Whispers from the Wings

Death

September 19, 2012

One in four people were killed in the plague that hit Stratford upon Avon two months after Shakespeare was born. The Shakespeares had already lost two girls aged six and a half and the other two years old. Imagine. Imagine also the joy when he was born, a son, an heir. Healthy and loved. St George's day 450 years ago in Henley street. They must have coddled him to within an inch of his life!

I mention this because there is a lot of death in our production. Sometimes, as an actor you can go through the motions a bit. Holding huge daggers casually as you pretend to slice someone's throat. I bet Shakespeare's company didn't. He himself had been in court for being involved in a sword fight where he had to settle out court or go to jail.

Death was there all the time. People carried daggers and swords, ready to protect and provoke. I probably won't ever fight in a war. I probably won't have to get up close to someone and stab them repeatedly, blood gushing over my fingers and in my face. But if I ever did, I probably wouldn't act it quite so casually afterwards.

They say that children hear things better, see things better taste things better. Life is... better. More vibrant, more clear and true. Children of six laugh 600 times a day whereas people of 60 laugh six times a day. I may have made that statistic up. 'The young and the innocent have no enemy but time' said Yeats. Indeed.

If you thought you might be dead soon, of the plague or stabbed in the eye in a bar brawl, or from anything else; wouldn't life now seem sweeter?

I feel more alive when I'm in a theatre. Almost as if time slows down. I am of an age now where I know acting in hit shows in great theatres with great actors for great companies isn't a given. It could all be taken away. just like that. Gone. I never used to worry about not working. I always have. I never used to worry about car crashes and sickness. I am incredibly hale and hearty. But I do now. It can all change. Just around the corner.

Caesar thought he was secure, until 23 stab wounds proved him wrong. Apparently he sat still, with his face covered as they tore into him. He had no children.

The play brings thoughts of power and language and death closer to me. I am reading everything on Caesar I can find at the moment. To think: they really did live. Imagine killing the greatest man alive and one of the most incredible men to have ever lived.

In our production, there is a moment when Paterson (one t not two, as would be proper) and Cyril Nri help flesh out my character by helping me play the fact that I suddenly become too terrified to flatter him onto staying. I think of myself as quite brave, but I bet there would have been a couple of sleepless nights. (Indeed, there are several suggestions that no one gets any sleep in the play). I may have faltered if I had to kill Caesar. To quote from the Clint Eastwood movie Unforgiven:

The Schofield Kid: [after killing a man for the first time] It don't seem real... how he ain't gonna never breathe again, ever... how he's dead. And the other one too. All on account of pulling a trigger.
Will Munny: It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.
The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.
Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid.

Yup. We all got it coming.

Next time, I will move on to more cheery fare such as: underwear and nudity. (Ha! That's got you interested, hasn't it?)

Bye.

by Andrew French  |  No comments yet


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Teaching Shakespeare