My new three minute film – shot on my i-phone during the 2nd lockdown in November 2020 – including footage of an empty central London…
Taking his cue from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, an actor wrestles with the new realities of COVID and the closure of all theatres for the foreseeable future. Is there any point in carrying on at all? But actors have worn masks (comic and tragic) since plays were first performed in ancient Greece; and on a journey through a deserted capital city, the actor sees something that encourages a fragile optimism.
I’ve been working as a professional actor for over 40 years now – just writing that sentence fills me with a certain sense of awe and wonder as well as an undertow of where have all the years gone? ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their entrances and their exits, and one man in his time plays many parts.’ Thus says Jaques in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Looking back now, I’ve played a goodly number of parts: various lawyers, doctors, politicians – not forgetting a trio of different undertakers (because of my tall lugubrious looks?) – oh and once I even played an exorcist! But it sometimes seems to me that the majority of the parts this ‘one man in his time’ has been called upon to play, have been members of the clergy. The one with the highest status was probably the Inquisitor in Shaw’s SAINT JOAN.
I’ve yet to be asked to play the Pope however. Any Pope. Though last year I did play an Italian priest sent by the Pope (to investigate alleged miracles occurring in Rwanda). Usually it’s been a humble vicar or reverend that I’ve been asked to don a dog-collar for. And most of these parts have been played onstage.
But about thirty years ago I was called upon to play my first on-screen priest. An Italian one, and a young one (well, I was young then) – in a charming film about the Italian community in London called QUEEN OF HEARTS. One of my scenes involved me presiding at a baptism, which was filmed in St. Peter’s Church in Clerkenwell, and one of the priests there was on hand to ‘give me advice’. He was a short, stout, keen-eyed Italian man, who gave me tips on how to hold the baby. He watched me closely and after I had successfully finished shooting the scene, he came up to me and said, ‘You should be a priest.’ I laughed and thanked him. ‘No, I’m serious,’ he went on. ‘You should become a priest.’ ‘Well,’ I responded, ‘There are similarities between acting and the priesthood, I suppose. You know, standing in front of a crowd of people, addressing them from a pulpit or ‘stage’. Needing to have a decent voice, being able to project…there are similarities…’ I tapered off as I noticed him waiting for me to finish. ‘I am serious. You should become a priest.’ ‘But I love acting and I’m only in the early years of my career…’ ‘Think about what I say,’ were his final words as he ambled off back to his office. Two years later I was walking from my then home in Streatham to Tooting Bec tube station. As I approached a bus-stop near the tube I saw him – he was unmistakable. ‘Father! It’s me! Do you remember? The actor you gave advice to for the film a couple of years ago.’ He looked at me keenly. ‘Oh yes, I remember you well.’ ‘What are you doing here in south London?’ I asked. ‘Visiting Catholic prisoners at Wandsworth Prison.’ ‘Ah yes.’ He then scrutinised me for a moment before saying, ‘So, are you a priest yet?’
I didn’t succumb to his ‘hard-sell’ then or at any other time, but in a sense I did fulfil his almost-command to ‘become a priest’ – by portraying so many of them on stage and screen through the subsequent years. My latest incarnation, a German Jesuit priest, an atomic-bomb survivor in Hiroshima, is one that I have worked on during lockdown – it’s an extraordinary story and he comes across as a very special priest, not that he would ever have described himself as such.
This performance, THE PRIEST’S TALE, was filmed and livestreamed on August 6th but is still available to view on Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/438259377 or by going to http://www.sandsfilms.co.uk and clicking on theatre events. (There’s also a wonderful Japanese violinist, Chihiro Ono, who provides musical interludes.)
But why? Why all these priests? A chap I met and talked to about this a few years back, and who claimed to be psychic, said it was obvious. ‘You must have been a priest in a past life.’ Of course! That’s the answer I should have given to the priest advising me on the film. ‘You should become a priest.’ ‘No need, I’ve already done that – in a previous life.’
I was told by someone in the know the other day that if I wanted to record THE PRIEST’s TALE for BBC Radio next year that it would sort of be out of date – as the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings is this year. Hmm. So nuclear weapons won’t exist in 2021? First I’ve heard of it…
Here are the four dramatic online perspectives on war and nuclear weapons, put together this year with Jatinder Verma, You-Ri Yamanaka, Chihiro Ono, Rosamunde Hutt, Leo Ashizawa and Olivier Stockman (of Sands Films) :
THE PRIEST’S TALE https://vimeo.com/438259377
THE MISTAKE film-collage https://youtu.be/QURQZ6WUU_g (screenshot below) THIS EVIL THING https://michaelmears.org/this-evil-thing
THE DOCTOR’S TALE https://vimeo.com/438273483
From 8.15 am in the morning of the Thursday August 6th, exactly 75 years since the first atomic bomb was dropped,
you can see our 15 minute collage of extracts and images from my postponed theatre play THE MISTAKE, on Youtube: at that time and anytime thereafter…
at the new link (posted 3/8/20): https://youtu.be/QURQZ6WUU_g
Then that evening…
THE PRIEST’S TALE is an adaptation by myself of one of the survivor’s accounts from John Hersey’s classic book HIROSHIMA.
Father Wilhelm was a German Jesuit priest living in Hiroshima at the time of the first atomic bombing.
At 7.30pm on August 6th, I will perform this story live,
from the stage of Sands Films Studios Theatre, Rotherhithe, London…
with live violin accompaniment by Chihiro Ono. (Duration approx. 55 mins.)
Directorial supervision by Rosamunde Hutt.
This event is co-hosted by the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre.
…in livestreamed performances from the stage of Sands Films Studios Theatre, Rotherhithe, London…
AUGUST 6th THE PRIEST’S TALE is an adaptation by actor/playwright Michael Mears of one of the survivor’s accounts from John Hersey’s classic book HIROSHIMA.
Father Wilhelm was a German Jesuit priest living in Hiroshima at the time of the first atomic bombing. His account is a compelling and clear-eyed description of his experiences that day and in the subsequent months and years – told with compassion and warmth.
At 7.30pm on August 6th, the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb, Michael Mears will perform this story live, with live violin accompaniment by Chihiro Ono. (Duration approx. 55 mins.) Directorial supervision by Rosamunde Hutt. This event is co-hosted by the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre. https://vimeo.com/438259377 or https://www.facebook.com/events/934559037019595/
THE DOCTOR’S TALE is a version by actor/playwright Michael Mears of NAGASAKI 1945, an account by a young doctor working in a small hospital in Nagasaki at the time of the second atomic bomb, detailing how he and his few staff, with very limited supplies, survived that day and the following weeks.
I had been hard at work on my new project, a play about Hiroshima – which was due to be performed by myself and UK-based Japanese actress You-Ri Yamanaka, and all set to be directed by Jatinder Verma, and I’d spent a good chunk of time trying to secure a venue for the play at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, as well as a tour of the play in the autumn to many parts of the UK…when along came a certain virus…
Like everybody, I was knocked for six when lockdown was introduced. The previous week, I had been sent reeling by the closure of the theatres and all other live performance venues; festivals began to be cancelled one by one and soon it was the turn of Edinburgh to suffer this fate. Continue reading →
Just over 100 years ago, British conscientious objectors were locked down in this country against their will because of the ‘virus’ it was feared they were spreading- the virus of pacifism and anti-militarism.
Now as we are all locked down against our will for several weeks, I have made a home movie version of my solo stage play THIS EVIL THING, (which I have now performed over 100 times in the UK and in the USA) which portrays the compelling and inspiring story of Britain’s WW1 conscientious objectors.
Using just my i-phone and its excellent ‘movie’ features and using every available corner of my two-bedroom flat in SW London, I have recreated my performance of all 52 roles (some with only 1 line, granted) as well as performing all the roles within a film crew! (Including doing my own catering…)
This lockdown offering is in 6 x 15 minute ‘chapters’ – it premiered on Friday May 15th, 2020, International Conscientious Objectors’Day and will remain online until further notice at the link below…please tell your friends! Thank you!
‘Magnificent storytelling’ (Amnesty International judges at Edinburgh 2016)
Every year on May 15th we remember those who have established and are maintaining the right to refuse to kill, both in the past and today. Hundreds of people across the world are imprisoned or forced to flee their home countries for refusing to join the armed forces. On May 15th we stand in solidarity with them, as well as celebrating the memory of all those throughout history who have resisted conscription.
This year on May 15th there will be several events, open to anyone in the UK or abroad. Usually ceremonies are held around the UK, but this year due to the Coronavirus outbreak the ceremonies will happen online.
NATIONAL CEREMONY – FRIDAY MAY 15TH – 12 MIDDAY
Join us for a minute’s silence, songs and speeches. I will read testimonies from Second World War conscientious objectors. Niat Chefena Hailemariam from Network of Eritrean Women will speak about military service in Eritrea, which is compulsory for both men and women.
This is what an American President (Truman) said when he got the news that the mission to drop the first atom bomb had been accomplished: ‘This is the greatest thing in history.’
The greatest catastrophe, I’d say – and I will do whatever I can, however small my ‘drop in the ocean’ may be, to ensure it doesn’t happen again. There are now less than 48 hours to go till our crowdfunding appeal closes…so if you know of anyone who is planning on chipping in, please give them a nudge (before Thursday March 5th 2pm) thank you! https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-mistake-a-play-about-hiroshima
Here is a photo of Leo Szilard, brilliant Hungarian scientist, who features in the play, sitting with his mentor and lifelong friend, Albert Einstein – who makes a cameo appearance in the play… (photo courtesy of Critical Past)