I'm going to write short blogs about each stop on my Sunspots tour. How did it go? How did I feel? What went wrong? What went well? All of this, none of this. That kind of thing.
This was the first night of our tour and the 'world premiere' proper for my Sunspots show. I did perform a 'scratch' version at the wonderful Keats House back in June, which was very atmospheric and moving (especially given that Keats pops up in the book and the show in one of my favourite passages). Since then, Tom Chivers and I have tweaked, improved and reshaped the show. Even so, having a couple of months off made this performance feel like the first time all over again.
The show is quite demanding in that I switch between two characters (one of them the Sun)', I sing, I play the trumpet and I have to switch between these states quite fluidly. I want to share the work I believe in with as many people as possible but I also awoke that morning at 4 a.m. with every cell of my body convinced that I was going to be hanged, drawn and quartered later that day in a fiendish plan devised by my masochistic self.
I've felt this sensation many times and there's nothing for it but to force yourself to grab a few extra vital hours' sleep if you can and deal with the horror in the morning light. "The antidote to despair is action." I don't remember who said that but it's one of my mantras, along with "No sudden moves" and "Never answer the door in the daytime".
I'm happy to perform, in fact I love it, even when things are challenging or the stage begins to wobble at what feels like an atomic level. It's waiting to perform that I can't stand. I like my unendurable suspense to be prefaced by the words "Directed by Alfred Hitchcock"; I can't bear it in real life.
But it must be borne, and one of the best ways is by planting one's feet on the bedroom floor, fixing espressos and dashing off for sound checks, lighting plans, and an awful pre-show run-through.
In the Blue Room at the Royal Festival Hall (a building in which I've spent a surprising amount of time reading, writing, performing, and falling in and out of love over the years), Tom and I were assisted brilliantly by our technician Freddie and her apprentice Susanna. We ran through sound-checks and lighting setups and adjusted the tricky balance between pre-recorded music and live vocals.
We managed a full run-through in which my voice cracked, I reversed lines, my trumpet case (a charming, dusty, rather antique affair) literally fell apart in my hands, and I mistimed a crucial musical cue. Perfect. Final run-throughs must always be terrible (and they almost always are), a perfect rehearsal would worry me enormously.
With a couple of hours to go, I skulked around the building, bingeing on Strepsils, avoiding faces I recognised and trying to get into whatever 'zone' might work for me. Before I knew it, I was standing behind a black curtain, gaffer-taped trumpet bag in hand, listening to the show's overture and thinking, "How did I get to this point in my life? How can it be that I'm about to pretend to be the Sun to 70 people in the middle of London? Who makes these kinds of decisions? Can I do it? I don't think I can do it! I've got to do it! Okay, that's my cue. What's the first poem again?"
The Sun woke me this morning
with a swift kick to the door,
its rays full with a breakfast tray
rattling with silverware,
orange juice and sunny-sides-up
and crisped toast slathered
with butter fattened on all that grass,
saying, "Hey! Budge up,
let me slide in alongside,
it's a whiteout outside,
the schools are closed,
the roads are glazed in bottle-ice,
no-one's going anywhere today." (from Sunspots)
65 minutes later, a friend was thrusting sunflowers into my hand as I took a second bow. It had gone better than I'd hoped and we were off and running. I didn't sleep much that night. Next stop: Reading.
Click for Sunspots tour dates.