A night off
September 27, 2013
Having three shows in the rep and only being in two means that you sometimes have a night off. After six months of being on stage every evening of the week, this is oddly disconcerting.
To begin with, you're at a loose end, unable to remember what you possibly could have gotten up to in bygone days between the hours of 6 and 10 pm. It almost seems illicit to be watching a DVD, or reading a book, or sipping a pint in a pub beer garden at half past eight on a Tuesday evening.
Worse still, you can never quite reassure yourself that you've gotten the schedule right. What if you misread it? What if you are meant to be on tonight after all? What if your phone has run out of battery, unable to alert you to the barrage of futile calls, texts and emails from an apoplectic stage manager?
When I went to see Hamlet in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre the other night, despite having checked and double-checked, I still couldn't disabuse myself of this nagging doubt.
It was with extreme relief that I walked through the foyer during the interval and noted that the monitor clearly showed a performance of Candide in progress in the Swan.
Can you imagine the thousand natural shocks my flesh would have been heir to had I glimpsed instead the mosaic tile of Rome or the lampposts and dustbins of Soho?
The RST summer company will be leaving us at the end of this week, which will be a sweetly sorrowful parting. There's been a real sense of camaraderie between the two houses, which has made working here a pleasure.
Having finally seen Hamlet, I would urge you to try and catch it, either at the end of its run here or in Newcastle. The entire cast are superb and it's a tremendous production. I'd like to share one moment in particular – one moment among many, mind – that I found utterly thrilling.
After being upbraided for his 'unmanly grief' Jonathan Slinger is left alone on stage for the first of Hamlet's soliloquies. I imagine that one of the challenges of playing the part is that the audience knows these words well. But when Slinger described the world as 'an unweeded garden', I genuinely heard it as if for the very first time.
The image itself was familiar, but the note of recrimination in his voice, the upward glance at a God who had neglected his duty of care, who was to blame for all this – was entirely new to me.
This is what great actors can do. They can take passages that you think you know like the back of your hand and show you hidden human depths within.
There's nothing like a great night at the theatre to enthuse you about being a performer. It inspired me for those nights when I actually go to work.
by Ben Deery
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