23 April 2010


I am remembering one of Shakespeare's birthdays: a party in 1967, aloft in the Old Vic rehearsal room after a matinée. It was attended by us National Theatre actors, now so recently the resident company. We felt, I think, rather up to the moment (we had done a matinée of Zeffirelli's audaciously colourful and riotous production of Much Ado about Nothing, or possibly Stoppard's first astonishing hit Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead*). And we were, surely, superior to the elderly eccentrics of the Vic-Wells Association who were throwing the sedate little party - ladies in lisle stockings, wearing ancient cloche hats and carrying capacious carpet bags, redundant figures now that the Arts Council was doing the bankrolling and there was no need of their fundraising whist drives.

Robert Atkins, the veteran actor and indeed director of the Vic in Lilian Baylis's time, told a story about playing the doctor in the sleepwalking scene in Macbeth, the chief feature of which, in the particular performance he described, seemed to be a row between Baylis and the actor playing Macbeth. The commotion took place along the back of the stage, disturbing the backcloth, and ended with Lilian calling from the wings to Atkins in a stage whisper: 'It's alright, Robert, you'll have it quiet now.’ It painted a positively Crummlesian picture of the revered Old Vic of the 20s and 30s.

Ron Pickup and I got disgraceful giggles at the serious bits of the speeches, and then quite suddenly a summons called us all to order and somebody, standing next to a grey, rather grubby plaster bust of William Shakespeare, decked with a wreath of fresh laurel round its neck, bid us raise our glasses 'To the Immortal Memory'. Tears came into my eyes. Everyone in the room fell silent. I still feel the intense poignancy of that moment forty-three birthdays later.

Our own Birthday Bard.

Picasso did a doodle for the 400th birthday. It seemed rather trendy at the time.

* Another recent anniversary, incidentally: the 11th April marked forty-three years since the opening night at the Vic of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

21 April 2010


We are getting grandiose. This film is a two-part epic of just over 16 minutes.

Part One

Part Two

11 April 2010


I've never tried to get onto the performance poetry circuit. This circuit suits me well: I imagine the audience, and rehearse alone with them that conundrum of sharing confidence whilst steering the dangerous course between self-revelation and self-indulgence. The short webcam film is, like a doodle on a restaurant napkin, confined within limits; at the same time it has no limits! None! Except the important ones which one discovers as one goes along - one's own - good things to work against.

Lines on the Reconstruction of Francis Bacon’s Studio in Dublin City Gallery
A neat and modest flat, a narrow stair
Led to a skylit studio. – Was where
He liked to work in chaos, organized
The high-priced priest and pagan, canonized.
Conservators and archaeologists
Using photographs and copious lists
Moved studio, lock, stock and champagne crate
When Francis had become, at last, the late
Spent three whole years to work their awesome trick
To fix his farewell flux in time’s aspic
Conveying it, in gesture strangely grand,
As in the song – across the sea to Ireland.
Every squeeze of paint, each grain of dust
Doors, floorboards, the wall plaster a must
No flagellation or defenestration –
Here was where he worked and painted desperation
Rended strips of trouser corduroy
Photos torn and bent, a golden boy –
Paint-smeared newsprint of the hoi polloi.
Lab and Upper Room, Creative Cauldron
Delivery ward for bastard love-hate children
One hundred canvases aborted, slashed
Evidence of aspirations dashed
The scholars tell us – all grist to his mill
The palette knife that went in for the kill.
Curators quickly pounced, and with due care
Formalized the wild abandoned lair
Now Dublin can so cordially invite us
To lionize the lion’s last detritus.

*            *            *            *            *            *

Now here, aloft, descending into bathos
My attic boasts no elevated status
Here’s no magic cauldron, melting pot
What am I to do here, tell me what?
The central bookcase carefully arranged
Parts a sea of troubles quite deranged.
I can’t bequeath this chaos to posterity
It’s nothing but a leaden liability
My art’s to entertain and be beguiling
I’ve never learn the simple act of filing.
Here, so old and hemmed in, at a loss
I dread to chuck out gold amongst the dross.
And yet please watch this space or lack of it
When next you see me – I’ll have seen the back of it.

*            *            *            *            *            *

Art is what I had to see
Playing Washington DC
(In ’98, the RSC).

Artistically arranged attendants
(Are they good to their dependents?)
Posed here, casually concordant
Attending – not being so important

Yet one cannot deprecate
The way these four officiate
Of art they lightly guard the door
Rivalling the Henry Moore

And moving peripatetically
They rival Calder kinesthetically.

*            *            *            *            *            *

I’ve made a modest little start
Filed this photo into art
It’s docketed in verse and rhyme
I’ll tidy up just give me time
My history is not mere bunk
How come I’ve turned it into junk?
I’ll not leave chaos in my wake
If only for my loved ones’ sake
I’m not mistaken, I’m no Bacon
What I need’s reincarnation
Rebirth as a minimalist
A formalist you can’t resist
This loft will make a pure haiku
Do I have faith? – Why, yes, I do …


In touch with Kathleen across the world in the Sydney 'editing suite', I can report that we are a little more advanced this week and hope to post Aloft (ostensibly about the faithful reconstruction of Francis Bacon's London studio in his home city of Dublin) during the course of Sunday Greenwich Mean Time. It continues the series of webcam performance poetry films to which I, at least, am becoming addicted.

04 April 2010


Bear with me, but understanding things in theory is no substitute for understanding through hands-on experience. Perhaps that's why so many government attempts to improve the way things work go wrong, though in Melvyn Bragg's The City, Part Two on BBC Radio 4 this week we learned that it was only the intervention of government, the forming of the London County Council, taking responsibility for water, sewage, and education, that saved London from the pernicious free-for-all it had become in the mid-nineteenth century.

Forgive the ludicrous connection, but being lighting cameraman, dolly grip, dialogue coach et al, as well as solitary genius at work on my little webcam film, Graveyard Ditties II, has brought home to me just why one has noticed in the past that the only contribution a film crew member might make on a given day sometimes seems merely to be holding an umbrella over the camera, or supplying a strip of gaffer tape at a crucial moment. Would there had been someone on hand just to put a wedge of paper under the gramophone leg the day before yesterday, or to notice that stray wisp of hair …

This film is truly international in that my friend and editor, Kathleen Riley, has made her vital technical and artistic contribution from Sydney, Australia. The city and all its works has come a long way! No arm of government intervened to ask what I was doing with a four-legged stool and an Apple Mac in the local cemetery.

I should add that no mourners were disturbed during the making of this movie.


Meditation on Francis James Barraud, ARA and his dog, ‘Nipper’, portrayed in His Master’s Voice

His Master’s Voice we do not hear
The diminution now I fear
Of HMV’s thought more efficient
Pithier and quite sufficient.

The trademark dog of James Barraud
Abbreviated, I’ve deplored
But on the painter’s grave you’ll see
The chiselled letters – RIP.

If I add some extra lines ...
‘Nipper’ – famed amongst canines
Buried near a mulberry tree
Now beneath Lloyds TSB
(Known for his silence, not his bark
Commemorated by a plaque).
Whilst on the subject I should say
Francis Barraud, ARA
Letter-fettered as you see
So ends my ditty: QED.

Nomenclatures! How they have crammed ’em!
Quod erat demonstrandum
Whatever’s deemed our appellation
Too soon comes abbreviation
Gather ye rose buds while ye may …


Seeking where they laid his bones
Where we hear no gramophones
Rather, see his strolling player
Poised: Barraud! Our fine portrayer
Of the folk whose work is play
Here is constant light of day.

Sing this morning’s brave chanson
Death is short – it’s life that’s long.