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Well, December is drawing to a close and so I fear is my stint in pantomime. Not that I fear a rest. There’s only so many sweets you can fling at an audience while someone more famous than you stands there singing about grinning.
I don’t think there’s many pantomimes I haven’t done. Pan, Alladin, Snow White, Cinders and a couple of others. I don’t mention them on my CV, although a cursory look at my credits and certain news sites will give a flavour of what I achieved. I love the imagination of Pantomime, the sheer thrill that literally anything can happen. Many directors don’t understand this, and insist on blocking and lines and actions being as they appear on the page, but sometimes an actor needs to spread his wings, to explore a part, to get under the skin of a character. Sack me if you will, but that is my opinion.
I well remember having this conversation with Su Pollard in her house one fine summers’ night. “The trick is Su” I mused “To know your character. To put on the makeup and the clothes and look into your own eyes in the mirror and say ‘who are you?’ and ‘What do you want?’” Su repeated those words to me and I knew the message had sunk in. She also made reference to my wearing her clothes and makeup. I bit my farewells to Ms Pollard as she went into the next room to use the phone. My tuition, I hoped, had helped this starlet, and indeed within months she was appearing in televisions’ The Survivors as a corpse.
Pantomime of course is a staple of the Christmas entertainment resume, and I feel proud that I was asked to stand in at last minute for someone who was having dental work. To be considered for ‘third pirate’ was an honour indeed, and, as the director Frank Arbetter said, I was very lucky to get the part. Frank of course is steeped in theatrical legend like myself, having had a play on several of the most prominent stages at the Beaulieu Open Air Charity Theatre event, one of which I was lucky (again) to feature in called ‘Thor-Rah’ about a transvestite Viking. It wasn’t a tremendous success, but oddly did reignite Moira Stewarts’ career.
One of the things I love about Arbetter is his faith in his performers. He allows you full freedom to explore and express the motivations and the gamut of emotions of your character. Occasionally one will be rehearsing and hear a moan or grunt from the darkened area, the odd snort, that sort of thing. But he really trusts you to be faithful to the text, sometimes you would not even know he was there, and occasionally he actually isn’t.
Pantomime of course is an annual event; many actors from both stage and screen clear their calendars and make their way to major and minor towns and cities to swash and buckle. I can’t think of a single performer who hasn’t donned tights and wig come Yuletide. I can think of several who have at Easter, or during a particularly prolonged bout of ‘resting’, but that’s another tale.
One of the things about this particular genre is the heritage it represents. I spent a great deal of my time in preparation for this, watching Alan Ladd, Errol Flynn and anyone else who had gadded about in tights. Tights work – for the male – is surprisingly under-tutored in the thespianic world. In other forms, Ballet or suchlike, there are manuals and instructions and a certain number of magazines and websites dedicated to this subsection of the arts, but nil (as far as I could find) for the actor. A simple web search produced little of interest, let alone bookmark, and an enquiry at my local library resulted in a request to leave the premises. Even the great Mel Brooks failed in his documentary – I assume that’s what it was – Men in Tights. I sat through about twenty minutes before becoming totally annoyed and sticking the cassette in a toaster. So not only am I no further in my exploration of male tight technique, I am also without toast.
Another aspect of pirate based activity is swordsmanship. There are few things which scream ‘heroic lead’ more than a sword fight. Guns are overused, knives are not dramatic enough and all that gadding about in martial arts… well, it’s just not, is it? No, if you want an authentic, brave, charismatic male lead then you simply have to have a sword fight. And you need decent, manly swords as well, not these things which would look good next to the butter dish. To this end I have at my own expense, mind you, engaged the services of Francis Meng. Meng is probably the best sword fight teacher in the country.
(A word to the wise, if you are thinking of following my advice then look up these tutors under sword fighters, and not fencing. This is a mistake I have made, and some of the answers you will receive will be quite unsavoury)
Six weeks of an hour a day cavorting with sabres and I am quite the Zorro. Of course, I have had niks and grazes, slices and cuts and one particularly personal loss, but I really feel so much more comfortable (apart from the stitches) handling a sword now. Meng even said it was a pleasure to duel with me, and ceased charging me informing me that ‘the slicing and dicing was payment enough’. Bring it on, I told him. He very much brought it on, to such an extent he got quite carried away and was about to reenact the Sean Connery death scene in Highlander when the doorbell went.
Ah, I have just had my call. So I must leave you. I shall return.
Posted By Ed to Mcphereson on 12/28/2013 02:10:00 am
I have heard tell there is a new job going in the BBC, that of a show called Dr Who. Apparently this thing has been running for years. How it escaped my notice is beyond me. It’s about a man in a blue box who goes around, apparently, poking his nose (and there have been several noses, if you believe that) into other peoples’ business. Aliens, apparently. The Dereks are his big foe, apparently.
Now, I have heard tell that the main role in this show, the Doctor, is up for grabs and they are looking for an older type gentleman to portray this gent. Who better?
I immediately rang Neville, my agent, and after excitedly telling him how suitable I was to be a time travelling alien, the confused Polish cleaner put me through to his mobile. Neville works strange hours. He never seems to be in the office when I want to speak to him, always away at meetings, at his Son’s barmitzvah or busy with important clients. Well, when you represent such luminaries as John Leslie or a Cheryl Baker lookalike you can expect to be pretty active.
When I finally got through I told him my plan “I would love to be Dr Who” I said. My reasons for this disclosure followed and must have seemed like incomprehensible babble to him. There was a long pause at the end and Neville said he would pull every contact, call in every favour and harangue everyone involved with the show that he could find to make it so.
Neville can truly work miracles in television. He once represented a well known television newsreader who, after a particularly poorly directed ten o’clock news went on a killing rampage in the directors’ booth. Some of the staff, particularly the cleaners had never seen such carnage. Finally apprehended and tazored to the ground while covered in intestines and bits of intern, the situation was hushed up largely due to Neville’s influence. (Rumour has it they hid the corpses on a Nick Knowles show as contestants. The perfect crime. Although you didn’t hear that from me.) As I say I don’t wish to name any party involved, but as to the newsreader she’s still there and sometimes on Radio Four too.
I sat back in my chair. Soon I would be captain of whatever starship this person drove, issuing orders while clutching some sort of torch which people pretended to die from when I pointed it at them. The ice in my weak orange cordial literally shaking.
Two minutes later he called back. His answer encapsulated all the blinkered thinking, all the prejudice and malice, all the private little club mentality of such a production I have come to expect. ‘No’. I demanded to know why.
Readers my remember my stint in Blackhammer. For those who don’t, Blackhammer was about a android who was sent back from the future to right the wrongs which had been wrongly put down at the time as being right but had, in hindsight, been wrong. Also as Gor in Gor The Revolutionary, about a group of rebels attacking what they felt was wrong with the galaxy. Gor had a dark side to him, but he was essentially a good man caught in a storm. Many TV critics felt it was ‘exceptional’ television, and a few of them went so far as to call me personally a ‘cult’. Finally I told him about Dark Waves, a series in which I played a man who didn’t exist (who did, obviously) and his adventures with an automated canoe. Solving crimes, that sort of thing.
Neville was very firm on this. ‘Tarquin, this was all years ago.” He whined in that authoritarian whiney way of his “there’s a reason why none of these series are on DVD yet DIY SOS has a boxed set”. I said it was ridiculous and the BBC should put the tapes onto DVD and ship them out to the shows fan base immediately. I was told then, that in the early eighties, with storage being short and tape being expensive they had to make decisions about what to keep. Apparently my epics were top of the list. In fact, had it not been for the tape shortage they were earmarked as central heating fuel anyway.
Shocked as I was, I persisted. I put my case. I knew the show. I knew how to say Doctor in a mysterious way. I knew and remain in full knowledge of how to open the door to a cupboard and go in in a variety of speeds. I know how to hold a small coloured torch up like it’s some sort of weapon and most importantly, I know how to be inside a small space with a woman without subsequent charges.
But I was told no. I was told they had some specific people in mind, and I was none of those people.
The line then dropped and that was that.
Oh, what joy I would have brought to the role. Mysterious, yet approachable. Fun loving yet safety aware. Clever and yet… not quite so clever. I would have brought so much to the role that other actors would have said ‘I could never have done it like Tarquin. He will not be forgotten because of this’.
I would have been up there with the best Doctors like Steve Davis and Richard Baker.
It’s their loss.
It’s the end of June and Summer is finally here. Many of my compardres have already departed for sunnier climbs; Connery is in Egypt, Moore has gone to Barcelona and Jacobi is being taken up the Urals by some mountaineers.
Alas, such travel is beyond me these days. Not that I haven’t ventured. I have ventured a great deal personally and professionally. I don’t think there’s a town in the UK which I have not appeared in in some production or another. Certainly many of them still remember me. My appearance in one long dust covered play was described as ‘a tour de force of the eternal human condition. Or it seemed eternal’.
One thing and actor must be able to do is portray the human condition. Be it happy, sad, angry, betrayed, envious, confused or some of the other emotions I can’t think of right now but I am sure they are around. I often use a technique I learned in drama college. “When you want to show sad, Tarquin” said old Macklby, our drama lecturer “remember something sad”. And it worked. That evening in a production of Antigone, I thought of something sad. In fact, I thought of several of the saddest moments of my life and ended up apologising to the King of Thebes for not doing my technical drawing homework.
But it is a technique I like to pass on to younger actors. “Think of something tragic” I say. This resulted in one of my students performing what I believe modern parlance to be a ‘killing’ performance of Hamlet that very night. I won’t name him, bless him, and I don’t want to imply that his success on television, radio and indeed in films is down solely to my gently coaxing out his inner Thespian. It would be wrong to suggest that all the awards and plaudits and praise should be mine also, and far be it from me to even postulate that his millions of pounds, beautiful wife, luxuary lifestyle is totally and utterly traceable back to advice in that toilet in Grimsby.
For myself it is the art that is important. I have no time to write lectures and acceptance speeches anyway. I simply find that awards and all the glamour and glitz that go with it to be too far removed from the art itself. How many of those awards have resulted in a true portrayal of a down at heel bookmaker, addicted to crack, on the streets forced to service businessmen to glean a small token sum for his next fix? I couldn’t portray that role, even if it were offered, knowing that on my mantelpiece I have a trophy which screams ‘YOU ARE THE BEST’. It would distract me. And then there’s the obvious production and crew who love to see these awards, and you would have to take it in and they would all be in awe and then you would have the extra burden of being convincing on camera/mic/stage/in the marquee knowing they all know this is not the real you, no matter how true to life and tear jerking your performance.
No, keep your awards, I say. Don’t even mention me. For me, ‘tis the art that is important. The ripping of the shroud from the dark corners of the human psyche, the revelation of who we all are, and how far we could all fall, that is the key, the reason, the truth.
Somebody has asked to see Nelson Mandela with a walnut whip on his head again – as always happy to oblige!