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A Westfield Narrative
by Carl Halling
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A Westfield Narrative 1

Initially I bitterly resented becoming a student again at Westfield, perhaps because it'd only been just a little over a year after my modest triumph at the Old Vic and that I felt that by becoming a student again, I was taking a giant step backwards as an actor. After all, I'd be 30 by the time of my final year. It wasn't long, however, before Westfield started to become something of a paradise for me, not just in terms of the dozens of fellow students whom I genuinely loved, but the almost unlimited opportunities for acting and performance the college provided me with. Westfield in the early '80s was a hotbed of talent and creativity and I wasted little time in immersing myself in it.
Within days I'd made a close friend of Andrew, a fellow French and Drama student from Darlington. Before long, we were both being directed by a dynamic and flamboyant guy called Lee in Brecht's "The Threepenny Opera". I had two small parts, the most interesting being Filch, a petty street thief played by the French writer and actor Atonin Artaud in "L' Opéra de quat'sous", the Francophone version directed by Pabst. I was immensely proud of this fact, because being the benighted fool that I was back then Artaud was one of my most cherished cursed poets. Through this production I made many more friends including two young women, one an actress, the other a musician, with whom I went on to form especially close friendships, but I was close to everyone. Through the Brecht I went on to play Galactic Jack in Sam Shephard's "The Tooth of Crime" directed by Neil Fryer, with Andrew playing the lead role of Hoss, with another close friend Jessica Martin playing. I also played guitar in the house band, named after the play itself.

A Westfield Narrative 2

I channelled so much of my creative energy into acting at Westfield and before long had all but forgotten about becoming famous beyond the college that became my whole world for two glorious years. In the summer, a group of us went on to play in "Twelfth Night" at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Directed by Dawn Austwick with hippie style costumes designed by Gail Greengross, the original Illyria became an Arcadian late 1960s with me playing Feste as a Dylanesque minstrel strumming dirge-like folk songs with a voice like sand and glue.
The Westfield contingent's key players couldn't have deviated more from the politely liberal norm we seemed to encounter nightly at the Fringe Club on Chambers Street if we'd tried. That was particularly true of Ged, who played Malvolio. At the time he was a hard looking but colossally kind-hearted guy from Liverpool with slicked back rockabilly hair, usually dressed down in denims as per the fashion at the time, with post-Punk at the height of its popularity as an underground movement. It all but passed me by I have to say, as I favoured the more mainstream acts of New Pop, who tended to combine a neo-Glam image with cutting edge electronic instrumentation. This was in many cases a legacy of the underground roots of many New Pop bands.
Ged I think had been around during the Punk days at Eric's in Liverpool, and he was a fascinating, charismatic guy with a hilariously dark sense of humour; in fact we were both corrosively sardonic discontents, but never in a grimly miserabilist way. We were both soft and sensitive at heart, and essentially trusting of human goodness. He and his girlfriend Gail, who'd designed the show as I mentioned earlier, and who was also a very dear friend of mine back then, never stopped encouraging me nor believing in me. We were all very close that summer despite sharing a single large house on Prince's Street I think it was and there wasn't a single argument that I can remember.

A Westfield Narrative 3

During my second year I lived in an upper floor apartment in Powis Gardens, Golders Green, with my two close friends, Andrew and David, from Darlington and Hull respectively. They were both French students, although as I've said before me Andrew also studied Drama. Soon after moving in, I decorated the walls of my room and the lounge, which doubled as David’s bedroom, with various provocative images including reproductions of Symbolist and Decadent paintings, and icons of popular culture and the avant garde. We then went on to organise what we optimistically called a salon, which although well-attended didn't survive beyond a single meeting, although this was well-attended. One thing is certain, we weren't part of any revived Brideshead generation or anything like that.
We drove our effusive landlady half-crazy at times through heavy-footedness and other crimes of upper floor thoughtlessness, although I don't remember her complaining all that much despite the fact that we weren't averse to drink-fuelled discussions extending well into the night. In common with most of my friends I tended to drink heavily at night, but almost never during the day. The fact is that self-doubt wasn't an issue for me in the early eighties any more than depression was. In fact, my first two Westfield years were a neverending round of plays, shows, concerts, discos, parties set against the background of one of the most beautiful and bucolic suburbs of north London. In short I was a truly happy person, in fact so much so that I may have exaggerated my capacity for depth and melancholia as a means of making myself more interesting to others. I wouldn't be long, however, before I started suffering from genuine depressive attacks which were anything but glamourous.

A Westfield Narrative 4

Pretentiously perhaps I like to see my first two Westfield years as symbolic of an entire decade given over to giddy excess, with disaster brewing just beyond the horizon. In a general sense this came in the shape of Black Monday the stock market crash of Monday the 19th of October 1987, which could be said to have put paid to the spirit of the eighties just as effectively as the Great Crash of '29 had spelled the end of the “greatest, gaudiest spree in history”. And then there is the matter of my own personal crisis, whose onset I tend to date from my arrival in Paris just days before my 28th birthday in autumn 1983. The following piece captures the spirit of those heady years at Westfield, a college then in its twilight time prior to being incorporated into Queen Mary on east London’s grim Mile End Road, far, far from the semi-pastoral beauty of Hampstead. It was based on two pages of informal journal notes dating from 1982-’83 in which I wrote firstly of the revels that followed a performance at college of “Twelfth Night” and secondly, another wild party coming in the wake of the performance of a play, this time of Lorca's “Blood Wedding". In this I played the ill-starred Bridegroom, killed after his wife runs off with a love rival, Leonardo

Gallant Festivities

It was my evening, that’s
For sure -
At last I’m good
At something -
27 years old
I may be, but…
“Spot the
Equity card…”
“It’s your aura, Carl…”
I even signed
One of Phil’s friends’
Programmes -
“When are you going
To be a superstar?”
Said Luce
A few days ago -
That seemed to be
The question
On everyone’s lips.
“You got Feste perfectly,
Just how I
envisaged it”
“…Not only when
You’re onstage
but off too!”
At last, at last, at last
I’m good at something…

And so the party…Chloe
called me...I listened…
…To her problems…
To my “innocent face”…
Livvy said:
“Susy seems Elusive
But is in fact,
You’re the opposite -
You give to everyone
But are incapable
Of giving in particular.”
M. was comparing me
To June Miller
Descriptions by Nin:
“She does not dare
To be herself…”
Everything I’d always
Wanted to be,
I now am…
“…She lives
On the reflections
Of herself in the eyes
Of others...
There is no June
To grasp and know…”
I kept getting up to dance…

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Member Comments
Member Date
Carl Halling 31 Oct 2008
Thank you, that is kind of you.


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