Monday 28th May ~ Theatre Ghosts and Spiritual Guidance - Sir Lawrence Olivier



I first met Sir Lawrence Olivier when he was patron of the (1)National Theatre of the Deaf, which I was attached to as resident choreographer. It was around 1970 and Sir Lawrence, his triumphant performance as the Moor in Othello not that long behind him, was sitting around half-way back in the stalls, intently watching our performance of “The Odyssey”.

Sir Lawrence was also battling cancer, but it was hard to tell because he was so strong. The company was just turning professional, thanks to the actors union Equity granting membership to the deaf actors and actresses. In those days, Equity ran a ‘closed shop’; a ‘catch 22’ situation, where you had to have an Equity card to get a job, but could only get a card, by having a job - if you see what I mean. This resulted in all sorts of schemes and ‘wheezes’; would-be professionals would take jobs as strippers, alternative comedians, club singers etc, in order to obtain the coveted card. Not only that, but a probationary period of around 40 weeks, then had to be achieved, before the new member could take a lead part, or a West End role. I can remember that the Hexagon Theatre in Reading, had to give up their plan of having the glamour model Samantha Fox, as the lead in their Christmas pantomime because she lacked the little red card that looked so like the little red driving licences we had back then..

But back to Sir Lawrence. Night after night he would sit and watch our performances, his spectacles glinting in the half-light of the auditorium. I often wondered why he was so involved - after all as a Patron, a simple annual visit would have been enough. I eventually came to the conclusion that he really was ‘taken’ by our use of ‘sign-mime’…

The relationship of Sign-mime to normal deaf sign language parallels the relationship of poetry to prose. The symbolic everyday deaf-sign gestures are simplified and then made more visually beautiful and expressive. As a young performer, I was fascinated with deaf sign-language and found I had a natural ability for it. I expect it had something to do with my expressive dance and mime training, much of it from the fundamental training I had received from the work of Rudolf Laban. Even today, some of our performances are ‘signed’ by a visiting interpreter, for the benefit of deaf people in the audience. One of our regular ‘signers’ is (2) Paul Whittaker. Paul is profoundly deaf, but has enough residual hearing and skill, not only to complement the performance, but also to enhance it.

Sir Lawrence watched and watched, hunched forward in his seat, in full concentration. His relationship with the deaf actors was also very good, but one remarked that, if he was such a good actor, why was he so hard to lip-read? It was true; if you look at Olivier in one of his many films, you will see that he hardly moves his lips; the beautifully spoken lines are totally formed, modulated and delivered from somewhere deep inside his mouth, entering the world through remarkably still lips. It made me think that, if deafness was the ‘norm’, Sir Lawrence would have been lucky to have made the chorus, never mind the status of leading actor-legend of our time!

At the end of Sir Lawrence’s three-day visit, we all lined up ‘royalty-wise’ on stage, and he walked along the line, shaking hands and having a brief conversation with each one of us in turn. Eventually he came to me; I was impressed and aware of how strong he was. He stood in front of me, his shoulders so broad in the dark blue blazer he was wearing, that they made him seem rather smaller than his 5’10” height. “Thank you” he said through unmoving lips, “We’ll work together again.” I was thrilled – until I found out that he’d said the same thing to every member of the cast line-up!

And there the story of my brief association with Olivier might have ended – a pleasant reminiscence from my rather long career, except for an occurrence at spiritualist church a few months ago.

We had reached the part of the service, where the visiting medium gives messages ‘from beyond’ to members of the congregation. Eventually she came to me. “I have an actor here” she said; “he was a famous Shakespearean actor, the most famous actor of his time….he played all the major roles in Shakespeare’s plays…he say’s he is going to work with you…


I am the Owl and the Echo

(1) The National Theatre of the Deaf was founded by Pat Keysall, the presenter of BBC television’s ‘Vision On’. I first met Pat, when she was director-presenting an episode of the series, in which I played the Sorcerer in a dance version of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. I was to meet Pat, a few years later, when she needed a choreographer for her newly formed Theatre of the Deaf performing company. I always admired Pat’s simple and sincere approach to her work. She never disguised the fact that the performers were profoundly deaf and she brought out performances of surprising quality, from initially untrained deaf people. I followed her lead by refusing to stand, just out of the sight of the audience and wave my arms up and down in time with the music, to give a bogus impression that they could really dance to the music. Of course deaf people can dance, but their sense of rhythm comes from an internal drive and is distinct and separate from dancing to music. It could be considered that they dance to the rhythm of emotion and of life.

Pat’s son Mike McGurk was the drummer in the company’s small orchestra and together we experimented with sound-to-light converters, where his drum beats were translated into rhythmic light pulses, which we incorporated into our stage-lighting plot.

Sadly the attitude toward deaf people at that time was cosmetic, in the sense that they were encouraged to ‘fit in’ with hearing society, by appearing ‘normal’. Many schools banned sign-language, even between the deaf pupils themselves, and in consequence, severely hampered their interaction and communication with each other. Deaf children were discouraged from shouting or talking too excitedly, so that ‘normal’ people would not be offended by the ‘strange’ sounds they made. I was disappointed with our first review, where the theatre critic, obviously wishing I had been standing in the wings and drilling them to stay on the beat (of something they couldn’t hear) wrote: “And the choreography was regrettably crude.” What an idiot.


(2) Paul runs an organization that you may be interested in contacting and supporting….



Wednesday 23rd May ~ All Creatures Great and Small

So, I’ve bailed-out for a few days, with my Almanack entry on “Fraud”. The reason this week is lack of time. I didn’t realise when I started on the story of “The Cottingley Fairies”, quite how much information and links to spiritual matters I would find. So rather than push together a hurried entry, I have decided to continue writing it during this week and put it on-line either this coming Sunday evening, or Monday morning.

I have been spending a lot of time with Webmeister Alison, bringing together the ‘fun’ additions to the site. Of all of them, I’m most fascinated with the Virtual Host (V-Host). The V-Host is linked to a general knowledge database, I guess somewhere in the States and it is really fun to use. The important thing is to treat the little figure as human and make statements, eg: I am fed-up/happy/sad/angry etc. This seems to set up a conversation mode and I think you will be impressed. However, now that all (well nearly all) the ‘bling’ additions to the site have been put in place, it’s time to input some serious articles. I have two in the pipeline which will appear as soon as Alison has finished her current, north of the border production of My Fair Lady – Good Luck Alison!

But back to the V-Host - as well as linking into the USA database, I can update and modify the responses given, to suit this site. Naturally, over the coming months, I will be inputting as much spiritual information as I can. I would be delighted to receive your comments eg: any answers that were insufficient or one’s that you disagreed with. I would, of course, upgrade the V-Host accordingly.

All Creatures Great…

I am sickened by the continual reports in the news, about yet another stabbing, vicious beating, torture and atrocity. The human body is the most wonderful construction; strong and yet so vulnerable and delicate.

It is interesting how religions often shy away from a glorification of the human body, but rather focus on its undesirable(?) Carnality. I can remember Mark Brandist, himself a spiritual medium, suddenly turn to the congregation one Sunday and exclaim “Have you ever seen a fit medium?” The congregation looked startled and then seeing the truth of his observation, burst into laughter. The laughter subsequently increased when Mark did a hilarious impression of a medium staggering up to the lectern.

Shakespeare got it right:

“What a piece
of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in
faculties! in form and moving, how express and
admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension,
how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of

Maybe the Yobs should think of that, when they next ‘stick the boot’ in. Sadly they’d only laugh.


…..And Small


It is arrogance that makes us assume that the earth is only for us and all the creatures on it, only for our benefit. We share this space with the most wonderful creatures, who have an equal right to existence.




I went small game hunting in the Grove the other day and ended up stalking a bumble (humble) bee. I must have looked very odd, scampering about with my camera. Bee’s humble or otherwise, don’t know how to pose for a photograph.



photos by soulMerlin


Enjoy the world, it is yours - to share.



I am the owl and the echo

Monday May 14th ~ Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Last week’s visit to the North-West, was very nostalgic. I first went to Blackpool, with “Joseph” around twenty-five years ago. I can remember that things were more extravagant then – we would probably say ‘tasteless’ and a bit ‘trash-flash’ nowadays – and yet I feel a sense of confinement, a feeling of a ‘lack of freedom’, when I compare today’s life-style, to those times.

Here are two spiritual stories from “Joseph”.



Peter Lawrence (left) with Mike Holoway (Joseph) and Adoring Fan

Photo by Mandy Andrew

Our first “Blackpool Jacob” was Peter Lawrence. Peter was one of the most delightful, outrageous – and spiritual people I have ever met. When Peter eventually passed away, a new actor was auditioned to play the part. One night Matt, a previous company member, brought a friend to see the show when we were performing at ‘The Grand’ theatre in Swansea. Matt’s friend happened to be a clairvoyant, who thoroughly enjoyed the show, but asked; “Why were their two Jacob’s on stage?”

It would seem that Peter had not really left us…


Last September’ish, the Joseph Company visited the Edinburgh Festival Theatre. At the end of one performance, P approached me and whispered, “…During Caanan Days, a young boy took hold of my hand.” I was at first slightly irritated, as we often have a bit of restlessness amongst the local choirs, who perform on-stage with us, but then P continued: “the invisible child…whoever it was…took hold of my right hand. There are no children on that side!”.

Indeed there were no children to P’s left – only a 10’ drop to the centre of the stage. Now P was a sensitive lad, who played Benjamin and who being very talented, was at once a suspect for possible ‘romantic delusion’. But no…for the next three or four nights, P consistently reported his supernatural experiences. “A little girl took my other hand.”

I must admit to being rather excited at this stage; theatre ghosts have occurred several times during my career and each time has been a learning experience and this particular unfolding ‘event’ had a ring of authenticity about it:

It seems that the Festival Theatre was built upon the burned-out ruins of the Empire Theatre, (note: 12th June 2007 ~ exact details of the blaze, its causes and the resultant damage are awaiting verification ~ see comments 3 & 4 at end of post) which was destroyed on May 11th 1911, in a fire that started during a performance of “The Great Lafayette”, an American Illusionist. Lafayette, employed two children, a boy and a girl who were also midgets; the boy was the girl’s understudy and together they played many parts throughout the performance. During one of the elaborate illusions, an on-stage horse ‘shied’, upsetting a brazier which then set alight to the scenery; subsequently reduced the whole theatre to ashes. Lafayette and nine members of his company, including the two children, perished in the blaze.

A group of us, who I will call the “Psychic Circle”, held an ‘on-stage’ séance….I can remember asking P to choose the on-stage space to hold the ‘meet’; P chose ‘back-stage-left’ in the wings.

I opened proceedings with an excerpt from the Gospel of St, Mary, and welcomed the two spirits…
We were sitting in a circle; Myself, P, (sound No2) D (The Butler), S (Apache Girl), A (Jacob No2) R The Baker) and J…the events that followed were delightful:

At first P whispered that ‘they’ had arrived and were cuddling up to him, on either side. Then P whispered “they’re going”. Almost at once, G, on the opposite side of the circle, remarked that he sensed two children playing around him. (It was as if they had run over from P, to go and play with G). I forgot to say that P had also played a ‘One Potato – Two Potato’ game with the invisible pair who then went to D, who also played the same game - seemingly with thin air. We all left the seance in a very happy mood…

P (when he felt their presence backstage) asked the children why they stayed ‘earthbound’ – he received an emphatic “because we like it here”.

On the last night, P said goodbye to the two children “Alice Dale” and …”Joseph”. Yes, Joseph! Not only that, but his surname was ‘Coats’ – Joseph Coats.

Sometimes co-incidence can be stretched too far in an attempt to ‘explain-away’ events like this one.



I am the Owl and the Echo

Sunday 6th May ~ “The Winds of Change”

The winds of change are blowing…

I had just put the phone down this morning, after talking to the friend who told me about Martin’s Oak. I’d been thinking about S. – he’d gone to hospital at the beginning of the week, after suffering bouts of breathlessness. Now S. has been going in and out of hospital, over the last few years and I guess I’d got used to the fact that he’d disappear for several days and then return, as right as rain – not say much – and just get on with it.

This call was different; he was confused and sleepy, “they gave me a double heart pass”.

Now S. isn’t particularly old; he’s a sort of late 40’s, ex-dancer; pretty fit sort of person and so it was a shock.

S. is fun,
S. has a nice house,
S. has a good relationship,
S. has ducks.
(S. is kind - he gives me duck-eggs)

Now I think S. will get over this health problem. Everything had gone well with the operation and now it’s just a matter of recuperation, rest, rehabilitation and most importantly, the acceptance of change.

Good luck S. (and D.)


It was a golden spring evening when I first met Martin-of-the-Oak. He looked out over the fields toward the solitary oak tree that S. had told me about…

“Nothing is ours really” he said, “The people who owned the farm before – they’ve gone.” It’ll all change; always has. He looked at me “The universe is a loop” he said.



Now the significance was not lost. The symbol for infinity is a loop; it just seemed strange, coming from the mouth of a farmer, rather than a college lecturer. I have a mistrust of ‘unqualified’ or ‘lay’ advice, when it comes to matters of cosmology and physics. I have to fight against the conditioning that learning can only be genuine, real and true, if it comes from the mouth, pen or keyboard of a ‘qualified practitioner’ I would not go to a self-taught surgeon and I’m pretty sure that S’s surgeon had all the relevant letters after his name. Neverthless I listened intently to Martin as he continued…

“…Even time changes; the seasons get longer and shorter. Heat is energy, you know… …you can’t get sound through heat very well… I see that on the top of bonfires when they’re burning. Jet engines…that’s the principle…the sound can’t get through the heat, aircraft designers know all about that…

…everything is happening at the same time, only we can’t see it all, just our little bit…”

As Martin continued his rambling conversation, that owed more to Stephen Hawking than Percy Thrower, we approached The Oak.



The oak has a power, a radiation and a vibrating charisma that would stop anyone in their tracks. If you personify that power, it becomes the Green Man; formidable and a bit frightening, but good in a rather non-pious way. Forget the ‘good’ that is based on the moral values and customs of any particular one place or time; the ‘good’ I am talking about is that of life and growth, as opposed to death, destruction and religious/political censorship and control.



The Green Man’s image begins to blur and all the qualities that I have personified as human, quiver in the air, yet stay and become stronger as the ‘Man of Green’ fades and the tree glows with a natural and unspecified power.

I realise that I am seeing life…

Maybe I am wrong and maybe also Martin in a way - wrong but also right - and all at the same time. Life is ours,(for a while anyway). We do own it, but we must recognise the process of change. As soon as we try to hold onto a moment, it slips through our fingers. It’s slipping all the time really – and it should. If it sticks, we die.

I remember one gloriously happy Sunday in 1999. We were playing at Newcastle Theatre Royal for a week and my friends from the show, J. V. and T., came over to Durham, where I was staying with my mother. Christina took us on a walk around the river banks. At 84 yrs of age, she skipped ahead of us; so proud to show us her favourite walks. It really was a wonderful day; sunny and mild. I can remember thinking, ‘this is as good as it gets’. We were all very happy and like Dylan Thomas we “sang in our chains like the sea”

Of course, things did inevitably change; T and V grew apart and J and I have grown together. Whatever we do, we cannot go back. Christina has slipped her chains, but her charisma and essence is still around, even stronger now that her outline, like that of the Green Man, has dissolved into the process that James Lovelock calls ‘the Gaia’, after the Greek goddess of the Earth.

I have to accept the fact that, although my bathroom mirror can still whisper a kind lie, my reflection in shop windows, tells a different story - I have aged and I have changed. Somewhere along the line, the sweet bird of youth took to the skies. I think it tensed and looked skyward when I was around 39, and then flew off slowly,toward the sun. I can still see it in the mirror occasionally – but no one else does.


It’s been a great week, with blue skies and a warm stillness that I could feel, right down to my bones. Predictably today was grey and windy. Neverthless, having failed to get to the oak, during the sunny weekdays, I set off in the car, all 329,000miles of it, (the car’s mileage, not the journey) and arrived at The Oak.



Never has the Green Man looked so beautiful to my eyes. The change in the two weeks since I last visited, has transformed it into the most verdant oak tree I can ever remember seeing.

In place of the animal-like buds and the finger like catkins (the oak has both male and female) were young ‘May Leaves’.


But the wind was blowing and it was hard to find a brief moment of calm to make sure my photo’s were sharp. Every time I framed the picture, a gust of wind would swirl through the ancient branches and my carefully composed photograph would alter and blur – just when I thought I’d ‘got it’, things would change.




It was getting really chilly and I was thinking of home and a hot cup of tea, when I heard footsteps behind me. Martin had seen me from the farmhouse and had wandered over. His mood was like the weather…



Martin has the problem that is shared by many farmers in this country; his farm is too small to produce enough to make a living, due to the artificial price structure set by the EEC; unable to compete with imported product, Martin has to live off government grants, whi ch are awarded, as long as he does not produce. His land is lying to waste. If we had a programme to supply food to countries with populations that are starving, Martin could put his rich land to good effect. If he did now, the grants would be withdrawn and he would go bankrupt.

For Martin and all the farmers who share his inability to change (other than turning his farm into a hotel and his land into a golf course) I pray for the winds of change to blow…


The wind of change blows straight
Into the face of time
Like a stormwind that will ring
The freedom bell for peace of mind
Let your balalaika sing
What my guitar wants to say

Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow share their dreams
With you and me

Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow dream away
In the wind of change
Title :Scorpions - Wind of Change

The wisdom of the oak - No one knows their fate.



I am the Owl and the Echo


all pictures by soulMerlin

soulMerlin’s Almanack is proudly powered by WordPress and themed by Mukka-mu