At last a last Belch for the Great Auk

It’s taken something close to seven years to get A Last Belch for the Great Auk onto the stage, so understandably, I’m looking forward to 6.45pm next Wednesday and curtain up at the Old Fire Station.

David Halliwell, who wrote the play, was a friend of mine. We met in Charlbury in 1996. We were introduced in a convoluted way by local jazz musician (and now childrens author) Alan Fraser, and Harry Potter director David Yates. Long story short, David Yates had directed me at drama school and when I moved to Charlbury, (where he was living) he happened to be doing a ceilidh and needed an authentic Scot to do some readings. There aren’t too many authentic Scots in a village like Charlbury, so I got the gig. That’s when I met Alan Fraser, who asked me to do some stand up at his cabaret nights, The Outhouse, and also said that David Halliwell was looking for a Scot (another lucky break) to appear in his production The House. I got the House gig too (I was the only one in Charlbury with a kilt), and subsequently played the same role (Private Billy Meechan) in a London production (retitled In That Summer of Sweet 16) directed by Jane Clark of I’m a Camera at the Old Red Lion in 1997.

I also formed a company with David, The Wychwood Depiction Engine, which produced several plays for the Charlbury Arts Festival (including Merriel The Ghost Girl, which had prompted Sam Peckinpah to write to David when he saw the original production). David had pioneered multi-viewpoint drama in the 60s and 70s. He said, “if you are telling the story of man bites dog, you see it from the point of view of the man, from the point of view of the dog, and from the point of view of the bite.” He also founded the first lunchtime theatre company in Britain and possibly the world, Quipu. He won the Evening Standard Most Promising Playwright of the year in 1966 for Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against The Eunuchs.

David’s tales were always full of humour, controversial and always, always full of ‘names.’ When I first met him, I thought he was probably full of , well, you know, but it turned out that he did indeed share fish and chips with the Beatles during a recording session at Abbey Road (one of the VERY few outsiders who ever got to attend a recording session with the Fab Four). This occurred after George Harrison (who went on to produce a film version of Little Malcolm as the first film in Handmade Films cannon) attended Little Malcolm on stage and persuaded the others that David might be the director for their next film - in the end, this turned into the animated Yellow Submarine.

David introduced me to many of the people he’d met throughout his career; many people who were probably frustrated, as I was, by his refusal to compromise, his refusal to ‘play the game.’ This was also one of the reasons I admired him and one of the reasons why, however difficult it was to be his friend, I was always glad I was. As Mike Leigh (probably David’s oldest - not in an ageist way Mike - friend) said in his obituary in the Guardian, “Nothing he wrote had the weight or depth of which he was undoubtedly capable, and nobody who knew him or his wit, intelligence, or indeed his writing would disagree that he could and should have been up there with Beckett and Pinter, his two major influences. He in turn was a great influence on me, and it fills me with immeasurable sadness to know that I will never again spend a scintillating drunken night with this perceptive, invariably confrontational, and always funny genius.”

David’s sister Liz and her husband Cliff are coming to see the play at the Fire Station. They haven’t seen ‘Belch’ performed before. I only hope we (myself, Alexa Brown as Dymphne Pugh-Gooch and director Sarah Dodd) give them a memorable and entertaining evening out and live up to the writing.

I wanted to ‘Belch’ ever since I found a copy at David’s house probably around 2001 or 2002. I am an occasional birdwatcher - I discovered that I birdwatch more (once or twice to the point of twitching) when I am unhappy with another aspect of my life. I’m pleased to report that i am not currently an ‘active’ birdwatcher.

We were always going to put on A Last Belch for the Great Auk and at one time interviewed an actress who was in neighbours (Nicola Charles) for the part of the model (she was ‘busy’ recording a single at the time. I can’t remember the name of the single (he said bitingly).

For one reason or another, we never got around to doing it before David died in 2006. I’d seen him in the street a few days before he died, and had made plans to have a pint with him when I got back from filming in Glasgow. While I was away, David died.

I was at the point of splitting up with my wife at the end of 2006, so everything else went on the back burner, but the urge to ‘Auk’ never went away. Last year, I showed it to a director friend of mine, Sarah Dodd from the Oxford Playhouse and MakeSpace theatre company, and she loved it. She also happened to know an actress/model who would be perfect as Dymphne. And so finally, I got the chance to play Reg Armitage. We did a rehearsed reading last November, and got really good audience feedback. I really think it’s a great play, and we are hoping to tour it if we can get funding. Hopefully, the two nights at the Old Fire Station as part of Oxfringe won’t be the end of the story….

Next up, I’m hoping to do a Scottish tour of a play written by a friend of mine, Simon Farquhar. It’s a revival of his Rainbow Kiss, which is set in Aberdeen and premiered at the Royal Court in 2007. It’s set in Aberdeen, and you don’t get many plays set in the Granite City. I’m also hoping to do Simon’s new play, which was only completed a week ago. It’s brilliant, very real, very dirty, and there are a couple of parts I’d love to play. Then there’s a film on the last days of Robert Louis Stevenson which I’ve been tracking for two years while it raised funds. Everything is almost in place, and I’m hoping they’re going to be casting soon. I read a part in that while they were developing the script and it’s fantastic - it’s got everything, rape, murder - and the fact that I possibly don’t exist! And of course, the fact that the writer is playing loose with Scottish history guarantees a certain level of notoriety and scrutiny from Scotland. Of course, all of that depends on the casting directors…

I’m also doing my spoken word evening at the Jam Factory, 27 Park End Street, Oxford OX1 1HU, tel 01865 244613, on Monday April 6 at 8pm. It’s basically… a swanky swashbuckling scoundrel showing off with others of that ilk. Some call it poetry. They’re mishapen. Some say prose. So we prose - and primp and preen. And some cameras go off. And on. And off. It’s words, all about the words, man. And woman. It’s for us all. Anything might happen. This is not guaranteed but likely. And it’s still a raggedy gathering of rags makeing melly. Come and make some of your own You never know who’s going to turn up, or what might happen (although I’m pretty sure you’ll hear me doing a couple of John Lennon’s brilliant poems from In His Own Write and Spaniard in the Works).

David Halliwell’s A Last Belch for the Great Auk at the Old Fire Station on April 1 and 2 at 6.45pm. It’s directed by Sarah Dodd and the two-hander cast features Alexa Brown as Dymphne Pugh-Gooch and Steve Hay as Reginald Armitage. Tickets cost £8, and can be booked at The Old Fire Station, 40 George Street, Oxford OX1 2AQ; Tel 0844 844 0662 or see the website

For my profile and showreel, see http://www.uk.castingcallpro.com/updateall.php and http://www.stevehay.co.uk

Background on David Halliwell: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/david-halliwell-472814.html

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0356668/

http://www.filmreference.com/film/28/David-Halliwell.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2006/mar/22/guardianobituaries.artsobituaries

http://www.thestage.co.uk/features/feature.php/12264/david-halliwell

April fuel

It’s time for the usual Jam on That? reminder - but this is an extra special one. April’s Jam on That? as I’m sure you know, is part of Oxfringe, Oxford’s own Fringe Festival.

For those that don’t know, Jam on That? is …
… A swanky swashbuckling scoundrel showing off with others of that ilk. Some call it poetry. They’re mishapen. Some say prose. So we prose - and primp and preen. And some cameras go off. And on. And off. It’s words, all about the words, man. And woman. It’s for us all. Anything might happen. This is not guaranteed but likely. And it’s still a raggedy gathering of rags makeing melly. Come and make some of your own.

It’s at The Jam Factory in case you didn’t know. That’s why it’s called Jam on That?

The last three Jams have been very low key affairs, with dwindling attendances. That doesn’t mean they weren’t good nights - one of them was great, one was pretty good and I didn’t enjoy the other at all! But I really need you to get to this one. After the Fringe Jam, I’m going to take a look at what’s sustainable, and maybe reorganise the whole thing - any thoughts more than welcome (www.stevehay.co.uk or purplehays@btopenworld.com). Tickets for the Oxfringe Jam on That? cost £3 and are available on the night, or in advance from the Jam Factory (27 Park End Street, Oxford OX1 1HU; Tel 01865 244613). IT WOULD BE GREAT TO SEE YOU THERE!

Also look out for: David Halliwell’s A Last Belch for the Great Auk at the Old Fire Station on April 1 and 2 at 6.45pm. It’s directed by Sarah Dodd and the two-hander cast features Alexa Brown as Dymphne Pugh-Gooch and some Scottish guy as Reginald Armitage. Tickets cost £8, and can be booked at The Old Fire Station, 40 George Street, Oxford OX1 2AQ; Tel 0844 844 0662 or see the website http://www.ofsstudio.org.uk/prod-productions_details.asp?pid=1626&VenueID=104

And: Neither One Thing Nor The Other, two plays (Hoo’s On First? and I’m Rangers Til I Die) by Rio Fanning at the Old Library (University Church of St Mary the Virgin, High Street, Oxford OX1 4AH), April 1-4, 6pm (Tickets £6/£4)

And: The Long Insiders at The Wheatsheaf (129 High Street, Oxford OX1 4DF), April 8, 8pm (Tickets £5).

And: The Best of Playbites (presented by the Oxford Actors Network) Playhouse, Beaumont Street, Oxford, OX1 2LW. 1pm, April 3. (Tickets £6).

And: Jam on That? contributor George Chopping, a Devon lad, is supporting John Hegley (songer, signwriter and comic poet) in his show Beyond Our Kennel on Saturday April 11 at 7pm. Tickets £10/£8 from www.oxfringe.com/tickets.

And: two workshops with Amy Standish, Commedia Dell’Arte, 2nd April, 10am - 1:30pm ~ £7.50 and Recognising & Playing with Status 2nd April, 2:30pm - 6pm ~ £7.50. contact@amystandish.co.uk www.amystandish.co.uk

That’s about it! See you there! XXX

Warning over narcissistic pupils

I totally agree with this article on the BBC website tonight. You just have to be real. Praise where praise is due, but you also have to have the other side. Any kid who ‘can’t be wrong’ is going to have problems later on. All this ‘find something positive’ nonsense just makes our kids have false expectations which are sadly shattered later on when they discover the world doesn’t actually revolve around them, and the people they have to work with or who they meet in the street don’t really give a monkey’s. Give them a balanced, loving reality, with criticism and praise and they’ll know what’s real.

By Katherine Sellgren BBC News, at the ASCL conference  Classroom Dr Craig said restricting criticism undermined learning  The growing expectation placed on schools and parents to boost pupils’ self-esteem is breeding a generation of narcissists, an expert has warned.  Dr Carol Craig said children were being over-praised and were developing an “all about me” mentality.  She said teachers increasingly faced complaints from parents if their child failed a spelling test or did not get a good part in the school pantomime.  Schools needed to reclaim their role as educators, not psychologists, she said.  Dr Craig, who is chief executive of the centre for confidence and well-being in Scotland, was speaking at the Association of School and College Leaders conference in Birmingham.  Negative characteristic  She told head teachers the self-esteem agenda, imported from the United States, was a “a big fashionable idea” that had gone too far.  She said an obsession with boosting children’s self-esteem was encouraging a narcissistic generation who focussed on themselves and felt “entitled”.       They (schools) are not surrogate psychologists or mental health professionals Dr Carol Craig  “Narcissists make terrible relationship partners, parents and employees. It’s not a positive characteristic. We are in danger of encouraging this,” she said.  “And we are kidding ourselves if we think that we aren’t going to undermine learning if we restrict criticism.  “Parents no longer want to hear if their children have done anything wrong. This is the downside of the self-esteem agenda.  “I’m not saying it’s of no value… but you get unintentional consequences.”  Parental responsibility  Since 2007, there has been a statutory responsibility on schools in England to improve pupils’ well-being and primary and secondary schools are increasingly teaching social and emotional skills.  Indeed it is possible that Ofsted inspectors will soon appraise schools’ performance in this area; and well-being could be one of the measures used in the school report card system that the government wants to introduce.  But Dr Craig told head teachers that this was not the role of schools.  “Schools have to hold out that they are educational establishments,” she said.  “They are not surrogate psychologists or mental health professionals.”  Learning about feelings from a professional in a classroom did not send out a positive message, she added.  And she warned there was a danger the more schools taught emotional well-being, the less parents would take responsibility.  “We run the risk of undermining the family as the principle agent of sociability,” she said.