Wednesday, 24 April 2013

"History? It's just one f*****g thing after another."

Rudge's words from one of my all-time favourite films/plays, The History Boys, have been echoing in my head of late because, if that's what history is, then certainly we have been making history of all the wrong sort at the little house on the prairie this last week.

First of all, we had the Great Mouse Attack. We live in the country and rodents and other furry creatures are an accepted part of our lives ... outside. However, when they cross the threshold they become THE ENEMY! Firstly they infiltrated the barn where number 4 has her bedroom. She actually had the presence of mind to photograph one with her phone. It looked rather large for a mouse... just saying. Smallest child removes herself back into her old bedroom in the house, thus providing me with two bedrooms where I cannot see the floor, let alone vacuum it. Poison distributed in various places in the barn and now we wait. Then whilst sitting at my desk the following day, another mouse appeared - a tiny one this time - from under the skirting board at my feet. Cue more poison carefully barricaded in so that the dogs could not reach it. Dogs are obviously useless at mousing. Already we have a garden where squirrels/rabbits/mice have eaten most of my tulip (my most favourite flower) bulbs so clearly the dogs are not striking the fear of God into anything out there. And now we have a mouse swanning about the house which the dogs are ignoring.

The mouse then decamped to the conservatory where number 3 attempted to corner it in a saucepan - as if - before summoning help. More poison carefully barricaded in where the dogs can't reach it. And finally after nearly a week I am daring to hope we are mouse-free again. Just waiting for that rotting dead animal smell to confirm my suspicions.

Then on Sunday, number 1 came home from her week in Edinburgh in the play Translations (you probably know all about this if you have been following the blog as I have been posting her blog on here - she writes better than me anyway!). She has been driving my car whilst in Mold (Wales) and Edinburgh and was returning it prior to moving on to her final tour destination, Belfast. Now the car is covered in what can only be described as pterodactyl poo - not the size of normal bird droppings and completely black and very hard to remove. Anyway, my beloved used the relatively new washing up brush to remove them so now we need a new one of those.

On Monday morning, number 1 and I are having some all-important mother-daughter time with a cup of tea and a catch-up - "Botox?" "Yes really, it made her eyes look all piggy..." - when I enquired what time her flight to Belfast was on Tuesday morning. She checked: "It leaves in an hour and a half - today!" So we pack directly from the tumble dryer into her hand luggage and set off at a charge to Leeds Bradford airport where yes, she made the plane. Phew...

And by the time I got home, the phones/internet had crashed. The result of the high winds last week, I believe, which also took down two trees in the garden. Actually, now we have cleared it all away, the garden looks better so perhaps sometimes these things work out for the best. Not, however, the phone and the internet which has made the two of us who work from home very irritable and given children 3 and 4  a lesson in what life was like just a few years ago when we had no internet. If I manage to post this, it will mean that the internet has been restored, for now anyway.

So, there you go. As Rudge says: "It's just one f*****g thing after another" and as we return to what passes for normal here, I am just waiting to see if my mobile phone is going work again - dodgy signal - although at least I didn't drop mine in the bath. But that's another story...

Monday, 22 April 2013

A week of Bed Rest

Genevieve's latest blog, returning to London for a week's r and r before heading to  Theatre Clwyd in Wales. 

After a full week in Dublin, we finally get to drop our props, discard our scripts and come home.

London has never before been so enticing nor welcoming - the jam-packed underground, the high-octane pace of the nine-to-five commuters, the teenagers loitering, the drunks carousing, the tired mothers pushing their prams wearily calling along the other three or four kids in tow and amidst all this bustle I am grinning zanily because I am finally back at the place I have called home for the past five years. People take no notice of me, because that is a Londoner's trademark - exchange eye contact with no one.

The thick curd of makeup finally removed and my face is relishing the bracing cold wind as winter shows no sign of abating. My suitcase is unpacked and I have resisted the temptation of burning every item that I have spent the last seven weeks wearing. The boyfriend, far more domesticated than me, has put it all in the wash. I am adorned in my favourite purple onesie, striped hat, spreadeagled on the sofa with the cat on my lap.

"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven"  William Wordsworth

Now don't get me wrong, I love my work. You only have to digest the last four blogs to get that message loud and clear. But - a week of sleep. A whole week of being able to drop my head onto the pillow and waking up at a normal hour without adrenaline coursing through my veins, the shaky hands, the constant replays of each night's performances drumming through my brain at an alarming pace. Despite the show becoming almost routine, the ritual of getting to sleep each night has been almost as arduous and exhausting as the performance itself. You shouldn't have to try hard to fall asleep when you're tired.

A week of normal meals. A cooked meal. Using an oven or a hob. A knife and a chopping board. A pan or good heavens - a wok! Going into the local supermarket was truly like walking into Selfridges with an ex boyfriend's credit card. Or opening presents on Christmas Day. A most bewildering comparison - for I have not been trundling through the Sahara or walking the North Pole. Only eating ready cooked meals and sandwiches for the past seven weeks.

After four days, my boyfriend Alex has finally coerced me out of the house. It is 3 o'clock in the afternoon and I have just eaten my breakfast. We jump onto the bus and slip into Shoreditch, delightfully empty of those pretentious toffs that normally frequent it. We push into a pub and order Coronas. The barman takes my order without question - without asking me to repeat it (for us English sound so foreign to the Irish...or just me) or informing me which poet, author, playwright, famous person used to frequent the place. I need a break from the Irish jollity. Two Coronas, straight up, cash in hand. Job done.

An hour or so later, I'm blessed when two of my girlfriends turn up to catch up on the news. It's wonderful to see them - everything familiar draws me like a moth to a flame and I stare rapt at the same two friends - the duffel coat my friend always wears with the scruffy boots, the red lipstick and smart work clothes of my other friend. They excitedly ask me about the play and I cast their questions off wanting to know more about the latest gossip: who has kissed who, how our team is playing (we all play rugby), is everybody happy. Has everyone missed me? Typical attention seeker.

Then two or three Coronas later, I suddenly find myself lost. Not drunk. Lost. Everything is exactly the same as I left it. And whilst I am still savouring it like all those old creature comforts, it suddenly finds me feeling unsettled - like it doesn't make a difference whether I'm here nor there. Life has gone on.

I had a long conversation with Alex about this bout of insecurity on the way back. I felt really disrespectful - unappreciative, because I was so grateful and happy that my friends had come to join us and yet feeling this slight sense of resentment that all these things had happened without me being there. I felt displaced. Like I wasn't a part of it anymore. I needed to be on stage, doing my job and cajoling the audience into the story, making them love or hate my character. I wasn't needed in London.

He said some good things - not the things I wanted to hear, but the things that would make me think more about what all these feelings of insecurity really meant. One of the reasons why I love him.

And I realise I am incredibly lucky. You sort of always know this - happy family, great friends, good job, have money etc etc - but it gets thrown around like a cliche - it sort of floats beneath the surface of everyday life like a sturdy round comfortable cushion on your backside. We all undervalue it and we all wish we didn't - because it's wrong.

I work in an industry where you are expected to be able to drop everything you are doing at any given time. Us actors seem to spend our lives waiting for this. New parts to play, new experiences - the world is constantly revolving and you with it. And I embrace these changes - they're hard sometimes and I can be homesick. They're hard sometimes and I can feel incredibly low about myself - what am I doing here, why did I think I could be an actress? But the more corners and bends in our lives - the better people we are for it, challenging ourselves and adjusting. I become a better actress too. And at the end of all that acting ruckus, wherever we might be, I get to go home and devour this sense of the familiar. Savour London. Cherish friends and family. And whenever I go away again, I go with their best wishes. I can't berate them for continuing to live in my absence.

A week of bedrest has done me good. I've slept well, ate well, seen my friends, the boyfriend and am ready to face the play with a new sense of vigour. And I have found a new sense of peace - everything I have in my life will be here, not necessarily waiting for me, but even better - welcoming me, when I come back. And in the meantime - I will live, live, live life to the full and relish every wonderful sensation that comes with doing the job I love. Even if our next tour stop is the darkest depths of Wales.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Family Circus Hits Dublin

Guest blog from Genevieve's tour with the play Translations.

"A happy family is but an earlier heaven" George Bernard Shaw

Last week I talked about the futility of trying to keep the performance of 'Translations' the same. That in my exhaustion lay the very premise that I could no longer hold onto a concrete emotion if it was repeated night after night.

A short summary of 800 words or so in my last blog.

It is now Friday night and the pubs in Dublin, all 1,000 of them, have closed for Good Friday. Dublin is now like a ghost town - eerily quiet and the weather came to serve this purpose as snow has been sprinkling down on the city all day. The streets are empty except for the tourists and the taxi drivers, and those in the know who have gathered at O'Connell Street station to buy a one-way ticket to nowhere. For Madigan's Bar at O'Connell Street station is one of the only licensed pubs to sell alcohol on Good Friday and in order to buy an alcoholic beverage, you have to purchase an inter-county train ticket.

My family are in town. And surprisingly, they are not cooped up at Madigan's drinking Guinness. Instead they are sitting but 50 yards from me, encamped in the second row of the Gaiety Theatre waiting for me to come on stage. And the opening night nerves are back.

My family consists of my mum and dad, my 24 year old Antonia and twins Robbie and Sabrina who are 17 years old. My childhood was made up of haystacks, green fields, obstacle courses, a menagerie of animals and a lively chaotic home. My father in the kitchen cooking up a storm, my brother hitting a tennis ball outside, Sabrina encamped on the sofa and mum simultaneously doing the ironing whilst reprimanding her for not doing her homework. Antonia and I bickering away at each other, childishly but equally persistent in having the last word. Like Owen in Translations says "What's that smell this place has always had?", family and home immediately bring a sense of the familiar and yet a million juxtaposed memories come to the fore. Time and place incongruent but the essence always the same. A fiercely proud and protective bunch we are - and after six weeks we are together again.

When I was born deaf, the doctors told my parents that I would never be able to speak. My parents were told firmly that I would need to be sent away from a young age to a school for the deaf and that all my family and friends would have to learn sign language as a means of communicating to me. This was the appropriate response of the medical industry in the 1980s. But I was my mum and dad's first child - and this was far from the perfection one automatically expects with a newborn baby.

My mum fainted.

But, the moment they left the hospital with that news, their response to the doctors was a resounding no. They didn't follow the road that the experts had laid out so rationally. My mum would leave her job and teach me how to talk. I would go to a mainstream primary school, I would have hearing friends, I would have the life that they envisioned for me deaf or not deaf. No easy feat. And now after 27 years, it is possible to recognise that as a streak of stubbornness, denial and resistance to conformity so inherent in our family's genetic makeup as much as a show of brave resistance.

Teaching me to speak was painful. I was finally fitted with big hearing aids at the age of 4. My mum began the battle of teaching me to recognise that sound could be created and that it meant something. The kettle boiling, my father laughing, the knock on the front door. That these funny warblings that came out of people's mouths with these red lips moving unfathomably were a code for communication. That if you put two and two together, the code was cracked and you could understand them. It's entirely a logical premise.

But if the average person has a vocabulary of 2000 words, and every syllable enunciated and articulated has to be pieced together into a word - let alone a sentence, both my mother and I had a very steep hill to climb.

I can speak. I can speak more fluently than my parents even dreamed of. I've been able to follow my goals, ambitions, dreams - most of them, little hindered by my deafness. And whilst in the acting world, my voice is not perfect, I am carving a successful career for myself. And now with my first theatre role under my belt, my family are here tonight to witness that hard work and investment they made in me, the whole of my life. As our director often likes to say "No pressure".

There is an unforced irony that I'm playing a character who discovers her voice. Sarah, who doesn't speak until her love for Manus pours out of the woodwork, is impelled to speak a whole sentence for the first time. This cyclical nature of my mum watching her deaf daughter play a character who is trying to discover her voice is difficult to ignore. So I can't help but wonder what her response to the play will be. Suddenly I find an untapped emotion in this fear that it might bring back painful memories for her. I am desperate for them to be proud, not of me as their daughter, sister, for that is redundant, but of me in my transformation to a professional actress. It's never mattered so much.

The nerves which had finally started to subside have regurgitated again. The Pink Floyd are playing, the caffeine is kicking in and I am safely locked in my dressing room manifesting all sorts of distractions to prevent the sense of dread washing over me, that my family are lurking only a few feet away in the second row of the theatre. For who could be a more important audience?

I hope that at the end of the show, my mum will be able to turn to me and say "Genevieve, you've made it." And then we can all go and drink Guinness and count our blessings.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Time Well Spent on the Sidelines

For a woman of rather advanced years, I spend a disproportionate amount of time playing sport... watching sport... reading about sport. A borderline obsessive. For me, it's the drama of it all. I will never achieve any of the great sporting heights but sport has given me a lot of fun over the years and, surprisingly perhaps, the best bits have been when I have been standing on the sidelines.

Four children - so I don't want to begin to calculate how much time I have spent spectating at the swimming pool, diving pool (lots of those all over the UK), lacrosse pitch (this has no side lines so if you're not paying attention you can find yourself in the middle of the game), rounders, tennis, netball, football, rugby, cricket and so on. And aside from dealing with the occasional disappointment, this has been a really enjoyable experience. Watching number 1 play lacrosse for Scotland was a massive moment and one I wish my father had lived to witness - though he would have found her change of allegiance since she played rounders for England hard to swallow.

And it's not just my own children playing sport. A few years ago, with a few like-minded parents, we set up what we euphemistically called 'Tennis Fun Hour' on our village courts. Fun for the children, probably fun for their parents who may well have skipped off to the pub for an hour of peace, but sometimes hardly rising above crowd control and fairly stressful to boot. Anyway, we encouraged the little treasures, organised drills and fun games including the infamous Death Ball where the children ran in front of the net from one side of the court to the other trying to avoid the balls being thrown at them by the adults and anyone who had already been hit. And amazingly, the children's tennis skills and enthusiasm for the game grew in leaps and bounds.

Then a couple of years back, I found a junior league where we could enter a team of under 17s. Doubtless we would be hammered by the more experienced teams but it would at least give the children some match experience, I thought. They won the league at their first attempt and retained the title last year. Proud doesn't even begin to cover it and the pleasure of knowing that they shared my enthusiasm for tennis and applied what they had learnt (truthfully, from other 'proper' coaches but they still chose to play for their village club) made all those hours of hitting balls slowly and softly over the net only to watch the fresh-air shots coming back all worthwhile.

And my children have been on the receiving end of other enthusiastic parents dutifully giving their time and patience to teach them sporting skills. Most notably, Skip (married to Mrs Broccoli, of course) who has spent many, many hours teaching my number 3 child and his friends cricketing skills. Each year, the team would make it to the area finals of the relevant age group only to fall at the last fence because these finals always come during the school holidays when a third of the team are gadding about in foreign parts.

But last weekend, in the glamorous venue of Pateley Bridge Sports Centre, Burton Leonard Under 17s finally came good and it was, for them, for their parents (we were a big team of supporters!) and most of all, for Skip, a massive moment. All those hours of encouragement, patience, skill and enthusiasm often on fairly inclement days were worth it. So well done, boys. Their last season as juniors starts this week and here's hoping they can pull off the treble (well, anyone can dream...).

Deserving winners of the Nidderdale Indoor League Under 17s Champions: Elliot, Ed, Max, Connor, Robbie and Crawsh and their very excellent coach, Skip.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Roller Coaster to Dublin

There are lots of great reasons for going to Dublin - wonderful, friendly people, joke-cracking taxi drivers (blond jokes all the way from the city centre to the airport), great pubs, fabulous restaurants, concerts, rugby, shopping ...and obviously a pint or three of the black stuff. But when we started coming to Dublin about fifteen years ago, I never expected to be putting a trip to the theatre to see an Irish political play at the top of the list. But life is full of surprises and is all the better for it.

Number 1 daughter's acting career has been a roller coaster affair thus far. Apart from a brief appearance in a one-off comedy, she definitely started at the top with a lead role in a BBC1 serial aired at peak time alongside some of the biggest names in television drama. So far, so good. Since then, her roles have included unsuccessfully fending off aliens (death scene - not nice), playing a rather unlikely Virgin Mary in a nativity play in Shameless and a Victorian prostitute in a recent BBC docu-drama. All this is a lot for a mother to contend with and certainly not something I had imagined all those years ago when I watched my girl hop on and off stage as a boy rabbit in Toad of Toad Hall. The memory of how I used to feel watching her in school plays has stayed with me. Wanting so much for her to be brilliant and to excel at something she loved and yet feeling, when other parents congratulated me on her performance, that there was that air of 'being kind'. 

No more. I watched number 1 disappear into the role of Sarah in Brian Friel's brilliant play Translations at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin. I gripped my beloved's hand (he said painfully tightly) for the first five minutes, waiting for the consolation of having the only deaf actress in the cast as my daughter but then unconsciously found myself lost in the play, lost in the characters and the plot. The fact that one of them was my daughter became incidental. I was completely absorbed by the events unravelling on stage, forgetting the vice-like grip on my beloved's hand and just enjoying watching something vibrant and alive.

Did I want to cry? Well, of course. I am a mother first and foremost and watching my children excel is something which has a value beyond rubies. But for once I was not reduced to dribbly patheticness. Yes, welling up but I was just so involved in what I was seeing on stage that I forgot (briefly) that I am the mother of this consummate, fabulous actress who has had great reviews (from people who are not related to her in any way!). She is, that over-worked phrase, the real deal. 

Green room afterwards and yes, it is green. Lots of adrenalin-high performers and my daughter, yes, mine, was a part of it all. At home as if it were always meant to be. 

This is not to say that I didn't love her performances on television and in the short films she has made but somehow stage is terror on such a different scale. It's all happening for real, right now in front of your eyes. Even if it's done several nights in a row with a few matinees thrown in. Every performance is a perfect, one-off. When number 1 told me that Brian Friel, the playwright who is widely regarded as Ireland's greatest living writer, had come to see the play at the beginning of its run in Derry and that he had congratulated her on her interpretation, I had not properly realised what a huge compliment that was. I do now.

So now she has a few weeks left of appearing on stage - in Mold at Theatre Clwyd, King's Theatre Edinburgh and Grand Opera House, Belfast and then hopefully there will be a new acting challenge. Wouldn't Ripper Street be nice?