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May 19th 2018
Much like Thespis before me, I do a bit of acting from time to time, as I've mentioned here before. This summer sees me returning to the stage for my third dramatic performance with St Anne's Players (fourth if you count my panto appearance last year, which I tend not to), in Alan Ayckbourn's Time of My Life. No, me neither. I'm playing a chap by the name of Glyn not, as one cast member finds himself saying more often than he'd like, Glen who, frankly, is a bit of a jackass.
Let me take you back on an incredibly self-indulgent trip through the roles I have played on stage. Hey, it's my blog, you can leave if you want to. But, er, please stay. My debut came as a vicar cleverly called 'Vicar', if I remember rightly in Beyond a Joke; I entered proceedings mere seconds before the end of the first act, had a fairly substantial chunk at the start of the second act (including being shut in a cupboard) and then died shortly into Act 2 Scene 2. To play the part I adopted a voice that I regarded as vicarly, a view apparently shared by the cast and director (and reviewer), even though various audience members thought I sounded Austrian and/or like Borat. And, when I say 'vicarly', I should say that it wasn't really anything like a genuine vicar my father, for example but seemed to suit the part of a theatrical vicar in a gentle am dram production, and I took some inspiration from the one in Dad's Army. I'm sure it seems unduly grandiose to describe what I did as a portrayal, but there were two things that were important to me in the portrayal: firstly, that it wasn't making fun of vicars (I think I managed this, although in hindsight the comedy socks might have been a step too far); secondly, that the character was never angry or unpleasant. So, for the aforementioned cupboard-shutting-in, I had the line: "What are you doing?", and in early rehearsals I was saying this indignantly understandable in the circumstances but later amended it to genuine curiosity/bewilderment, which I felt was more appropriate. If there was any part of my Dad's character that I adopted in playing the vicar, it was the desire not to offend people. Summing up, then, I think the vicar was awkward but kind, which is essentially all I've ever strived for in my own life. Oh, and if there's anything I was particularly proud of, it was learning to move from the bench to the wheelbarrow (partly being lifted by two others) while still pretending to be dead. That took some practice.
The next character I played was Detective Inspector Twigg, a blundering sidekick for Agatha Crusty (geddit?) in a murder mystery take-off, and he was great fun to play. In the auditions we each tried out for a few different characters, which is an interesting process because you only have a brief period to read the scene and try to figure out how to play each of the parts before being thrust on stage. Well, no one actually thrust me anywhere - and, indeed, it didn't feel very pressurised because we were among friends - but you get the point. I was quite keen not to be typecast as a vicar again (for which part Jim did an excellent job), and I didn't really do anything much with the other parts that I read, but DI Twigg was much more fun. One of the exchanges in the audition scene was something along the lines of: "Are you suggesting it was murder?" / "I'm not suggesting anything at the moment" (with Twigg, in case you hadn't guessed, being the responder rather than the... respondee?), and I thought that was key. Twigg seemed officious, pedantic, and glorying in the small amount of power he had: running with that, I used Boycie from Only Fools and Horses as my starting point, something that was picked up on by a few people.
While I could probably see less of myself in Twigg than in the Vicar (this might be wishful thinking), I really enjoyed playing him, and there was something freeing about being someone who is brash, would-be authoritative and massively over-confident. He's not exactly a sympathetic character, but great fun.
For the panto I played "Guy who has a few lines of exposition and then sings in the background in different jackets". I nailed it.
Which brings me on to Glyn. Unlike the Vicar and Twigg, I'm using my own voice, with the minor amendment that I'm using short A sounds (y'know, bath & grass instead of bath & grass). The reason I'm not doing a northern accent throughout is that, er, I believe the character would have tried to impress his mother by adopting RP, um... or, in fact, the gentler tones of, say, Worcestershire. OK. OK. I can't do an acceptable northern accent for any prolonged period of time. Anyways, in my previous appearances I'd found the voice to be integral to the character - perhaps a bit of a crutch, if I'm honest - so it is a little unnerving to have that stripped away. And this is really the first time I've played someone who is not a comedy stereotype.
Actually, I struggle to see how Glyn is a comedy character at all. Time Of My Life is indeed a comedy, albeit one that's a lot less broad than the last couple I've been in, but Glyn seems to me to be a tragic character stuck in the middle of it (and he's not the only one). No spoilers here, because I hope that you'll come and see us when we do our three-night run in July, but this one is much more of a test of dramatic range than I've ever experienced. Glyn actually has a character arc, unlike the other parts I've played (unless you count the Vicar's arc of going from being alive to sitting down to being dead). This isn't going to be easy.
The other tricky thing about the character is that, as mentioned above, he's a jackass. Not in the blustering, comical way that Twigg was, but in a self-centred, self-pitying kind of way. There are a few moments where he's quite sympathetic, and more moments where he's pitiable, but overall he's not a man I can respect. I've heard real actors say that, in order to play a role, they have to sympathise with the character at least partially - so, even if they're playing a villain, they try to understand the motivations etc. - and I'm trying to do that, but (no spoilers here) Glyn has done things that I can't sympathise with even slightly. I don't really see myself in him (unlike the Vicar), and I definitely don't want to take on his characteristics (unlike Twigg), so it actually presents an exciting new challenge in how to take him on. And, as we've been going through more rehearsals, I've realised that even in the scenes where I saw something sympathetic in him, I was probably misreading the situation a bit.
Last time I wrote about acting I apologised for sounding like a luvvie, but this time I've really leaned into it, to an extent that goes way beyond what my abilities warrant. Sorry again. And, more importantly than all that stuff about understanding the character and taking on the role and blah, blah, blah is that I have a lot of lines I haven't yet learned. Better get cracking.

what am I listening to?
I Feel Free - Cream
what am I reading?
Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
what am I watching?
The Intern
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