Acting on stage requires a startling amount of both physical and mental exertion. To be a stage actor is to run a nightly marathon. As Ian McKellen attests: “I’m increasingly feeling that theatre is a young person’s game, it takes a lot of energy and concentration – two, three hours on stage – and that’s physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting.” Or maybe it’s because there is something oddly primal about an actor standing on stage and the audience are subconsciously reminded of the age-old history of entertainment, from Music hall right back to Elizabethan England and beyond. There were no green screens or special effects to beguile the viewer then; it was the words you uttered and how you spoke them that captivated. Only when you have stood on stage can you truly call yourself an entertainer – the actor’s fundamental job description.
There have been a string of interviews this week with actors acknowledging theatre’s utmost importance in the development of the actor. On the Andrew Marr Show, Patricia Hodge said: “Theatre is the real learning ground and you bring that to the screen”, while Lesley Manville in the Guardian spoke of the stage being “the ultimate test; I like watching established screen actors on stage to see if they can really do it.”
It isn’t just the simple fact of treading the boards that lends gravitas to the actor; acting in a Shakespeare play appears to be the ultimate test. It is only when an actor has cut their teeth on the Bard that they truly cut the mustard. Lenny Henry’s Othello in 2011 was the defining moment when he proved that he could entertain as a different kind of performer.
Othello is at the National again with two actors who have stellar film and TV careers – Rory Kinnear and Adrian Lester. However, in an interview for the Guardian, they spoke of how acting for theatre requires hard graft and how it continuously exercises the performer’s acting muscles – both literally and metaphorically – which can grow weak if not used.
“I get antsy if a year goes by without doing a play,” says Kinnear, who emphasises the sheer physical effort of stage acting. “I don’t go to the gym, so this is my way of trying to live longer.”
“If you’re doing nothing but film,” says Lester, “part of you gets soft – your speed of thinking, the amount you have to learn, your physicality, your voice, your diaphragm. When I step back on stage I have to re-engage all those muscles, especially with Shakespeare. You have to make the audience believe this is a real person speaking, not someone standing there reciting poetry. It’s quite an ask.”
The Guardian journalist questioned the actors whether they could offer anything new to a play that has been seen recently and countless times. Lester replied: “People’s preconceptions are based on generalities, our job is to be very specific, and in that specificity to make it real, to make it live again.”
This is what Audition Doctor excels at – making a character live. Drama schools and casting directors aren’t interested in “performances”, they want to see you transform into a wholly believable other being.
Shakespeare forms the basis of many acting courses and to “not do Shakespeare” puts you at a huge disadvantage if you want to go to drama school. Audition Doctor sessions give you the space to unlock the language where Tilly ensures that it becomes a springboard instead of a barrier in your acting. Audition Doctor gives you the gift of making you realise that Ian McKellen was right: “The verse is about giving instructions to the actor as to how to say the part and if you know how to say it then you’ll probably know how to feel it.”