Photo Credit: EJS Photography
On the stage of the National Theatre, Judi Dench holds the audience spellbound, captive in the palm of her hand.
Meryl Streep lights up cinema screens across the world. Olivia Coleman accepts three separate BAFTAs for her television work in two years alone. Julie Walters, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren; all are examples of highly esteemed talent. And it’s not just the tried, tested and trusted generations of talent who can be hailed as truly great; relative newcomers such as Lupita N’yongo and Jennifer Lawrence can find themselves suddenly catapulted into the realms of public adoration, laden with various awards. For some, once your talented has been recognised, it is the end of life as you know it. The media will scour over your life with a fine-tooth comb for juicy gossip, eager to splash it out across the front page, and millions of people will watch your performances with a critical eye – half the time having already formed an opinion of you, for good or for bad.
Of course, that is not to say that the life of the super-rich, super-famous actor is necessarily a bad one. Let’s face it – from time to time most of us would probably like a bit of that. But whether we would like that life 24/7 is another question entirely. If your career is based upon people staring at you and judging you, who would really want that same level of scrutiny in their private life?
The concept of actors on stage or on screen versus actors ‘behind the scenes’ is an intriguing one. And over in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television, we are exploring this concept through our production of April De Angelis’s ‘Playhouse Creatures’.
‘Playhouse Creatures’ is set in the 1660’s, in the reign of Charles II – perhaps best known as ‘the king who brought back partying’, thanks to Horrible Histories – and centres around the lives of the very first female actors; women such as Nell Gwyn and Elizabeth Barry. They are fascinating subjects in their own right, the first to tread a now well-worn path. Throughout ‘Playhouse Creatures’ we see the lives of these actors on stage juxtaposed with their off-stage antics; we see the glamour and thrill of what it means to be adulated and applauded night after night, and the disillusionment and danger that comes when the precarious balance of fame and success begins to tip in the other direction. The nature of celebrity is a fickle one, and ‘Playhouse Creatures’ presents this for all to see.
In a sense, through the production process, we as theatre students are living and breathing this ‘on stage/off stage’ life. We witness all the effort which goes into the behind-the-scenes work; there is so much going on which the audience are not privy to. The sight of the production manager hauling a slightly alarming amount of wooden pallets through the department foyer? All part of the play. The actors stretching in a circle, bodies undulating before they collapse fluidly to the floor? All part of the play. Does anybody outside the world of theatre even know what a ‘dramaturg’ is? I’m not sure, but still – part of the play. It takes an immense amount of work to get a script off the ground, onto its toes and into full flow on stage. Each and every person involved has a hefty ‘to do’ list; it is as though each member of the company holds a string, and collaboratively, bit by bit, the production is steadily pulled together.
Of course, a crucial aspect of any production is getting an audience. This is where student performances can hit a snag. The word ‘student’ can all too often be associated with ‘amateur’, when in fact those students have worked hard to ensure a high standard of professionalism, and the sheer amount of student productions out there provides a potentially daunting level of competition. Everywhere you go flyers are tacked up onto bus stops, artfully displayed on shop counters, every company insisting that theirs is the best, the one to see. To stand out can be a difficult task.
But we think we will. Over the past weeks we as a group have watched as ‘Playhouse Creatures’ has taken shape; as it has made the transition from a fledgling read-through to a play which stands firmly on its feet.
And there is only one way to properly judge a performance; by coming to see it, and deciding for yourselves whether our hard work has paid off. We hope and believe it will, but it is up to our audience to judge us. It is up to you.
‘Playhouse Creatures’ runs from the 26th – 29th November in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television. Tickets are £5 for students and £8 for non-students.