Ghost Stories Tour - Week Three
Updated: Feb 24
NOTTINGHAM THEATRE ROYAL, UK
21st - 25th January 2020
The last time I was in Nottingham, I was doing a corporate roleplay gig for Barclay’s Bank. It was not long after the millennium and I was in my early 20’s. I had to pretend to be a customer who had gone over his overdraft limit and was struggling with debt (not far from the truth at the time!). A bank manager would take me through my fiscal options and try to sell me a loan. She was being observed and assessed on her sales technique and customer service standards. I was paid two hundred pounds for the day. After tax, national insurance, agent’s fees, my lunch and the purchase of another a train ticket (I’d missed the one I was booked on), I was pretty much down on the whole deal. Added to that, Ken - the bloke who ran the company - had given me feedback on my acting ability that was less than flattering. So I wasn't really looking forward to this leg of the tour as I stood outside of Nottingham train station on a soggy Tuesday morning some 20 years later.
The place hasn’t changed too much from what I remember but it does seem like it’s in the middle of some sort of redevelopment. I passed building sites aplenty as I headed up the hill to the Theatre Royal. Like the Brummies, Nottingham folk seem to be very proud of being from the area. A real sense of ownership of their city and its personality. I walked past a little café that had a sign on the door that read ‘Ay up Duck!’ instead of the traditional ‘Open’.
My love affair with Britain’s theatres continues. The Theatre Royal has a very regal vibe. The seats are a bottle green velvet and it holds about 1200 I think. Lisa from the marketing department explained to me that they didn’t choose the green colour. It was originally a plush crimson but the local government, who were paying for the refurb, insisted upon branding it Nottingham Council Green. I prefer it.
I think I lucked out on the dressing room lottery again. Number 4 had the usual mirrors, fridge, shower and loo. It was spacious and had a view of the tram stop outside the theatre’s loading bay. In the January gloom I could be looking out on an area of Prague or Budapest. I set about my usual ritual of making it home: My man candle (mandle?) was lit – Sandalwood since you ask – Two good luck cards from Lou and a masculine pink unicorn one from my Aunt Sue were Blu-Tacked to my mirror. A bottle of my favourite wine placed on the fridge alongside a dozen or so plastic cups. Some Haribo, fizzy water and green bananas in the fridge, writing paper put on my desk, toiletries chucked in the bathroom and a brass pocket compass set on my dressing table. It was a good luck gift from Garry Cooper. He had played the role of Tony Matthews in the Lyric and West End runs of Ghost Stories and we had shared a dressing room on both occasions. He chose not to do the tour as he didn't fancy being away from home for so long.
Coops has had the most amazing career. Probably most known for appearing in the cult film Quadrophenia but has accomplished so much more such as working at the famous Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow for many years, The National, films, TV, worked with the likes of Kureishi, Frears and Jarman - You name it, he’s done it. Constantly clumsily dropping names from Dame Judi Dench to Jean Claude Van Damme. A proper actors' actor – So of course I loved him from day one of rehearsals.
He has a truly fascinating face: Pale blue eyes set back in an elegantly wasted fizzog crowned with a full metallic sweep of hoary hair. He’ll love that description.
He is fiercely intelligent and fabulously filthy. A constant source of sauce and anecdote as he would sit in the corner of our London dressing rooms wearing nothing but a starched pair of Harrod’s underpants and a creased smile. He’d whittle off the Times’ crossword in seven minutes flat whilst telling you a mucky story about the time THAT actor did THAT thing with THAT actress. He had an amusing habit of beginning a story with such an outrageously understated comment that it just left the listener hungry for more.
“That time I was wrongly arrested for murder, the copper asked for my autograph” or “I had a morning off of work so Gary Oldman flew us over to Cannes for tequila with Joe Strummer” or “I was on that movie for 21 days and had dinner with a different girl every night”. He’s had the life of ten men.
After a speedy tech run with our AD Diane Page, we had the torturous ‘Press Up Club’ with Paul Hawksyard. I am actually developing breasts. A vocal warm up and then company notes with Claire (suffering with a cold). She gave us the audience numbers for that evening, instructions on mine and Gus’s press call the following day and mentioned any offers that may have been given to the company from local businesses such as gyms and restaurants. Before we knew it, we were up and running.
Another warm opening. The audience seemed to have a similar DNA to Birmingham in that they were quite vocal and totally invested in the experience. After the show Billy (Irving), the brilliant Andy (McDonald), Gus and Lloydy all piled into my dressing room for a slurp of wine before decamping to the pub across the road from the theatre; Originally enough it's called The Stage. Keith, the barman, sorted us with a drink and then I left the rest of the company to it as I still had to check in to my apartment.
I tottered off up the hill from town and out toward my digs. Google Maps in one hand and my suitcase in the other, I was assured it’s only a 17 minute walk from the theatre. 45 minutes later and I’m still wondering around the back streets of the university campus; Freezing, annoyed and tired. I had called the reception to ask for directions as I simply could not find the place! Nobody was answering my calls. Every time I thought I’d found the area, the map on my phone would insist I was 0.5 miles away? Added to this, Billy Irving was constantly calling to ask if I wanted to come back out for a beer once I’d checked in! I think I may have sworn at him, or the situation, or anyone in earshot before politely declining his kind offer.
Eventually I found the apartment block and walked in to find the receptionist, bleary eyed, wearing her pyjamas! My incessant phone calls had woken her from her slumber and she’d arrived, complete with bed hair, behind the desk as I entered. She told me that she didn’t know how to work the card machine and so I’d have to wait whilst she called her boss. A mere HALF HOUR later and I was curled up in bed just after 2am.
The next afternoon, Gus and I met in my dressing room and gave an interview for Notts TV. We spoke to a lovely presenter called Chloe Bicknell. We were then ushered to the other side of town in a taxi to BBC Nottingham where we did a spot on Verity Cowley’s drive time show. Taxied straight back for a warm up and a packed evening show.
Nottingham’s night life seemed pretty raucous. Student town I suppose. There was no shortage of drinking holes. I had friends in on the Friday night who seemed to enjoy the show. Booze infused and enthused they tried to get some show secrets out of me but I resisted; Name, rank and number only.
On the Saturday morning I gave a phone interview with Dave Johns on Radio Woking ahead of us landing there next week. He was very warm and seemed up for watching the show. It can be difficult to give an interesting interview on a subject about which we are sworn to secrecy. The interviewers can sometimes come across a little frustrated with what little you are giving them. The producers had given us a very strict description of what we can and cannot reveal and we are on pain of death to adhere to it. All part of the show’s hype I’m sure, but in a world where we can find out almost anything we want with a touch of a button, it makes a refreshing change to keep the audiences guessing.
The last two shows saw us play to over two thousand people. These numbers are still incredible to me. I could still hear the hubbub from the audience as I packed up my dressing room, handed over a kit bag of gear to go onto the touring truck and headed away from Nottingham. Maybe not to return for another twenty years but with a happier impression of the place than I had when I had arrived.