An Anonymous Friend

Tonight I met up with a friend who has always been a source of inspiration to me. I don’t wish to embarrass his by naming him but I expect that should he ever stumble across this blog, he will recognise himself.

At 18, this man was not destined for anything special. He dropped out of college with not a GCSE to his name and worked at a Morrisons somewhere in the West Midlands. He had no direction and he would be the first to admit that he did not have an academic bent.

Despite all of this, an epiphany moment occurred to my friend, and he was found a new sense purpose, to work in drama.

With his new take on life, he returned to college and completed a B-Tech in drama. I have met the teacher who knew him before and after his epiphany, and he describes the difference as a complete transformation.

Perhaps predictably, he obtained exemplary results at college and submitted his application to an applied theatre course at drama school. Despite still having no GCSEs, he was still able to impress the interview panel into giving him a place and he moved down to London to start his course.

During his second year of education he sat his English and Maths GCSE, at the same time setting up a theatre company; and in his third year, his industry placement offered him a job for after graduation. Even before the end of his course he was working as a freelance practitioner for several noteable London theatres.

Now, six months after finishing his degree course (he graduated with a First Class Hons, incidentally) he has worked with several top London theatres, the theatre company he founded is planning a residency in Italy, and a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe. All of his actors are paid – admittedly, not mega bucks, but there is no ‘No-Pay’ work.

He strives to conduct his business with consummate integrity. He works with honesty and transparency with clients and colleagues alike, striking the tricky balance of authority and compassion.

I admire this man for his drive, his accomplishments but most of all for his humility. He does not pretend to know everything, he does not expect people to revere him, he does not even consider his success as an inevitable consequence of his hard work and determination.

There is much that we can learn from my friend. We can see the power of having a purpose and devoting every effort to pursuing it and also the suppression of ego that this purpose brings out in him. Because he is answering a calling, he does not take the credit for his achievement, which in turn removes a huge burden from his success. His goal is no to get results, but simply to put in the work. The success he enjoys therefore is a byproduct.

Many people work in precarious and self-driven businesses, and to follow such an example is at once both the easiest and the hardest thing to do, but I encourage everyone to shift their goals – focusing on producing the best possible work, rather than on monitoring success.

Blog Post : Monty Python and Francis Beaumont

I’m on the tube home after seeing (for the second time) the Knight of the Burning Pestle, by Francis Beaumont at the Wanamaker Playhouse. It’s a difficult show to categorise but I think director Adele Thomas’ term “Jacobean Rock’n’roll” is as good as any.

The Actors embark on a telling of the London Merchant, but the play is interrupted by a Grocer and his wife who thrust their apprentice Rafe onto the stage and get him to insert his own scenes based on their instructions. The players join in these scenes with initial reluctance as the original narrative of elopement is interspersed with scenes of damsel-rescuing and giant-slaying. The whole atmosphere inside the Sam Wanamaker playhouse was absolutely delightful. The audience laughed, we sang along and how we applauded.

This meta-theatrical device makes for great madcap slapstick humour – frantic fight sequences and knob-gags. The concept of Knight of the Burning Pestle seemed so modern that my father thought there must have been some modern additions inserted into the text, drawing on the likes of Monty Python. Which reminded me of the recent revival the five remaining pythons brought to the O2 back in July.

From my seat right at the back of the arena I remember being very underwhelmed by performances which, when I was first introduced to them as a teenager, I found absolutely hilarious.

I had gone with expectations of reliving some of that teenage glee, but for some reason the off-the-wall silliness of Pythons live left me very cold. I assumed that my tastes must have moved on and that now, as an adult, I am far too pretentious to find such absurd humour funny, that I need something altogether more sophisticated to tickle my funny bone these days. However, tonight’s trip to the Globe showed me I can still take great delight from silly, knockabout humour. So what was the difference?

It was partly to do with the intimacy of the venues. The Wanamaker Playhouse brought out the comedy in a way that the cavernous O2 arena never could. But I found there was a bigger more obvious difference between the two experiences. The performers at The Globe last night were enjoying themselves. They loved the show (however nonsensical) and presented it with glee to their audience. The Pythons on the other hand were not excited by their material, the love with which they first wrote and recorded the sketches and songs had somehow been lost over the years. And if the performers are bored by what they are doing – then surely the audience cannot expect to be entertained.

The most important thing any performer must do, if they are to really connect to their audience, is love what they are doing. The question this naturally raises is: is it possible to find love in everything? That may be the subject for another post.