Back in October last year, I wrote a piece (An Actor Unprepares…Part 2 – ‘The Stoopid Embargo’) about one of the important preparations I undertake before appearing in a play. I.E, not doing anything daft and injuring myself before the opening night. I was less than usually successful on that last show though, when I managed to introduce my thumb to a rubber mallet whilst helping build the set. The nail still hasn’t fully recovered, but at least it’s no longer black.
I was reminded of ‘The Stoopid Embargo’, at some volume, by Mrs Bloke yesterday as I was playing a game with Little Bloke in our local Lidl car park, which has a decided slope down towards the trolley bay. I decided to call the game ‘Daddy Curling’ and balancing myself up on the handle, freewheeled the trolley down the slope to see if I could reach the bay without putting by feet on the ground. ( I failed, inertia and friction are no friends of the husky gentleman.) However, I didn’t injure myself and promised I wouldn’t do it again.
Which is a long way of saying that, yes, I’m back on the stage soon. I am lucky enough to be playing the eponymous lead, well both eponymous leads really, of Jekyll and Hyde.
It is one hell of a part. The last play we did, it was very much an ensemble cast, with no stand-out lead or star character. I also had fewer lines to learn for that. This part is proving to be incredibly challenging. To start with, it is essentially two roles. I have to try and portray two very different personalities within the same play, even, during one section, at the same time, where Dr Jekyll and the evil Mr Hyde hold a conversation.
I have taken on large roles before, Hercule Poirot in Black Coffee and the saintly Lt. Osborne in Journey’s End. Each had about four hundred lines to get through. Jekyll is nearer three hundred lines so, in theory, should be easier. But, by god, am I struggling. We were sat yesterday at the kitchen table; Mrs Bloke, Little Bloke and I just going over the same five line speech again and again. Still not sure I’ve got it right. We’re rehearsing now without books and, I’ll admit, it’s hard word.
It is also, just by definition, an extremely difficult role to play. We are not using any make-up or prosthetics for the transformation between Jekyll and Hyde. It is a slightly laughable cliche to have the hero clutching his throat, falling behind an armchair, then rise again, hairy hands and wild wig applied. No, it is being done entirely physically, by changing my stance, my voice, my facial expression. Hyde, needless to say, is much more fun to play; he slopes and slithers across the stage, gravel voiced, violent, wild, unpredictable. Rather than portray him as deliberately evil I am instead trying to make him an unpolished wild animal, all lusts and urges he can’t control.
Now, I’m going to let you into a little secret, but you must promise not to tell my Director. The inspiration for my portrayal of Hyde was not any classic horror movie telling of the story, but rather a radio sketch on ‘John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme’, a wonderful Radio 4 sketch show. You can listen to it on You Tube here – John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme Jekyll Sketch. It’s worth a listen, trust me. Hyde’s wild enthusiasm and uncontrolled appetites define the character for me and if I can, maybe, draw a tiny bit of sympathy for him from the audience, I’ll know I’ve done a good job.
Whenever we choose a new play, I read through, thinking what character I want to try for. I’ll admit, it is not anything edifying I look for. It usually boils down to a few parameters. Do I get to;
- Do some lovely shouty acting?
- Die on stage? (The good way. Not the bad way, though I did do that once doing some comedy at a little show in Northampton. Still have flash backs.)
- Kill or fight anyone?
- Kiss anyone?
- Get the best laughs?
- Get the most tears?
Yes, I am that shallow and this part does tick several of those boxes. Frankly, acting is about the only thing I’ve ever been competitive at. And I think striving to be the best is a good thing. We may be an ‘Amateur’ group, but we have very high standards and have won many awards. We are currently nominated for two awards for our production of All My Sons in 2016, where I didn’t have such a large role, but was noticeable in that it was the first appearance on the adult stage of Little Bloke, playing a neighbourhood kid. Heart bursting pride at that one.
So, opening night is just over two weeks away and I’m still wrestling with lines. I’ll get there. I need that fear to drive me on. I’m slowly raising my performance, up from Force Five to about Force Eight. By opening night I’ll be on scenery chewing, heart rending, spine chilling Force 10. (Raising to 11 on the night my family are watching.) I am extremely hairy at the moment. I haven’t shave for months so, come the production I can carve an impressive muttonchop moustache out of my beard. Frankly, with the full beard and long hair I could be mistaken for a hipster at the moment. My wedding ring is off, as Dr Jekyll is a bachelor, so that there is no sign of a white band on my finger. Told you I take it seriously.
If you happen to be in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Lincolsnhire or Peterborough on the 28th March – 1st April. Why not come along for a watch at The Angles Theatre, Wisbech. Modesty forbids me from saying it will be great.
But it will.
You can book tickets online here – www.anglestheatre.co.uk/jeykll-and-hyde.html
Now, where’s my script? ‘It is a false face we put to the world……’