An Actor’s Lament
Mum: “That was an interesting piece”.
Me: “Painfully close”.
As someone who began in performance, and has latterly turned to writing, there was so much substance to Berkoff’s piece that it is incredibly difficult to put into words. Actors, writers, directors, critics – every group receives a grilling from John, David and Sarah in due course.
Andrée Bernard (Sarah, actress) was enchanting – the grace of her physicality and movements effortlessly transported her around the space. I would contend, however, that this worked against her co-stars.
Jay Benedict‘s (David) capacity for Berkoff’s renowned physical repertoire was minimal. Yes he was playing a critic but…he was playing a critic. That does require some effort, surely? Eloquent and articulate delivery, however; you could almost believe he was a writer.
Berkoff (John, actor), who had many wonderful moments of enacting his own perfected techniques, felt as though he was forcing a few gestures. I’ll warrant he is 76 (I’ve been watching through the BBC’s Shakespeare collection, leave me be), and he doesn’t need to do much to captivate an audience. His crocodile shoes alone were magnificent. But as ever it is a delight to see him perform.
The way he engages with an audience is seldom seen these days, and he is definitely the last of a dying breed. Yes, he is performing and therefore there will always be a detachment, but it is an aspect that I can only akin to an excellent storyteller. You hang on their every word, and that every word spoken is spoken to you rather than at. For me, that is when an actor is at their best: when, unbeknownst to you, they’ve taken you into their world (I may need to write an entry about what I think makes a cracking actor/play, but for the time being see Fantasy).
The text of the piece was an interesting one, because it touches on every part of theatre we have all experienced in the industry at one point or another:
- The director who allows for no creative expression from anyone;
- The writer who is too precious about their ‘baby’ they spent months over only to have some actor “insert a little joke here, an improvised line there“;
- Or the actors who have long since “run the stage“ but continue to think they do.
It was a juicy script. It had wit, vitality and, irritatingly, a lot of truth. We are all guilty of being the bastard and getting in the way of someone else’s idea, or thinking we know best when sometimes, actually, we really don’t. We have all had our diva moments, justifying why writers need us actors, or actors need our directors and so on.
At the crux of the piece, and what I have personally come to the conclusion of over the past year or so, is that in order to produce a play/film/whathaveyou, everyone is as integral to the piece as the next. “You need us as much as we need you“ Sarah cries after a lengthy (and bitchy) debate between her and David about writers versus actors. Someone needs to construct a piece. Someone needs to give it direction. Someone needs to perform it and, finally, someone needs to see it.
“You audience are like the blazing sun“ David utters prior to exit, who heat and blind the performers until the evening. When the dusk creeps in, and the performance ends, the actors are left cold upon the audience’s exit. A play is a newborn creature, and it needs people to develop it into something greater than its embryonic state. ‘An Actor’s Lament’ was a very good show, although I’m sure if Steven read this, he would no doubt throw John’s line right back at me: “put a sock in that loquacious gob of yours“.