Last week started with a special end-of-course treat for the NYU students in London – a talk on Performing Shakespeare by Frank Barrie.
This isn’t really a talk, it’s a one-man performance, as Frank slips effortlessly from rich anecdotes of his splendid career into full-on delivery of great soliloquies. He’s played lots of the leads – Hamlet, Lear, Coriolanus and many other significant roles – in distinguished companies at the Bristol Old Vic, at the National Theatre, and in theatres all over the world.
He gained a huge international following with his famous one-man show about a great Victorian tragedian, “Macready!”, which toured the world. As well as being a fine actor, Frank is also an authority on Victorian acting, and the grand finale of his talk is a stupendous rendering of a Shakespeare soliloquy performed with a full range of gestures as required by the huge theatres in which the likes of Kean and Macready performed, and prescribed in detail by the acting manuals of the time.
Frank, of course, is a mentor for our teachyourselfacting.com web-site. Perhaps we should offer a course in Acting with Gestures? What do you think?
(You can let us know your thoughts via firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last week also saw an odd conjunction of plays, bringing back memories of an amazing project in the autumn of 2010, when I directed the first-ever production of an Alan Ayckbourn play to be performed in Mandarin on the Chinese mainland.
But that’s another story which I’ve written up elsewhere, so to return to last week, the American students and I took ourselves off to the Tricycle Theatre to see “Neighbourhood Watch”, a production which originated in Scarborough under Sir Alan’s direction, and arrived in Kilburn via a long list of touring dates, including a run of several weeks at the 59E59 Theater in Manhattan.
Well, as some of the reviews have noted, although it’s got lots of good things in it, it’s not really “vintage” Ayckbourn. The acting is good, but the show suffers a bit from being an in-the-round presentation re-configured for proscenium theatres, and doesn’t thus have scenery. There are several lines, for instance, commenting on the wall-paper in the room in which the plot unfolds, and if the audience is watching the show through invisible walls and has to imagine the wallpaper that’s fine, and in fact it feeds the comedy. But when the walls of the room are there but represented by black drapes it’s not quite the same thing, and it feels a bit like a run-through rather than a performance. That said, the American students and I all enjoyed it a lot, and there’s some lovely work from the company, including yet another RADAgrad from my time, Phil Cheadle (right of the picture, with Matthew Cottle).
The next night we went to the Young Vic, to see “Wild Swans”, a staging of Jung Chan’s epic book about the journey 3 generations of her family made through the 20th century in and near Shanghai. The core of the story is the tragedy of the way in which her father and mother’s youthful zeal in working for the Chinese communist revolution led to grief, hardship and despair.
The production only runs for about 90 minutes, and so the rich detail of the book is inevitably compromised – but the acting is strong, and the staging wonderful. The direction is by Sacha Wares, and there’s striking visual work by the design team – Miriam Buether and Wang Gongxin.
It’s an international co-production, a collaboration between the Young Vic, the Actors Touring Company and the American Repertory Theater. The final collage of images is of the massive construction work in Shanghai towards the end of the last century, which resulted in today’s astonishing forest of sky-scrapers amongst which I worked in 2010. And amongst which, alongside the glistening shopping malls hosting Dolce and Gabbana, Marks and Spencer etc you can still see the grinding, pitiful poverty the Revolution set out to banish all those years ago…