Friday, 18 January 2013

The Royal Shakespeare Company presents, Boris Godunov at The Swan Theatre (blogging event)


I was fortunate enough to take part in a blogging event with the Royal Shakespeare Company to watch the acclaimed performance of Boris Godunov at the Swan Theatre. Here is my review of the evening.

Shakespeare’s profound skill and style has influenced masters of literature since the staging of his first show in the mid-1500’s and, really, it’s no wonder. Using the past to portray the present and likely future, his plays were considered controversial and often provoked political debate. However, they remained a great dramatic feat and were, therefore, able to win the hearts of audiences then and now. Incidentally, one playwright that was greatly inspired by the works of Shakespeare was renowned Russian classicist, Alexander Pushkin. Because of this influence, it would only be right for the Royal Shakespeare Company to stage Pushkin’s greatest – arguably – play, Boris Godunov as part of the RSC's ‘A World Elsewhere’ trilogy.

Boris Godunov, written by Pushkin in 1825, based on events beginning in 1598, and performed at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2012/2013 in the first ever professional, uncensored, English spoken run of shows. I think you’ll agree, that covers a vast time period and some incredible historic events that allowed the cast to push boundaries. Time was one of the key themes explored in artistic director Michael Boyd’s production by noting how, like Shakespeare did, some events are not restricted by the bonds of time but rather they flow with it albeit, not always for the good. Assistant director, Emily Kempson, noted how Pushkin’s play transcends with those of Shakespeare because both are timeless – towards the end of the play, the sleek suits, dinner jackets and mobile phones suggested a modern day twist on the 17th century story, endorsing the idea that these events could be relevant to present events. Controversial? Very much so, but Lloyd Hutchinson, (Boris Godunov), claims that controversy was exactly what they intended to convey in order to maintain the taboo reputation of the show. After all, Pushkin wrote Boris Godunov as a piece of political opposition against Tsar Nicholas I’s regime, suggesting that his rule was a parallel of that of Tsar Boris some two hundred years earlier.

From this point, one can deduce that the play revolves around this one antagonist, Boris, when, in fact, this darkly comical piece of theatre struggles to provide the audience with an explicit protagonist. The mystery concerning Boris’ ascendency and the convenient death of the legitimate heir created a spiralling conspiracy against the artificial Tsar involving the betrayal of his own confidants and the imposition of a fake resurrection of the dead heir twelve years later in the form of Grigory, a young monk bored with monastic life. Indeed, each character possesses a sinister agenda in the play with little or no means for charitable action.

However, Boyd’s direction brought the best out of the melancholic plot, aided naturally by Adrian Mitchell’s sometimes witty adaptation. In an exclusive interview after the show, actors Lloyd Hutchinson (Boris Goduov), Gethin Anthony (Grigory), James Tucker (Prince Shuiskii), and Joe Dixon (Afanasii Pushkin) along with assistant director, Emily Kempson, all agreed that the way the piece was interpreted for humorous purposes was a key factor for this play because of the sincere nature of the storyline. I believe this feat was achieved what with the truly comical scene with the bawdy priests, the shrewd banter between the two aristocrats, (Tucker and Dixon) and also the attentive use of light and shade regarding the title character. Despite his treacherous accusation and seemingly inevitable downwards spiral due to his infrequent ruthlessness, this portentous exterior is counteracted by his tenderness towards his young son and heartfelt soliloquies expressing his concerns for the future – expertly acted by Hutchinson – eliciting a sense of sympathy for the character. This emotion reaches a critical climax in the final scene for Boris when he hits rock bottom and a conniving successor seems likely.


Artistically, the piece was just as sleek and interesting as the performance. The traditional Shakespearean trait of simplicity when it comes to, well, everything was apparent throughout due to the minimalistic staging and lighting and the strength of subtext told through elements of costume and paralinguistics. However, this kept a necessary balance because of the sheer weight of the script and the intensity of the plot; Hutchinson stated that quite often these epic plays are too often treated as literature and not theatre which, ironically, limits the power of the writing. One asset in particular was the use of costume, chiefly the long Russian coats which not only represented the passing of time but also, in my opinion, the idea of Russia acting as an ensemble nation and the initiative that rulers both live and die by the mob. This was seen during the war scenes when the coats were used to represent weaponry and also the way that Grigory’s dying horse was acted by a fellow man. Small details, but details nonetheless to create the bigger picture.


As Michael Boyd’s last directing venture with the RSC, he has earned himself a truly royal send off. The series and, more generally, the idea of ‘A World Elsewhere’ of which Boris Godunov is part of lends itself completely to the world today and the issues raised and showcased in the play. Boris Godunov is running at the Swan Theatre in Stratford until the 30th March alongside James Fenton’s The Orphan of Zhao and Bertolt Brecht’s A life of Galileo – unfortunately I only had the chance to officially review one out of the three but I would strongly recommend going to see all three productions in order to gain a wealthier insight into the far-reaching trilogy.

A must see production. Visit the RSC website for tickets or more information at www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/boris-godunov

(Images courtesy and property of the RSC: image 1, Stephen Ventura as Shchelkarlov, Sadie Shimmin as Hostess, Philip Whitchurch as Varlaam; image 2, Gethin Anthony as Grigory)

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Only Us @ Bristol Old Vic

Only us. Two words; what are your first impressions? Solemnity, insignificance, tedium? Or, in contrast, depth, exploration, honesty? Although both sides of this same coin are perfectly applicable, I was inclined to indulge in the latter list of adjectives and hopefully, so did everyone else in reference to Adam Peck’s moving theatrical piece of the two-worded title. I’m glad to say I was not disappointed and, from what I can gather from the audience’s excitable whispers of praise after the performance had ended, so did all who were privy to it.

I was instantly enamoured by the Old Vic’s studio venue for this performance and although this is most likely due to the main auditorium being recently refurbished and used for other such performances, I thought the setting was perfect. This was in no way a glamorous cabaret style show requiring fancy fluorescent lights and decadent pyrotechnics, (not that the Old Vic is famous for cosseting such features anyway), and so the dimly lit dark room with an almost pagan ritual style seating in-the-round layout evoked an atmosphere of eerie anticipation. I eagerly plumped for a front row seat so as to be as close to the action as possible which seemed to be focused around three solitary chairs in a relatively small amount of space but I was aware that my note-taking – however discrete – may prove hazardous to the performers’ concentration. Not to mention the fact that a story involving a person’s notes once being ripped from her hands by one of the actors onstage and thrown around the audience kept playing across my mind. I was sure Adam wouldn’t do such a thing but I didn’t want to take my chances.
My second choice of seat was perfectly adequate and I slowly noticed that wherever I chose to sit would have meant close proximity to the actor(s) as the cast wove in and out of the audience members, calling on single seats that had been previously reserved as a means of reference to the story. This intimacy immediately reflected the personal aspects of this play as it soon became apparent that the stories being told were in fact anecdotes of the lives of the people telling them. This rapport was noted from the very beginning of the play as Adam directly addressed audience members as they entered, briefly conversing with them and even introducing the play himself to everyone. It was only when the lights suddenly went down and he appeared on the opposite side of the studio from which he had last been seen exiting under a spotlight that all became aware that the play had begun.

Now, everyone’s familiar with the traditional proscenium arch stage that you come across in most theatres upon which most shows are performed on. Only Us looked to hypothetically expand on that idea – indeed the Old Vic’s studio is not the largest performance space but when one takes note of the personal concepts of the show, effusive direction and expansive spaces were not necessary. The sporadic layout of the audience chairs meant that Adam and the other actors that were incorporated in the second half of the show could weave in and out, not only symbolising their journeys and interesting time jumps through their lives as they spoke of the events but also allowing them to designate certain areas to certain anecdotes. I became very familiar with the mute childhood friend in the empty chair to my right, the close family circle in the centre and with ‘Lucy’ the aliased girl in the hospital bed across the ward that was situated in the empty chair on the other side of the studio. What is important here is that although the movements of all the actors were staged for the audience’s benefit, they remained genuinely impulsive to the engaged audience member and this way, each was kept continuingly guessing and interpreting.

I remember speaking to Annys Whyatt, (one of the actors), after the performance and asking her, is it not a little daunting spilling your life story to complete strangers in a dark room? And, funnily enough, her answer was simply, yes. However, the clarity, precision and commitment shown by each individual on that night would not have suggested that at all. Frequently actors are shy people which is why they become actors – it give them a persona to take on, to hide behind. The nature of this show did not permit that and, in a way, that makes it all the more difficult to perform. They all remained casual, colloquial and familiar: a fair representation of themselves but also, I infer, a message to the audience that this is purely about life. That way truth was conveyed with alacrity and emphasis, right from the expressive theatrical gestures to the sincerity of vocal detail in order to capture a nine year old self even though the band on your wrist claimed you were twelve. All accounts were refreshing, touching and amusing, in particular the story of Joseph Langdon who, due to his confinement at a young offenders institute told his story through a recording and was represented by another empty chair.

 It was suggested that this show was all about emptiness and loneliness; about never quite getting there or feeling you belong. The light and shade expressed throughout and the strong inkling of wanton independence amongst empty chairs that should be filled echoed this. There seemed to me a strong resonance of juxtaposition between the simplicity of life but then how complicated it can become which is almost always due to the presence of other people. What I would like to question is – is life simple when we’re lonely and complicated when others interfere or is it the other way round?

A thoroughly enjoyable piece of modern theatre. Commendations go to director Caroline Hunt and the writers and performers Adam Peck, Annys Whyatt, Amy-Louise Webber, Penny Reynolds, Kirstie Paul, Kevin Strachan and Joseph Langdon.

 (Image taken from bristololdvic.org.uk)


Saturday, 2 June 2012

Party in the City @ Bath

I liken the atmosphere in Bath on the evening of Friday the 1st of June to the sanguine splendour of Christmas - when one spends endless weeks anticipating the full throttle of the event to the excitement and merriment of the occasion and finally the indefinite buzz that comes the morning after and several mornings after that. Bath's ancient streets were littered with hungry-eyed civilians from the early hours after lunch until the early hours the following morning when eventually all the animation began to die down. By animation I simply mean pure entertainment - bands, street theatre, singer-songwriters, comedians and even choirs were singing, playing and acting their trade for the distant traveller and the hometown gang who came out of the woodwork to enjoy the freedom of one evening that, like Christmas, only comes around once a year. This was Party in the City.

It felt like I had been forever crossing off the days on my calendar until the 1st of June finally came around and so when it did I intended to make the most of it. There's nothing better than spending an evening out on the town than with a couple of friends and so after a late lunch / early dinner, (let's call it 'linner'), at the wonderful Wagamama's, my best friend and I headed on down to meet up with some other people and explore the city in all it's glory. When one thinks of Bath, they are inclined to indulge in thoughts concerning history and diverse culture and there's no shortage of that to be true. However, there is a scene in Bath that is truly authentic and that is it's music. Bath is home to talent beyond that of the oh so favoured celebrity's and this full scale event made sure that the locals, the visitors and the unknowns-but-should-be-knowns could showcase their feats to the audiences that really care.

Kicking off at 6pm and where to go? My itinerary listed numerous acts that I was desperate to see in venues all over the city - the main thing to think about was how fast I could run to get to each establishment before the desired artist could begin. So, logically, I prioritised a certain few and manipulated my unschedueled schedule around those favourites.

I was a little more than surprised to see that the rugby ground was hosting out its training field to a venue known as the Spiegeltent courtesy of Bath Fringe. To me, that conjures up expressive images of trickery, circus antics and regaling revelations so when coupled with the intended act's name 'The Hot Potato Syncopators'... yeah, say no more. After traipsing across neatly mowed but muddily dishevelled lawns, no rugby players in sight, we were welcomed by the entrance to a looming, well, tent but stepping inside proved it to be so  much more. Arranged in a circle with the tables forming the circumference of the said shape, people leaned in to look upon an empty dancefloor and a small stage to one side of it. Drinks in hand, people waited eagerly for the act to arrive and when they did, expectations were certainly met. A trio of penguin-suited gentlemen staged themselves before the audience and, after elegantly executed R.P introductions, took up their ukeleles and began to play. Children swarmed to floor and adults tapped their feet in time to the jazzy 1920's classics that effervesced not just from the delicate instruments they bore but from their faces also - comically British and decidedly effusive bringing smiles to all ages. The mute man especially with his strange talents at playing the saw - and when I say a saw I mean, literally, a saw -  incredible control and skill at juggling and even balancing an umbrella on his head set the standards for the remaining artists I planned on seeing that evening. All three Messrs were quizzically refreshing and their music perfectly charming.

We moved on to the nearby location the Pavilion, well known for hosting comedians as renowned as Jimmy Carr and other music events also. We stumbled through the doors into darkness and then suddenly multi-coloured lights and heavy rock music from rising stars 'Under the Driftwood Tree' who stood high up on the stage towards the back of the vast hall. Despite obvious difficulties with microphone leads getting in the way of bare feet, the band had a natural rapport with their chosen variations of music: acoustic, rock and pop, with the occasional twang of the electric guitar and the rich base of drums giving their music depth and tone. I understand how the lighting was an attempt to reflect the music of the band however I couldn't help feeling somewhat uncomfortable stood there in the darkness amongst a decidedly unenthusiastic and minimalistic audience, (nothing to do with the band themselves), and I was gasping to get back outside into the summer sunshine.
The city centre was wher everything was at and we headed towards the magnificence of the Abbey. Rounding the bend into the courtyard we came face to face with crowds of people, illustrating the popularity of the Party on one level and on another the value of entertainment provided by whatever it was going on before them. Bang! Something sounded behind us and I turned to see two grown men resplendant in attire similar to that off of Harry Potter. At last, some street theatre. The courtyard was alive with comical improvised scenes where various spells were being exploited in a duel so twee you could see the actors blushing under their make-up. But all for good effects - the pair were funny and engaging and really, that's all it needed to be.

By now the clock was near to striking 8pm and that meant it was time to move up to Milsom's Place where a highly anticipated performance was about to begin. For me and my friend, Party in the City really started the night before in St. James Wine Vaults where an intimate gig was being staged in the depths below a bar on the higher levels of the city, courtesy of Bath's own singer-songwriter gem Joshua Porter. Everyone that evening was in for a night of real rustic entertainment and although the tickets clenched in everyone's hands read the names of each man and woman to perform, no one really knew what to expect. Playing that night was Tallis Morris, a young woman with an earthy voice rich in deeper tones; Joshua Porter, a resident of Bath proudly promoting his new EP with a voice so stunningly slick that listening to his music was, as an audience member, an absolute privilage; Dominik Boncza-Skrzynecki and Sam Gotley whose musical covers were diverse and epic, especially the later redition of Hotel California which allowed the evening to end on a perfect high note; and rising star Antonio Luli­­c. It was Antonio Lulic I expected to see again at 8pm at Milsom's Place with the hope of spreading his musical talent around some more of my friends.

Milsom's Place is one of the dishier places in Bath and so Antonio's epic undertones suited the location well as swells of people laid back in their chairs enjoying refreshing beverages. This guy sings from the heart with warming lyrics, subtle melodies and the occasional blasting chord to send home his ability for variety and skill for musical composites on one of his 2-3 guitars that he carries around with him. Most notably, his voice is uniquely recognisable - chiselled and grilled but husky and smooth reflective of the song he is singing and the message he wishes to convey, all of which he did successfully and effortlessly that evening to a crowd who quite clearly wanted to be there. All I can say is 'uh-oh' although I say it for all the right reasons.

Unfortunately, that is where my evening ended. However much I wanted to stay and soak up the evening's culturally glorified event, prior commitments to the following morning meant an early night was on the cards. Despite this, Party in the City for me began and ended on a high note with general highs inbetween them as well. Music was played how music should always be played and music was appreciated how music should always be appreciated. Party in the City, bring on next year.

(Image 1 taken from bathfestivals.org.uk, image 2 taken from musiquedada.com and image 3 taken from lionfest.co.uk)

Thursday, 17 May 2012

James Bond Extract

I admit, I have a strange sort of love for James Bond. This is a brief little extract of a James Bond novel I'm working on. It's just some experimental, fun writing... because writing is fun, especially when it's focused around everyone's fictional hero James bond. It's only very short, just to give an impression of character and the potential for plot. If there is any potential.

                                                                            *


…Bond blacked out.

            It was precisely six days ago when Bond was sat staring at a modern take on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers hanging straight on the wall behind M’s desk at headquarters in London. He had come to the conclusion he didn’t like it: the colours were too bold and dark and the jaunty angles of what used to be elegant flowers stole the natural character from the classic painting. M’s tastes had become increasingly worse with his age, although Bond would never tell him that… not just yet. He was drawn away from the image by the sound of the heavy oak doors to the room opening and the busy shuffling of size nine black loafers treading along the floorboards and eventually the rug upon which Bond’s chair now sat. M appeared at his right, his glasses just peeping off the end of his nose, in deep thought over a document he was carrying.
            “Ah, 007,” he looked up from his thoughts to glance at Bond with a look of politeness than true interest. “Good to see you, I think.”
            “Thank you, sir. Your enthusiasm is infectious.”
            M smiled wryly. “Hit the nail on the head, Bond, as per usual.” He sat down opposite Bond and removed his glasses before sliding over the document to Bond’s side of the desk. It was the image of a man, perhaps early thirties, Bond guessed, wearing an overcoat in what looked like glaring heat. Bond looked up at M, questionably. “No I haven’t seen him before.” He sat back into the chair, smugly, awaiting M’s reply.
            “Well, no I don’t suppose you have,” he said, countering Bond’s wit. “He’s a slippery little bugger at the best of times, and that’s only half the problem.” He got up out of his chair and pondered at the painting Bond had been earlier disparaging. He thought about M’s remark at him ‘hitting the nail on the head’ but it seemed his thoughts penetrated M’s as he suddenly turned round, “I said you hit the nail on the head, that was in reference to your apt use of the word ‘infectious’.” He bit the last word with acidity but despite the sharp twist on the phrase, a shadow fell across his face and the situation suddenly became more serious. He resumed his seat with grave intensity. Bond remained still for a few moments, holding his gaze before picking up the photograph and flicking through the file it came with. As he did so, M provided a commentary.
            “His name is Afanasiy Medicos and despite his name he’s a cold bastard. Colder than you, 007.”
            Bond looked at the name quizzically. “What is that – Russian? Italian?’
            “Both although the man himself is British – his alias is another one of his pathetic attempts to fool us. Loosely speaking it means the ‘immortal doctor’ although we’re more than a little concerned about the sort of drugs he’s been prescribing his patients.”
            Bond had dealt with illegal drug traffickers in the past and had seldom enjoyed the encounters. These people dealt only for money and cared little about the effects the produce had on its subjects or indeed the inevitable consequences that came after addiction had oppressed their minds and driven them to madness. By the time any finite links could be made to any source, those responsible had already assumed new aliases and transferred to a district with more desperate victims looking for a material salvation. Bond experienced a bitter taste in his mouth. M continued –
            “But these drugs don’t lead to your everyday desperado junkies, Bond. What he’s cooked up in his cauldron is something new and far more dangerous, especially if it goes viral.”
            “What exactly are we talking about here?” Bond leant forward, concern clouding his ability to articulate an appropriate guess to the issue. M mirrored his move so that the two of them were but a foot away from each other’s faces. Bond felt M’s cigar scented breath on his cheek. The door behind him creaked slowly open…

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Dues and Don't's

Has anyone read John Barrowman's autobiography by any chance? Course you have, he's brilliant. I remember something he said in his autobiography and it was along the lines of 'If you don't pay your dues, you don't get what you want'. He called it the Dues and Don'ts syndrome and in my world, that makes more sense than 1+1=2. That's mostly because I hate maths but it really does work - a sort of Karma for actors and I suppose it can be applied to any profession where you have to start off low to get to the top.

Every actor has started off somewhere and chances are, unless they're Dakota Fanning, they've begun by playing 'Woman No.2' or 'Smug Man at Party.' I know, I too have experienced the embarrassment of such character titles but what one has to acknowledge is the beauty of such simplicity and learn from it. These days our world is plagued with the absurdities of life so much so that we haven't the chance to stand and observe, to listen and understand because we are too wound up in a vacuumed bubble gasping for air. That's pretty deep but it's pretty true and it does have a point, I promise.

What I am trying to say is that it is all experience and at the end of the day, a child that hasn't learned to read can't write a novel and similarly an actor who hasn't trained can't get into drama school.My gallant drama teacher strives to put on a professional shows whether it be a musical or Shakespeare. Like a real thesp, I audition for these shows and when it got to my GCSE year I was adamant on pursuing a career in the arts and it was agreed the school would be showcasing a production of Twelfth Night. Consequently, I was determined to impress everyone with my skills by getting the lead role of Viola. I was a little sceptical about how I was going to go about this when I discovered I was going to be playing Maid No.1 - I was disappointed to say the least and like any angry young thing, I sulked.

What I didn't take into account, however, was what I might learn from my minor role. Despite the inevitable truth that, yes indeed, it was a school production, it felt as inspiringly professional as any show I had previously been in. I learned how scenes were blocked, how rehearsals were put together, how stage management worked, how costumes were fitted... the list is endless in terms of production. I don't know if you know the play Twelfth Night but the maids dont really possess a great deal of character or require much acting effort, in fact I'm not entirely sure if maids are mentioned in the play itself at all. Much of my time at rehearsals for that show was spent doing nothing. I perfected the art of standing still with my hands held couteously in those long hours but I also perfected patience and patience is one of the key lessons learned as an actor. Nothing happens instantaneously and that's important because practice makes perfect. What's more, it gave me all the time in the world to pay attention to what was being said and done by everyone around me: my drama teacher, the older students and the younger ones alike.

That year, I paid my dues. And so a year or two later, when Hamlet was the next show to be performed, I bagged the role of Queen Gertrude and as there are only two female roles in the whole of Hamlet, I was pretty pleased with that. I was able to apply the knowledge I had gained from previous years to this particular piece as well as the acting skill I had obtained through practice in that time also. It paid off and the show was a great success. So much so, we even performed some scenes at the Egg theatre in Bath. There is absolutey no point in complaining about the status of a role you've been rewarded with after an audition if you haven't put the effort into the journey to get there in the first place because you will immediately be at a disadvantage to the person stood next to you who played the Waiter in an AmDram production of Great Expectations - they've got the experience, they've got the edge, they've paid their dues.

It's these big roles that help you get into bigger shows but then the process begins again. And it's not just the roles you have to watch either, it's the shows themselves. Everyone wants to be in the best shows in the best theatres but you can't expect to trot out of school straight into the RSC. Nuh uh. Chances are, your local club or pub has a nifty little perfromance space stored somewhere that any amateur theatre company can stage a show on. Sure, they might not be professional but it is twice as valuable to find your feet at the shallow end before diving into the deep. Simply by working with people who share similar interests as you is experience enough as it teaches how to socialise and work with strangers, how to develop contacts, how to pick up new techniques, how to hear about new projects. All of these little assets count in the bigger picture.

It may seem disheartening at the time but no one gets anywhere by being constantly served life on a silver plate with little crab cakes on the side. Audition for AmDram shows and revel in your insignificance because next time, your dues may reward you with what you want and when that time comes it's going to be sheer hard work. There's a reason we have two ears and two eyes and only one mouth - use the formers, control the latter and enjoy the after-parties becasue we amateurs sure know how to do that!
P.S Listen to Johnny B.

(Images from zap2it.com(John Barrowman) and thewestonmercury.com(masks) via Google)

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The King's Speech Theatre Review - Directed by Adrian Noble

There really is nothing better than a bit of good old patriotic British theatre. It's not just me saying that - Britain is well renowned for its theatrical expertise and when I went to watch the King's Speech at the Theatre Royal Bath at the end of February, I was fairly sure I had found an outstanding example. Consequently, this review was inevitable.

I suppose I have an empathetic connection to the story of King George VI as I understand what it is to feel stifled when one has so much to say. I had never heard of the story or the issue raised about the King before and so when the FILM came out in 2011 I made it a priority to go and see it... that and the fact I'm an avid supporter of British film. It is a shame that I was na├»ve to the existence of the play that inspired the Oscar winning motion picture rather then experiencing the two the other way round but I was more than impressed with the film adaptation starring Colin Firth. So when the monthly programme for my local theatre came flapping through my letter box and I found The King's Speech hidden amongst the pages, I was giddy to say the least.

The recent renovation at Bath Theatre Royal has bestowed the quaint little auditorium with brand new refurbishments both onstage and off, one of these being the ability to insert a revolve into the stage floor to help visiting companies make their pieces all the more dynamic. I was surprised to see this used in such a classic play, (I was more surprised to see a naked man standing onstage as the curtain went up, to be honest), but I suppose this shows classical theatre at its best - taking advantage of modern technology to appeal to a modern audience and making history come vibrantly alive. Tackling issues such as the ones in this play are vital for society to understand and acknowledge and the method that RSC artistic director Adrian Noble adopted for his adaptation ticked every box. What's more, it made his chosen gest - of what I infer was pressures of the media or something along those lines - more explicit due to the imposing television canvas screen balanced on the revolve that took up the entire length of the stage. This not only made the hyperbole look meek but did a good job of making scene transitions smooth and efficient and meant the stage wasn't constantly cluttered with Lionel's aeroplanes.

The King's SpeechThe aeroplanes were, incidentally, not just a metaphor for Bertie's escape but a source for humour throughout the play which was particularly strong despite the sometimes awkward atmosphere a speech impediment can impose on a situation. One of the strange sanctities of life is that balance is the key to weight loss and more importantly success onstage. The King's Speech inspired an eclectic range of tear-jerking moments of splendid gauche when the protagonist fails to speak his mind to the juxtaposing sanguinity when his therapist does it for him. All of this was resting on the precipice of one of the most horrific events of the 20th century, captured by the bleakly lit upstage and the urgent anticipation seen in the faces of each character. Yes, I suppose you could say this play was dark at times, but then so is the night until the stars come out.

Speaking of stars, this play was jam-packed with them. Quite frankly, if Charles Edwards had starred in the film of the same title, I've no doubt the BAFTA would still have been awarded to the role. Any actor will tell you that playing a non-fictional character, especially one as iconic as the Queen's father, is desired and feared at the same time. Despite this, Edwards possessed a quality of familiarity that is necessary for any royal to have in order to please their subjects and a vulnerability that would make even the sordid of hearts feel cleansed. The time and effort gone into this role was visible from my idyllic seat in the stalls not just through his voice and actions but by his accuracy and acute timings. Of course though, there are two sides to every coin and although Emma Fielding's eloquent elegance was undeniably convincing as the Queen Mother, Jonathan Hyde's brilliantly witty Lionel Logue was just the cherry on top. The rapport between he and Edwards was infallible and captured the true essence of friendship from the very first session.

Being shown in theatre's so soon after the cascade of success following the film, the original The King's Speech had a lot to live up to in the eyes of the audience it had to win back. I think it's safe to say Adrian Noble's sleek direction brought a great deal of smug satisfaction to theatre fans all over Britain with the show receiving rave reviews from all corners, (including this one), and the majority concluding that it gives the film a run for its money, (also including this one). A fine example of true British theatre, dependent on nothing but the lives of truly British people. Apart from Lionel, who was in fact Australian.

(Image taken from Theatre Royal Bath website)

Thursday, 19 April 2012

'Get Bitter or Get Better'

Wise words, I'm sure you'll agree.
I've always hated failure. Ever since the tender ages of primary school - more particularly a certain netball competition and a certain boy who most certainly got in my way of scoring a goal - I've been made aware of a competitive streak within in me, whether it be sport or academics or absolutely anything where there is the possibility for failure or success. When I was younger, psychologists would probably call it an attention deficit. Now, I would say I'm just an actor.

Competitiveness is not always a bad thing, mind you. Sure, it can make you seem brash, arrogant and obscenely obnoxious if you exploit it. However ambitions are much easier to achieve when you've got that driving force behind you to push you further, never mind the skill you've obtained or the talent you were blessed with. Take my sister for example: she was an incredibly talented gymnast but with an even more incredible ability for nonchalance when it came to competitions. Of course she competed and she competed well; she frequently won medals of all verying metals and maintained this sporting stamina for over ten years. But she could have been better and one reason for this is she could have had more competitive confidence to give her that defining edge and resilience that would have pushed her to gold everytime. Nervertheless, a very successful gymnast.

Sadly, just a few weeks ago, my competitive ego received some bad news. After auditioning for the prestigious NYT in March, I recently understood that I was an unsuccessful candidate. For me, this was heart-wrenching. Not to mention the fact that I had already had a pretty tough week, this piece of news was just the cherry on top. I was more than upset - I was mortified. I could see my future as an actress crashing around me; I had visions of people pointing and laughing in my face; I was hating every single lovely person I had met on that audition day for potentially achieving something I hadn't. Until I realised, here's little old me in my bedroom, contemplating accountancy, along with the other 4500 rejectees around the country. Here's me, denied entry on my first attempt at a worldwide organisation based on the opinions of three people, when there are others who have been trying for three years or more and have still not been successful. What was I complaining about? I realised I was being selfish and that nothing was going to change if I sat wallowing by myself like a three year old for the rest of my life.

But what one must understand is that failure, like competitiveness, is not always a bad thing too. Thomas Edison once exclaimed 'I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that don't work.' Good for him. That's the spirit. My failure was simply an idea that had to be altered, a problem with a solution to be found. There were hundreds of possibilities as to why I hadn't been successful at gaining entry that day: personal dislike of my monologue by the auditioner; the organisation already had a hundred other people that look exactly like me; I hadn't prepared enough prior to the audition; the lighting was wrong etc, etc... The list is endless. But optimism is the order of the day that has an endless list also: there's always next year; next time I'll be more prepared; now I know what the audition process is like and can use that to my advantage; the lighting will be better next year etc etc...

The most important lesson that I personally learned from that audition is to not let pride or an over-competitive nature get in the way of things. My first mistake was not asking for help during my preparation time before the audition because I didn't want everyone to find out I was auditioning in case I failed. Big no no. ALWAYS ask for help. My second mistake was that I was trying to live up to the inspiring standards of a guy I was friends with who had been accepted on his first attempt the year before. Again, big no no. Everyone is individual, both yourself and the auditioner. Each opportunity is unique and momentary and can't be replicated. He was himself, I was myself - sometimes it's luck... and a little bit of talent and charisma.

In life not everyone gets everything they want. If they did, we'd all be the same and that would be boring not to mention inconvenient. This is a particularly important piece of advice for actors everywhere as rejection is part of the job description and the sooner you learn how to overcome it, the better. Just because something doesn't work out for you once, it doesn't mean it won't happen the next time and it certainly doesn't mean you should become an accountant. I didn't get into NYT this time. That does not mean I can't be an actor. It doesn't mean I can't try again and be successful that time. So you can either get bitter, or get better. Simple.