Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Below The Line

Sometimes, the things I post on here are so spectacularly boring that not one person is moved to leave a comment. I think of these posts as orphans, as poor changeling children staring at an unthinking world wondering what they've done wrong. So when I discovered tonight that a post on this blog- my rant about the housing association which administers my neighbour's flat, which was parochial and inconsequential even by my standards- had, four months on, garnered a reply, I was overjoyed.

Here's the comment:

1 comment:

I'm watching you said...
get a job and stop wanking off your neighbour
Hi, 'I'm watching you'! Thanks for the advice. I have a couple of thoughts about it which I know you'll welcome.

Firstly, that username! C'mon, buddy, you and I know that you mean it in a benevolent, 'got your back' kind of way. But just because we both see you as my guardian angel doesn't, sadly, mean that anyone else will. This is the internet, and tone is very difficult to read. Some people might take 'I'm watching you' as a pathetic attempt to be intimidating and threatening, which I know was the very last thing on your mind.

Now then. You advise that I 'get a job'. Sometimes that's exactly what I want to do, too! The freelance existence can be very up and down, and there are scary times when my phone isn't ringing. Fortunately, that hasn't been the case at all this year. In fact, what with corporate work, voiceovers, writing commissions, producing radio and going to auditions, sometimes I think I might have a few too many jobs to deal with! I just think it would be ill-advised for me to get another job on top of the ones I already have, not to mention that 39 is quite late in life to attempt to acquire a new skill!

The next part is a little confusing to me. You advise me to 'stop wanking off my neighbour'. That's initially confusing as both my neighbours are female and 'wanking off' is more usually used about a man. Maybe it was a slip of the keyboard and you meant 'fingering'? Probably an easy enough mistake to make, especially since I get this funny idea that you haven't yet performed either activity with another human. Anyway, it's rather baffling since I've barely even spoken to my neighbours, so they might be a little surprised if I were to attempt to take things 'to the next level' in the way you suggest.

Given all this, I wonder if you might have been having a go at some 'banter' and maybe even implying that I might be homosexual, which is always very 'jokes', isn't it? If only you'd read the long, ranty post that appears immediately above the one you were moved to comment on (it's below this one, in case you have any trouble with the difference between  'up' and 'down'). In that post I make it quite clear that I find that particular lifestyle so very unembarrassing that I've enthusiastically adopted it myself, so as banter it doesn't really work. Try mentioning weight or baldness in future. I'm much more uncomfortable with those topics so there's every chance you might score a direct hit!

Are you a fan of Hue and Cry at all? They were big in the 80s so may have been before your time. The reason I mention them is that the chorus of their biggest hit, 'Labour of Love' starts with the line 'Gonna withdraw my labour' and the way Pat Kane sings it, it does sound a little bit like 'Gonna wank off my neighbour'. Might it perhaps have been that you were thinking of? If so, I applaud the breadth of your cultural knowledge but it might be slightly too niche a joke to resonate with a wider audience.

Anyway, thanks for your input. But please, please don't feel the need to help me again. I know internet time can be very precious and next time mum and dad leave the parental controls off, it might be a better use of your time to download some music or consume some pornography.

So, toodle pip for now. Keep watching!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Enough with the semantics already, aka Well Done Scotland

I lost my virginity illegally.

Actually, that’s not quite true. By the time I had my first proper sexual encounter with another man I had already had two long-term, sexual relationships with girlfriends. Proper ones, pregnancy scares and all. I first put my [redacted] into a lady’s [redacted] at the red-blooded age of sixteen, and jolly nice it was too. So nice, I spent the next couple of years repeating the experience.

But nonetheless, I had always been pretty sure that I was much more interested in the male downstairs than the female equivalent. So my first experience with a man- which involved nothing more graphic than getting a grab of another fella’s [redacted] and jiggling it around for a bit- was the moment when I truly felt I’d crossed the irrevocable border into adulthood. It was at that moment that I felt I was doing what I needed, wanted, was meant to do, rather than what I thought I ought to and hoped I could.

I was 18, and he was 23. We were couple of kids, I realise now. But the thing is, in 1991 it was against the law. My cackhanded handjob was something for which the unlucky recipient could have been prosecuted, and labelled the worst kind of criminal.

At the time, it didn’t bother me over much. I came from a loving, liberal family. I was at a university where homosexuality wasn’t so much accepted as positively encouraged, as all of our nation’s most famous spies could attest. I knew that I could fool around with as many men as I wanted and nobody would cart me off to chokey. I had a vague anger that 18-year-old women all over the UK were doing exactly the same thing without the danger that their partners would be labelled paedos, and I vaguely wanted it to change, but I had a vague idea that you Can’t Fight City Hall, and that Things Would Change Eventually.

I was the ‘innocent party’ in other criminal sexual encounters by the time my second year of studies was over. I hope you won’t be too shocked to hear this, but I actually slept with a COUPLE MORE men who were OVER TWENTY ONE when I was NINETEEN or TWENTY.

It astonishes me, and angers me, now that I’m 39, that those men were risking prison. But it didn’t particularly anger me at the time. That was just the way things were. When I was 21, the law changed. The age of gay consent was lowered to 18, which handily decriminalised-in-retrospect anything I’d done with those predatory 21 year olds. It was at that point that I started to get a better handle on this whole equality thing. 18 wasn’t enough. I had no desire to sleep with a sixteen year old, and nor did any of my straight friends. But the fact that they were hypothetically allowed to do so, and I hypothetically wasn’t, began to stick in my craw a little.

And yet, and yet. There were always greater injustices, things that it was more pressing to be crosser about. I am a first-world, educated, middle-class white male. The entire structure of  the world was still, unfairly, skewed in my favour, so it felt selfish to be bothered by that little, niggling inequality. I sat back, secure in the knowledge that my sensible, liberal nation would eventually equalise the age of consent. In the meantime, it would be greedy and singleissueish to shout too loudly about how I wasn’t properly equal. And anyway, in 2000 the age of consent was equalised in the UK, so it was all fine.

Except that it wasn’t. By 2000, I was 27. My friends were starting to marry each other. I became increasingly aware that I didn’t have that option, and wondered why that was OK. Even at that point, the language of equality didn’t enter my brain. ‘Marriage is for straight people’ I thought. ‘I don’t want to interfere with that. But it would be nice to have legal partnership rights’. Can you believe that? Here I was, an out and proud gay man, who was AGAINST what I would have called 'gay' marriage, or, if not against it, didn’t think it was important enough to make a fuss about. Give us the same legal rights, I thought, and the rest is just words.

When civil partnerships were brought into the UK, in 2004- I was thirty-one years old at this point- I thought. ‘Phew. No more fighting needed. We’re equal now. The people who are arguing about marriage are being unnecessarily silly about a word. Equal rights are about the law, not about semantics’.

Today, a part of my country- not, unfortunately, the part of my country that I live in- has accepted that there’s no reason why we need a different form of words for two gay people who want to profess their commitment to each other. And I’m ashamed that I ever thought it was a fight not worth fighting. Because, over the last few years, I’ve heard all the arguments against equal marriage, and realised that they’re all pathetic.

Nobody’s straight marriage is made any less committed, or any less wonderful, or any less of a miracle, or any less anything, by equal marriage. Marriage doesn’t belong to any religion, because civil marriage has existed in most nations on earth for decades, across faiths. Two atheists can marry, without marriage being devalued (and I know this: I've sung a Catholic hymn in a C of E church at the wedding of two non-believers).  Come to that, various major faiths have, in their time, married grown men to prepubescent girls, which I cite not as an attack on religion but as a rebuttal of the ‘tradition’ argument. In fact- and I use the word ‘fact’ advisedly- marriage, throughout history, has been the word we use to describe two people who make a public, binding commitment to each other. That’s why it’s not a pointless, ‘semantic’ argument. Religion, and tradition, don’t own the word marriage- people do. Every age decides what the word means, in law, in practice, and in love.

So, yeah, I am passionately, fervently in favour of equal marriage. There are other, more pressing injustices to get angry about: right, let's do that, but let's not allow whatabouttery to take our eye off this particular ball. I am the man who wasn’t that fussed that my first proper sexual experience was illegal. I am the man who fell in love with a 21 year old when I was 20, and wasn’t angry that he was risking prison. I am the man who thought that civil partnerships were enough. But now, here, in our 2012 world, I am also the man who is baffled that some people can marry and I can't.

I don’t want to use the emotive language of ‘us and them’, especially since more of my straight friends are passionate about this issue than my gay friends. But it’s time, now. It’s time that ‘we’ have what ‘they’ have. And if you find those inverted commas divisive, you’ve just made my point for me.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Genesis Housing and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The fact that my upstairs neighbour had her flat broken into and her keys stolen will be of no interest to you. I understand that. I'm not going to revisit the story yet again. I've already risked losing every twitter follower I've ever amassed by doing a near-rant on the subject.

On the other hand, the attitude and behaviour of the housing association who act for my neighbour's landlord have stunk. They've been unhelpful, entitled, incompetent, obstructive, and downright rude, particularly to my flatmate and to my other neighbour. And I DO want as many people as possible to know about that.

So, I've had an idea. I'm going to get google to help me out*

JUSTIN BIEBER NAKED (Genesis Housing is staffed by ill-mannered malcontents!)

ADORABLE PICTURES OF KITTENS (Tempted to work for/ rent to/ rent from Genesis Housing? Don't! You'll be surrounded by uselessness and wankerdom!)

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY VOLUME 4 (Genesis Housing treats its clients and their neighbours with contempt!)

HOT XXX CELEB PICS (Genesis Housing responds to legitimate complaints with snotty emails saying 'this issue has now been resolved' when it hasn't!)

HIGGS-BOSON WIKI (Do you know what a Genesis Housing employee said when we asked them to understand that their actions had made our flat unsafe? She said 'No, I can't understand that, I live in a house')

LONDON OLYMPICS 2012 (...will be a model of efficiency when compared to Genesis Housing!)

HOUSING ASSOCIATIONS LONDON (Avoid Genesis Housing at all costs!)
Sorry if I've disappointed any new visitors. On the other hand, you know now what awful people Genesis Housing are. So, every cloud...

*before I get lots of emails from SEO experts, I know this won't really work. I mean, I'm basically joking. Apart from the bits about how Genesis PERFECT POACHED EGG RECIPE Housing is evil. Those bits are deadly serious 

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Here, today.

 The one thing I always said when I started writing this blog was that I’d never, ever review theatre. Far too dangerous- as an actor myself, I’d always be making all kinds of icky quasi-moral choices that I didn’t need to make. What if I gave a rave to a director I’d like to work with and it ended up looking like sycophancy? What if I saw a mate being dreadful?

Well, rules are made to be broken and I hope you’ll understand why I felt the need to share some thoughts about Polly Findlay’s devastating production of my dad’s translation of ANTIGONE, which opened at the Olivier tonight.

It’s become a cliché to talk about how the greatest Greek plays effortlessly bridge the 2500 year gap since they were written, but my goodness this play is about things which are in our newspapers daily. Just look at this week’s news: ANTIGONE has something to say about Syria. About Leveson. About Charles Taylor’s imprisonment and Julian Assange’s extradition. About austerity and plan B. I’m pretty sure I could find a link with the French Open, too (Serena and Venus have something of Attic Tragedy about them) but I don’t want to labour the point. It would probably be labouring the point, too, to point out that in my first two paragraphs I used the phrases ‘moral choices’ and ‘rules are made to be broken’. There are Antigones everywhere, every day.

But it wasn’t the 2500 year gap that was uppermost in my mind. It was the nine year one, and the twenty-eight year one. Making no apologies for partiality, the crowning glory of this production is dad’s extraordinarily tight, lucid, poetic, clear and theatrical translation. He started work on it in 1984, directed it for telly the same year, and died in 2003. It's an old translation, by anyone's lights; we're as far away now from when he wrote it as he was then from Bill Haley and Hungary and Suez. But we don't even need to do that striking piece of maths. When he died, never mind when the translation was written, we lived in a very different society.

We were at war, just, when he died- but dad never lived to see the Messianic, god-told-me-to-do-it Blair, just the slick politico who smoothly paved the way for invasion. Dad was dead long before London exploded in 2005, when those four kids- Antigones themselves, or maybe Creons?- strapped bombs to their chests in the name of what they thought was right. And that means that he lived and died in a Britain where our civil liberties were never a major issue. He never worried about being scrutinized by government, or having his emails read, or leaving voicemails for friends that would be listened to by journalists. He didn’t see our current government, which when it is caught out in lies tells us loftily and with a sense of entitlement that those lies don’t matter. And yet in his interpretation Sophocles’ words, heard in 2012, don’t sound like they were written by a dead man a lifetime ago. They sound as if they were written tomorrow.

More accurately, in this production, they sound as if they are occurring to the actors as they say them. There’s a freshness, a directness to the way the lines are delivered- not a moment of ‘acting’ takes place all night. Jodie Whittaker, as Antigone, manages to radiate moral authority without ever sounding pious or preachy; there’s a simplicity to her passionate belief in what’s right. But then, as Antigone faces death, she pulls off a heartbreaking change of tack. When she appears in a prisoner’s smock, allowing her possessions to be bagged and signing her own death warrant with a flourish, she is defiant, certain. But once Creon has pronounced exactly how she is to die, we see real life and real death flooding into her idealistically-created moral kingdom, bringing terror with them. It’s the difference between the way we all airily say ‘yes, I think I would have died to defeat Nazism’ and the way we might actually behave if someone were to have a gun at our head. Whittaker’s Antigone never loses her nobility or her integrity- but she breaks our hearts by showing us her fear as well.

Christopher Eccleston’s Creon is daringly undespotic, reasonable even. He has all the arguments and his refusal to bury Polynices because of the message it would send is hugely modern- it reminds us that we have somehow degenerated into a society where the PR implications of a decision have become more important than the moral ones. His final disintegration is breathtaking. We don’t get the stagey destruction of a tragic hero (‘Howl, howl, howl, howl, howl’ and all that) we get something smaller, more honest, a man who isn’t even close to processing what has happened to him. At the end of the play, this Creon knows nothing, except that it’s all his fault.

But it’s invidious to focus on Whittaker and Eccleston, outstanding though they are. This is a supremely good ensemble. I could write a paragraph on the excellence of the Haemon- here a bright, unworldly public schoolboy who is too clever and too young for his own good- or the brilliant Soldier and Messenger, or the show-stopping Tieresias, or the stoically silent and heartrending Eurydice.  One of the incidental irritants of being an actor is that when you go to the theatre, there’s usually at least one performance which makes you think ‘Nah. He’s not as good as me. Every line he says is going to annoy me from now on. In fact I’ll probably be trying out my own line readings in my head after everything he says’. None of that here, no distractions at all, in fact. I was in the unusual audience-member position of being entirely immersed in the world of the play from its first moment to its last.

Of the production itself- set. costume, directorial decisions- I don’t want to say too much, because I hate reviews which leave you with no reason to see the actual show. You may, however, be unsurprised to hear that I thought they were all ace.

So now, it’s over to the inky scribblers to pronounce on the success or failure of this production. (I was sat next to one, and in front of another, of our most respected critics and can I just say at this point, gentlemen, that you should A: clap properly and B: stay till the end of the curtain call. It’s only a few hand bangs and about 45 seconds out of your very important lives, and it’s also only common fucking courtesy). The initial signs are that the notices are going to be good. But that doesn’t matter, because tonight something bigger than any review happened. Tonight a man who died 2500 years ago, and a man who died 9 years ago, got together with some actors and a director and a designer and a crew, and told us about a society neither of them ever saw, but which both of them understand.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

What I wrote.

"Dear Mike Freer,

As one of your constituents, I am writing to express my deep concern
about the Health and Social Care Bill currently before parliament. I'm
sure you'll have seen this article from the BMJ:

The Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Physicians, the Faculty
of Public Health, the Royal College of Nursing, and the rest, are all
against the bill. They believe it will harm patient care. They're

I know that, as a Conservative, you'll be in favour of the bill. But I
am writing because your party cannot be allowed to pretend that these
are changes the public or the medical profession want. We are rightly
proud of our NHS and don't want to see the ground laid for its
privatisation. This mess of a bill is being foisted on the British
public against our will and when you force it through you will have
begun the dismantling of one of the most important pillars of British
Society. We will not forget.

Yours sincerely,

Jon Taylor

You can write to your own MP at

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Later Review?

The other week, I was reminded that you should never go to the theatre on a Monday. I went to see a West End comedy which featured an excellent cast being very funny for very little reward. The audience was dead, sluggish, and very much on the quiet side. But that’s what Monday audiences are like- it’s one of the rules.

Yer Monday audience probably booked their tickets by looking at the date rather than the day, only realising they’d booked for a Monday when they saw it staring back at them from Microsoft Outlook. Most of them spent Sunday thinking ‘Oh God, work tomorrow, and then I have to go to the bloody theatre in the evening’ when all they really wanted to do was ease into the working week with a ready meal in front of America’s Next Top Model. A Monday audience is the second hardest audience to make laugh.

The hardest, of course, is a Saturday night audience, for pretty much the opposite reason. Saturday night audiences are dangerous because they have high expectations. This is their weekend treat, and you’d bloody well better deliver on it. You’d think that would make them up for it (like their Friday counterparts, so pleased to have reached the end of the week that they’d laugh at the telephone directory) but no. For Saturday night punters the stakes are too high. They’ll only relax after the interval, once (and if) it’s been established that Someone Else Thinks It’s Good.

The point is, after you've been doing this job for a while, you begin to notice patterns emerging. And no night of the week can compare for weirdness to that changeling child of any run, the Press Night. Last night I came across Mark Shenton’s blog about the current West End run of Hay Fever, whose producers have taken the interesting step of embargoing any press reviews until after the first weekend, in essence giving themselves three press nights. As Shenton says, Thursday night’s performance had all the Press Night trappings- starting half an hour early, and so on. As an audience member, I can vouch for the fact that it felt like a press night, too. During the (beautifully played) first scene there was that strange, slightly manic laughter from the Stalls that speaks of too many well-meaning friends trying to warm the audience up. There were a couple of moments, too, where a laugh seemed to take the cast slightly by surprise, another PN hallmark.

You see, Press Nights are entirely sui generis. There is no other performance in any run which is similar. The first public performance is all about adrenalin, getting through it, easing into the sensation of being in front of an audience, focusing on the end of the show and that ‘we did it’ feeling. Further previews, if you’re lucky enough to have any, are about bedding down, getting comfortable. Then the Press Night comes along and any relaxation that might have crept into the show is subtly tempered with a very specific kind of tension. Things don’t flow quite the same way as they have done in rehearsals or previews. The shape, the feel, the timing are all a wee bit off- as if one is playing a piece one knows very well in an unfamiliar key. I’m not saying that Press Nights are bad- some of the ones I’ve been in have been excellent- I’m saying that they’re always, by their very nature, different.

Which is why I’ve always thought it was a shame that it’s the Press Night that gives birth to the reviews. I wonder if critics assume that plays are always performed with an undercurrent of nervous tension, that no actors ever relax. How could they think otherwise, since they only ever see Press Nights? It drives me mad when a review refers to a performance being ‘uncertain’ or ‘tentative’ (my favourite example of the genre is- and this from a celebrated critic- ‘Michelle Collins, making her stage debut, seemed initially nervous’). Duh. Come back on a Wednesday matinee.

Because that’s the thing, of course. A review of a Press Night performance can never truly represent the show that audiences will see on any other night. Of course, a show has to be ready. If an audience is paying big money for tickets then they’re entitled to a certain level of expectation. But even a couple of days after Press Night, a show tends to be a very different beast- and yet the reviews remain in suspended animation, always reflecting what happened on one night and one night alone.

I’m sure most of the nation’s press will have been at Thursday’s performance of Hay Fever, and it’s that performance they’ll review (favourably, if they’ve any sense- it’s a delicious production). But how wonderful if the Thursday-Saturday idea being floated by Hay Fever’s producers were to catch on. The two rep seasons I’ve done never suffered from Press Night Syndrome, because you never knew when the papers were going to show up. It would be a boon for actors, reviewers and audiences alike if West End shows were afforded the same luxury.

And as for the show I’m doing at the moment- Toxic Bankers at Leicester Square Theatre, details here, well, we’ve managed to sidestep the issue entirely. Our Press Night and our first public performance are one and the same. Watch this space...

I should let you know that I’ve actually concealed a plug for the excellent show I’m currently working on somewhere in this blog post. If you managed to spot it, why not reward yourself by buying a ticket?

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Call Off The Search.

Bored with the ‘Hat Game’? Tired of ‘Mafia’? Too old for ‘Spin The Bottle’?

Well, worry not, because Brede McDermott and I have invented the perfect parlour game. It needs no dice, boards, playing pieces or chips. No gambling is involved. It will not make people cry like ‘Psychiatrist’ or drunk like ‘I’ve Never’.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am proud to introduce to you your new favourite game, ‘The Mirror Crack’d’.


If you are unfamiliar with the work of Agatha Christie, spoilers may lie ahead.


Welcome back, the rest of you. Right. Here are the very simple rules of the game.


2 players, a timekeeper, and some onlookers.

PLAYER ONE is Marina Gregg (Elizabeth Taylor, Claire Bloom, Lindsay Duncan)

PLAYER TWO is Heather Badcock (Maureen Bennett, Judy Cornwell, Caroline Quentin)


PLAYER TWO must engage PLAYER ONE in conversation for fifteen seconds, during which PLAYER ONE is not allowed to speak. PLAYER TWO must talk about being a huge fan of PLAYER ONE, but can otherwise say whatever he or she likes, in whatever accent(s) he or she chooses. PLAYER ONE must make appropriate ‘being talked to by a fan’ faces, and maintain eye contact.

At any point of his or her choice after the fifteen seconds, PLAYER TWO must mention the words ‘German Measles’. The moment the words ‘German Measles’ have been said, PLAYER ONE must immediately look away from PLAYER TWO, and stare at a fixed point in the distance for fifteen seconds. PLAYER ONE must at this point have a completely neutral expression- no smile, no laughing, no anger, no regret. His or her gaze must remain fixed. The neutrality of PLAYER ONE’s expression will be adjudicated by the ONLOOKERS, and the fifteen seconds timed by the TIMEKEEPER. During this time PLAYER TWO can continue speaking, saying whatever he or she wishes.

If PLAYER ONE maintains the fixed neutral expression for fifteen seconds, the mirror is crack’d, and PLAYER ONE gains a point, and vengeance. If PLAYER ONE’s expression flickers (for example by laughing) then PLAYER TWO doesn’t drink the poisoned cocktail and gets to stay alive (and also a point).

There are possible extra rules, but I will spare you those for now. They mainly involve poisoned hay fever remedies.

Anyway. Try it. It is the best game ever.

Happy New Year.