A few months after appearing in Jim Cartwright’s bitter-sweet two-hander “Two”, I performed in one final play at the Rose and Crown theatre, the character-driven comedy “Lovelives”. Written entirely by the cast, it consisted of a series of sketches centring on the disastrous antics of a group of singletons who'd come together at a lonely hearts club in the suburbs. Perhaps then it chimed perfectly with the spirit of British post-war comedy and its characteristic celebration of banality and even failure. A great success at the R&C, it could in my view have been developed into a television play or even series, but sadly as is all too often the case, a brilliant cast dispersed after the final show.
The following year I played two small roles in a production at the Tristan Bates theatre near Leicester Square of the famous Greek tragedy "Iphigeneia in Taurois" (sic), written by Euripides somewhere between 414 and 412 BC, these being Pylades, constant companion of the main character Orestes, and the Messenger, whom I played as a maniacal fool with the kind of “refained” English accent once supposedly affected by policemen, NCOs and so on. Directed by a close friend, the houses were sparse at first, picking up towards the end of the run.
Then in January '96, I joined a Christian theatre company based at the Elim Pentecostal church in West Croydon, Surrey called Street Level, going on to serve variously as MC, script writer, actor, singer and musician with two other members, married company leader Serena, and 19 year old Rebecca from nearby Sanderstead.
Together, we toured a series of shows around schools in various - usually tough - multicultural areas of South East London. One of these, “Choices”, was almost entirely written by me, although it had been based on an idea by Serena who also heavily edited it for performance purposes. On the whole, the kids were incredibly receptive to our productions, and we were greeted by them with an almost uniform affection, while there was a good deal of chemistry between Serena, Rebecca and myself.
Towards the end of the summer, Serena asked me to write a large scale project for the group, suggesting a contemporary version of John Bunyan's classic Christian allegory “The Pilgrim’s Progress”. And I duly spent several weeks labouring over the project until it had evolved into “Paul Grim's Progress”, an unwieldy epic which while sporadically inspired was grossly immature in spiritual terms...with some straight out of a contemporary horror movie, and others verging on the frankly Rabelaisian.
Quite understandably it was never produced; while in time, I came to destroy all but a few pages of it.
Its painstaking conception had left me poor shape spiritually, and I didn't fancy too many more of the long and costly train journeys that were necessary to get me to Croydon and back. Consequently I began to withdraw from Street Level, which wasn't a very kind thing to do because Serena had started to depend on me, especially since Rebecca's departure at the end of the “Choices” tour. What's more, she'd taken on the responsibility of new productions, and the training of a fresh crew of young Christian actors.
By the time I made my final exit, I'd long defected from Cornerstone to the Thames Vineyard Christian Fellowship, part of the Association of Vineyard Churches founded by John Wimber in the 1970s. This was as a result of being told by a phone friend that the Vineyard movement contained members whose spiritual gifts were in the realm of the truly exceptional. My curiosity aroused, I went along one Sunday evening and had a powerful experience which made me want to stay; and so I did.
As with Cornerstone I joined a home fellowship group where I completed part of the Alpha course, which had been pioneered by Nicky Gumbel of West London's famous Holy Trinity Brompton.
As a matter of fact, I'd visited HTB at some point in the mid '90s, when it was at the height of the revival movement known as the Toronto Blessing. This was so called because it had been ignited in January 1994 at the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church by St. Louis Vineyard pastor Randy Clark, who'd himself received it from South African evangelist Rodney Howard Brown during a service at Rhema Bible Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, then pastored by Kenneth Hagin Jr., father of the Word of Faith movement. Word Faith being now one of the major strains of Charismatic Christianity, with its emphasis on “Positive Confession”.
The Anointing spread to the UK in the summer of 1994 where it was eventually dubbed The Toronto Blessing by The Daily Telegraph. Its main centres included HTB, Terry Virgo's New Frontiers family of churches and Gerald Coates' Pioneer People. Pioneer's centre at the time was a cinema in the Surrey suburb of Esher, which I visited a couple of times, and which was so packed that I was forced to stand all throughout the service, a situation which was duplicated when I dropped in at the London HQ of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God one afternoon around about the same time. Like many Charismatic churches, UCKG upholds the Fivefold ministry, and so believes that the five gifts referred to in Ephesians 4:11, namely Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher, are still in operation.
My last hurrah as an actor came in the spring of '98, when I started rehearsing for a production of Shakespeare's infamous Scottish Play, to be staged at Fulham's Lost Theatre in the summer...and despite the fact that my three cameos - as Lennox, the Doctor, and an Old Man - were praised by cast and audience members alike, I've not acted since beyond a handful of ill-fated auditions. What's more, while I'm still open to the possibility of film or TV work, the likelihood of my ever appearing on stage in a play again is virtually nonexistent. Quite simply, the passion to perform in front of a live audience that raged within me like a forest fire for more than two decades has long been extinguished.
I think I wrote the prose piece that eventually turned into “Such a Short Space of Time” in the glorious summer of 1999, which was of course the last of the millennium. My parents were on vacation at the time, so I was often at the house where I'd spent my adolescence and young manhood, performing a variety of tasks such as watering my mother’s flowers, or just simply soaking up the atmosphere of a place I loved.
Taking cunning advantage of my parents' absence I transferred some of my old vinyl records onto cassette, something that my own ancient hi-fi was incapable of doing. It was an unsettling experience...to listen to songs that, perhaps in the cases of some of them, I’d not heard for ten or fifteen years, or more, and which evoked with a heartrending intensity a time in my life when I was filled to the brim with sheer youthful joy of life and undiluted hope for the future.
Yet as I did so, it seemed to me that it was only very recently that I'd first heard them, despite the colossal changes that had taken place since, not just in my own life but those of my entire generation. And so I was confronted at once with the devastating transience of human life, and the effect the passage of time exerts on us all.
Such a Short Space of Time
I love…not just those…
I knew back then,
Who were young
But who've since
Come to grief, who…
Having soared so high,
Too dreadful to bear,
With my past itself,
Which was only
No…even less time…
A moment ago,
And when I play
Records from 1975,
Twenty years melt away
What is a twenty-year period?
Little more than
A blink of an eye…
Such a short space
Cause such devastation?