Whispers from the Wings


August 13, 2013

Ben Deery as Sponger, Richard Goulding as Dick Follywit and Harry McEntire as OboeLest my last post should give the impression that it's all play and no work in the Swan company, I thought I'd share with you an example of the kind of ongoing monitoring, fine-tuning and refining that goes on throughout the run.

When he catches his first glimpse of Truly Kidman, Dick Follywit turns to the audience and confides that he has never known 'so much flesh and so much nimbleness put together'.

A couple of weeks ago, the Assistant Director of Mad World, Marieke Audsley, was put in mind of that phrase whilst watching the performance from the auditorium. This is something that our assistant directors both do twice or three times a week throughout the length of the run in order to keep a caring and watchful eye over the show – after all, it is they who have been entrusted with keeping the production on track.

The following day, Marieke explained to us that, whilst the show was generally in good health, it had become a tad deliberate and self-conscious. Using Follywit's words, she told us that she had seen lots of lovely 'flesh', but perhaps not enough 'nimbleness'.

This 'fattening' of the comedy calf is quite a common occurrence. When you first begin performing a piece like Mad World, you pounce upon it with feline agility and ruthless pace. You know that it requires a light-footed brightness and wit. You're fighting with a foil or an epee, not a broadsword. You might even be secretly nervous that if you don't keep up that intensity, you might lose concentration and drop the ball; you don't want to give the laughs time enough to die.

But as you get to know the show better and become more assured of it, you discover moments where a laugh can be drawn out a bit, or a little piece of new business can be introduced. You relax, and start to enjoy pressing on that particular button that you know will make the audience laugh. Like tickling somebody to the point of pant-wetting hysterics, it's wickedly irresistible - put simply, you start to really enjoy yourself. And as Marieke pointed out, you can enjoy yourself too much.

Her challenge to us for that evening's performance was not to sacrifice any of the enjoyable discoveries that we'd made, but to find some of the nimbleness again. The gauntlet was taken up by the entire company. At the five-minute call that night, you saw actors standing in the wings, mumbling to themselves, 'nimbleness… nimbleness'.

For my part, I witnessed what I can only describe as an object lesson in taking a note from Richard Goulding. The scene that kicks off the show finds Rich, Harry and myself strewn across a dingy alleyway, down on our luck and formulating a plan to get back on top.

Rich has a heck of a lot of text in that scene – he has set up who he is, who we are, what his background is, who his uncle is, what the current situation is. Then, he has to have the idea for the scheme, explain it to us - that night, it was quicksilver. Indeed, the entire cast rose to the challenge set by Marieke, and the show has been stronger for it ever since. It's a timely reminder that productions are not fixed and inert but rather living, growing entities.

by Ben Deery  |  No comments yet

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