Lovers and Liars : A David Garrick Double Bill
Luke De Belder
Throughout our production, one of the key considerations has been the performance style we use. The first of these influences is, naturally, Garrick’s own performance style. We have been especially intrigued by what has been described by Peter Thomson as, “the Garrick reformation, which had placed acting, particularly comic acting, in closer touch with ‘real life’.” (2007: p.4) We have also aimed to recreate “His legendary energy, scarcely containable on stage” (p.7). This has aided us in all of the characterisations, and it has especially been invaluable with the character of Sharp – originally portrayed by Garrick himself – whose lies lead to situations that require such a “legendary energy” (p.7). This increasingly physical nature of Garrick’s theatre came in part from the continued influence of Commedia dell’arte, and so we have also taken this distinctive performance style into account. The stock characters and improvisational, inventive quality of this theatre-style can clearly be seen in The Lying Valet, especially when also considering Miss in her Teens, which uses some similar character types in a different plot. Again, the character of Sharp stands out in this sense, as the ‘hungry servant’ type has been present in many plays from different periods, including the work of farceurs such as Molière, who created the similar character of Scapin.
From our awareness of Commedia, we felt there was a link with more contemporary clown, especially with regards to the success of variety and the music hall in the years leading up to the twenties. In order to more precisely explore the sort of improvisational and audience-inclusion style of clown, we have looked at contemporary practitioners like John Wright. In his book, Why Is That So Funny?, he states, “Through laughter, we establish a reciprocal relationship with the audience” (2006: p.5). As such, it is made clear that any kind of comedy relies upon the same shared experience with an audience that is inherent in clown. From this, the inspiration of Commedia comes into its own, as those performers had to be able to think fast (“complicity with yourself”), share the improvisation with their fellow players (“complicity with a partner”), and still maintain that crucial connection with the people watching (“complicity with an audience”) in order to create a strong comic effect.
Considering performance style and our chosen setting of the twenties, we became aware of Charlie Chaplin and other silent film performers. Such actors used a broad yet precise performance style that was instantly readable, and most were influenced by the variety and music hall traditions – which in turn were a repercussion and continuation of the ‘evening of entertainment’ in the eighteenth century. From Chaplin and his contemporaries, there came an awareness of other styles that were specific to the twenties, as well as the actors and actresses who performed in both mediums. In this regard, we have explored male stars, such as Ivor Novello, Rupert Brooke, and Jack Buchanan, most of whom, we have found, cultivated an air of more feminine masculinity and softness. Jack Buchanan, as well, often portrayed debonair-yet-foolish upper class characters, and so is a strong inspiration for the further development of the character of Gayless. For the women, we have also discovered strong female stars such as Betty Balfour, Joan Crawford, and Jessie Matthews – considering Melissa – and Gracie Fields – with the maidservant Kitty in mind. We have also been aware of the theatre of the time, researching Noël Coward and Ben Travers, among others, considering the ways in which they portrayed the period through theatre. Theirs was a theatre of (primarily) verbal wit, and it has been interesting to consider how we might blend this with the physical demands of Garrick’s writing.
A great deal of progress has been made so far, and with all of these invaluable sources of inspiration, we are equipped to finesse and develop the production over the next few weeks.
Thomson, Peter. (2007). ‘Acting and Actors from Garrick to Kean’. In Jane Moody and Daniel O’Quinn (eds.). The Cambridge Companion to British Theatre 1730-1830. Cambridge University Press: UK.
Wright, John. (2006). Why Is That So Funny?: A Practical Exploration of Physical Comedy. Nick Hern: London.