Saturday, 12 March 2016

That’s life…!

That’s life (that’s life), that’s what all the people say
You’re ridin’ high in April, shot down in May
But I know I’m gonna change that tune
When I’m back on top, back on top in June

I said that’s life (that’s life), and as funny as it may seem
Some people get their kicks stompin’ on a dream
But I don’t let it, let it get me down
’Cause this fine old world, it keeps spinnin' around

I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out and I know one thing
Each time I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race

As regular readers of this blog – if any such creatures exist… – will know: I do not like, generally, to only attend one performance of a play. There are too many variables – and I believe you never see quite the same show twice.

I think I got all eleven scenes right at some point, but not on the same night. It’s like serving at tennis: some of the balls are aces, and some go into the net.
Michael Pennington, in Performing King Lear by Jonathan Croall

A great deal, of course, depends on the audience: as returning to The Woman Hater, last night, quickly demonstrated. On Wednesday, those watching had been somewhat partisan – parents, peers, and those, like me, who just had brought a huge bucket of goodwill with them: wishing Edward’s Boys a whole heap of luck on their opening night; on the opening night of The Other Place… – and it showed. Especially in the first half, we hardly ever stopped laughing. We were willing the company on; and our appreciation was heightened by their concomitant response.

Last night, though, let’s just say it was a more ‘formal’ audience (although yet another full house…). Perhaps the majority did not know what to expect; or weren’t acclimatized to the barrage of early seventeenth century word-play? It was only when Mambo Italiano hit the runway, with the exuberant Jack Hawkins (as Oriana), that you could see the audience finally relax – aided and abetted by Joe Pocknell’s wonderful joshing and ad libbing (as Count Valore, below), giving them permission to have fun:

What Nobleman is that? all the Gallants on the Stage rise…

Although still not quite as responsive as Wednesday’s crowd, this did not appear in any way to affect the company. If anything, they rose to the occasion; and I felt that the play flowed even better (especially the ending; and the epilogue’s transposition into the final song and dance…). The cast – even though they hadn’t shown any first-night nerves – had tweaked those tiny misfires; checked there were no loose connections; and, as a result, the engine driving, powering them on, was now perfectly tuned. Even if the audience wasn’t as involved, this didn’t mean that they wouldn’t give the best performance possible!

Additionally, a second viewing enables you to spot those things you missed before. And I felt, this time around, that Dominic Howden (Lucio) – especially in the Lazarillo ‘trial’ scene – exhibited great strength. This was power and confidence in habitual display:

Sir, your long practice in the State, under a great man, hath led you to much experience.

Additionally, Finlay Hatch (Duke of Milan) was even more convincing, I thought. There was a noticeable weight removed from his shoulders – a change from stiff to relaxed; glowering to content – when Oriana said yes to his ‘proposal’:

Best of all comforts, may I take this hand, and call it mine?

What I should also reinforce is all of the actors’ innate maturity. Off the stage, each one is simply “the whining schoolboy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school”. But, once in character, they are that character; and they are whatever age (and sex) they are required to be. Quite astounding, really – but such is the transparency of (what I can only call) the great thespian’s art.

Having been immersed for far too long in Jacobethan/early modern drama, only at the interval did I register the sheer invisibility of the actors’ consistent – and enviable – ability to also render four-centuries-old language into conversational, comprehensible, natural-sounding English. [As this is not always the case, even with professional actors, I will be taking a look at some of Edward’s Boys’ previous productions on DVD – especially at Henry V – there to revel in my favourite Shakespeare speech – “This day is called the feast of Crispian…” – and to see how it stacks up against Larry Olivier!]

As Mark Ellis – who is in charge of publicity; and produced the programme (including taking all the cast photographs); and to whom I owe much thanks… – also pointed out to me – which, again, was a property of stagecraft so transparent that, I suppose, I had previously taken it for granted – was – especially with the absence of any sort of set or stage design – the boys’ ability to imply, to create, the spaces around them: making you feel you were there; were also seeing what they were imagining, manufacturing… – not only with their dialogue, but with their actions (and re-actions). It felt as if they were painting four-dimensional pictures for you, on the blank canvas of the bare walkway, in the air, and in time. Building the walls (and when so closed-in by the audience that sometimes those walls were the audience; other times, making us fade beyond mere furniture, or obstacle… or even presence…) – and piercing them with windows and doors – and all in your mind. One moment, the Mercer’s clothes shop. The next, outside, in the streets of Milan. Or in Gondarino’s house: with a hailstorm rattling on outside. The intangible made solid.

Only at the end did this fabric ‘dissolve’ – the shifting, shuttering fourth wall becoming permanent again… – as everyone gathered on stage: gradually building to a whirling dervish of a group scrum, whilst singing That’s Life with as much happiness and vigour as one could ever hope for! (And after all that hard work.) A great way to finish – an essential summation of all that was so very, very special.

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