The things these actors get up to

...well, I mean, says Julian Clary, it's just not polite is it? The comedian describes some sticky moments in rehearsal for his straight role in Jean Genet's 'Splendid's'

Woke up with a streaming cold for my first day of rehearsals. I didn't mind as it would make me sound a bit Fenella Fielding. I play a gangster in the play, but he's not exactly Reggie Kray.

After coffee, we file into the rehearsal room and I immediately feel claustrophobic. It's a windowless computer room with strip lighting - not flattering for the over-thirties. I don't suppose the budget can run to some amber lampshades and patchouli incense?

The things these actors get up to. I can cope with the discussion groups, where we all sit around in a circle to talk through the text and start every sentence with "it seems to me". But once or twice we've been asked to say nothing and just stare at each other. For minutes on end. Real eye contact. Well, I mean, it's not polite.

We do improvisations, too; the more bizarre, the better. I was at last able to "do" Swan Lake. I made all the other actors squat on the floor as dreary cygnets while I glided about the stage as magnificently as a rumbling stomach will allow. Everett Quinton took all his clothes off for his. We all had to kneel before him, and as he peeled off each garment, he threw it to one of us. I got his shoes. Another actor emptied a packet of crisps over his head and instructed me to clean him up with an old mop and wipe his bottom with a bit of rag. He's American so I thought I'd better oblige in case he pulled a flick-knife.

It's a Genet play, so we're allowed to be strange and dark and weird and wonderful. In Splendid's, our characters are rats caught in their own trap. Fear, death and mortal terror are what we're dealing with.

After eight hours of this each day, we emerge blinking into the sunshine, ready, indeed desperate, for a good laugh. David Foxxe, my dancing partner for our grand entrance, can usually supply us with the necessary.

At night, the play percolates in my brain. Lines like "the carcass of a lovely young girl" inhabit my dreams. Death, fear, fear and death. It makes a change from saucy innuendoes about policemen's helmets.

I haven't felt this fulfilled since I got lost in the sand dunes at Playa del Anglais in 1987.

By the end of the week, we had bonded together sufficiently to attempt a group outing to the White Swan to see Her Imperial Highness Regina Fong. She had, of course, been at the VE Day celebrations the week before in Hyde Park. "So I said to Princess Margaret in the beer tent, 'How do you tell an old man in the dark?' and she said, 'It ain't hard'."

Week Two

Blocking the second act. I am placed downstage left, sitting on the floor, looking upstage. This means left profile constantly exposed. Not good. I explained to Neil Bartlett that in televisionland I never allow a camera to capture that unfortunate angle. The public may not like it. A less sensitive director may have put me in my place at this point, but Neil looked at me with sympathy and understanding.

Concern furrowed his brow, and with the tenderness of a true sister, he led me across the stage and turned me around 90 degrees. I'm now posing in a doorway for the crucial scene, and much more attractive for it.

Spent the morning doing an exercise. We split up into pairs and had to imagine the man of our dreams melting in our arms as we hugged one another. After a while, we switched partners. I had a clinch with Keanu Reeves (or was it Vic?) before settling for Ethan Hawke. You don't get paid much in this game, but who cares?

Four birthdays in the company this week. Four times we had a birthday cake complete with candles supplementing our afternoon tea break. I thought my cake looked decidedly phallic, but it turned out to be Thomas the Tank Engine. This is what happens at 36, apparently. You get confused.

Spent the evening looking for my character. Waited until 5am in Substandard, but he didn't show.

Plunged suddenly into the world of Light Entertainment again, being a mystery guest on What's My Line? in Bristol. "Is it Arthur Mullard?" guessed Kate Robbine.

Week Three

While Neil is giving instructions to other actors, David demonstrates for me the Barbara Jefford walk. It's not as easy as it looks.

Wednesday. Suddenly, everyone else seems to have learnt their lines. I'm the only one still clutching his script. Bravely, I cast it aside. It was a rash move, as it left me shouting "line seven" more often than Elton John in the bad old days. Cassie, our SM and prompter, fed me each line like a starling at the nest.

Thursday. May have been a bit sweaty. Not nice for my waltzing scene with the policeman, Richard Hawley. He always smells of something heavenly and expensive. Must be good stuff. When I nuzzle into his neck for our intimate moment in Act 1, I'm transported. I don't know if it's An Evening in Paris or Turning-out Time at the Docks, but it does the trick for me.

I notice that now we're rehearsing "off the book", as they say, you're often obliged to look your fellow actor in the eye. And speak at the same time. And there's one very tricky scene where I'm obliged to look, speak and walk all at once. I don't know who Genet thinks I am. Some kind of circus freak? For another 10 quid, they could have had Peter Duncan playing my part.

We have one more week in the rehearsal space, then we move into the theatre. We get a set, costumes, haircuts, lighting, technical people in heavy- metal T-shirts and, at some point, an audience. The thought of letting others into our world of death, fear and mortal terror is daunting. Seems indecent, somehow.

Inevitable, though. With this thought in mind, I rang my godmother who lives just down the road from Hammersmith and invited her to the press night. I explain to her that it's a thriller, but not exactly The Mousetrap. "Is it a mystery, then?" she asked. "Cause it'll be a mystery if I understand it!" Anyway, she's coming. On the 93 bus.

'Splendid's' opens at the Lyric Hammersmith, London W6 on 15 June (Booking: 0181-741 8701)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum