Tony Bell - Diary of a Gossip. Week 3 Girona (still).
"My body is my tool"
"My body is my tool"
Last night was the European premiere of Propeller’s Richard Third, complete with incomprehensible Catalan surtitles. Catalan is not Spanish, apparently, it’s Catalan, and the audience was predominantly unCatalonian, so I was told. Actually, those that told me were Dutch, though one had Spanish blood, I’m sure of it, my knees shook. However, despite the lack of audience response during the show, the spectacle of fake blood spurting all over the place must have held attention, since we came back for six curtain calls, because we had to, not because we needed to, though I think I do need to, as often as possible, but we won’t explore that now. To top it all the producer took us out for tapas, where we drank at someone else’s expense, which meant we were paralytic.
It’s all great then, we’re a triumph, whoopy-doo. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but sometimes this job is really dull. Stuck in a one horse medieval town, the morning after the night before, in a continental quilt, on the continent, incontinent (not really but I like the wordplay), with an overseas mobile tariff, a choice of single beds, and a steaming hangover.
That’s why I’m writing another one of these. And to be fair, it’s about time I wrote something more elevating, about my life in art, perhaps, like that Russian bloke did. Stan I think his name was, only with the Russian spelling it comes out as Stanislavski, and he is father to an acting system that is taught at every British drama school. It’s what American film actors like Marlon Brando, and Madonna, call the ‘Method.’ According to Stan then, it’s all about what your character wants. In life we act because we want something, and it’s the same in acting. We work out what our character wants, then we go onstage and try to get it. Queen Margaret wants to curse everybody, right, so she goes out there and, er, curses everybody. Then she has a rest, and in the second half she brings on two dolls’ heads in a jar, which are the heads of the dead princes, right, and she pokes the new queen with her walking stick and shouts at her, because she wants revenge for the death of her own son, she wants to rub the queen’s nose in it, because he’s younger, and prettier, and has a sexy girlfriend. Did I tell you that you’re allowed to use your own feelings to make them real for the character?
The thing Stan forgot was that in Propeller you also have to sing falsetto, wearing a prickly mask, lifting a bag with a body in it, and moving a hospital screen, all at the same time. And then you have to do a rap, to an electric guitar, with no mike, while everyone bangs things, and later you have to drink cheap Spanish plonk till four in the morning. When you wake up after breakfast has finished to order room service, you sound like Bonnie Tyler, and when you open the door to the cleaner you walk like Quasimodo (that bit doesn’t matter if you’re playing Richard). So it matters not a Spanish fig what you ‘want’ in the end, if you can’t speak, and you can’t move, and you’ve got to do another show. Not much good having an imagination if you can’t get the words out. So that’s really why I’m bored, because I’m trying not to speak, or move, for the next six hours, so come nine o’clock this evening I can do it all over again. Actually I’m bored of typing now, so I’m going to hobble out of here and pick up some take away ‘potatas bravas,’ and then try to warm up with the rest of them. Doctor theatre will sort me out. Just hope I can pick up that jar without having a back spasm – those pickled heads are really heavy.
Okay, so I was a miserable bastardo yesterday. It was the comedown from the high of the show, it’s called cold turkey when Ewan Macgregor does it in ‘Trainspotting,’ and acting’s a drug, right? Simon Callow, and other scientists, say the adrenalin released from a performance is the same as a serious car crash. Actually, I’ve been in some performances that are the same as a serious car crash, and one where a car literally crashed, and it wasn’t ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ (‘Grapes of Wrath’ actually, where the extended Joad family drove an old banger through some sheets on sticks for an extended three hours.) Still, if this theory is true, no wonder I was a bit queasy going into the second show.
The director warned me not to hit top C too early in the big space, and mindful of the time I hyperventilated as Marley’s ghost ten feet up in Scrooge’s attic during a matinee at Basingstoke (my agent was in), I decided to take my foot off the pedal. As it turned out, when I dived Shiltonesque to save the skull of my (dead) son which Mister Crookback was bowling into the wings (no respect that boy), my stick went ‘awol’ stage left. I had to lift Hastings’ shoe off it, before I could carry on cursing (there’s a film title in there somewhere). The blocking was totally buggered so I ended up breathing ‘potatas bravas’ into Buckingham’s hairy nostrils, but at least the scene was fresh. I loved the way Hastings stamped on the wayward stick to stop me doing what I ought to be doing, like picking it up. That’s what’s great about this company. I’ve been in some where actors would have been thrown by something like that. “I believe this is yours Queenie?” a less flexible Shakespearean might have iambicked as he waved the offending article. Not our Tom Paddon: “I used it Tone, I went with it, did you see that?” “Yeah, rock on Tommy, I might keep it in actually.”
So back to Stan, then, and his theory on stagecraft. As David Mamet points out, in his three acting books, there are just too many books about acting. You can either do it, or you can’t, ask Arnold Schwarzenigger. In any case, I’m not sure you can apply method acting to Shakespeare, with the iambic pentameter, the rules of verse structure, and all. After a workaholic week off at the New York actor’s studio, I tried playing Bottom using the ‘Meisner’ method, which is even more purist than Stan, and means you don’t say anything unless you really, really have to. I put twenty minutes on the first half in Bromley. Hey, at least I tried, and Bottom isn’t just a buffoon, you know, he’s a real human being, okay? Excavate the depths of the role, that’s what I say. And make sure you don’t lose your voice, or bump into a hospital screen, or drop the dolls’ heads, or slip on the vomit, or squirt blood on Wayne Cater. Oh, and definitely don’t lose your walking stick. It’s like Sampson, and his beard, that is. Without it Margaret is nothing, do you hear, nothing. Eat your heart out Stan.