1 2

Emperor and Galilean, at the National Theatre

There's an extraordinary dramatic feast on offer at the moment in London for all atheists, humanists, freethinkers, sceptics, and possibly even religious secularists. It’s the National Theatre’s production of Ibsen’s "Emperor and Galilean", currently being presented, with great panache and spectacle, on the magnificent thrust stage of the Olivier Theatre.

Every Ibsen drama I’ve seen has seemed to raise a mighty fist at its climactic moments in support of some great and important truth, and Ibsen’s "Emperor and Galilean" does the same: it succeeds in demonstrating the futility and the delusions of religion. With the religious constantly broadcasting their imaginary nonsense, in the media, in churches, on soap-boxes on our High Streets, or uninvited at our front doors, here’s an epic and profound statement against all religions, superbly adapted, brilliantly staged, and sounding out loud and clear from the main stage of our national theatre. For the atheist and the humanist it’s a work that gives cause for rejoicing.

Until the Romans established themselves in Byzantium, the classical Greeks revelled in their gods, in Hellenic Polytheism, and their mythology was very tightly bound up with all of the flowering and the productivity of Ancient Greek culture. Shrines and temples to the gods were everywhere about the landscape. But then along came the Christian Romans and, with them, religious persecution. For several centuries the Roman Emperors of Byzantium passed law after law to force the Greeks away from their ancient gods and traditions and towards "the Christ". Though one law might order the destruction of "pagan" shrines and temples, another had subsequently to be passed threatening death to anyone who continued to even look in the direction of the desecrated "pagan" shrines, for the people were reluctant to give up their old devotions.

"Emperor and Galilean" opens in Constantinople in 351 with Roman Emperor Constantius II still seeking to rid Greece and Asia Minor of Hellenic Polytheism. Constantius’s young cousin Julian, although raised a Galilean, a Christian, has concerns as to how Christianity ought best be practised. Life for him will not be easy: he chooses to seek the truth. And so from this point the drama proceeds, over a period of twelve years, to Athens, and then to Ephesus, before Julian is eventually returned to Constantinople as Emperor, free to create a world entirely according to his conscience. When he rejects Christianity, and restores the freedom, joy, and colour of all the old gods, of Dionysos and Apollo, relieving all those who have been forcibly converted to Christianity of their burdensome and joyless restrictions, of "Thou shalt not! Thou shalt not!", he has trouble on his hands, for many cling now to the path of the Galilean as once they clung to their Hellenic gods. The confrontations, violence, and tyranny of all that thus follows in the course of the second act draw us eventually to the play’s ultimate statement, delivered in the final seconds and stunning in its effect.

It seems that the run ends on the 10th of August but there were plenty of empty seats last Wednesday night - perhaps because this is not a play for those who don’t like to think! Nor is it a play which is easy for Christians or other religionists. Two expensively-dressed young couples sitting near me failed to return after the interval, and as I left the theatre at the end of the evening I overheard a suited dad quietly and firmly telling his three teenagers that the play had not been fair to Christianity. I’d like to think his three youngsters, like Julian, harboured a different view.

On Drama Schools
and Talking Books.

It's been almost two whole years since I last wrote anything here! I can't believe it! How time has flown! I've been involved in an important project - nothing to do with producing further CDs - but something else, very creative, very time-consuming and very rewarding. The result should appear later this year or early next year. Whether the three further talking-books which are in the pipeline will now ever see the light of day I'm not sure! For now there are other exciting possibilities on the horizon.

The reason for revisiting this page today is to post some information which will hopefully answer the emails I regularly receive from young people and some actors asking for advice. The following summarises generally what I tend to say and I hope it will answer people's questions.

1. "I want to be a professional actor. Should I go to a Drama School? Can you recommend one?"

My response to the above kind of question generally goes as follows. Firstly, are you a natural actor? Have you been faking things since you were knee-high to a grasshopper? If not, then bear in mind that dozens have and so they've got one hell of a headstart on you!

Next, the life of a professional actor is continually "on the edge": there's no guaranteed job, no regular income. Why do you want to put up with that throughout your entire life? Or why do you think that you're so talented that you, unlike 99.9% of all other actors, would be continually employed as an actor?

OK, you still want to go ahead with your dream. Then act wherever and whenever you can in your spare time but get yourself into a decent well-respected university (not some new "university" that may possibly have once been a rather low-level polytechnic and which will probably not provide you with the best tuition that is available), and get yourself a good degree, in something that is very likely to get you a regular job for years to come. Remember, if you have talent in acting, nothing can kill it: it'll always be there. While at university, act as much as you can, in your spare time. Once you have graduated, if you still wish to act professionally then begin the endless task of approaching every theatre company you can find an address for and offer to do ANYTHING with them. Get in and "learn the ropes". If you are liked you will eventually be offered a small part. If you really have talent it will be recognised and you will get more parts. It won't be easy. There will be times when you will have to get a day-job, just like all actors, but when you do get acting work you will be increasing your experience, you will be learning. Successful actors have two things: an incredible burning drive and outstanding talent. But even with these, usually, or often, there is no work for them. But you have your decent degree from a decent university. You have something to fall back on - unless you, miraculously, become a mega-star overnight, of course.

Should you go to Drama School? Well, it depends, and it depends what kind of Drama School you are talking about. The people who have generally written to me are leaving university or have left university and are considering doing a one-year course. However, it is possible to do a three- or four-year degree at a number of drama schools and, before that, it is even possible to go to another kind of Drama School from the age of five. Yes, always bear in mind those people who have been at it since they were five: by the time they are eighteen they have acting technique grafted into their very bones! That doesn't mean they are guaranteed a life-time of acting work though! They may never have had any remarkable natural acting talent in the first place. However, they are well equipped and there are hundreds of them out there competing for the work.

But let's say you have finished ordinary school, have got the acting bug, and are wondering whether to attend a university or do a degree at a Drama School. Degree courses at schools of acting (now affiliated to universities, or offering degrees in their own right) are just that: degrees mainly in preparation for work in a theatre. In other words, you will not emerge with skills or knowledge directly relating to other spheres of employment. You will have little choice but to plough on and try and find work in theatre. But with a degree from a mainstream university, in biology, law, literature, or whatever, you emerge with wider options. Remember, if you have remarkable talent in acting it will never die. It will be there, sitting beside your other qualifications.

Some reputable mainstream universities offer degrees in drama. They are academically respectable. You study the dramatic medium and its history, you analyse dramatic works in a manner similar to the methods of students studying literature. You also study theatre arts, but largely as a method of penetrating the dramatic medium. Acting is not the priority of such a course, but, again, if you have remarkable talent, it will be noted. Graduating with such a degree allows entry into a good number of careers that do not involve theatre. However, if at the end of such a course you feel the feedback has been sufficient to warrant optimism with regard to your chances as a paid actor, then you can proceed straight into theatre having already been immersed in a solid and sound practical and academic study of drama. Unless you have some extraordinary "connection" though, you will still have to get down your knees and beg every theatre company in the country to take you on. And, again, your letter will be one of hundreds that artistic directors receive from budding actors every week, every month, every year.

And now the option that most people have written to me about: whether to go to a Drama School for a year after having graduated from university. My first response is to ask: have you been given an indication by people who are not related to you and who have a sound knowledge of theatre that you possess absolutely remarkable acting ability? If so, then act! Pester every theatre company you can and offer to do anything. Make the tea and sweep the stage, until such time as somebody gives you a line or two. Your parts at first will be minuscule but you will actually be acting. You will be doing it. And you will be paid as well. You will be able to call yourself an actor.

But you say you don't feel confident enough yet, you feel you need to prepare, and you are inclined to go to a Drama School for a year, and so you want to know which ones to apply to. For some reason you think that your one year at Drama School will enable you to compete with all those who have been going to a Drama School since they were five years of age, and also to compete with those who have been acting solidly on an intensive three-year acting course at a college that provides degrees in acting. Well, your one-year course MAY enable you to compete provided you are absolutely outstanding as an actor. Have people with professional authority and reputation in the theatre given you the impression that you are? Or are you just hoping and dreaming? No, you say, I really believe that I have what it takes, so tell me which drama schools are best!

Well, in London there are four. I will leave it to you to find out which they are, but here's an easy clue: they are the four finest ones, the four famous ones, the four that everybody is desperate to get into. These four, at the top of the league, churn out well over a hundred highly talented and ambitious young actors every year, decade after decade, and all the agents and casting directors know it! Why do I mention these agents and casting directors? Because it's no use you forking out something like £20,000 (all told, once your living and travel costs are included) for a year at a drama school if that drama school is not respected, or even looked at, by agents and casting directors.

So now my strongest word of warning: all of the other drama schools that exist, and there are many of them, are, of course, run and staffed by people whose salaries are provided by the students' fees! They need your money. So beware: every one of those drama schools will lure you for all they are worth, they will assure you that all of your dreams could very well come true and you will be very tempted. But once the course is over, you are out on your neck, and the next lot of hopefuls is in. Thus the bottom line is this: if you are hell-bent on putting off actually seeking work in acting, and hell-bent on filling in for a year by going to a drama school, only do so if you are offered a place at one of the top four schools. And if you audition for one, or more, of them and you are not offered a place, then you would be extremely foolish indeed to continue hoping that you may spend your life being paid as a professional actor.

2. I am a working actor/author and I'm thinking of recording talking-books. Have you any tips?

Yes. Don't bother! It's nothing but grief. Have you heard of piracy, of counterfeiting? It's rife unfortunately, and because of the nature of the internet it is uncontrollable. What this means is that if you produce a recording and if your recording is of any worth, within days of the first copies having been sold through proper channels ruthless and conscienceless individuals will have ripped it (copied it) and uploaded it to illegal file-sharing sites all over the planet. I have had protracted discussion with Equity and other bodies about this problem and they have articulated their powerlessness to control it. Equity have even informed me that all the major talking-book companies employ a member of staff, full-time, to simply sit in front of a browser and search the internet endlessly, trying to track down sites offering illegal copies of products in the company's catalogues. But that doesn't mean to say that the problem is stopped. It can only be lessened. Because as soon as one illegal site finally agrees to remove an illegal download (and that usually occurs only at the end of very unpleasant, very upsetting, and oftenimes lengthy correspondence), another site pops up somewhere on the planet and offers your work for free. And month by month the internet is getting bigger, the pirates are getting cleverer and more callous, and the problem is worsening. It appears that greedy consumerism has convinced many that they have a fundamental right to enjoy the creative works of others entirely for free, that for the first time in human history they need not express their appreciation of something of value by paying for it. It's strange that they don't turn up at hotels and demand rooms for free. Mind you, as we know, there are many who will try every trick in the book to leave a hotel without paying the bill! It's an appalling mentality and it's seriously damaging the audio industries, not to mention the music and film industries.

So, you may hope that sales of your disk through fully legal outlets like bookshops and internet bookshops will balance out the losses caused by piracy. Unfortunately no, they won't - at least, it isn't likely. All bookshops, whether internet-based or situated on the streets, take, as standard practice, 65% of the Recommended Retail Price of the books and talking-books that they offer for sale. Furthermore, they do not buy disks from you but rather only take a few copies in the hope that they will sell. If they sell, the store then forwards you your 35% and asks you for copies to replace the ones that have sold. And just as they don't pay you for these in advance, neither do they cover the cost of postage to their distributor, warehouse, or receiving department. You must pay for that as well. Thus, at the end of the day, the publisher receives just 30% of the Recommended Retail Price. Your disc will therefore have to be sensational to move enough copies to generate enough return for you to make a profit, since that 30% you've got back has got to cover all your costs. But, and here is the awful paradox, if your disc IS "sensational", you can guarantee that an army of conscienceless pirates will rise up out of nowhere and be offering it for free on illegal internet sites that you simply cannot keep tabs on. Thus you are most likely to find it difficult to cover your costs.

The talking-book industry is only viable for large internationally-spread companies that can manage to keep ahead of the losses by selling absolutely massive numbers of each item worldwide by a process of international marketing and saturation.

I hope all of the above will help answer people's questions.

Another Creative Project Completed.

Long ago I discovered that creative satisfaction can be derived from many different sources because creative satisfaction, for me at any rate, largely derives from being able to perceive the DIFFERENCE that I have made - how I have taken something, be it a role, a script, or an object, and breathed new life into it, altered it, and improved it. Why am I saying this? Well, as explanation really for not having posted anything on this blog for too many months! Here's what we've been up to.

The exterior of the house is finally finished. It's been nerve-wracking and exhausting and the whole process has taken, so far, almost an entire year. All we have to do now is get oak flooring down throughout the ground-floor, replace the bathroom, plant the garden, and then, at last, probably by the end of this summer, we'll be able to fully unpack. Anyway, here now, in the hills of Shropshire, is the fruit of eleven months of another sort of very trying but extremely fulfilling creative work!

I Saw Ben Barka Get Killed

I have just watched "I Saw Ben Barka Get Killed" (France, 2005: "J’ai vu tuer Ben Barka)". See this extraordinary film, if you haven't already! Something akin in style to film noir and also to Oliver Stone's "JFK", it seeks to piece together everything that is known about the disappearance of Mehdi Ben Barka, the anti-colonialist left-wing Moroccan dissident who linked leaders of The Third World (Africa, Asia and Latin America) with a view to seeking their emancipation and an end to American domination. But be warned that you will at times not be sure what is happening in the course of this reconstruction: this is only because much is unsure concerning the disappearance of Ben Barka. However, what is known is that at some level the French police were involved, as were the CIA, Moroccan secret services, and the underworld. The score is dark and delicious night-time 60s jazz. And much of the action takes place in a cold, unwelcoming, and inpenetrable Paris.

So if, like me, you cannot forgive the French their arrogance in seeing nothing wrong in using the once-pure waters of the South Pacific as a place to play at nuclear testing (up until 1998 France set off 193 nuclear detonations around the Polynesian islands of Mururoa and Fangataufa), and if you remember how France dispatched secret agents to New Zealand to blow up the protest yacht Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour (killing a man in the process), then there will be much in this film for which you will be grateful to its very brave director, Serge Le Peron.

Edmund Hillary,
New Zealand Mountaineer

Today Edmund Hillary has died, aged 88, and New Zealand and Nepal have been plunged into grief. There is also widespread sadness here in the UK and elsewhere across the globe. New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark describes him as having been "a colossus", and this he was for Edmund Hillary climbed to the icy roof of the Earth when people thought it impossible, and when mountaineers had only simple woollens to keep them warm and boots with nails driven through the soles to help them forwards.

Hillary epitomised that brave, bold, pioneering spirit that is bred in new lands, free of the disempowering shackles of history and of habit. He was also the antithesis of self-seeking. Happy with enough to live comfortably by, this one man created (amongst other things) thirty schools & severals hospitals for the Nepalese people and thus put the avarice of multinationals to shame.

A new life, on Offa's Dyke.

O dear, things have become somewhat happily derailed! We've moved! We're now practically bang on the old Welsh-English border and in even more splendid countryside than when in wild West Wales. Add to this the purest of air, and the sweetest symphony of birdsong in a valley of otherwise silent tranquillity . . . and you understand why we're here. There's a lot to be done though. 90% of the interior is to be gutted, & the exterior too will be transformed. So, what I'm really trying to say (to those very sweet people who have been emailing to ask where the next CDs are) is, sorry, but it's going to be a good while yet. But when it happens we'll email all those on the mailing list. (If you change your address, do drop me a line to let us know. See the Contact page for the email address.)

The passion of the Greeks

Just back from an inspiring break on the island of Crete. I have been struck through, yet again, by the extraordinary passion of the Greeks as expressed in in their laiko (popular song) and in its stronger form the rembetika. I have been driven to my collection of songs by Manos Hadjidakis & Mikis Theodorakis and to Greek radio. Somehow this glorious Greek music of today does seem to link back to the wondrous myths of ancient Greece.

All over Crete are images of the minotaur, ancient and modern. The picture above shows a modern depiction that hung in the stairwell of our hotel in Matala.

Comments from 5 November 2006 to 20 April 2007.

20 April 2007:

Thanks for your enquiry, Stewart, and delighted to hear you enjoy "The Unnameable". As for more Lovecraft, I am afraid not. Lovecraft is under copyright and we only have the permission of the Lovecraft Estate for that initial CD now available under the revised title of "The Unnameable". What we have been doing is pushing ahead with two recordings of stories that inspired Lovecraft - and I can assure you that these stories are so powerful and so great that one can IMAGINE Lovecraft having been excited by them, so excited in fact that he wrote all that he did! In other words, what we have lined up are truly great stories and lovers of Lovecraft are almost certain to find them thrilling. There is however a hitch! Everything is now on hold because a big "relocation" is under way! Once we're resettled into the new accommodation though, everything will be getting back into action and the new discs should be out by the end of this year. Thanks again for your message, and best wishes. David.

16 April 2007:
Hi David. Any news on more Lovecraft? (I play your Unnameable repeatedly!)
Stewart Brighouse, Oxford, UK.

18 February 2007:
This is a great site! Thank you for sharing.
"For Ever More", Dover, Delaware, USA.

16 February 2007:
Jason, thanks for your message! Very generous of you to let us know your reaction to "The Tell-Tale Heart". So glad to hear to hear you enjoyed it. Thanks for asking about the possibility of us recording "The House of Usher" and "The Conqueror Worm". I seem to remember "The House of Usher" is a little unusual in terms of structure towards the end? I can't quite recall. I need to have another look at it sometime. Anyway, I'm sure we could deal with that. Thanks for both ideas - I've put them both on the growing list of "future possibilities"! Best Wishes, David.

7 February 2007:
Hi, looking forward to receiving "The Tell-Tale Heart"! Enjoyed immensely the recording of "The Masque of the Red Death" etc. Superb atmospheric reading underpinned by exquisite music! Any plans to record Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" and/or the awesome poem, "The Conqueror Worm"?
Jason Dickinson. Carmarthen, Wales. jasond (at)

6 February, 2007.
Just in case people have had this site bookmarked in their browsers, please note it is no longer to be hosted at freeuk but it can now be accessed directly at (The freeuk site will go dead any day now.) David.

5 February, 2007.
Neil, many thanks for the suggestion re. recording Arthur Machen. I would love to. His style is gripping, isn't it. There are two hurdles though, unfortunately. Firstly, most of his best works are very long - so we would be talking about an extremely complicated and costly process which would involve many discs. Secondly, Machen's work is protected and so there would probably be a long and difficult period of negotiation over rights, conditions, and fees, with no guarantee that an acceptable agreement could be reached. This probably explains why there is little Arthur Machen currently out there in any professional form. However, Neil, Machen is still something that we could look into, at least. Thanks very much for the suggestion. David.

4 February, 2007.
David, your news that you are "gearing up to produce featuring stories which inspired Lovecraft..." was indeed very interesting. The first name that comes into my mind is Arthur Machen who deserves to be far better known and who was truly a huge influence on Lovecraft. Best Wishes, Neil
Neil Talbot. Redditch, U.K., cenbe (at)

23 January 2007.
Hi there. I just want to say my girlfriend got me me all three of your discs for Christmas and I've been enjoying them ever since. Soooooo RICH! Great stuff! Looking forward to more!
Peter Kowalski. Maryland, USA.

12 Dec. 2006
Neil, delighted to hear you enjoyed "The Unnameable" and that you'ld like to hear more. It really is very encouraging to receive a message like this as the whole business of recording is extremely demanding. And thanks too for your suggestion of H G Wells, and those two stories, in particular. I will certainly put them on the list AND look into them.
You might be interested to know that we are gearing up to produce a disc featuring stories which inspired Lovecraft and Poe. Having been immersed in the words of both these writers and having enjoyed the similarity between them, it is thrilling now (AND very interesting) to study earlier works which are not only also similar (terrifyingly similar!) but which triggered Lovecraft and Poe to write the masterpieces they did.
Thanks again for writing. And have a very pleasant Christmas! - David.

12 Dec. 2006
After hearing the Lovecraft Audio Book - like most listeners - I am left wanting for more, and do hope the Lovecraft Estate loosens up. However, as an alternative, has it yet been suggested to you that your reading of H G Wells short stories would be an experience to savour? I was thinking perhaps of 'The Door in The Wall' and 'The Cone'.
Neil Talbott, Redditch, Worcs, UK. cenbe (at)

27 Nov. 2006.
Thanks, Ashley, & Doug, but copyright can be a major challenge! Unfortunately we only have the permission of the Estate of H. P. Lovecraft for that one disc, initiated back in 2002. For the time being another company holds exclusive audio rights to Lovecraft. However, fingers are crossed for the future! - David.

26 Nov. 2006.
I'd like to echo Ashley below. Another disc of Lovecraft would be fab! Any chance?
Doug Henderson, Denver, USA.

23 Nov. 2006.
Hi. Just to say I still treasure my copy of The Unnameable & I've just ordered both Poes. Any chance of The Rats in the Walls (Lovecraft) please? Also The Hound?
Ashley Pietroni, Portsmouth, Ohio, USA.

This page was begun on 5 November 2006.

1 2