I am glad I rode the Cyclone. Honestly.
But never again. Let me just repeat that. Never again.
Bill (and many others) obviously get a huge thrill and adrenaline rush from riding roller-coasters – but I am more than happy to get my rush from 75 minutes of being onstage alone with six wooden crates.
Feb 10th, 2018
‘You’re a disgrace to humanity!’
That’s what the chaplain at Winchester Prison said to Bert Brocklesby, conscientious objector and protagonist of my play ‘This Evil Thing’, a hundred years ago. Another CO was told by a different chaplain, ‘Christ would have spat in your face!’
17th December 2017
Five days off…to launder my costume, hang out my costume, iron my costume … to eat, sleep and catch up on the piles of admin … to be taken to the opera as a surprise … then it’s back on the road up north on November 30th for three full-on days of touring.
November 16th, 2017
One of my all-time favourite bits of dialogue, from Mel Brooks’ ‘The Producers’.
Food – where to get it from, when to have it, how much of it to have, and whether there’s enough time to digest it in before the performance – is a constant preoccupation for actors on tour, in strange towns and cities, with little time to spare. I’ve never met an actor who didn’t love their food, and who didn’t happily wolf down any sandwiches, cake or biscuits put in front of them.
Nov. 4th 2017
A black box. That’s how most theatre studio spaces are described – and indeed, that is what they usually are: a box. Painted black. Within which one tries to create a little bit of magic.
That’s what I’ve been performing This Evil Thing in, these last few weeks – black boxes – apart from the few schools, where I’ve been perched rather high on an old-fashioned-style stage looking down on the students below…and then, a complete one-off, on Friday 27th October – the Eastern Lady Chapel of Bristol Cathedral, ancient, ornate, multi-coloured, with an altar of course, and a carpet, on which I set the crates in readiness to perform the play as one of the events running alongside the ‘Refusing To Kill’ exhibition (focusing on Bristol’s WW1 conscientious objectors).
Oct. 29th 2017
‘To beep, or not to beep, that is the question…’
Is that chap about to leave or not? Can’t tell. But he doesn’t look happy.
If I beep to show him I’m waiting, will he get in a strop?
Behind me, someone has decided that ‘To beep’ is the answer to the question.
Well – to honk, loudly…
‘I’m waiting to see if this chap’s going!’ I mouth impotently back at them.
Oh, give me a break…
Sunday July 3rd
Ros Hutt, the director of THIS EVIL THING, and myself were hoping to get up to Richmond Castle in Yorkshire to visit the very cells where Bert Brocklesby and other conscientious objectors were imprisoned in 1916.
There is still graffiti on the walls of one cell, drawn by Bert himself with a piece of charcoal he smuggled in – that graffiti being a rather fine drawing of his fiancee Annie Wainwright; as well as an image of a man bearing the weight of a cross. (The graffiti is being restored and preserved by English Heritage.) Timetables wouldn’t permit our trip however.
Dyce camp, Aberdeen, 1916
And so, tis done…what a very special evening at Conway Hall – COMRADES IN CONSCIENCE – thanks to all who came, some from quite a way away – and all those who tried to but couldn’t make it…
and of course to all the wonderful performers, singers, speakers…
And great to hear laughter ringing out too at times – mainly at Bertrand Russell’s droll witticisms of course…
Those of us who are pacifists will probably never have our pacifism and beliefs put to the test in the way that those young men who were COs in WW1 were tested – the abuse, the punishments, the threat of execution… so all we can do is remember them, pay tribute to them, keep their example alive – and try to keep the freedoms alive, of thought, action, conscience, that they struggled to maintain… and anyway, in other parts of the world today, there is still conscription in many countries, and COs in those countries still face all kinds of punishments…so, still work to be done, then. Joining the Peace Pledge Union and other similar peace movements would be a start…
This is a photo of Walter Roberts – the first conscientious objector to die during the First World War – just 20 years old. In a state of exhaustion, having already endured four months hard labour in prison, he died of pneumonia as he lay in a leaking tent in the pouring rain at Dyce work camp, near Aberdeen.
Fenner Brockway said: ‘To all of us, Walter Roberts’ life and death must be an inspiration.’ It helped close the camp at Dyce but achieved little else. Bert Brocklesby said of him – ‘A true martyr to the cause of peace and brotherhood.’
Red Lion Square
Only through researching the COs’ struggle against conscription, did I come to learn the full extent of Bertrand Russell’s passionate commitment to the anti-war effort – pretty much giving up his own work for the duration of the war in order to help and support the young COs. He became acting chairman of the No-Conscription Fellowship, and eventually went to prison himself for six months in 1918 – for an article he’d written.