Sir Alec Guinness Memorial Award 2015

I found out first thing this morning that I have won the Sir Alec Guinness Memorial Award, hosted by the Catholic Association of Performing Arts. Sadly I was at the technical rehearsal for my upcoming show The Priory and was unable to attend the actual event. But nonetheless I was very proud (and so was my mum, whom I woke with a phone call at 7am to tell her the news).

Alec Guinness was a truly incredible actor. He is among the top three British actors of the 20th Century next to John Gielgud and Lawrence Olivier. In a career spanning nearly 70 years he appeared on stage and TV but it is in film that we still have access to his brilliance. He acted alongside a host of legendary performers from both sides of the pond in film after film, including many that are considered classics of cinema – Kind Hearts and Coronets (in which he played eight different parts), The Bridge on the River Kwai (for which he won an Oscar), Tunes of Glory (a film close to my heart as it revolves around piping), Dr Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, and Star Wars (“These are not the droids you’re looking for”).

Early in his career he became a Roman Catholic and his faith stayed with him throughout his career – he served as Vice President of the Catholic Association of Performing Arts and reportedly recited a verse from Psalm 143 every morning: “Cause me to hear your loving kindness in the morning”. I too have a morning ritual to set up my sprint for the day, which may serve as the topic for a future blog post.

It’s refreshing to learn of successful actors professing a strong faith. A lot of emphasis is put on performers’ mental and physical wellbeing, and rightly so, in my opinion, but as a practising Christian, I am pleased that there is provision for spiritual support too. Organisations such as the Catholic Association of Performing Arts provide a chaplaincy service for people working in the Performing Arts. They offer support, guidance and prayers for their members and the wider performing arts community. They encourage members to stage productions in aid of charitable causes, host pilgrimages and retreats. I am reassured to know that there is somewhere I can turn to (in confidence if need be) in the event of becoming spiritually lost.

Another place where performers can seek sanctuary is St Paul’s church in Covent Garden. Commonly called the Actor’s Church, it is situated in the heart of London’s ‘theatreland’ and often hosts plays and concerts (in fact, if my technical and dress rehearsals today finish in enough time, I will be heading there myself to see my friend singing sing Carmina Burana with Eclectic Voices.)

I have already seen for myself how the performing arts can paradoxically be a very lonely industry to work in, but it is important to remember that support is there – psychological, physical and, for those who want it, spiritual. I want to encourage actors who have a faith, firstly, that they are not alone; and secondly, in a predominantly secular industry, that they need not be ashamed of their beliefs. It is tempting to conceal, or maybe even actively deny one’s faith for fear of what people might think of you, but to paraphrase a well-known quotation (attributed to various people): ‘You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realised how seldom they do.’

Blog Post : Monty Python and Francis Beaumont

I’m on the tube home after seeing (for the second time) the Knight of the Burning Pestle, by Francis Beaumont at the Wanamaker Playhouse. It’s a difficult show to categorise but I think director Adele Thomas’ term “Jacobean Rock’n’roll” is as good as any.

The Actors embark on a telling of the London Merchant, but the play is interrupted by a Grocer and his wife who thrust their apprentice Rafe onto the stage and get him to insert his own scenes based on their instructions. The players join in these scenes with initial reluctance as the original narrative of elopement is interspersed with scenes of damsel-rescuing and giant-slaying. The whole atmosphere inside the Sam Wanamaker playhouse was absolutely delightful. The audience laughed, we sang along and how we applauded.

This meta-theatrical device makes for great madcap slapstick humour – frantic fight sequences and knob-gags. The concept of Knight of the Burning Pestle seemed so modern that my father thought there must have been some modern additions inserted into the text, drawing on the likes of Monty Python. Which reminded me of the recent revival the five remaining pythons brought to the O2 back in July.

From my seat right at the back of the arena I remember being very underwhelmed by performances which, when I was first introduced to them as a teenager, I found absolutely hilarious.

I had gone with expectations of reliving some of that teenage glee, but for some reason the off-the-wall silliness of Pythons live left me very cold. I assumed that my tastes must have moved on and that now, as an adult, I am far too pretentious to find such absurd humour funny, that I need something altogether more sophisticated to tickle my funny bone these days. However, tonight’s trip to the Globe showed me I can still take great delight from silly, knockabout humour. So what was the difference?

It was partly to do with the intimacy of the venues. The Wanamaker Playhouse brought out the comedy in a way that the cavernous O2 arena never could. But I found there was a bigger more obvious difference between the two experiences. The performers at The Globe last night were enjoying themselves. They loved the show (however nonsensical) and presented it with glee to their audience. The Pythons on the other hand were not excited by their material, the love with which they first wrote and recorded the sketches and songs had somehow been lost over the years. And if the performers are bored by what they are doing – then surely the audience cannot expect to be entertained.

The most important thing any performer must do, if they are to really connect to their audience, is love what they are doing. The question this naturally raises is: is it possible to find love in everything? That may be the subject for another post.