Lovers and Liars : A David Garrick Double Bill
Lewis Chandler (Actor playing ‘Puff’)
With a play like Miss in Her Teens, finding the line between having fun with the text and actually making fun of it can be a difficult issue, and one that needs to be carefully assessed in rehearsal. In the play I am portraying ‘Puff’, Captain Loveit’s Manservant. He is cheeky, and could, given the opportunity, be a pantomime-esque, one dimensional character. The challenge of performing 18th Century farce is that, due to being over 300 years old, it is difficult for both the actor and a modern audience to recognise where the humour lies. References, contextual information and forms of delivery all need to be understood and then explored to create a performance that not only respects the text, but also understands it.
Thanks to Lauren’s direction and the use of various directorial practitioners we have explored the comedic potential of various different scenes. We have pinpointed where we feel the limits are, without straying into parody or mockery. From there, we then found the more ‘performative’ lines that did have the freedom to be played ‘out’ to the audience; and by contrast, we located the lines where we were missing what the line was saying. This meant further research was needed. One example of this from rehearsal, was the line Tag, Puff’s wife, states to Puff as he dashes to exit the stage to avoid her confrontation. Tag threatens to send Puff to Newgate, which by its mentioning, causes Puff to have a change of heart and talk to his wife. Until we got into rehearsal and found out that Newgate was (a prison), the comedic potential of this moment was lessened. As an actor, I did not know the severity of the threat Tag was offering, and so the stakes were not being communicated to the audience to give the moment tension, and subsequently, humour.
Not understanding an older text, particularly a comedy, can have further issues. Mocking or ‘over-performing’ lines to highlight their datedness (by our modern standards) is not making the play funny, it makes fun of the play. At one point in the performance I state, before a characters entrance, “But who have we here?” In rehearsal, I couldn’t help but mock the line whenever we were rehearsing the scene. But this cannot happen in performance. The line has a function, to move the scene forward, and as such, I, as an actor today need to use it in its original function. Nothing is gained from turning the script into a parody of itself.
Garrick wrote a play that is funny enough on its own merit. It does not need embellishment for a modern audience to laugh. It just takes a cast and crew that are willing to explore this comedic potential and unearth what it was that made Garrick’s comedies so popular in the first place.