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The scary thing is …
Oct22

The scary thing is …

… performance. It doesn’t get any easier. From my first school play through weekly rep. at Frinton-on-Sea to playing John Proctor in Miller’s ‘The Crucible’, the “why am I doing this?’ terror does not go away. For me anyway – and, I suspect, the majority of stage actors. I haven’t been on the stage for a long time. Not as an actor, anyway. The last time for me was in the understudy run of ‘Skylight’ for the National Theatre. I was understudying Bill Nighy. I never had to go on during the run but the statutory internal understudy performance was still scary, though. The two of us (it’s a two-hander) had invited friends, agents, casting directors etc. to fill out the auditorium of the Vaudeville Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue for the event. We did our bit to make our show a meaningful event and very fine it was too, by all accounts. But that was fifteen years ago. Performing for television or film doesn’t quite have the same quality of scariness as does the bungie jump ‘now or never’ moment of making a first entrance on a first night in the theatre. If working with the camera is scary, it’s more of a kind of private frisson than the full-on shared experience of theatre, which bears more resemblance to going over the top to face the bullets and shells of battle in a close company of soldiers – with no disrespect to those who do that for real! Filming is more like going into hospital for an operation. You trust in the calm professionalism of all those around you and privately hope that you’re not the one that fucks it all up. That said, THE most scary “beam me up Scottie” experience of my professional career was in a TV studio. There is a form of television that, for the performer, exquisitely combines both forms of scariness mentioned above into one – The Sitcom. In 1994 there was a Granada TV sitcom called “The House of Windsor”. This short lived series was set behind the scenes at Buckingham Palace. I played a character called ‘Sir Robert Butlers’. I have never been so terrified in my life. As I said, sitcom combines all the fears associated with live performance (sitcom audiences are actually quite large), with the more subtle terrors of causing the complex machine of TV production to grind to a halt if you cock it. Take it from me, it is a heady mix. I don’t remember ever feeling quite so ill waiting for my call. On the other hand, one of the most pleasant and unthreatening professional experiences I ever had...

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