A newsy-type update this time round. Can’t tell you how nice it is to be writing about current affairs for a change! (I’ll be making up for that in future entries, I’m sure.)
My first important message: Sikes & Nancy is at last coming back! To be fair, it’s only been two months since the Cambridge run – but virtually everything related to that blasted institution seems a lifetime away. Three dates for your diaries, then:
3RD OCTOBER (8PM): GOLDEN FLEECE INN, YORK
5TH OCTOBER (8PM): GOLDEN FLEECE INN, YORK
8TH OCTOBER (4PM): TRISTAN BATES THEATRE, LONDON
A few things worth commenting on here. The London performance is, fairly transparently, a showcase intended for industry figures. Unfortunately, this is a necessary evil if I’m ever to fulfil my dream of playing a barrow-boy on EastEnders in twenty years. However, I’ve always been determined that these slimy concessions receive support from an ethical framework. Sikes & Nancy is much more than a negligent monologue/duologue mash-up. Where I’m concerned, it’s a labour of love. And pervasive love, not self-love; it’s a theatrical construct I’m eager to share rather than parade myself in. The vital distinction with the one-man form.
Sikes & Nancy unites many a thing that makes me gibber and foam with excitement. I love Dickens with a passion quite indiscriminate, but I’m a particular acolyte of his early works. Sikes is drawn from Oliver Twist: Dickens’s second novel, sandwiched between The Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby (which together formed the basis for Pickwick & Nickleby, my first one-man show). Yet Sikes was also the Public Reading that formed the terrifying final act in Dickens’s performance career. Youthful anarchy fused with the obsessive mania of age. An appealing theatrical cocktail. I’ve always had a special affection for Oliver Twist (originally through David Lean’s remarkable 1948 film) and it’s a thrill to bring it to the stage in some form. A large part of my affection for Lean’s picture was due to Alec Guinness’s infernal performance as Fagin. As ever with Dickens, it’s the characters, the very best characters in English prose, that draw me in. Their hold is so great that they demand impersonation; a direct incarnation! I relish entering into these people, so far removed from my everyday self: whether the brutishly masculine Sikes, or the pathetically defeated Nancy, or the disgustingly wicked Fagin, an overgrown sewer rat in his filth and cowardice.
Yet a sharply etched grotesque is nothing without an emotional pulse. Sikes & Nancy has that going for it as well. I find it emotionally stirring, in the same way that A Christmas Carol, properly told, will bring me to tears of joy. But where the Carol is moving – by its light, its hope, its redemption – Sikes grips by its pitiless streak. By its darkness, its hopelessness – its damnation, of each and every character. I enjoy performing something unrepentantly dark, provided there’s an emotional justification. And Sikes, unlike the vast majority of Victorian melodrama and Gothic horror, really does earn its emotional engagement. Now, I love melodrama and horror even when poorly handled – witness my adoration for carnival ghost trains, Tod Slaughter’s barnstorming and the lesser Hammer films. But not once does Dickens extort or manipulate. He extends a hand – with belief, with compassion – and, provided you’re willing to go with him, he’ll transport you to extraordinary places. If that’s not the point of worthy theatre, then I don’t know what is.
Passion’s the heart of my argument. I can only persuade you to attend Sikes & Nancy by my very great affection for the play. It doesn’t work because of my performance. It works because it’s bloody good theatre. With good theatrical bloodiness. Another thing I adore. Eager parties can book for the London performance on the Tristan Bates website (tickets for the York performances will be available on the door). I’m sure I’ll wind up posting something on the process of revisiting a one-man show (an experience that’s entirely new to me). If you’re after more lively updates and reminders than the ponderous world of blodgering allows, then I suggest you join the obligatory Facebook Group.
My second bit of news: I’ve received some awards for my work with The York Dungeon! At the end-of-season party – the delectably titled ‘Rotten Corpse’ – I collected the 2012 gongs for ‘Best Actor’, ‘Scariest Actor’ and ‘Ego of the Year’ (the last for the highest number of public votes). In result, two exquisitely crafted voodoo dolls and a resplendent gold skull have entered my inventory. I’ve also extended my Dungeon contract to Bonfire Night. (So if you fancy coming to see me, you’ve got an extra two months for it!) The very great excitement here is that I’ll finally get to spend another Halloween at the Dungeon! My last Halloween was also my first season, way, way back in 2008 – nearly four years ago now. This year, we’ve been promised a seasonal revamp of the Witches show to incorporate a Mother Shipton theme. Just how we’ll defame the benevolent old hag to fit the Dungeon brand remains to be seen… Beyond that, though, the Dungeon’s atmosphere becomes highly charged at Halloween. It’s the actor’s dream: the public flock in, so you can entertain the belief that the world revolves around you… And pumpkins! The Dungeon will be crammed with pumpkins. That means enough pumpkin soup to last till Christmas… And Christmas! Everyone likes Christmas! And Halloween! By God, we’re onto a winner here.