Friday, 15 April 2011

Hark, my buskin tread

   Acting, as any non-actor who has watched television and film knows, is a piece of cake. I took to the boards many years ago in Cork, Ireland. I hadn't planned it, the limelight shone my way when a production of Joe Orton's 'Loot' was due to open in the Everyman Theatre on the Monday and the actor playing the small role of P. C. Meadows fell ill the Saturday before. News of his stricken police constable reached the director in the local theatre bar and in desperation he looked around for a tall man with an English accent who could serve as a replacement. I had moved to Cork some weeks previously, had found work as a stagehand, and was present the fateful evening when the director cast an anxious eye over the revellers. Being tall, and the only Englishman there, I was offered the job. It never occurred to me I couldn't do it; my degree of self-belief was as high as anyone else's in the bar at the time (11.45 pm).
   The bobby's helmet* transformed me from tall to towering. I had to crouch in order pass under the door lintel when entering the living room in which the play was set (I couldn't take off my headgear – it was part of my character, you see). I would erupt upon the action, straightening up to what seemed like double the height of the rest of the cast. It could be argued I had an immense stage presence.

   As P. C. Meadows, I arrested a man and kissed a lady upon the hand. Meadows seemed quite a gallant chap, or perhaps he acted in a gallant manner for unwholesome reasons, I'm really not sure – as you've probably gathered I wasn't a method actor, I was old-school, what mental preparation there was came in the form of Murphy's stout. As the performances went by more and more mental preparation took place making it ever more arbitrary as to who would be kissed and who would be arrested.

   A further complication was that once on stage I found myself unable to speak normally - and it wasn't the result of too much mental preparation, in fact the more mental preparation taken the less pronounced, as it were, the problem. When playing P. C. Meadows the vowels that didn't disappear altogether became distorted beyond recognition, thus rendering “This woman accosted me, sir, she insisted that I accompany her to the Catholic church” as “Ths wmn accstd meuseur, shinsistd tht Iaccmpny hurto thcuthlic chuch” followed by a pause while the actor whose line was next tried to ascertain whether I had finished – no easy task especially as sometimes, if I felt the line hadn't come across clearly enough, I'd give it another shot.

   Besides kissing and/or arresting I had nothing much else to do between lines and so would take the opportunity to peer around the auditorium. I noticed that the audience, after the desertion of the fickle, was composed of the same few people who would turn up each night. It was heartening to see such devotion to the arts.

   *My onkos