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Goodbye to the Dinosaurs

DitWSo a near nine month contract with Dinosaurs in the Wild in London comes to an end and I leave Timebase 67 for the last time. Although I have worked with the public a lot over the years I have never been involved in an immersive experience quite like this before – and what a privilege it was to be a part of!

A highly tuned and very technical show/experience running to a strict schedule (“time travel waits for no one!”), DitW combined phenomenal audio and visual kit, 4D technology, animatronics, extraordinary sets and set dressing to make for an incredible journey back into the Cretaceous for the many thousands of people who came to visit. But it was the live action, brilliantly directed by Cameron Wenn in London, assisted by Hannah Ellis, that helped bring it all to life….he says with just a bit of bias!

As an actor the show demanded a combination of freedom and truth together with a strict adherence to the mechanics of the production. This is not unique for actors of course, but when the mechanics are operating numerous buttons, props, levers, mics and sensors in multiple rooms as part of a multi-million pound set and the script has to be timed to precision, as do the many moments of improvisation and interaction with the public….well…you have to be on your toes. The wonderful public are also gloriously unpredictable of course, with all ages and emotions in amongst the 40 odd members per tour!

I have loved meeting so many members of the public but, as ever, it is the fabulous fellow cast members, stage management and technical crew, front office and creative team that I will miss most. It is an industry of hellos and goodbyes but this one has been, for me, really special. If it re-appears somewhere do catch it, but stay alert and if you go up to the world famous Chronotex look-out to see the dinosaurs, stay away from the windows…

Dino-Eggs for Easter

Eggs are a major part of the Easter tradition, but I may be in a minority of people who are guaranteed to witness the hatching of an egg at this festive time…and a prehistoric one at that. The tradition of eggs as symbols of new life, death and re-birth, dates back thousands of years to Asia, well before modern-day Easter; however my Easter egg activity will date back millions of years, 67 million years to be exact.

Dino Egg

Yes I have, in fact, been travelling back to the late Cretaceous period for a few weeks now and will be doing so up to Easter and beyond into the summer. Specifically the daily trip takes me to Hell Creek, Montana, although the jumping off point is, more conveniently, currently sited on the Greenwich Peninsula, London near the O2. Although shrouded in mystery for many years, the time travel company Chronotex has recently been allowing members of the public to travel in its time machines, or CTPs – Chronotex Transfer Pods to give them their correct names – back to Timebase 67, one of its 5 Timebases located in the deep past.

I have had the great privilege of being recruited as a guide for this incredible venture and daily I have been taking members of the public on what is, frankly, the trip of a lifetime. The rules are very strict of course, regarding such things as preserving the integrity of the past and using the technology in a responsible way, but this does not stop an “up close and personal” interaction with the main inhabitants of this period of history – dinosaurs.

After a painless, but exciting, “time jump” back to the Cretaceous, there is a ride in the mobile CTP across a sub-tropical terrain to the Timebase where I, or one of my colleagues, take groups of guests through a series of labs before going up to the famous “Lookout” where we are able to view a large range of dinosaurs, living in and travelling across the plains and forests of the area. I have to admit that this is not for the faint hearted. As we are a working facility and have to carry on our research work, visitors or not, this means that dinosaur body parts are on show, as well as certain dinosaurs that cannot be described as particularly cuddly. There is also the opportunity to see our scientists at work, for example in the autopsy lab – although there is a perspex screen to protect guests from any unpleasant smells and fluids that may be given off by the bodies of the animals.

One of the highlights of the tour is the visit to one of our hatcheries where our very own Easter dino-eggs are being cared for, some of which weigh up to 2 kgs each. There are usually several different species of dinosaur eggs in the hatcheries and, as eggs can take up to 3 months to hatch, there is guaranteed to be an Easter hatching. In fact the whole landscape is covered in eggs as dinosaurs lay many eggs at one go; the larger sauropods lay over 100 at a time for example. I have been lucky enough to witness many births so far, although it is still difficult to imagine that the cute little raptor babies will grow into vicious carnivorous predators…but they do.

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You may have read some scurrilous media reports about accidents and “incidents” at Chronotex facilities but I have seen almost nothing to support these claims. The safety of everyone working in and visiting the base, both adults and children, is always the number one priority and something that our rigorous training regime emphasised at all times.

I am certainly looking forward to a very different Easter this year and if you want to come along and witness the hatching of a dinosaur as well, trips depart daily and can be booked at www.dinosaursinthewild.com

Dino T Rex

(A version of this article first appeared in The Blackheathan, March 2018)

 

Filming on memory lane

Great to be back very near the original site of my old drama school, Mountview, yesterday, for a short film shoot.  Parking in Cecile Park, Crouch End, all the memories came flooding back of a fab three years and the final year productions at the Judi Dench Studio on that very road. It looks as if this original theatre site has been sold now and, in fact, the whole academy is moving to Peckham – crossing the Rubicon!

I remember in one of those “how would you be cast” sessions towards the end of our time at drama school I had the “doctor/businessman/father/therapist/professional/manager” types, feedback for my likely casting going forward. Seemed likely. Since then I have played drug dealers, addicts, criminals, creepy dodgy blokes, sexual predators, serial killers, crazed soldiers, dead pianists, adulterous husbands and voiced a crocodile…amongst others. OK there have been some straight middle class professional roles as well but I have had my fair share of the dark side…must be the deep-set eyes.

Anyway this was another walk on the wrong side as the wonderful guys at the LFS cast me as Shaun Hofstein, a sexually predatory media mogul whose dark past catches up with him as his female victims come forward. Somewhat topical. I am not sure how the real life events will pan out but this Crouch End one did not end well for me. Not for the first time in my screen career, I ended up assassinated in a pool of fake blood.

Oh well, just up the road, years ago, I had played the sexually brash Peter from A Taste of Honey and the dodgy Voysey in Granville-Barker’s play…so plus ca change really.

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Two Bullets – ( Zhi-Yi Wang, @ouchigi)

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Two Bullets – ( Zhi-Yi Wang, @ouchigi)

 

What’s been going on in 2017?

2017 – This year has been dominated by corporate role-play and coaching work with lots of scripts and improvisation, group and one-on-one coaching and facilitation – the confused businessman, grumpy IT executive and cheery transport worker have all been making their appearances.

Auditions continue, of course, and I have been accessing my concierge, various Shakespearean Dads, actor-musician characters, conductor and businessman…amongst others. The actor-musician auditions are always the mega ones – fun to do but the prep is often phenomenal – 2 or 3 instruments, song of your choice plus a song asked for and a choice of 3 or 4 scenes to prepare. The main result of all this, so far, has been a visit to the service repairer for my various instruments!

Is there such a thing as the quadruple threat for the “more mature” actor?! I have recently completed a tap dance refresher course after being asked whether I could shuffle ball change at the back of the chorus line. You’re never too old to tap as they say….but maybe this might be a little beyond me!

 

Late 2016 update

Sniper Corpse, a feature film shot last summer, is in post production and should be coming out fairly shortly. I died in a shower of bloody gunshot on set, but I believe CGI will make it even more gruesome – you have been warned!

I was delighted to have been able to help old friends at Capital Theatre with a last minute cast problem in their production of Lingua Franca by Peter Nicholls, just before Christmas. A week or so between getting the script and first night is not the most stress-free stage experience I have ever had, but the show had to go on, as they say!

Wings, by Aftermath Films and shot a couple of years ago, has recently been released online. Worth checking out. A really high quality group of film makers with a fab future in my humble opinion. I gave them my deranged drug dealer…as you do.

Coventry Film Festival Launches with “Echoes” Screening

Poster
Last week I went up to the Launch Party for the 2nd Coventry Film Festival. The festival itself takes place in July (15th – 18th) but this was a promotional event which included the first screening of “Echoes” a feature film by Halogen Entertainment and Tayler Made Production, Coventry based film companies who are both film makers and driving forces behind the festival itself. As an actor in Echoes it was great to be able to support this new and growing event, and a good excuse to get the tux out and enjoy a special night on the red carpet!
Christopher Clarke has been instrumental in moving this forward and the fact that, in only its second year, films are being submitted to Coventry from all over the world is a strong vote of confidence in his work and that of the whole festival team. It is only fitting that the city that can boast Billie Whitelaw and Ellen Terry amongst its dramatic daughters should put itself on the big screen map and I was privileged to be a small part of it.