Sunspots: Manchester Martin Harris Centre for Music & Drama, October 9th

Room 101 was my hotel room in Manchester, nothing to do with the wonderful Martin Harris Centre with its back-screen projection, remote controlled lighting rig and helpful technical staff. And we were in the John Thaw Studio Theatre! I've loved John Thaw since the 70s when my parents would let me stay up late to watch The Sweeney on school nights. But the next day, I couldn't get Inspector Morse's voice out of my head: "There's been a performance of Sunspots, Lewis..."

The night before, I stayed at my sister's place in Reading on an airbed that she punctured with a stiletto heel as she was preparing it. The blissful comedown from performing and a good late night catch-up meant that I slept surprisingly well. The next day I took a slow but change-free train trip to Manchester Piccadilly, delving further into Donna Tartt's 'The Secret History', which has been my companion since the London premiere.

You never know what to expect with a new venue. As we walked to the Martin Harris Centre, smack in the middle of the Oxford Road campus of The University of Manchester, Tom and I passed some Sunspots posters and I had a pang of gut-plaiting, pleasure-panic: 'What if hundreds of their music and drama students turn up?' Why wouldn't they? We've got posters up, we're in the glossy brochure, we're bringing music and drama to a center for such...

As it turned out, the Manchester date was a bit of a heart-wrencher: a brilliant venue with excellent facilities but a very small audience. But, to shift John Milton's original tense, we 'fit audience found, though few': they were focused and responsive and an absolute pleasure to perform to.  I would say that it was probably my best performance so far. It's these assorted surprises and challenges that helps any show build character as it travels and grows into itself.  

There's a sequence where the Sun (that's me at this point) prowls near the audience, surveying them with an old lantern, teasing and taunting and occasionally getting lost in its own thoughts. With such a compact and attentive group, I felt this passage worked particularly well.

The universe hurts.
But you knew that.

I pity you your brief lives:
over in the squint of an eye.
It’s a problem
but don’t overblink it.

Some stars are shy:
the distant ones,
the clingy, binary ones,
the dense ones who try to swallow
their own tails of light
but lack the mass,
didn’t get the right start in life.

Step forward,
feel the warmth.

I’ll let you in on a secret.
Hell is just an oven pre-heating
for something really wicked
coming this way.

Turn around for your shadow.
What do you see?
Four legs, two legs, three?
How limpingly Oedipal you can be.

Ever want to be a star?
It’s a simple recipe —
most households have the ingredients.
Everyone has a shelfful of dead cells,
an old bag of gravity
trapped at the back of the pantry.
You just don’t have enough
of what it takes.

Is Jupiter a failed star
or an over-achieving planet?
You decide.
Put your spin on it.

Stars are the Yes Men of the universe.
No negative capability.
Four billion years of saying “Yes”
and five billion years of “Yeses” yet to come.
I’d love to use up this core,
begin to mumble ”Maybe” for a trillion years or more.

I pity you your brief lives.
Are you planning for your nebula?
The things you’ll leave behind.
Your inventory,
memento mori.

The universe hurts.
But you knew that.
(I’m starting to repeat myself,
my daddy was a pulsar.)

Poor steadfast Keats knew it.
I spent a million years
making one perfect photon
to send to the Spanish Steps
the dawn they carried him down.

A star will never let you down
but a planet will break your heart.
I envy you your brief lives.

There were two further joys to the evening. Firstly, I got to catch up with a friend and his partner in a very genial pub nearby. Secondly, Tom and I (starving, tired, running out of road, time and hope of finding the decent curry we'd been craving all day) chanced upon the best Indian food that I've eaten in years. Next time you're in Manchester try the charming, hospitable and utterly delicious Jaipur Palace.

Next Sunspots blog: Bournemouth.

Click for Sunspots tour dates.