Film, TV and the Arts

Film, TV and the Arts

Monday, 22 August 2011

Notebook: By the graves of giants

This week, the OUDS/Thelma Holt Tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is at The Actors’ Church in Covent Garden, and the names on the walls are more than a little intimidating

At first sight it looks lovely, and, indeed it is. St Paul’s, Covent Garden. Originally designed by Inigo Jones in the 1630s, this central London Church retains a great deal of charm, as well as an unoppressive sense of solemnity – enough to inspire reverence, but not so much as to require near silence.
What better place to do a play? Certainly, I have no doubt that we in the OUDS/Thelma Holt Tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will have a very special week, for it is a great setting, So far, the production has been blessed with three beautiful places within which to act. Balliol College Gardens were lovely in the evening and magical in the dark. On Sunday, we did a one-off at the Dell – the open-air performance space in the RSC Gardens in Stratford-upon-Avon, where entry is free – and that was a really magnificent day out (indeed, I highly recommend The Dell to any and all for next summer). Now, here we are in London in this delightful place.

Charming though it is, it does bring many challenges. Acoustically, it is a nightmare. Echoes reverb around every time a line is uttered or a shoe lands upon the ground. Movement is restricted so that one’s positioning whilst acting becomes a struggle at times between what feels natural and what is necessary.

Oh, and we’re also having to deal with the small matter that our Demetrius has broken his foot (get well soon Matt) and we’re quickly rejigging our cast in 48 hours so that we can do the show. And there was paint explosion in our props van. And one of our actors is scratching around for somewhere to stay tonight. It’s been one of those days.

Challenges, however, are what it’s all about and the great thing about the tour is that every new space we go to brings its own particular advantages and disadvantages, which help the performance to evolve and remain fresh and exciting. The enemy who is embraced at the start of the week oft becomes a friend from whom we are loathed to part by the end of it.

There is, however, one challenge which lingers with me at the moment. It shall not change my performance, nor will it affect anyone else’s or the audience’s enjoyment, for it has nothing to do with the production at all.

The problem is the very walls of the Church. The masonry is adorned with memorials to the great and the good of British theatre from the past century or so. Names that will surround us this week include Sir Michael Redgrave, Robert Shaw, Richard Beckinsale, Vivien Leigh, Laurence Harvey, Dennis Price (who has “Kind hearts and more than coronets” beneath his name), Michael Wilding, Kenneth More and, not mention, Sir Terence Rattigan, Noel Coward and Charles Chaplain all in a row together. No pressure, then. Only enough OBEs, CBEs and KBEs to make a passable Alphabetti-Spaghetti.

Dwelling on it for a while, a calm descends, for you realise that the pressure is all in the mind and carries only the weight of dreams. Most of us in the cast and crew want to make a living out of theatre. It is a passion at the moment, but the dream is to make it a career. Stepping onto this literally hallowed ground, surrounded by these historic names is not like having your heroes watch and judge you, but is like having your wildest dreams displayed before you. Not just fragments of dreams, but all of them – beginning, middle and end – utterly complete, memorialised with respect and affection. The trick is to forget the pressure, and enjoy the honour of the company of the departed.
Intimidating and challenging this week will be, but every day when we arrive at the church and begin to prepare, we can simply take a moment to look around and feel inspired. And we should not just feel inspired, but privileged as well.

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