4 06, 2013

Theatre Dreams

By |2018-01-12T13:02:49+01:00June 4th, 2013|Categories: News, Theatre|0 Comments

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

As I get ready to work on a new show, it’s not unusual for me to start having quite intense dreams that mix up ideas and images that I’m pondering and mulling and processing – some of them consciously, others in the back brain (where I reckon most of the work gets done.) (more…)

6 05, 2013

Rick Cluchey and Samuel Beckett

By |2013-05-06T22:53:22+01:00May 6th, 2013|Categories: Theatre|0 Comments

Yesterday afternoon, I had the remarkable experience of watching Rick Cluchey performing in Samuel Beckett’s one-act play, Krapp’s Last Tape. Cluchey is one of the few actors still working – perhaps the only one left – to have been directed by Samuel Beckett himself. So one had the privilege of witnessing an authentic performance, played as the playwright wished it, nearly 25 years after the director-playwright’s own death.

Cluchey brought a ferocious intensity to his performance, combined with a stylized, almost balletic set of gestures, and a precision and specificity which heightened the tension, sense of menace, and general feeling of incarceration that the text generates.

The notion of the passage of time and the tricks it plays on the mind were eerily underscored by the recordings of Krapp’s 30-years-younger self played on an old reel to reel tape recorder – recordings made by Cluchey himself in 1977 and also directed by Beckett.

Redemption through Theater

Cluchey’s own story is itself the stuff of high drama. A native of Chicago, he was involved in an armed robbery in Los Angeles in 1955. Given – even by the standards of the day – the extraordinarily severe sentence of life without parole, Cluchey ended up in San Quentin prison and began a life behind bars with no prospect of freedom.

Cluchey found solace and fulfillment in writing and in performing in the San Quentin Drama Workshop, which he cofounded. Eventually, Gov. Pat Brown of California was persuaded to allow the parole board to consider Cluchey’s case, and he eventually left prison in 1966.

Cluchey wrote to Beckett and eventually met the great playwright in Paris in 1973, and thus began a close working partnership that lasted until the 1980s.

After the performance of Krapp’s Last Tape, Cluchey spoke with an interviewer about his life and experiences before, during, and after his friendship with Beckett. At the age of 79, he intimated that he was bringing his career to a close as he came home. But judging by the fervor of his work at stage 773 on Sunday afternoon, Cluchey’s powers as a performer remain as yet undimmed.

28 04, 2013

The Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond

By |2015-07-24T08:37:09+01:00April 28th, 2013|Categories: News, Theatre|0 Comments

In the spring of 1977, a bunch of Oxford undergraduates made their way to Richmond in North Yorkshire, bringing a week of theatrical mayhem to a medieval market town.

With a temerity only excusable in the very young (or the very talented) they took a university production to the Georgian Theatre Royal, one of Britain’s oldest theaters, where they followed a poetry recital given by Judi Dench and Michael Williams to present two one-act plays: Sophocles’ Oedipus and Sheridan’s The Critic.

This apparently bizarre pairing was inspired in part by the hugely successful double-bill mounted in the 1940s at the Old Vic and subsquently on Broadway, where Olivier himself took the leading roles of Oedipus and Mr Puff in the two plays – or Oedipuff, as they became jointly to be known.

The undergraduate troupe that attempted to emulate some smidgin of this success were not apparently constrained by lack of ambition, self-consciousness or budgetary concerns (although history does not relate how the production was funded.) The season’s productions had already included Charley’s Aunt (set in the desert, complete with artificial pine trees imported from Pinewood,) The Importance of Being Earnest (with Lady Bracknell played in full drag,) The Crucible, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Participants in this audacious enterprise have long gone their separate ways. A couple remained actors (Philip Denyer and I), and others among our number include at least two future QCs, an archbishop, and a university vice-chancellor. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the element of performance remains a common thread.

The stimulus for this apparently casual anecdote is the news that Richmond’s Georgian Theatre is now at risk of closure, as levels of funding have dropped and ticket sales and bar profits are insufficient to cover costs on their own.

An appeal is to be launched on May 1st to save this Grade 1 listed building, whose interior has not been remodeled since it opened in 1788. Let’s get the word out to help rescue this wonderful piece of British theatrical heritage.

14 04, 2013

“How Do You Learn All Those Lines?”

By |2015-07-24T08:37:17+01:00April 14th, 2013|Categories: News, Theatre|0 Comments

Just now, my brain feels as if it’s trying to be like the Tardis (you know, bigger on the inside …)

This question about learning lines – beloved of audiences at talk-backs – poses itself afresh every time a new production looms on the actor’s horizon. And I can’t help feeling that by now I ought to have the answer to making the learning process easier.

But I don’t.

What I have come to recognize as I get older is that there is a more distinct difference between my short-term and long-term memory. I don’t mean that I can’t remember the name of the Prime Minister or what I had for breakfast (although I have been known recently to put my cell phone in the refrigerator.) But I have become acutely aware that these two mental muscles work in very different ways – at least in my case.

Some people maintain that one’s memory improves with practice. I’m not sure that that’s true – but I do think that one acquires a variety of tricks to help with the torturous process of learning a script, not least because it’s usually a test of endurance.

When I was 10 or 11 years old, I remember mugging up for exams by learning my notes by heart – literally taking them to bed, reading and re-reading them before going to sleep, and then regurgitating them the next day in the exact form I had learned them. It wasn’t a process that made for insightful analysis of material – but what the hell, when you’re comparing the site, situation, and functions of the ports of Liverpool and San Francisco, you look for the easy way out.

Intensely boring though they may have been, childhood experiences like these made me adept at absorbing large quantities of material for short-term use and then scraping the palimpsest clean, ready to be written over for the next assignment. And later on it’s a great skill to have if your agent sends you twelve pages of copy to be learned for a session the following day – but don’t expect a word of that stuff to be there next week.

I once watched a fascinating documentary about the Danish recorder player, Michala Petri. A dazzling virtuoso, I saw her play florid passages of Baroque music at great speed and with complete technical assurance, and I remember her saying that the only way she was able to master such pieces was not to have to think once about what her fingers were doing. By committing the notes and the fingering to a deeper, more instinctive muscle memory, she was then able to focus on her interpretation of the music.

Musical virtuosity relies on far more than the player’s confidence that she knows the notes, of course – and I can hardly imagine what it is like to be a prodigy, infant or otherwise! But I’m intrigued by the question of how one transfers the retention – or rather, the recall – of a script from the short-term mental filing system to a more deeply ingrained memory that allows freedom and spontaneity in performance.

If I find the solution, I’ll post it here – and I’ll probably have fewer pre-show nightmares like the one where I discover that I’ve missed four pages of my script that were stuck together and we go up in ten minutes. But meanwhile, as I try to assimilate the text of Rory Fellowes’ luminous play A Victorian Eye, I’ll have to adopt the method of every other actor faced with “learning all those lines.”

Learn them one by one.

14 04, 2013

A Victorian Eye – Background

By |2015-07-24T08:37:27+01:00April 14th, 2013|Categories: News, Theatre|0 Comments

I’m thrilled to be appearing (under my UK stage name, Nigel Dunbar) as Sir William Blake Richmond, R. A. in the forthcoming production of A Victorian Eye, a new play by Rory Fellowes, at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre from July 30 to August 17, 2013.

A Victorian Eye is a portrait of WBR in old age as he reflects on his life and work, including his masterpiece – the mosaics that decorate the quire of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Rory has kindly supplied some background to the play and his fascination with its subject:

Sir William was one of the leading English artists of the 19th Century. He was a brilliant draughtsman, painter and sculptor, and a traveller who constantly returned to Italy, Greece and North Africa in search of the colours and the light.

He was most famous in his day for his portraits for all the great families of England including the Royal Family, as well as some of the most eminent men and women of his time, among them Charles Darwin, William Gladstone, Prince von Bismarck, Holman Hunt, Florence Nightingale and Robert Louis Stevenson. He also painted several vast panoramas based on Greek mythology and landscapes. He sculpted, most famously the memorial to William and Catherine Gladstone and The Athlete in St. Peter’s Square, Hammersmith.

His long and distinguished career culminated in the greatest commission any artist in England might have wished for, the decoration of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a masterpiece that took him thirteen years of demanding research, hard labour and intense difficulties of finance and public opposition.

But as he worked, everything he stood for in Art was set aside by the sudden surge into Modernism, led then by the Post-Impressionists, his bitterest rivals in a world that no longer recognised his ideals or appreciated his skills. After a lifetime of national renown, Sir William Blake Richmond R.A.’s career ended in disappointment.

Sometimes using Sir William’s own words and otherwise dramatising his thoughts and experiences as he recorded them, Rory’s play sets out to restore his reputation. Nowadays few could name the artist who created the mosaics in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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