I try to convince myself I’m still in my dreams, as my alarm nudges my earthly senses, now chomping at the bit, heralding another brisk morning.
My duvet says, ‘Don’t get up, remain enveloped’ but the wake-up siren has dutifully ignited a chain reaction of consciousness fervently sparking through muscle memory in my body, telling me that I ‘moved’ too much yesterday. So, I reach out to check in and feel with my fingers a song of redemption wailing in my left thigh, alternate hues of sensation encircling the base of my neck, near my shoulders and the muscles knitted to the length of my spine on either side, jealously guarding secrets from each other as to who stretched out the most in accordance to Shane Shambhu’s movement suggestions.
It’s winter here in London and the mornings are sharp and crisp. This is the time of year when I value a bowl of hot porridge and sultanas and for added fuel and energy, a banana and almond nuts are thrown into the mix. A coffee to invigorate the senses and tell me what day it is, is essential. I’ve used up all those green beans I had on order, that I usually roast in a skillet to make the freshest batch of coffee with. I make do with grinding some ready-roasted bought from my local supermarket.
As I sip hot bitter brown liquid in anticipation of today, I find myself reciting a particular section of script that I was oddly nuancing yesterday. My directors hadn’t said anything, though I felt it was not quite sitting right in my head, nor my mouth. I’m not quite feeling the nature of its structure. The coffee cannot stimulate an answer as I ponder why this is.
It’s obviously to do with tone and cadence, the way I’m saying it. I want to find the core arc of this amalgamation of precise sentences and what it’s saying overall as a metaphor. I can’t yet find the mechanism comfortable enough to express both meanings simultaneously. If it’s there, then my audience deserves to hear it, to feast upon it when they’re finally sitting in front of me. Yes, it’s got a profound double meaning, if not, one that is triple barrelled. The third is personal to me, I’ll keep that one and I’ll raise this conundrum with the other two when I get to rehearsals. It’s important.
My folded Brompton bike lies sleeping in the hallway, I break it open and free the squeaks from the hinges and we’re ready to navigate the morning rush hour. I’ve always been an ardent bike rider. I recently toured the UK in Barber Shop Chronicles and my iron horse was my trusty steed, getting me from digs to theatre and back again. Moreover, it’s my morning and evening workout. It warms me up before a show or prepares me for rehearsals. Either way, it gives me a positive energy boost. As a physical actor who trained in dance, drama all those many moons ago, the iron horse has been a reminder and a gauge as to what I’m still able to consider doing physically. I use the word, ‘iron horse’ as it comes out of Nobel laureate and playwright, Wole Soyinka’s script, The Beatification of Area Boy, in which I had the honour to perform in front of my father in Nigeria so long ago. It made a huge impression on me then and befits this blog now.
I’m currently working on Conundrum, written and directed by my friend and colleague, Paul Anthony Morris, Artistic Director of Crying In The Wilderness Productions (CITWP), of which I’m also a company director.
The play is full of joy and pathos and requires energy, lots of it, both mental and physical. My character Fidel goes through a review of his life, wondering if or how much he’s been complicit in his own demise and if he could have done better within the given structures of modern society. He’s looking for relative answers and makes extraordinary discoveries. It’s an incredible script with an extraordinary character and I’ve been given the opportunity to play him.
It’s demanding and in resurrecting it again from last year’s postponement, due to the pandemic, it has risen like a phoenix, branded in fire and wanting. It’s a story that seems to want to lend itself to the current zeitgeist.
Movement Director Shane Shambhu has been brought back once again to put me through some finite paces, utilising an extraordinary choreographic discipline that I’m not sure I can truly follow, for he makes, what I’m struggling to capture from him, sublimely effortless.
My top is welded to both my chest and back in sweat and when I stop, the room temperature of the studio begins to feel incompatible, so I shudder and seek the warmth of an extra layer. My lightweight down-feather jacket does the trick until it’s time to work through the movements again, this time with more accuracy and finesse, please. No pain, no gain, I guess. C’mon body, wake up, you can do this!
It’s wonderful to have Shane instructing me again, brought into the process that sees him and my incredible team of creatives weave an expansive universal cocoon around me.
I feel fortunate to be working alongside such an ensemble of artists, including another dedicated actor, Filip Krenus, making his cameo role effective in a crucial scene.
A welcomed pause comes at lunchtime. The lunchbox I prepared last night has a wealth of nutrition I can’t wait to savour. Balsamic vinegar and a good drizzle of cold-pressed hemp seed oil dutifully lacquer’s an integrated melange of salad leaves. Crunchy iceberg lettuce dances with rocket, spinach and watercress, then grated carrot and spicy beetroot, who give a nod to pumpkin, flax and sweet sesame seeds. Coriander is in there too, Himalayan salt, grated black peppercorn and some fresh thyme that I picked up from an east end market stall yesterday. All are accompanied by verdant chunks of avocado and just half a silver-streaked fillet of mackerel. Atop, in another compartment, lie three plump strawberries (Erdbeeren or Earthberries in German) and a small pungent bunch of floral-scented black grapes. A carton of coconut water replenishes what I’ve lost in sweat and thought; the essential electrolytes much needed for this production process.
Lighting designer, Jack Weir, has come in today and sits primed, heady with ideas and constructs. It’s a delight to hear his accompanying vision, on top of which there are added extras. I worked with him before and know his ‘brilliance.’ Pun intended.
Renowned set designer, Sean Cavanagh, calls in over a visual computer platform and shows us addendums in mock-ups to what he’s primarily constructed as my stage platform. His set is an accompanying narrative to that of my character, and I can’t wait to immerse Fidel within it. Sean’s even gone as far as to invent his own calligraphy that bridges the entire narrative in graphic visuals. Ha!
Florian Bel, our sound-scape designer, an unassuming and exceptionally bright young visionary in his own right, has filled the atmosphere of Fidel’s confines with an otherworldly cosmic resonance that sits sublimely in one’s headspace.
Angela Akaette Michaels, our Associate Director, together with Paul, tailors my character with a sharp eye that cuts away any excess and infuses the scenes with finite natural essence. She’s brilliant.
If I’m having my own conundrum here, it’s trying to figure out how all this has come about; an alignment of creative stars as bright as each other and with their own stupendous glare. And thus, who am I? I feel emotional at best, overwhelmed and know I have to honour such craftmanship with what I too can and must bring to this sumptuous table.
Paul stands at the helm of this ship, steering an adventurous multidisciplinary journey that we are all embarked upon. Though I’m still slip-sliding across the deck, I know I’m on a worthy vessel whose sails favour the winds of capture. I’m just halfway to getting my ‘sea legs’ and though it feels daunting, knowing the journey is arduous, I’m confident a firm footing will develop and plant me where myself and my character need to be.
The openness I have with Paul Anthony Morris as my director allows me to state declarations or doubts so as to find the rationale I need for my purpose and especially that of Fidel.
My deliberation with Paul and Angela today, led to us navigating through choppy whirlpools of thought over this current set of paragraphs that I’m having issue with.
I voice my dilemma over this section of the play and so begins, as usual, a sharing of intuition-like instincts and stories of life, at times in full anecdotal mode. Still, the issue remains stubbornly immovable at an apex in its dark chasm. Perhaps it’s calculating the worthiness in the meditations we’re having.
Sometimes language doesn’t seem to readily want to translate thoughts and vice versa. It seems to be yet another conundrum that sits compounding the commonality of the situation.
Paul then says something arbitrary that sees the obstacle inside my head shift and recalibrate itself like a Rubik’s cube unravelling and suddenly, that which remained mysterious, explodes into a myriad of random yet perfect colours and I witness a latent image of understanding emerging into view on the photographic paper of my mind.
Reciting that wedge of script again now finally sounds and feels true, its nuances no longer restrained but instead aligned and illuminated for the purpose of its double meaning. And it’s wonderful. I feel it now in my very being with enough honesty to honour Fidel and this noble character’s journey.
My ‘sea legs’ become somewhat sturdier on deck, enough to feel a restorative breeze of calm competence. I could tell you true anecdotes about the sea in Ireland in which I swam as a child, near where my mother was born in Waterford. The smoky rapture of bog peat burning in an open hearth and the briny sea breeze, assail my senses still and sweetly lend themselves here, making me what I am, a searcher.
Tomorrow’s daybreak will no doubt raise another encounter in the search for Fidel and it will be only right to ask my directors once more, ‘Who am I?’
Conundrum will perform in the Maria Studio at the Young Vic Theatre in Waterloo January 14th to Feb 4th 2022. Conundrum | Young Vic website