Why did I post as Bulldog? (Update September 2017)
There was nothing nationalistic about it. As if! That would have been ludicrous. Nothing to do with Winalot, Winston Churchill, paper clips or annoying car insurance ads. Bulldog is just an enduring nickname I’ve got because I look like one. That much can clearly be seen in this picture of me being cuddled by the late Yvonne Mitchell, the British actress I most wish I’d seen on stage (she gave her last theatre performance before I saw my first one).
I generally favour ‘Actor’ to cover anyone and everyone who acts but use ‘Actress’ here because that’s the word Yvonne Mitchell used to describe herself. It’s even the title of her 1957 autobiography, written quite early in her career. It’s a great shame she didn’t write a second volume twenty years later, but by then she had a parallel career as a novelist. Maybe she preferred fiction to reflection by that stage?
Watching plays immediately became my favourite way of spending time after I first went to the theatre as a child. Since then I’ve been to many, many hundreds of performances. I’d always been ‘reviewing’ what I saw in my head but it never crossed my mind to try and write any of it down. People like me did not become theatre reviewers as far as I knew. It seemed a crazy and fantastic idea. And so it proved to be.
This ill-fated blog came about after I received a lot of encouragement from various people, beginning when The Guardian thought this micro-review I submitted of Liam Borret’s play This Is Living was fit to publish late last year:
I was persuaded that it might be an interesting experiment, so I created this blog at the beginning of February 2017 and started posting reviews of the plays that I went to see. They weren’t much cop but I discovered I really enjoyed writing about theatre!
A few weeks later my attention was drawn to something placed online by Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre. This claimed to be looking for ‘new voices’ to write about theatre and performance:
It sounded too good to be true – and, as things turned out, it was. The timing seemed perfect, however, so I applied for it. To my amazement I was accepted. Halfway through it, I was amazed for quite different reasons.
I’m still not sure what the scheme was trying to achieve over those ten weeks. We enjoyed meeting a couple of guest speakers, both established writers and critics. At all other times, however, the lack of enthusiasm or preparation was tangible. Nothing was ‘honed’ and the website never appeared. Neither did many promised tickets in my case: they were supplied to everyone else on the course but my own requests for them were pointedly ignored. Had I done something wrong? Upset or annoyed the organisers? In the absence of a response from anybody it was impossible to find out. On the other hand it did not take long to discover (via the uncomfortable silence and lack of any feedback whatsoever on any written work) that as a writer, I made an excellent nightclub bouncer.
I’m not sure whether the final session even took place or not. It was certainly subject to a great deal of last-minute rescheduling. The last performance we were due to review as a group was at Manchester’s Contact Theatre. After some confusing uncertainty we were eventually told to arrange this ourselves via email. In this instance too, my own email went unacknowledged and unanswered so I never completed or ‘passed’ the ‘course’.
Shortly after this chaotic end to things, a change in my circumstances meant that all and any theatre visits immediately became unaffordable. Hence this turned out to be a very short-lived blog at least as far as theatre reviews are concerned.
Not everything can go on for a long time. My life as a reviewer outlasted five West End musicals and around fourteen managers of Crystal Palace FC and I saw some interesting theatre along the way. But the death of a dream is always bitterly painful not to mention embarrassing. I’ve taken down the 60-odd reviews I’d posted as the thought of how poorly written and received they were had become too depressing. My confidence was destroyed by the whole experience and never recovered. Be careful what you wish for!