Well, it’s finally arrived. I’m on stage, acting every night, and loving it.
Wednesday was our opening night. I was shitting myself, mainly because it was also Will’s birthday and I’d asked Gill to make him a cake, which I planned to present to him onstage after the curtain call. I even scripted out a little ceremony, in character. But the night before, Will had a screaming fit after we cocked up the curtain call, and I was terrified that this could so easily go wrong, that it would cock up his play and that rather than loving the gesture, he would be incensed. The rest of the cast seemed to feel the same as me, but even more strongly. I was warned against doing it, that such an “unprofessional” gesture would reflect badly on the professionalism of the rest of the play, that we should just wish him happy birthday quietly backstage.
In the end, everything was fine. Will was extremely touched by the gesture, and loved the fact that I’d written a script for it. Nothing whatsoever to worry about there.
If only the same could be said of the acting. I hadn’t realised quite how much I would be affected by the presence of an audience. I couldn’t even look at them for the whole first half, which was rather a problem as a large part of my character is built on asides and knowing glances. I improved a little over the second half, but I still didn’t feel great about my acting. It wasn’t that I did anything wrong – I got all of my lines at least 99% right, stood where I should have done, did all the moves, it was just that I didn’t feel I’d done very much right – those little extra touches that are essential to bring the character to life. I felt like I was basically Dan Sumption standing on stage reciting a few lines and doing the odd bit of shouting.
Unfortunately, the first night was also the night the critics came. Still, everyone else in the cast felt they’d acted an excellent play, so I hoped (but doubted) that perhaps I was just being a bit pessimistic about the whole thing. And I braced myself for the reviews, which I felt certain would pick up on my charlatan attempts to act. The first review, in the Sheffield Star, came the very next day. I needn’t have worried about the reviewer, Joy Wright (Wrong!), criticising me, in fact I needn’t have worried about her mentioning the performance at all, it seemed as if she hadn’t actually seen it. She wrote:
GOGOL’S ‘Marriage’ is
described as satirical
comedy and he himself has
been described as a leader
in Russian literature – a
thought to bear in mind
should you watch this
The production focuses
on marriage and it’s [sic] place in
social stature, marriage as
an institution and as an
event which simply ought to
happen in a persons [sic] life,
according to the times.
The character commentary
is vaguely amusing at times
and the circumstances certainly have great potential.
There are caricatures of
people within caricatures of
scenarios which , if
interpreted by another playwright, could have the audience rolling in their seats.
The volume of work
undertaken by Next Best
Thing Productions is
evident, although the end
result is weakened by a
collection of thoughts
Gogol’s script may appeal
to a select audience but is
unlikely to appeal to a wider
Not quite sure what she meant by all of that. She sounds somewhat like a deranged, disillusioned A-Level literature student who has only read the script, rather than watching the play, and a different translation of the script at that. She can’t even write proper English (apart from the unwieldiness of her sentences, check out the way that the apostrophe in “person’s” has slipped back half a sentence, and landed slap in the middle of “its”. And what the hell is “social stature”? And… spaces before commas? Since when?). As Will mocked “no, I didn’t think much of that Romeo and Juliet play, I mean it’s so irrelevant, 13-year olds don’t get married, do they!?”
Anyway, the Telegraph review came out today, and, damn, Marion Heywood spotted my lack of acting:
NIKOLAI Gogol is perhaps now best remembered
for The Government Inspector, a sparkling and
savage satire about Russian bureaucracy.
Marriage was to be Gogol’s last foray into comedy
before he rather unwisely embarked on his unfinished and unfunny novel Dead Souls. Marriage is
well worth a revival and all credit to this company
for doing just that.
Director Will Bird of Next Best Thing Productions
has updated the play from the 1830s to the 1900s
which works. However, the claims in the programme
notes about a rediscovery of a classic to rate alongside, say, The Importance of Being Earnest or the
Comedy of Errors, seem a tad over-inflated. Still, this
translation by Stephen Mulrine is fresh and lively.
The farcical plot with patches of dark comedy
seeks to expose the marriage business in St Petersburg. It revolves about the efforts of a mad old
matchmaker to arrange a marriage for Agafya, an
eligible heiress, the young woman at the heart of the
action. Along the way, Gogol unveils a gallery of
grotesque suitors and the ending is surprisingly subversive.
The playing is rather patchy throughout. Some
scenes really sparkle, others fall flat and the staging
is somewhat awkward at times, too. Still, Zoe
English is an appealing Agafya and there is some
good playing between her and Rachel Sylvester as
the striking and rather scary match-maker.
Good comic timing, too, between the idle and
indecisive would-be suitor Podkolyosin (played by
Andrew Hawcroft) and his servant, Stepan (Alex
Will Bird is a suitably foppish, shrill, Anuchkin
and Mike Gordon an impressive Omelet. David Reid
is an assured rakish and very funny Baltazar.
However, Dan Sumption isn’t really sinister enough
in the crucial role of Kochkaryov .
This is the company’s first production in Sheffield.
It’s good that this company is prepared to be adventurous, but not all amateur theatre in Sheffield is –
again to quote from the programme notes – “dominated by the over-familiar.”
URK!! She praised everyone else in the cast, and then said that about me. The fact that she was right softened the blow a little, but not much.
Anyway, I had a good and very reassuring chat with Will afterwards. Firstly he pointed out that the review didn’t actually criticise my acting in any way, just said I wasn’t sinister enough, and he had never directed (or intended) me to be sinister: just manic & weird. His main point of reference for me was Oliver Hardy, and as he pointed out Hardy isn’t sinister, just pompous and overbearing, as I was meant (and mainly managed) to be. He also took most of the blame for the criticism himself, pointing out that her main issue was with the programme notes. His comment that
“…theatre in Sheffield seemed to be dominated by the overfamiliar. Alan Ayckbourn or an adaptation of a classic novel wasn’t for me.”
seemed to get peoples’ backs up as much as I had expected it would. He says he didn’t mean it in an overly negative way, nothing wrong with the performances other amateur groups give, just that the material chosen doesn’t range as widely as it might.
Anyway, that was that and not a lot we can do about it now. But I wasn’t too bothered by the review (not too bothered)
because I already knew my performance on Wednesday was far from my best (I managed much better on both the technical and dress rehearsals), but mainly because on Thursday night I pulled out a blinder, and I know that tonight I can manage better yet. Wary of my nervousness the previous night, I realised that there was one crucial ingredient missing in Kochkaryov’s makeup: a very large glass of brandy. Well, it worked when I got married for real, so why on earth not now, eh? I quickly downed a treble before setting off for the theatre. I had some cause to be nervous: unlike the previous night there were now people I knew in the audience – my mum & dad and Sanjida. But the brandy put paid to any of that, and had me running around backstage, cracking jokes as the makeup went on, and thoroughly looking forward to things.
Despite that, the play didn’t start quite as well as I knew it could have. The audience took some warming up, and I did too. But nonetheless the first half was much better than before. By the second half… well, I was flying. I really got into my stride, full of confidence and loving every minute. After the show, Will gave us his customary de-brief in the green room. He spoke to us one-by-one, giving praise and suggestions. When he came to me he said “Dan…. excellent! In the second half I thought you acted the best…” “Yes, I know” I interrupted, expecting him to finish the sentence “you’ve done so far”. When he actually said “of the entire cast” I was well shocked and well chuffed. He went on to point out that I’d got people laughing where they’d never laughed before, and my performance had moved several notches up. And now I’m really excited because I know that I’ve enough confidence to do even better tonight (when Gill & the kids will be along, with about ten of their friends).
Postscript: just finished writing this, and got the following email from Will:
Just thought I’d let you know that Zoe’s mum thought you were the best thing
in it last night too!
Probably the first thing we’ve agreed on in the 3 years I’ve known her….