GOOD ACTING is only one element of an enjoyable piece of drama but, without it, the best writing, directing and production values come to naught. Performers are the front line of a show and they can, in fact, lift lack-lustre scripts. When all four elements combine then an amazing piece of artistic work appears.
I have been privileged to see some magnificent performances lately; I’ve also seen some dire ones. I’m not going to talk about the latter but just point out some good acting that I found worth seeing or, indeed hearing.
Actually, I’d like to write about Radio first. I’ve listened to many stunning radio dramas and can often be seen at the gym giggling as I pound on the cross-trainer; I’m the mad woman who has “Cabin Fever” on her mp3 player. Stephanie Cole and Benedict Cumberbatch send wit and mayhem into my ears to my delight. Radio comedy rocks!
Many years ago a young man called John died in a freak tractor accident. One lunchtime I listened to his mother talk about her grief as I sat in a supermarket car park and I wept along with her. I will never forget the bizarre moment when the programme ended and several other drivers sombrely turned off their car radios and walked towards the shop’s entrance. Sixteen years later Patricia Gallimore can still cut the muster and set my bottom lip aquiver. So, at the gym, you’ll find me either tittering at a comedy or sighing in empathy at an episode of The Archers. I am currently very worried about Elizabeth, think Heather is very selfish and hope that Edward manages to find the money for a house soon.
The finest acting at the moment that I’ve seen on television is in “The Missing”. Tonight I witnessed Diana Quick given an outstanding controlled performance, as well as fine stuff from James Nesbit. So far the whole series has been impeccable and is extremely gripping. I have no idea how it will end, whether or not the missing child will be found and what other skeletons lie in the cupboards of the characters. I just know that for the next three Tuesdays we shall be watching The Missing as soon as we get home. Have to watch it recorded – couldn’t bear to be interrupted.
Other absorbing television acting this year has been Sarah Lancashire in “Happy Valley” and Penelope Wilton in everything. A few years ago Penelope Wilton gave a masterclass in “Five Days” in a scene where she played a mother appealing for information about her missing daughter. She started the scene by staring at the camera and, rather than blurting out the plea scripted for her by the police, her character let out this incredible primordial set of wails that sent shivers down my spine. If you can fine this 2007 series on dvd then watch the second episode. I used to have it on vhs and would use it as a teaching exercise but our video has long since gone and who knows where the tape has got to.
As for male acting then Neil Maskell as Arby in Utopia is just one of many worth watching in that amazing series. He epitomised evil and is menacingly heartless throughout until confronted with his sister. There’s a lot of fuss at the moment about the series not being recommissioned but although I found it mesermising and especially enjoyed the bright photography, (I loathed the ghost story last week that was all shot in the moody half-light) I think two series were sufficient. Less is more and too many times the quality of tv shows has deteriorated beyond recognition of the original concept.
Those who know me will expect now to see the name Christopher Ecclestone, my favourite of the modern Doctor Whos although I thought Matt Smith’s ageing towards the end of his tenure was very moving and David Tennant rarely puts a step wrong.
Talking of David Tennant, I very much enjoyed him on stage in “Much Ado About Nothing” in which for the first time I saw Benedick’s menace; just a snippet of danger and quite frightening.
I have seen far too many wonderful theatrical performances to enumerate here and those I now mention are just what has bounced into my mind.
- Lesley Manville in Grief at The National – standing stock still, lighting a cigarette, glancing at a chair, saying nothing but speaking volumes.
- Simon Russell Beale as Hamlet relishing his all too mortal flesh
- Sheridan Smith in Flare Path trying to maintain optimism about the plight of her airman husband against all the odds
- Luke Treadway in Curious Incident Of The Dog
- The incredible energy of the cast of The Play That Went Wrong
- Adrian De Gregorian in Made In Dagenham who made me, someone who is not fond of musicals, sob and snivel
- Kevin Spacey who surprised me by being very good in Inherit The Wind
As for film, well that’s not my special subject, but who cannot be moved by
- Imelda Staunton in Vera Drake?
- Judi Dench was good but Steve Coogan was a revelation in “Philomena”
- Julie Waters in, well in everything; everything I’ve seen from Billy Eliot to Educating Rita
- Eddie Marsden in everything too
Ah, I seem to be running on empty now – best leave the lists and get back to the theory.
Most people come home from work, switch on the television and wait to be entertained. Some will watch a soap opera, some a dvd, some a comedy, some a drama.
People like being told a story.
Few will only ever watch documentaries or reality tv shows or quizzes or news broadcasts or sport. Even the latter are usually fronted by professional presenters. For a special night out lots of people will go to the cinema and fewer to the theatre. Some to comedy clubs, some to music venues and some to a disco type club. Some even to the opera, the ballet or a classic concert. Then there’s the circus, the cabaret and the pantomime – oh, how I loved the pantomime.
People want to be entertained.
Let’s face it, in this dismal world where the news is mostly grim and the future is mostly bleak, a bit of light relief or a tale to make you think is practically a necessity.
Thus when mealy-mouthed politicians and sanctimonious commentators rub their hands with glee when arts budgets are cut, theatres demolished to make way for more offices and v.a.t. clawed from ticket prices, think how dreary how lives would be without the actors, the directors, the designers, the backstage crew, the film crews, the box office staff et al.
Remember when you balk at the price of a theatre ticket 20% goes into the tax coffers and that it is not just the performers you see on stage that need a living wage but those behind the scenes too.
A few years ago I went to Epidaurus in Greece where there’s a museum dedicated to surgical instruments – it’s where the word epidural originates. It was originally a hospital and a convalescent site in the middle of the countryside with lots of fresh air for the ancient Greeks to inhale. Aware that those needing healing also needed more than that which doctors could provide do you know what was built there as well?
An enormous amphitheatre.
It’s still functioning.
All those years ago designed with perfect acoustics.
I stood on a spot in the centre of the stage and recited my classical monologue from the Agamemnon which my husband assures me could be heard hundreds of feet up in the gods.
Ah, is that why they are called the gods, I wonder?