Thursday, 20 August 2009

Yes, it's still about that.

Now then, where were we? Obviously I’m on a train again (I’m not going to tell you where, location fans. I feel like I’ve overindulged you lately) and I ought really to finish this megablog about the show before it passes into prehistory. There are a few more people you need to know about first, though.

Scott (played the Hoff/ the Crap DJ): A question I have been asked quite a lot in the last three weeks is the inevitable ‘What’s Scott Mills like then?’ And nobody looks the slightest bit surprised when I say that he’s a really lovely bloke. This is a man who is able to get my 70 year old mother listening to Radio 1 (she thinks he’s ‘an excellent broadcaster’). I was dead impressed when I went into the studio a couple of times, too. He makes it look pretty effortless. The Pinot Grigio gags, by the way, have a certain basis in fact. I thought I had a good line in inhaling bottles of wine, but I look like a slowcoach next to Mills. I’d challenge him to a wine-off, but I don’t like losing.

Beccy (played KylieWhileyMyleene): What have I done I’ve only met actual Beccy. Listeners to the show will know that Beccy is really, really funny. She reminds me of David M in the way she’ll cut right to the chase whenever someone says anything illogical or unlikely, and get comic capital out of pointing it out. Essentially, the one-liner is her forte. She’s also really good value in a game of ‘would you rather’ and is the first person I know who has ever priced herself out of the market with the ‘tramp’ question (and if you don’t know what that means, you don’t want to). Has a scald on her arm in the shape of pepperoni, and seems to be under the impression that all listeners to the Scott Mills show are from the West Country.

Rob/ Emlyn/ Lyndsey/Sam: Our Radio 1 angels. Emlyn (the real TOTDS) wrote the show and was its chief cheerleader- his enthusiasm for it kept us all going, and he has an uncanny ability to say ‘does anyone want a drink’ at JUST the right time. Rob- or Linda, as he now prefers to be known after his discovery of the ‘Broadway’s Leading Ladies’ DVD- couldn’t be less like his counterpart in the show, although he does have the same surname. Lyndsey mainly spent her time with actors saying ‘where are my keys/ tickets/ Pleasance passes/ contract/ money’ which can’t have been much fun but somehow resisted the temptation to slap anyone upside the head. Sam the internet guy took more photos than anyone ever has in the world ever, and managed somehow to upload them before they were even taken. He also made a very convincing, um, photographer in the Brits scene. R1 in general was incredibly supportive of the show, and it made such a difference to know they were right behind/ alongside us. There was no divide, I suppose is what I’m saying, between ‘radio show people’ and ‘people off of the musical’- we were all in it together, which was what made it all so ace.

Patrick/ Ollie/ Roshni/ JP/ Nick/ Robin: Ok, I know this is turning into a tedious Oscar speech now, but hey, nobody asked you to read it. Patrick, our director, made it into a proper show. We’d have got away with something endearingly chaotic, but Patrick insisted that we come up with something as tight and as slick as possible, which I think made a real difference when it came to audience expectations. He created a smashing atmosphere in rehearsal too- surprisingly few directors seem to realise, as Patrick does, that you’re allowed to like your actors and tell them that you think they’re good. Ollie, Patrick’s assistant, is possessed of enough charm, enthusiasm and charisma to persuade a bunch of cynical actors to do a Peter Brook-style workshop with sticks, without ending up wearing one. Roshni, our company stage manager, managed somehow to co-ordinate the whole show, set, props, costume and all, on a budget of tuppence ha’penny and a diet of fags and whisky. The woman is a legend. She fell asleep at one point during the overnight, and immediately sat up- in a moment of silence when nobody had called for her- and said ‘NO, SORRY’. You have to love that. John, the production manager, and Nick the LD seem to have smiled their way through the whole job. And Robin, on sound, put up with us blocking his radio mikes with our sweat, which, if you think about it, is pretty disgusting.

So that, at some length, is the gang. Now, you left us having just finished the all-nighter. We went off to get varying degrees of sleep (the R1 team had three hours of Drivetime to do, remember, the poor sods) before reconvening, white with anticipation, at the Pleasance that evening. To say that we were nervous would be to say that Chris Moyles is carrying a few extra pounds. Pacing was the order of the day, along with that kind of half-conversation you have on first nights where you say to each other ‘IT’S GOING TO BE FUN, ISN’T IT? YES. YES IT’S GOING TO BE A LOT OF FUN’ while trying to ignore the fact that you both have crazed eyes. The turnaround from the previous show was pretty smooth (apart from one actor having lost a crucial item of costume, and, what’s worse, attempting to lie about it. Pond scum. Yes, it was me. Shut up.) and, shatteringly quickly, it was time for the actual punters to come in. All 300 of them. This is where we began to visualize 300 angry, tired drunks who had queued for four hours to get their tickets. This is where we realized that the opening number went on for seven minutes and Scott, the man they had come to see, wasn’t even in it. This is where we began to get REALLY scared.

I might tell you what happened next, sometime.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Dramatis Personae

As promised, then, a few words about these people I keep insisting are such smashers.

Them what was on stage (in order of appearance):

Kathy (PR4L): You know her voice because everyone does, and at first it’s strange to hear it coming from a person rather than from the Today programme. She is a ukelele-toting, tiara’d streak of elegance with a singing voice as beautiful as her speaking one, and a devilish quick sense of humour. Kathy’s enthusiasm for the whole project was always a boost and my word she can make people laugh. It’s also fun to get her to say rude words. Formed an unholy alliance with Andrew.

Laurie (played Beccy): The best thing ever to come out of Belgium and yes, I am including waffles in that. We were gutted to miss her burlesque performance (although it was sold out, which is of course the best possible reason) because playing Beccy required her to be sweet and musical theatre-ish (which she did as if to the manner born) whereas I’m pretty sure our Ms Hagen would be great at the darker, more decadent side of performance. Taught me the running man, for which I will be forever grateful. Can inflect the simple word ‘Babes’ in at least 48 different ways. Formed an unholy alliance with Andrew.

Simon (Dep musical director, cameo as ‘man on intercom’ in the opening number): Baptism of fire. Simon agreed to come in and play for the times that Des was unavailable and, due to various unforeseen circumstances, ended up as our de facto MD. I have never before attended a music rehearsal where the cast had to teach the MD the songs, but Simon showed himself to be a quick and, fortunately for us, patient learner, and when it came to notes, an even better teacher. He got a great tight sound out of his small band, too (also comprising Dominic on bass and Andy on drums). Didn’t to my knowledge form an unholy alliance with Andrew but the signs were there that he would have done, given time.

Joe (played Scott): I’ve mentioned him a couple of times before, so you’ll know about him. Joe joined us as a fresh-faced, eager drama student, and left us three weeks later as a seasoned pro with a shattered liver. So, as mentors, you’ll see that we could hardly have done a better job. He reminds me of myself when I was his age, (back in the Pleistocene epic) in many ways, chiefly in his refusal to sing the end of any given song as written if there’s a gala high note to be had. But beyond his performance, which as you’ve seen was great, he handled the pressure and the madness of the whole project- which must have been twice as intense for him as for anyone except Scott- with real maturity, modesty and grace. So probably not that much like the younger me, after all. Formed an unholy alliance with Andrew.

David (played TOTDS): The straight man who is always in gay plays. We tried to insist that this one didn’t belong on his impressive gay theatre CV, but round about the first rehearsal of R.A.D.I.O it became apparent that that wasn’t fooling anyone. David came to our show straight from his wedding (that’s a pun, kids) and having lived abroad for a while, so he must have been pretty dazed by the whole thing. Being the great galumpher that I am, I was very envious of his physical precision on stage, and I think his performance is one of the highlights of the video version, as that kind of precision translates so well to camera. Fans of the song ‘We’re Not Allowed’ will be interested to learn that David used this very laptop to perform one of the taboos mentioned in the lyric, while we were ON THE TRAIN to Edinburgh.

Andrew (played Chris Moyles/ Andy Parfitt/ a Stepsesque cowboy): As I thought to myself what to say about Andrew, I found myself smiling. He’s that kind of person. He is responsible for christening me ‘Jennifer’ (it’s a long story, but basically think Dreamgirls) a name which I haven’t answered to since I was teaching English to a girl from Hong Kong who couldn’t quite manage ‘Jonathan’. He appointed himself as ASM to our stage manager, the estimable Roshni (with whom he formed an unholy alliance, and of whom more later) and worked his butt off helping to marshal the scene changes while retrieving the necessary props that his colleagues (ok, ok, me) had left in eccentric places in the wings. Had less to do in the show than some of the rest of us, a fact he occasionally mentioned, but you wouldn’t know to watch it, because everything he did was so memorable. I suspect he may have a slight tendency towards corpsing.

Guy (played Rob the boss): Current holder of ‘Wales’ nicest man’, a title he has held every year since his birth, Guy is one of those sickening people who you can’t imagine ever hearing a bad word about. Like, ever. Anyone who laughs at jokes like Guy does- the laugh sort of takes over his whole upper body- is always going to be popular with them as makes jokes, which is to say most of us. Irritatingly, he is of course also very funny in his own right. He’s getting married in a few weeks time, and his fiancée is a very lucky woman- except, you’ve guessed it, she’s irritatingly lovely too. Guy is a bit of a worrier, but in social and professional terms he has nothing to worry about, the lovely talented jammy bastard.

Bloody hell, that’s about a million words and I haven’t even started on the crew and the Radio 1 brigade yet. In fact I haven’t even finished on the cast- I’ve missed Scott and Beccy. But once more I’m on a train nearing its destination (my mum’s place in Norfolk, persistent location fans) so that, along with the madness of the performances and my fun on radio wun*, will have to wait for another time. This is turning from a few blog posts into a fucking novel, but I want to get it all down while it’s in my head. So, y’know, tough.

*it’s to make it clear that it rhymes, ok?

Monday, 17 August 2009

You've got to put me on the S. T. A. G. E...

I’m on a train- currently at Peterborough, location fans- and trying to fathom exactly how I can put the last three weeks or so into words. It’s fairly safe to say that I’ve had an unforgettable time.

It began, like all good stories do, with a mysterious phone call. My friend Des, who I’ve known since Cambridge, called me as I was on another train- heading, coincidentally enough, up to Edinburgh for Fran and Steve’s wedding. He left a voicemail which was very crackly and difficult to understand. All I heard was ‘potential job… first two weeks of August… paid…’ and then an email address to which I was told to send my CV. The address, however, was a BBC one, which was encouraging, so I emailed my Spotlight link over and waited to see what would happen.

The next day I was in Jenners buying a tie for the wedding (crimson and black, neckwear fans) when my phone rang again and Des greeted me with the immortal line ‘Welcome to Scott Mills The Musical’.

Of course, to an accomplished and professional actor like me the work starts way before the rehearsal room, so as soon as I received my script I set to rehearsing my characters- sports correspondent Chappers and ubercool NZ type Zane Lowe. I was already familiar with Chappers from the 606 phone-in, and since we both like football I figured I’d probably pretty much nailed that character already. For Zane I decided to do an insufferably generic antipodean accent and shout a lot. An invaluable insight into the creative process for you all, there.

In all seriousness, it was one of those jobs where you know from the first hour of the first day that you’re going to have an incredible time. Although in my case my major contribution to the first hour was to inadvertently out myself during a cast bonding game when I was forced to answer the question ‘When was your last girlfriend’ with the reply ’18 years ago’. This did not, needless to say, cause too many ructions. As far as the percentage of gay men involved, ‘Scott Mills The Musical’ was not exactly the Woodsboro Baptist Church. But a lot of other worries were resolved in those first few days.

The worries I’d had before starting rehearsal had been based largely on the unfamiliar; I was worried that a competition winner rather than a ‘pro’ was playing Scott, and I was worried that the stars from R1 might be a little grand or distant. Well, you know how that turned out. Joe, the competition winner concerned, is an absolute star, a pro to his fingertips and a smashing fella with it, and as for Scott, Beccy and co they could hardly have been friendlier or thrown themselves into things more. On about the third rehearsal they came to, when Beccy had belted out ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ and Scott had watched us perform a (very wobbly, at that point) stage lift on Joe before immediately and cheerfully agreeing to take part himself in the very same health-and-safety nightmare*, I realised that 'grand and distant' was pretty much the antithesis of the people we were working with.

So, those worries evaporated immediately. But as we began to realise that we had potentially a rather good show on our hands, they were replaced by others. Would people take us seriously or just turn up for a shambolic bunfight? What kind of audience would we get at half ten at night during the Fringe (the expected answer was ‘drunk’, mainly) and were the critics gleefully sharpening their knives in anticipation of our arrival? And, most worrying of all, how the hell were we going to survive a 12 hour overnight tech rehearsal?

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend teching overnight but I have to say it was much worse in anticipation than in reality. We all went a little delirious at one point- everything was suddenly funny- and once we discovered that it was possible to lie very comfortably on the empty benches in the auditorium the energy levels may have dipped a little. But it was yet another testament to the incredible people who made up the cast, crew and creative team of this show that it was easily the smoothest and best-natured tech I’ve ever been involved in. That’s not to say, of course, that when 7am rolled around, and I’d been up for god knows how many hours, and it was time to start a dress rehearsal, I didn’t want to kill myself and maybe whoever invented radio, the fringe, and Scotland. I didn’t kill any of those people though, I danced around a bit instead. After the dress I was lying prone on the stage trying not to actually die when I noticed in my peripheral vision that Scott was talking on his phone. This is not an unusual occurrence so I thought no more of it until he came over to where my remains were lying.

‘It’s fake Chappers! Say hello, fake Chappers!’ said Scott.

Drawing together every last ounce of my energy to be polite to whoever Scott was speaking to, I summoned up a cheery ‘Hello!’.

‘No’, said Scott, ‘Say it like you do in the musical’

I think that’s when I realised I was on air. I hope I’d have been a little less dumb if I’d had more sleep, but that’s the story of how I made my radio 1 debut getting it all wrong.

Heading towards King’s Cross now so I’d better break off for now. In subsequent posts I’ll have a crack at describing the sheer terror that struck us all on the opening night, and the extraordinary audience response that turned that terror into euphoria. And I’ll probably talk about our cameos from Costa and Outen and Kay, and about how I met actual Chappers, and about how I went on the show with a little more sleep and played ‘Oh, What’s Occurring’ and and and and…

But be warned. I’ve hardly even started on how ace the cast and crew were, so I’ll mainly be banging on about them. People of a misanthropic disposition may want to throw their computers out of the window at this point.

*note to insurers etc: this is phrasemaking. It was totally safe.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Contains spoilers.

'Wow, amazing'

That, in a world exclusive, is my first line in 'Scott Mills The Musical'. I promise I will write more about this in due course, as it's one of the more surreal jobs of my career. But after a hectic first week, with an even hecticer second to come (only 2 weeks of rehearsal, ladies and gentlemen, followed by a double all-nighter of a tech) I am spending my Sunday evening motionless on a sofa rather than slaving over a hot keyboard.

Plus, it's probably all a bit anodyne anyway. Who- despite my suggestion a couple of weeks ago that happy blogging should be encouraged- actually wants to read that everyone involved is smashing, the show is shaping up to be really quite a lot of fun, and that I'm having a whale of a time? But that's the case, I'm afraid. I've been lucky in always being in casts of nice people, I've come across very few utter frights in my career. But this mob is especially lovely and- the part of Scott himself having been cast by a 'Search for a Scott' competition- the Radio 1 listeners have unearthed someone in young Joe who I think is going to be a bit of a star.

But there is, of course, one lurking thought in the background of all this positivity. As any actor knows, if you get a week into rehearsal and you don't know who the company wanker is- it's you.