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