The humanities building at university was like a safe house where white coats, moles and sulphuric acid couldn’t touch me.

Taking my place in the crowded lecture hall, however, I was prepared to put aside those differences and be open minded enough to enjoy the talk I was about to hear. It was interesting looking around at my fellow audience members and trying to guess what had brought them there. I supposed it was a mixture of members of the Institution, people interested in the topic and Ben Miller fans. There were young and old people and an equal divide of men and women. Ben was introduced to the stage along with the scientist/journalist who was to lead the conversation with him. It was lovely to see him again and he was clearly in his element, getting to discuss his first love in a place so sacred to it.

The talk was very entertaining and I needn’t have worried about getting lost or confused in the science. It was filled with anecdotes and impressions; was funny and serious in happy measure and I learnt a lot. It really did appeal to the long lost teenage science geek within me and Ben’s enthusiasm for the subject matter really did shine through and was infectious. He performed an experiment for a bit of showbiz effect towards the end and took questions from the audience, amongst which were some treasures from the young kids there. It was announced there would be a book signing in the room next door and everyone started to shuffle that way.

I debated to myself when the best time would be to catch him: I couldn’t leave without saying hello at least. The opportunity didn’t present itself straight away and he was keen to get going with the signings so I decided to loiter in the signing room until I got the chance. The books were being sold at one end of the table he was sitting at so I queued there in order to buy one. When I got to the table he spotted me, grinned and mouthed a hello. I then waited for the very long queue to dwindle down. It seemed nearly everyone had stayed to get their books and it was a very odd feeling having to queue to speak to this person I’d chatted to so many times. At the theatre it was rare to witness him or any of the others in ‘celebrity mode’ as it were, although that had made it easier to befriend them as their fame could be forgotten about. They were always just normal people doing a job, the same as we were. Whilst I was waiting, John Sessions appeared, flitting about clearly waiting for Ben and on the phone making dinner reservations.

I was virtually the last in the room and by the time I got to the front it was just me, Ben, his partner, his publisher, John and his friend and a few scientists from the RI. And so finally I got to say hello properly; had a hello hug and kiss and a brief chat exchanging the normal pleasantries. He signed my book for me and asked me to join them for a drink afterwards. This was such a lovely invitation and although I felt a little nervous about being part of such an unusual group of people(!) I was flattered to be asked and couldn’t refuse! He introduced me to everyone as he packed up and we headed down to the bar. I stuck to him as someone I knew and we chatted a little about how the evening had gone, the enthusiasm of the younger audience members and they discussed their plans for the remainder of the evening.

We got to the bar and I talked to his lovely partner Jess for a while about her family and my theatre. I then talked to Ben about how his filming was going and he asked me more about the show and what else was new with me. It was strange being on the inside of that kind of situation, and he gave me some interesting insights. It was as natural and great to chat as it ever had been and it was so lovely to be included there and to meet Jess (who wondered if she’d met me before, when she’d been a ‘different shape’!)

Eventually goodbyes were said and he, she and I left at the same time. I headed back to the theatre as they got in their taxi home. Although I’m not going to go into details of what we talked about here, needless to say it was great to see him again and wonderful to reconnect with someone from that time. It’s great to be in touch still, not because he’s famous or well-connected or anything of that nature, but because he’s a genuinely lovely person whom I enjoy talking to. Long may it last! :)

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Dark Satanic Mills

It doesn’t feel that long since I last wrote and yet a lot has been crammed into these couple of weeks. Chariots is now in full swing: we had gala night and are now into the fourth week of its run. Getting used to everything new, remembered most people’s names (including those of our large cast!) and settling into a routine again, just about.

The schools are into their last week of term which means it’s been a year since I last stepped foot in a classroom myself. This naturally means this is something of a reflective time for me, but suffice to say I have not looked back once. I do not miss it and regret nothing.

Work has been a bit rocky over this opening period, with all the new staff trying to adjust and with, therefore, more pressure being put on existing staff members such as myself to help out. I have been working harder than ever here, running around to do not just my own role but to help others too. This is fine and completely expected, although there have been times when too much pressure has been put on me, and I have found myself having to do tasks which I shouldn’t have to, for no thanks. However, things are settling down now and starting to improve.

For all the hard work, extra hours, extra training and extra patience required though, there are still far more reminders of how great this job is. Not least the ‘Gala night’, held on 3rd July to launch the show in the West End.

As a press night, we expected to work hard during the shift – and I was a little wary of this remembering all too well just how stressful the equivalent event was for The Ladykillers. However, in the event it all went very well. I was ushering on stage and it was busy but easily manageable. We were all on the look out for celebrities, although I was dubious I’d recognise many as it was mainly sporting stars expected. Indeed there were some athletes, but these were overshadowed completely by the attendance of Stephen Fry! He was an extra in the original film apparently and I not only saw him at the interval as he walked past me, but had a brief conversation as he needed directions back to his seat.

The only extra work involved that night was helping the bar staff pour out glasses of Bollinger- one for every audience member! In total that meant about 800 glasses; although split between three bars in wasn’t too bad. The sight and smell of all that champagne lined up on the bar was quite something to behold and made me want some quite badly! My luck was in as at the end of the shift our manager said there was a glass for each of us, and we drank them in the stalls bar whilst the party invitations were handed out.

The after-party was held at a venue in Soho called Floridita, just up the road from the theatre. I had never noticed it before, as it had a modest, small entranceway sandwiched between larger shop fronts. Once inside, however, there was a large sweeping staircase curving downwards into a huge underground room, which was already full of people when we arrived. A long bar extended across one wall, dishing out gin and tonics, wines and beers as if tap water. Against the back wall a jazz band were playing to a small dance floor. In the far reaches away from the stairs, a seating area full of white booths: curved leather sofas and glass tables adorned with flower arrangements. Beneath the staircase was the press area, where the actors were being photographed and interviewed.

It was without doubt the most glamorous event I’ve ever attended. Everything was so beautiful and there had been no expense spared. Waiters were constantly circulating with trays of drinks and food and as the night wore on more people took to the dance floor to the sounds of the jazz music. Naturally I drank far too much and my memory of everything past about 1am is patchy and I know I was talking to some of the actors as if they were old friends by the end, which is slightly embarrassing. However, I had a great night and only wish it hadn’t been on the evening before a Wednesday matinee! Here’s a video summarising everything (although one word could really be used and that word is BIGGINS).

The following Tuesday sparkled a little too. It was an ordinary shift in most ways, although concurrently, down the road, the film premiere of the re-release of ‘Chariots of Fire’ was happening in Leicester Square. We learnt in the briefing that some members of the press and some people involved in that film would be coming to the theatre for the curtain call. Being in the foyer in the second act I therefore had to help greet them, give them drinks and take them down to the auditorium at the end of the show. I showed the photographers into the stalls and watched from the front as Nigel Havers, Ben Cross, Nicholas Farrell, Alice Krige and Hugh Hudson came onto stage to an astonished audience! They had pictures taken, Nigel and Ben did a cursory jog around the running track and then they left. I waited for them afterwards and then ushered them all back up to the foyer when they had finished.

London is on the brink of the Olympics and although I’ve basically had enough of it already there’s no doubt it is an exciting time. I see lots of people around on public transport who are working there and apparently most of the athletes arrived in the city yesterday. The opening ceremony is next Friday. Happily, the theatre is closed that night; we are having a matinee instead but I’m hoping to be out in time to watch the event on a big screen in a park (if it’s dry!)

Seem to have spent a lot of time in work recently: extra shifts in the foyer during the day and late finishes every night. Stage door today until 3, then back again for the evening as usual. Looking forward to a night off on Thursday: decided to go and see Ben Miller give a talk at the Royal Institute; he’s back in the country for a week apparently so it’ll be lovely to see him and hopefully get chance to catch up!

Managed to dash home this weekend to see the family and we miraculously achieved a BBQ, somehow finding the only dry evening in what feels like weeks if not months. England is indeed dark and, I think, satanic with this weather. A chirpy round of Jerusalem finishes every show, however, which is a song which I will always associate with the beginning of the summer holidays, it being the last song we would sing at school’s commemoration service every year. As my work continues into next week, it blurs into what would be my usual summer: apart from part-time work here and there I have never worked over August before!