Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Apple Diary - Part 1

Good evening folks!

I've spent the last month or so trying to come up with subjects that I can use as a series for this blog. Nothing was springing to mind for a long time, but I now have two idea's, both on completely and utterly different topics, that I hope will become regular monthly features here.

So without further ado, I'd like to present...The Apple Diary!

At the end of October every year, I join in with the October Plenty festival run by the Lions Part company (see here for my story on this years event over at Milliver's Travels). This festival coincides with Borough Market's Apple Day, and in the programme for the event there was a section on how to grow your own apple tree. So I thought I'd give it a go!

Typically I get through a bag of apples each week, so I started collecting the pips. Unfortunately can't remember what type of apples they were, I suspect royal gala, but I can't be certain.

On the 22nd November, I put the 16 seeds I'd collected in a small amount of water overnight, as per the instructions in the programme. Apparently this is to soften the seed shell so it's easier for the sprout to break out of it.

Soaking in a Turkish tea cup!

The next day I planted them across 5 pots...well 4 pots and 1 Philadelphia tub with holes poked in the bottom! I gave them some water and placed them on my dresser, not really expecting a single one of them to sprout. My friend Caro fortunately pointed out that the seeds needed to be kept warm in order for them to germinate. The weather was just starting to get cold with the late onset of winter and our central heating wasn't yet in frequent use. So my hot water bottle took up residence in my sock drawer, directly beneath the pots.

Miraculously it did the trick, although the pots got a little bit neglected during production week for my current show.
I don't know why, but I'd got it into my head that I wouldn't see any life from these seeds until the spring. On the 10th December I was astonished to find the first sprout just popping through the dirt.

By the time I got back from work that night sprout number two (which you can just see peeking out in the pot above) had come through as well.

Since then they've gone crazy! I can't believe how fast they're growing, and there's still more to come through. I've developed a bad habit of excavating through the pots in my impatience to know if there's anymore to come.

As of today, we stand at seven healthy looking sprouts, and I know there's three more on their way :-)

I'm going to have to clear more space on my dresser. I've got 21 cox apple seeds soaking right now to be planted tomorrow, as well as 10 chilli seeds that I picked up from the Wahaca Mexican restaurant back in August.

It's slightly bemusing how excited I'm getting about all this. My green fingers don't exactly have the best track record, I've managed to kill my oak seedling, two aloe vera plants and a cactus in the last two years, so all fingers and toes crossed that these little fella's fare better!

I hope to post the second instalment of The Apple Diary in the second week of January.

Take care folks, and hope you're enjoying the season.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

When The Door is Knocked On, Open It - The Possibilities

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed below are mine alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of the company. As with all my insider reviews, call me biased if you want, but I wouldn't write about a show I'm working on if I didn't enjoy it.

The Possibilities by Howard Barker is a pretty heavy going and heavy handed piece of writing. Goodness knows when I was first given the script during the 2011 Drama Studio London Graduate Season, when this production was first developed, I was not impressed. In my mind it was preachy, self-righteous and I was not looking forward to working on it.

And I know I wasn't the only one. It took the company quite a while to find a way into the text, a series of 10 short plays that I saw little connection between other than presenting how vile humans can be to one another.

Courtesy of James Oaten
So you can imagine my relief when in the technical rehearsal at the Camden People's Theatre, I found myself amused and intrigued by what this group of nine actors were showing me.

Barker doesn't do light-hearted. His work is known as Theatre of Catastrophe, exploring the darkest depths of human motivation, violence, sexuality and the hunger for power. No wonder we had to put an audience age-restriction on this production.
The author strives to provoke differing responses in the audience; in one scene you may sympathise with one character while the person sitting next to you will sympathise with another. In a number of the plays in this production it is not entirely clear cut who is in the right and who's in the wrong. Though not necessarily balanced, arguments are presented from both sides, which hopefully will leave the audience asking questions.

Courtesy of James Oaten
The chief example of this is the play She Sees The Argument But...(affectionately dubbed Space Nuns by the company) in which a futuristic society is attempting to negate public sexual expression in order to reduce crime.
When this production of The Possibilities was first presented it coincided with Slutwalk London, a protest against the attitude of some establishments that if a woman dresses in a certain way, she's inviting abusive behaviour from men. 
While you can see where their argument is coming from, is it a woman's problem if a man can't control his urges?

Howard Barker writes "We must overcome the urge to do things in unison". I'll admit when I read that quote while gathering research for this post, I had to laugh, as Matthew Parker and the company have completely smacked that idea out of the venue. The main theme of the links between the plays is unity, fighting against oppression, whatever it's form.

Courtesy of James Oaten
Each of the nine actors, when not in one of the plays, presents a character based on an activist or radical thinker. Olivia Onyehara's character Maya is based on Assata Shakur, a member of the Black Panther's Party and Black Liberation Army in the 1970s. Max, played by Phil Bishop is based on Voltaire, and Robert Sladden's Jan is based on Jan Opletal, an 18 year-old who was one of the leading members of the peaceful protests against the Nazis before he was shot at a demonstration.

Between plays the nine activists work together to set-up the next scene and ground their fellows who took part in the last. The sense of camaraderie and united intent is enhanced with provocative music from PJ Harvey, Regina Spektor, Muse and Black Hawk Down and choreography from Parker based on the pressure positions that prisoners of war are forced to maintain for hours.

Courtesy of James Oaten
As I've said, this show is not light-hearted. It is a dark and disturbing piece of theatre, but despite that the company doesn't smother the occasional dark humour that crops up throughout. In Unforeseen Consequences Of A Patriotic Act Nina Moniri presents us with the occasionally gormless but protective and opinionated servant who accompanied Judith when she executed Holofernes. Phil Bishop's eccentric book seller in Only Some Can Take The Strain has proven to be an audience favourite, and the lieutenant of the battery played by Jonathan Butler in The Philosophical Lieutenant And The Three Village Women is such a smug git you can't help wanting to hit him in the face.

I have nothing but admiration for the cast of The Possibilities. This has been a great opportunity for them to show off their acting range. Each actor plays main characters, extras and activists, all with the same level of dedication and conviction and I love having a quick glance around the playing space during each play to see what everyone else onstage is doing.

The fantastic physicality and vivid visual element is a credit to Matthew Parker's directing style, and Simeon Miller's dark, and sometimes understated, lighting design is a perfect compliment to it.

Courtesy of James Oaten
The Possibilities is a bold choice as a first show for Red Line Productions, the company started by Nina Moniri upon her graduation from Drama Studio London this summer. Moniri hasn't given herself an easy ride with this show, featuring in 7 of the 10 plays as she was cast in the graduate season and learning what it takes to be a producer, so much praise goes to her for the success of this show. I look forward to seeing where Red Line Productions goes next.

At the end of the day, anyone involved in the theatre industry knows that the appeal of a show and its message can be highly subjective. While studying theatre at Dartington College of Arts, the major thing I learned was that if you can't engage with the meaning of the show then just sit back and enjoy it for the theatricality of it.
The political activism element of this show never greatly appealed to me, but what bought me back when the show transferred to the Tristan Bates Theatre was the cast's performances and the fact it's a great show. With nearly 200 lighting and sound cues it's one of the most challenging shows I've ever had to operate, but I love it, and I encourage anyone who wants to see a great piece of theatre, that's not mainstream, to get down to Covent Garden to see The Possibilities before the end of it's run.

Courtesy of James Oaten
The Possibilities is playing until 19/11/11 at the Tristan Bates Theatre, London.
Tickets can be booked here. [The Tristan Bates online booking system has been experiencing some difficulties in the last few days. If you have trouble booking tickets please call the box office.]

Friday, 21 October 2011


This is an old piece I wrote almost a year ago. The original was written for therapeutic purposes, but this is the edited version which I think is safe for public consumption.

I read a blog post today by Jeff Goins, Don't Avoid Painful Writing, the basic gist being that painful writing can not only be healing for the writer but healing for a reader as well, letting them know that other's go through similar situations.

Apologies if anyone feels that posting this is in someway self-indulgent, but it's a piece I'm quite proud of, and I hope that maybe it can be of use to someone.


There's a stillness that doesn't feel like it should be there. Energy is lacking and will, in whatever form, has become negligible. All that happens from time to time is a brief tightening, a release of salted water and forced breath.

So many things that need to be done, should be done, want to be done, but the only thing that does, is sitting. The world passing by that darkened room where shelves creak with books begging to be read, words scrawled on the walls that want to become coherent literature, the images and the sounds sweeping around the brain that have only the desire to be released and made real.

But all that happens is the sitting, alone in that darkened room. The friends that are left ask hey where are you do you want to do something? 
I'll be at work at the weekend, is the reply, come find me there.

The energy that makes that shield at the weekends is exhausted in 3 days, there's none left for the rest of the week. They don't need to see this, don't need to know this, and so the sitting continues until Friday when just enough energy can be mustered to make the shield again.

But those 3 days the music is too loud the voices to harsh the attitudes so obnoxious, the teeth grind, the skin prickles burns itches raises and reddens. Ice soothes it and soon the swellings go down. No-one ever notices. No-one except him. Wow he grins as his fingers run over the bumps. He knows. But he doesn't judge. Can I bite your nose? As the palm connects with the back of his head he whines, at least I asked. Silly boy. He knows. He sees the tactile need simmering beneath the surface and always gives freely. Maybe he knows the stillness too. The sitting.

Every night standing there, ears abused, nostrils choked with the smell of stale alcohol unwashed bodies and lingering cigarette smoke. The crowd is scanned for familiar faces, someone to relieve the tedium, someone to provide a much needed connection to the real world.

So many times the flash of that colour and the trill of that voice breaches the assault on the senses. The heart quickens and adrenaline rushes and for a split second the corners of the mouth begin to twitch up then the crushing remembrance that this joy is no longer allowed, and it immediately turns to dread when the dark hair and low voice follow close behind. Does she notice or is she oblivious? Does she care or is she repulsed? She hugs all the people she knows and the memory of her weight so easily lifted, face pressed to neck as her legs wrap around waist, the tightening is there again and the distance imposed for the rest of the night, as the fear of being the only one available to provide service to her or her cold-eyed love follow throughout the hours. Awareness of her is torture, and the only desire is to witness the smile that used to be, to know that fragment of love in whatever form still exists. Missing her is painful. But when the lights go up and she leaves hand-in-hand with the other, breath comes easier as space is unrestricted and existence is allowed.

The softness of pillows and the tantalising warmth of the blanket block out everything as the oblivion of sleep beckons and is welcomed, all energy gone, spent.

Time is irrelevant. Do this by now but now comes and goes with such speed and yet little recognition. Hope is given then snatched away, the tightness comes and demands release. Then the stillness returns. The stillness that builds, but into what? More sitting. Darkness comes and goes, just like consciousness, awareness, inspiration, energy. 
But there's always sitting.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Story Wall

Hi folks!

Today I'm going to tell you a little bit about my story wall on the request of my friend Julia (she's a much better blogger than I am by the way! Thoroughly spooked me out with a post last night about Mr Able!)

Anyone who's been over to my place since I got back from New Zealand has been confronted by this monstrosity. One friend suggested it was my hit list, last week my new housemate stopped in my door,  pointed at it and said simply "what the hell is that?".

Every time I've done a story wall it's turned out different, but the basic idea is that it's where I can play with my idea's all in one place.

When I was working on my film Stageplay (it was a working title, I still don't have an alternative!) my story wall was loads of scraps of paper and post-it notes with scene summaries so that I could move them around as needed.
The scribbles for Letter's
The play I started working on at Easter Letters To My Mother was and still is in the embryonic stage so it was an opportunity to brainstorm, get down some early character idea's and the major events. It's still up above my bed in case I get a sudden burst of inspiration that needs to be written down. This story needs plenty more time to stew because I don't currently know where it's going.

Now the wall for The Pirate's Daughter has gone a bit crazy over the last few days. For more than a year now it's been 3 large pieces of paper with very few details on them. Names of the main characters, their ages and a photo that looks vaguely like how I imagine them to look. It also had the year the story is set in so I wouldn't forget, and a map of the region, including my imaginary islands.

Something clicked the other day and now you can't see that wall at all. It's covered with wall paper liner.

The section that's grown the most is the character profiles. Over the last year a whole host of new characters has appeared, including a new one last night. Each character gets their own space to tell their story; sometimes it's just fragments of personality, their quirks and habits, while others like to give me a coherent rundown of their history.

Even the ships have their own profiles. I went exploring in the National Maritime Museum while I was working in Greenwich and must have spent well over an hour in the model ship gallery, but I found both my ships, I know what they look like although I've had to bend their histories a little to fit the story.

Right now, probably the most important thing on that wall is the premise sentence. I'm hoping this will help me to maintain focus in the coming months as I make progress on the outline and eventually the first draft.
And just for fun, there's a mock-up of my book cover on there as well :-)
Of course there's plenty of room left over, and a number of strategically placed marker pens, just in case I get any middle of the night Eureka moments.

One slightly odd thing I've noticed about doing this is I can't use straight lines. Sharp edges simply don't have a place on that wall. All the photo's and most of the sheets of paper have to be torn, when I tried to use scissors it just made me cringe.

On the other side of the room, behind my laptop, there's a couple more important pieces of paper, things I need to keep in mind to make the story as good as possible.

The cross-sectioned plan of the ship has become my bible! I had no idea where anything could be found on a ship before I found this, and hopefully it will allow me to guide my readers around the vessel without getting them completely confused.

In the next few days I'll be adding a list of each of the characters key personality traits.

The point of view list has proven invaluable already. Back in August I read a post by Kristen Lamb (author of the best-selling writers social media guide We Are Not Alone) about P.O.V Prostitution. I don't recall ever being guilty of head-hopping but I was definitely guilty of switching from the omniscient P.O.V. to third person shifting, at which point I think every character in the book was fighting over the "camera". So I took her advice and locked it down to just the three primary characters, which has caused a few problems, but I'll work around those eventually.

Does anybody else use something similar, or completely different to explore their stories?

Monday, 3 October 2011

"Report me and my cause aright to the unsatisfied" - A comment on Shakespeare

Hamlet and the true star of the show :-)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed below are mine alone, and not necessarily reflected by the theatre company.

I'm not exactly Shakespeare's biggest fan. I have a lot of respect for the bard, he was a prolific author, a great story-teller, and as a writer-in-training I've learned a lot from him. But ask me to go see a Shakespeare production and I'm unlikely to jump at the chance.

So when I got a call from the Galleon Theatre Company asking if I'd be interested in stage managing their upcoming production of Hamlet, I was a little wary. I do have a habit of zoning out during shows once I've been op-ing them for more than a week; not to the extent I miss cues, my brain has usually trained itself to wake up when I hear key-lines, but it takes a very special production to keep my attention throughout an extended run. I didn't expect Hamlet, a show that normally comes in around the four hour mark to be one of those.
At my interview, the producer and director quickly changed my mind. Just the energy and enthusiasm they had for this show was infectious, and as I spoke to them I garnered more about their ideals and values when it comes to theatre. I wanted to do this show.

Bruce Jamieson, the director, and co-founder of Galleon, has an uncanny knack of zoning in on the crucial elements of Shakespeare's works, unpicking the threads and thus slimming down the play to it's core story-lines. This production of Hamlet sees four hours reduced to two and a half (with the interval!) and twenty scenes across five acts reduced to fourteen.

The set design, complimented by Robert Gooch's lighting
To compliment this streamlined script, the design team took it into the gothic-romantic Victorian era. Russell Fisher's set design consists of an intricately detailed, slightly ambiguous image on the back wall that seems to morph with the lighting and changing atmosphere of the play. We've had audience members go up and touch the wall after the show to prove to themselves it is a 2D texture-less painting. The only set dressing is a "stone" bench and two gothic torches. Eleanor Wdowski's costume design gives the gents a dapper edge and the ladies are understatedly glamorous.
All in all, the design transports you to another place and compliments the action without distracting.

Claudius and Gertrude
Now add to this a phenomenal cast. Bruce Jamieson as Claudius is actually scary, unlike many portrayals of the character you get the impression he'd happily handle the problems he must delegate to others himself. Darren (or is that Derek?) Stamford's Horatio is stalwart and endearing; Kevin Millington's Osric deliciously camp; Barry Clarke's Polonious wonderfully funny, intentionally and obliviously; Andrew Leishman's gravediggers apprentice is doting yet moronic; Peter Rae's Laertes stoic and constant to his goals.

Robin Holden has to be applauded in his role as Hamlet. It's a daunting enough task just learning all those soliloquies, but unlike a number of Shakesperian performances I've witnessed, he feels and understands where every word is coming from. Jane Stanton plays Gertrude, and though younger than commonly cast for the part, her grace and modesty shine through as she transitions from love-struck newlywed to doubting and suspicious wife. Rosencrantz and Guildernstern (played by Millington and Leishman respectively) have a delightful dynamic, in synch with each other, but also competing for the influential favour. Currently Guildernstern has Hamlet's favour, it'll be interesting to see if this shifts by the end of the run. You can't help but smile at Elana Martin's Ophelia; she's sweet and a little bit cheeky, which makes her descent into madness all the more distressing.
The gravedigger and her assistant

Of course mention has to be made of Elizabeth Donegan's varied roles in this production. She successfully makes the player queen, Ophelia's lady and the gravedigger very different and lively characters. The same can be said of Christopher Peacock in his roles as the ghost, the player king and the priest.

And Hamlet is not complete without a proper fight. Phenomenally choreographed by Ian McCracken, the intimate nature of the venue means the audience feel the danger of every sweep of the blades.

But where would any show be without the love and support of it's producer. Unlike so many theatre producers, Alice De Sousa is hands-on in the process and is constantly letting the company know that she's enjoying their work, rather than just telling them what needs to be improved. This lady has been a steadfast advocate of the arts for many years, and despite all the hardships the industry has no doubt thrown at her, her passion is unwavering.

The dual between Hamlet and Laertes
In my opinion, this is one production of Hamlet that won't be easily beaten. Yes, I work for the company, call me biased if you want, but I don't rave about the shows I work on that I don't enjoy. Remember what I said above about zoning out during shows after a week? We're three weeks into the run and it's not happened!

I believe this is the direction Shakespeare productions need to move in. I sympathise with the traditionalists who feel it's verging on sacrilegious to edit Hamlet the way it has been here, but in order for the bard to maintain his status, we have to acknowledge that this generation simply don't have the attention span for traditional Shakespeare.

I studied Hamlet at A-level, spent two months scrutinising and analysing the text. When I got asked to work on this production, how much of that did I remember? Not much! I had to go back through the text one night in search of speeches that had been reclaimed in rehearsals and I got lost. Who were these people? What was going on?

Shakespeare was a master at weaving together story-lines, and that's all well and good to have lot's of extra characters and action happening around the main plot, but you'll have more chance of that being appreciated in a novel than a play. In a novel you've got your own time to get your head around who everyone is and what's happening, but when you're seeing a play, you're being bombarded with information from start to finish.

It's understandable that those who do know the plays extremely well may have been slightly jarred by the absence of a scene or the moving of a soliloquy. But ultimately, this generation isn't as aware of Shakespeare as previous generations. That's a sad fact, but entertainment has to evolve in much a similar way as species do. Even with my advantage of being slightly more tuned into the language as a result of taking part in Tudor re-enactments, I find it difficult to engage what's being said in front of me. If you're lucky you get a company who are very in tune with the text and convey it effectively, but woe-betide if you get a company who can give a great dramatic delivery but actually don't know what they are saying.

The same can be said of the world of publishing. Recently I've been reading a number of Victorian novels as research for The Pirate's Daughter, and despite being brilliant stories, having to wade through information dumps and pages and pages of description can be extremely tiring. Modern novels are a lot more streamlined; adjectives, adverbs and similes are frowned upon unless delivered with great skill.

Ophelia in her madness
Ultimately, adaptations like this are the only way to prevent Shakespeare (many generations from now) slipping into obscurity. Galleon Theatre's streamlined production of Hamlet remains true to the core of the story, while being accessible to the new generation.

Hamlet is playing at the Greenwich Playhouse in London until 9th October 2011.
Tickets can be booked here.

Friday, 23 September 2011

What's In A Name?

So folks, how do you like the new look of the blog? Someone finally piped up and told me that the colour scheme was hard on the eyes, so hopefully this one will be a bit more comfortable.
At some point I want to try and incorporate the photo of my desk and typewriter into my banner, I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

Today I want to discuss names.

Choosing names for characters is a hugely important task, but as I'm currently finding out, sometimes the name you give a character won't be the right one for them once they've had a chance to grow into themselves.

Names inevitably give readers some clue's as to a characters personality, as well as background. How do these characters sound?
 - Jane/Nettle Johnson
 - Captain Barnaby Johnson
 - Jinx Sterling (given name Alice)
 - Captain Red Wallace (a woman, just to point out)
 - Feckless Dicken
 - Charlotte De Bousc
 - Alfred Palmer
 - Cormac (or maybe Lorcan, I can't decide) O'Connor
 - Isaac Nibbs/Nibble

I'd be intrigued to know your opinions on these, so I know I'm going down the right path with them.

Now, the names a writer selects can also be used as a nod of affection, respect or mockery to someone else.
Can't actually think of any mockeries in main stream fiction right now (badly researched, I know), but they certainly appear all over fanfiction.

Now on the other hand, you can name characters affectionately, almost like a famous actor taking a cameo role in a film.

Rather than do this with a character though, I've done it with the ships. Of course in a pirate story, ships are a very big deal, and I always imagined that Captain Johnson would have named his ship after his late wife. Originally it was called the Sweet Emily, but that just sounds too fluffy for a pirate ship. So I renamed it, and as a nod to my mum, who I credit for endowing me with the writing bug, I named it the Lady Caroline. Sounds a bit more piratical now doesn't it.

However, it hit me recently that I'd named the captain Johnson. John is my dad's name, and with all due respect dad, he was not one of my influences for the character. Captain Barnaby Johnson is a little bit of Barbosa from Pirates of The Caribbean, a little of Professor Robinson from Lost In Space, with perhaps a touch of Vetinari from Terry Pratchett's Discworld, although that element seems to be getting smaller and smaller.

The name was a nod to a fanfiction writer I'm a fan of, and I just liked the name Captain Johnson. It did make me wonder how careful we need to be as writers when taking outside names or influences for our characters. I've never written a character that is purely based on one person, but some certainly have more traits of one person than another. I suppose sometimes we even take influences without realising it.

Your thoughts? How careful do we need to be?

Over the last year, I've gotten to know my main cast of characters very well...except one. Eleanor Palmer, the second heroine. I just can't get a grip on her! All I know is that she's blonde, between the ages of 18-22, the daughter of the current governor of Port Pleasance, engaged to Sebastian Davies...and that's about it. I don't know who she is.

A friend suggested that maybe she has the wrong name, and I think she was right. As Eleanor, I'm sometimes concerned about her turning into Elizabeth Swan from Pirates of The Caribbean. Certainly she has an element of that, but she's gentler, a little more timid, perhaps like Kate Bonnett from the novel of the same name.

I tried giving her a nickname, allowing other characters to reduce it to Nell, and it helped a little but not much. I hope soon to find a name for her that will jump out at me.

Here's an interesting post from a baby names website who obviously cottoned onto how many writers browse their site for influence.

And to finish off, things are going well over at Milliver's Travels. My latest story went live this week, Cape Reinga and the Awesome Bus, and it seems to be going down well with our regular readers.

I was sat on the bus on the way home from work the other day and decided to write a list of all the articles I could write for Milli. The final count was 46, and that number will continue to rise. So now Milli is expecting an article a week so I'd better go and get started on the next one! Take a look at the list here and let me know if there's any articles you would like to see sooner rather than later.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The New Felicity!

****Just to clarify, this is an older post, for some reason it decided to republish when I was editing to sync the fonts with the rest of the new blog look!******

It's done! Actually, it's been done for a couple of days, but again I was being distracted so it's taken a while to do the edit.

Ok, this entry is getting very little waffle, instead, I'll just give you my link of the week, and the story.

This weeks link is about what really makes a great storyteller

And here, is The Future Holds Felicity. If you've read the original version, forget it, there is next to no relevance, it's a completely different story. Don't let anything in that encroach on what you read here!


  As the audience enter, their eye's are always drawn up into the shadows of the tent roof. From the outside you know it's big, but you don't realise just how big until you look up into the spiders web of support cables, lighting bars and suspended speakers. 
  In the auditorium the lights are low as the public are lead to their seats. The musicians mill amongst the crowd, playing a lazy little tune to start building the atmosphere.
  I stand behind my sound desk, watching the lights flickering green and orange on the meters. My palms are sweating and I can't keep still. My forehead is tingling and my knees are shaking. I've not felt like this since the first time I mixed this show nearly six months ago.
  In an attempt to calm  my nerves, I pick up my headphones and listen through each of the channels; violin, accordion, flute, bassoon and the drum microphones give me nothing new to focus on. 
  I plug into the backstage relay to listen to the soothing voice of the stage manager giving her calls to the performers. But my hands are still shaking so I start listening in to the microphones of the vocalists in the backstage tent.          
  There's Victor, the baritone with his sharp Russian tongue. He and Ramone, the tenor, are guiding the four children in the cast through a last minute vocal warm up.
  Then there's Robyn, the contralto, arguing with one of the trapeze artists. I still find listening to her amusing. With the plethora of international accents on this show her Irish brogue is the one that seems most out of place. 
  I skip the next channel, listening instead to the three clowns, gabbling away to each other in Portuguese. 
  When I can stand it no longer I flick back to the channel I jumped and hold my breath as I turn up the volume. But where I usually find peace in the lilting voice of the soprano, it's sends a wave of panic through me and I have to remove my headphones. This is the right thing to do, that’s what I keep repeating to myself. I’ve made my decision, I just have to see it through.

  I'll never forget the first time I heard that voice. I was working in a cocktail bar in London, just trying to bring in a bit of cash until I could get my next sound job. I was showing off for some customers, throwing a bottle of vodka around.
  “Good evening there, what can I get you?”
  The bottle smashed and my shoes were soaked with the Polish spirit.
  The owner of the voice turned to me, smirking.
  “Butter fingers eh?”
  But I was unable to make any sort of response. The voice matched the face perfectly. She was stood by the till, wearing exactly the same outfit as every other member of bar staff, but it was like the uniform had been designed for her and her alone.
  It wasn't until my manager sauntered over that I regained motor control.
  “Well done lass, that one's coming out of your wages,” he told me, before putting his arm around the woman by the till and giving her a squeeze.
  “By the way, this is my girlfriend, Felicity, I need you to show her the ropes tonight.”

  The last of the audience are making their way to their seats, and the musicians climb onto the stage and get comfortable on their platform. 
  I plant my feet, shoulder-width apart, weight centred, hands spread, hovering over the faders. 
  I know this show inside and out, I could mix it without once looking at the stage, but as the band strike up I can't help watching as she glides through the smoke and light, escorted by Victor, the other performers capering around them like a court around royalty.

  It's an effect she's always had on people. Men ordering drinks at the cocktail bar always refused to be served by me after they'd been served by her. She raked in the tips. So many of the other girls would take the cash and drinks from customers without a second thought, some even had the cheek to demand them, but Flik, as she quickly became known at work, always seemed genuinely surprised by their generosity.
  “Are you sure? Well then thank you very much.”
  She was so endearing you couldn't help but want to be around her. I tried to teach her to flare with the bottles, but after much broken glass and many fits of giggles, I was forced to admit defeat.
  Her laugh was one of those you could never tire of hearing. When men used to try flirting with me over the bar, she would really laugh. 
  One night she surprised the hell out of me by draping herself over my shoulder and hitching her knee up on my hip.
  “Sorry pal, but she's mine.”
  I was so stunned I couldn't move. And then I spotted my manager watching us and I moved so fast you'd think her touch was burning my skin, which in actual fact it was. But when the customer bought both of us a drink, my manager just grinned at me, nodding his approval.
  It became our little routine, night after night, she'd pretend for a few short minutes that I was hers. And it was intoxicating. To feel her so close, the smell of her skin and perfume, it was sweet torture to behave myself and not touch. This was her game, she was the one in control and as the weeks went by she got more and more daring, got closer, more intimate. If I was foolish enough to look into her eyes I could almost kid myself that this wasn't just a game, that maybe there was more to it.
  As we continued to play, the bar’s takings went up, but my manager’s temper also began to rise. I overheard them arguing in the store room more than once, and he'd stalk around the bar more often, just watching us. Even though I'd done nothing wrong I found myself waiting for him to turn around and break my nose. 
  I would have been so excited to be offered a West End sound job, but when I got the call to report for work at the Noel Coward Theatre the following week, I was as relieved to be leaving the bar as I was thrilled to get the gig.

There is some vague story-line to the show we work on. Without a story-line it would just be another circus show, but there is a love story that intertwines around the cloud swing, Icarian games, diablo spinners, hand-balancing contortionist and aerial straps acts. It’s a story of two lovers who are meant to be together but another gets in their way. So ten times a week, I watch Victor court Flik. It doesn’t bother me, it never has. Because when they share their characters first kiss, I know exactly the moment that is going through her mind.

I arrived early for my last shift at the bar, with the intention of clearing out my locker in advance of the drunken mess I knew would follow closing time. As I zipped up my bag, Flik burst through the door with a squeal and jumped on me. I mean literally jumped on me; arms flung around my neck and legs wrapped around my hips as I tried to keep my balance. It took a moment for her to compose herself.
“I got the show! I got first cover, I start rehearsals in two weeks!”
I had no choice but to hug her. She’d wanted this for so long and I was so excited for her. But before I could let her go, my manager walked in. The temperature in the room seemed to plummet and I quickly made my excuses and left.
When she eventually came down to the bar, all the excitement seemed to have been drained out of her and she was in a foul mood. Even when the others congratulated her, all the managed was a tight smile and a quiet “Thanks.”
She didn’t come near me all night. Every time I looked up I found my manager hovering near by. I think that was the worst night I ever spent behind that bar. The tension was unbearable. Every bump, every small accidental touch between me and Flik sent us both scrambling away from each other as though we were guilty of something.
When the lights went up at the end of the night, I was so relieved. It was almost over. There is always one customer at the end of the night that thinks they can flirt one last round of drinks out of us. Tonight I got him. I calmly explained to him, as I stacked the glasses under the bar, that no amount of dinner or drink offers would persuade me to make him another round. 
Then Flik’s arm was around my shoulder, her knee on my hip.
“Sorry pal, you’re not getting anymore drinks, and she’s mine.”
She took my chin between her fingers, turned my head and kissed me. I froze, but as her mouth moved against mine I couldn’t help kissing her back. She was gentle, but demanding at the same time. Then I knew it hadn’t just been a game.
The cough behind us scared the hell out of me. My manager was standing there with his arms crossed, his lips pressed so tight together they were white. When he spoke his voice was level and calm.
“Be grateful this was your last night lass. Now get out of my bar.”
I glanced at Flik. The last thing I wanted was to leave her at the mercy of his temper, but she just nodded at me. It was all I could do to stop myself from running out of the building.

The antagonist of the show is played by Ramone. His character believes that Flik should belong to him, not Victor. I love Ramone like a brother, but I really don’t like his character onstage.  
This is the only part of the show that’s ever bothered me. He grabs Flik and hauls her away from Victor before returning to confront him, but when Flik tries to stop him, he turns and strikes her. She falls to the floor with a cry, and even though I know her distress isn’t real, it doesn’t stop me wanting to run down to the stage and smack him back.

Maybe that’s because I never got to hit my manager.
The day after the kiss, I couldn’t sit still. I wanted to contact Flik, make sure she was ok, but at the same time I didn’t want to risk antagonising him any further. But the decision was taken out of my hands when the door bell rang. Stood on my doorstep was Flik, wearing sunglasses and carrying a large duffle bag.
“I didn’t know where else to go. I’m sorry, I won’t stay long, I just had to get away.”
When she took off her sunglasses and I saw the bruise he’d given her, I couldn’t speak, all I could do was hold her as she cried. When she was done releasing her fear, anguish and confusion, she glanced up at me.
“This isn’t the way I wanted this to happen.”
She reached up, pulled my face to hers, and kissed me again.
More than anything I wished that she hadn’t been hurt, but I didn’t care how this all happened, I just knew at that moment that this was where we were supposed to be.
We decided to take things carefully, so she rented a flat about fifteen minutes ride from mine. She started working on her show, and she was happier than I’d ever seen her while we were at the bar.
After work one night, we went to another bar in town for a friends birthday. Unfortunately, my ex-manager was in there drinking, and the minute I saw him I had this overwhelming desire to go over there and break his nose for hurting the woman I loved. Flik must have noticed me bristling, because she immediately sat in my lap.
“He’s not worth it. Don’t give him anything, we’ve got what we want.”
And she stayed sat in my lap for the whole night. I wasn’t exactly complaining.
Those eight months were pretty great. Though we spent most nights together, we kept our seperate flats, mostly to convince ourselves we weren’t rushing things.
Every night, after my show ended, I’d jump on my motorcycle, ride down the Strand and pick her up from stage door. Often we’d just go back to her place or mine, but some nights we’d just ride through the night. Once we ended up Leicester, we just followed the M1, enjoying the freedom.

The last of the cast sweep off the stage accompanied by a dramatic crescendo. The house lights go up and the audience applauds before they seek ice cream.
As I lean against the desk, breathing deep, I start to shake again. I keep telling myself everything is going to be fine, but my body simply won’t listen.
“You coming backstage or what?”
I glance up to see Vince, the follow-spot operator, standing in front of my desk.
“Dude, if you don’t go back and see her, she’ll know something’s up. You’re not chickening out are you? You can’t, you gotta go through with this man. Just think, in an hour it’ll all be over with.”
I know he’s right, on both counts, so I haul myself off the desk and proceed backstage.
It’s become a ritual. Performers are superstitious creatures. Once they latch onto a routine, it absolutely must not change or it upsets them for the rest of the show.
She’s used to me going backstage at the interval, to give her a kiss, to tell her the show’s looking fine from where I’m standing, then to kiss her hand before I go back out front. It reassures her, now that I’m finally with her on the show.

When the casting ads went up I told her to go for it. We’ve both been in love with this company for years, so how could I possibly let her pass it up.
And of course, she got the part. We were both relieved when the technician’s ads went up. We figured if we got on the same show that it was fated for us to be together.
She left to join rehearsals at the company’s headquarters in France at the end of February. It was torture. I’d just been promoted on my West End show so I couldn’t just drop everything and fly off to be with her. We had to settle for a single phone call every night, usually when she’d finished rehearsals and was trying not to fall asleep on me.
A month later I finally got my interview, along with 18 other candidates, at the company’s London headquarters. After that the first thing Flik asked me every night was,
“Have you heard anything yet?”
The call finally came as I was parking my bike at stage door one Wednesday afternoon. I held my breath as the offer was voiced.
“Congratulations, we’d like to offer you a position with our company.”
I dread what London’s pedestrians must have thought of me at that moment, jumping in circles and squeaking.
“We’d like you to join the show that’s about to head to Eastern Europe. You start in four weeks.”
A stillness descended on me as my ears started to buzz. I wasn’t joining Flik’s show. Of course I took the job, only a fool would pass up a job offer from this company. How was I going to tell Felicity?
But I didn’t have to. She called me in tears at midnight, told me that they’d posted the crew list in the common room and that my name wasn’t on it. 
“Does this mean we’re not meant to be together?”
I don’t know how long it took me to convince her she was talking nonsense, that we’d find away to cope.
In the coming days we found out that our tour schedules paralleled. Her show opened in France the day before mine opened in Russia, they closed on the same day six weeks later, meaning we would be able to spend the better part of a week together between each leg of our tours. It was the best we could make of a bad situation.
We were both too busy over the following weeks to really worry about it. I had a show to hand over and another to learn as well as a flat to put into storage. Her show was plagued by last minute concept and cast changes. Their dress rehearsal and preview were an absolute shambles, but the opening night was a runaway success. I’ll never forget being in a harness twenty feet in the air with her screaming down the phone at me on the biggest after-show high I’ve ever known. I just wished I could have been there for her big debut.
I fell in love with my show, the cast and crew were some of the most amazing people I’d ever met and I knew I’d never tire of mixing those big dramatic scores. But I always ached, and the ache never went away until I got to see Flik again at the end of each run.
One night, Flik called me about ready to boil over with excitement. Their sound op had been fired, something about a torrid affair with a stage manager and a dresser. It was all I needed to hear to start begging and pleading with my tour manager to put in a good word for me at headquarters. He said he’d be sorry to see me go but he would do everything he could to get me the job. I think Flik’s tour manager was ready to kill her she was hassling so much about the position.
We were just coming to the end of the show in Albania when Flik’s tour manager called me.
“You’ve got the German leg of the tour to prove that you and Flik can work together without any problems.”
I must have screamed for a good five minutes before I vowed to name our first child after her. I promised her a great deal of alcohol if she didn’t tell Flik I’d got the job.
It wasn’t easy keeping the secret from my girlfriend. The tears the day before I left were the hardest thing I’ve had to sit through, especially when I had the means to put a stop to them.
At 4.30 the next morning, I kicked my bike into gear and rode out of Tirana. I could have done the 1200 miles in about 30 hours, but the bike overheated just as I was coming in to Bratislava and I was forced to stop for a bit longer than planned.
When I reached Berlin in the evening it wasn’t difficult to find the show site. All I had to do was look for the gang of blue and green articulated lorries. The tour bus was sat at the edge of the site, waiting to take the cast and crew over to the hotel. Riding onto the site my thumb was wedged against the horn until I pulled up next to the bus. I barely managed to get the bike on its stand before Flik was flying at me and we landed in a heap on the tarmac.
“What the hell are you doing here, I thought you were flying in tomorrow night?” she asked as she tugged off my helmet.
A cough behind her made us both turn to her tour manager.
“Looks like you’ve already met our new sound op Flik. I hope you’re planning on getting some much needed rest after that trek, you’ve got a hell of a busy week ahead of you kid.”
I’ve never heard Flik scream the way she did at the moment. I had no hope of getting off the ground as she wrapped me up in a fierce hug.

The whole of the backstage tent is a flurry of activity with costume changes and warm-ups and prop setting, alongside the controlled chaos of starting to pack things away now we’ve almost finished the last show in this city.
The dressers are buzzing around Flik in her cubicle. Her costume’s are so elaborate it’s near impossible for her to change into them alone.
She smiles as she spots me loitering around the corner and beckons me over to kiss her.
“How’s it looking today?”
I tell her the show looks fine from out front. My hands are stuffed in my pockets to stop them from shaking. We normally have some sort of conversation while she’s being dressed but I can’t think of anything to say and I can see the smile on her face fading.
I make some awful excuse about needing to check a faulty piece of equipment at the desk and try not to bolt out of the tent. Halfway to the door I realise I’ve forgotten something. I run back and kiss her hand, but her smile no longer reaches her eyes. I’ve freaked her out, she knows there’s something going on, but I haven’t got the time or the nerve to sort it out now. It’ll just have to wait until the end of the second act.

I don’t think she’s quite forgiven me for the first month I was on the show. The company had taken a huge gamble putting me on this new production and I was determined to prove to them that they had made the right decision.
When both Flik and I were on-site, we knew we had to be professional. That meant no public displays of affection, and no lingering around each other. I was so scared the company would decide that putting me on the show with my girlfriend was a bad idea, so in short, I as good as ignored her.
Now Flik probably could have dealt with that, had I spent any time with her off-site. But I spent every waking hour in the performance tent, reprogramming the desk, performing unnecessary maintenance on the kit and practising the show cues, that she was lucky if I managed to say ten words to her before I passed out each night.
So one evening I crawled out from under the desk to find her standing in front of it.
“This isn’t going to work is it? You and me?”
That’s all she said before walking off.
When I got back to the hotel a short while later, she’d had my key disabled. I sat outside for at least an hour, talking at the door. I told her I was sorry, I told her that I loved her, I told her I was working to make sure we could stay together, but I got no response from her. I slept under my desk on-site that night. And for two nights after that. She avoided me the whole time, never spoke a word to me.
When I woke under my desk on the third morning, she was sat there watching me. There were tears in her eyes.
“I know you’ve been working hard so we can stay together, but what’s the point when you’re working so much we never get to be together?”
And she was right. She’d given me a taste of my own medicine and it had been a stark awakening to what I had done to her.
The company were more than happy that I could do my job. But I still had to prove to them, and to Flik, that our relationship wasn’t going to cause problems.
We formed a new tradition in that following month. We had a day off once a week, and on our next one, we just got on the bike and rode away. We spent the day exploring, getting lost, finding new places, and of course, getting reacquainted with each other. I had to learn that if I was to keep the woman I loved, I needed to leave the show behind more often. I’d fought so hard to get on the show to be with her, and come so close to throwing it all away. 

But the question still crops up. Can we make this work? I love the woman, that I don’t doubt, but can we really make this work? We’ve got two years left on our contracts for this show, can our relationship survive being on the road for that long? Or could we find that we’re fine while we work together, but as soon as we leave the show we fall apart? Is it worth taking that risk?
The lights go down and the band strikes up. She walks on and sits at the side of the stage. Yet again, she’s mesmerised me. I can’t help but watch her. It’s ridiculous this affect she has on me, even after this long.Her voice cracks on her top note. She never has trouble with that note. I really have freaked her out.
My decisions made, I just have to see it through. The tour manager has always been so good to us. She’s already sorted out leave and cover for me. I just have to make it to the end of this show. It’s the last show in town, then we’ve got time to come to terms with it all, sort out everything that needs to be sorted.

Now, with our company, on the last show in every city, the cast take the first two bows on their own, then for the third and the return bow, all the crew, dressers, runners and stage managers join them onstage.
The last phrase of music before the bows is approaching like a freight train and my whole body is shaking so much I can barely keep control of the faders. I’m light headed and I can barely catch my breath. I can’t do this, I can’t go through with it.
The crescendo hits and the lights snap out. As they rise again, the audience are on their feet, the applause ringing in my ears as the cast all make their way on stage. Each group and each main character gets their personal bow, then they all join hands around the edge of the stage and bow again. Now they start beckoning to those of us front of house. The dressers and runners and stage managers are flocking in from the back. The follow-spot operators are running down the stairs to the stage. But I’m frozen. I can’t move.
“Dude, you can’t bottle it now! Just hold it together a little longer!”
Vince grabs my shoulders and hauls me off the desk, propelling me down the stairs in front of him as my legs give and stumble beneath me. Next thing I know I’m onstage, and all I can see is her. There are tears in her eyes, and she looks as scared as I feel.
Grabbing her hand I pull her behind the others.
“What’s going on?” she demands, clutching my shaking hand as the first tear breaks free and rolls down her cheek.
I take a deep breath.
“Felicity…I need to ask you something…”
Robyn’s behind me with her foot in the back of my knee, forcing me to the floor.
“If you’re going to do this, you’re going to damn well do it properly!” she hisses in my ear.
That’s when I realise that all eyes are on us. No turning back now.
“Felicity Louise Duncan, will you marry me?”
The entire room holds its breath, as do I, as Flik stares at me wide-eyed and slack-jawed. I grope in my pocket for the item that’s been burning into my skin all night. She clamps her hands over her mouth when she sees the gold band mounted with three diamonds.
As I start to feel like passing out from oxygen deprivation, she slowly nods her head, becoming more frantic as I stand.
“Yes! Yes of course I will!” she cries as she throws herself into my arms. The roar of approval from around the room is deafening as I sweep her into the air before kissing her soundly. There are catcalls and applause from the auditorium, and shouts and cries of congratulations from our fellows onstage. I’m shocked to see tears streaming down Victor and Ramone’s faces as I place the ring on Flik’s finger. It fits perfectly.

Finally, I can breath. The thrumming of the bike beneath me soothes away the last of the nerves and the tension as I enjoy the feel of the wind in my face.
I pull up around the back of that enormous blue and green tent. There she stands with Robyn and Victor. She doesn’t even bother to say goodbye as she bounds twoards me. She leaps onto the bike behind me, one hand straight to the buckle of my belt as she presses into my back.
“Get me out of here.”
She flicks my ear with her tongue, and I don’t know if it’s her voice or her tongue that send the shiver down my spine, but I’m not one to hesitate at such a command.
I snap the bike into gear and speed away from the tents floodlights towards the orange glow of the city. She throws her arms up and yells to the stars as we dodge and weave around the traffic.
This is our tradition. After the last show in every city we escape back to one of the places we found, a little time to be together before the big after party and then two days of packing down the site.
I can feel the grin on her face as she kisses the back of my neck. We follow the river for twenty minutes out of town into the surrounding countryside.

  I pull up at our special spot. She climbs around me until she's straddling my legs, and I can't help but stare into her eyes.
  “You scared me tonight.”
  I whisper my apology but her fingers are getting twitchy. Her hands are under my jacket as she slowly presses her lips to mine. She tastes sweet. Distracted, I don’t notice her removing my jacket, before she climbs off me and saunters away. 
  I rock the bike back onto its stand before leaping off it and running after her. She lets out a shriek when I grab her and swing her into the air. As I put her back down she giggles and leads me to the edge of the bank, glancing at me over her shoulder and biting her bottom lip. She pulls me down with her as she lays on the grass. 
  Our lips caress each other as we make love. She shivers beneath me, before her body arches and she buries her face in my shoulder, whimpering. I roll over, pulling her with me as her heart beat calms and her breathing levels out. Pushing herself up, she kisses me once more before settling down against my side, her breath tickling my throat as she nuzzles my cheek.
  “I can't wait to be your wife,” she whispers.