Lovers and Liars : A David Garrick Double Bill
INFLUENCES AND INSPIRATIONS:
Aside from textual study in regard to the character of Kitty Pry, we drew firstly upon a Stanislavskian technique of noting a character’s ‘objectives’ and ‘counter-objectives’ in each scene. This has given me inspiration as it helped to reveal Kitty’s motives for her behaviour and therefore her movement in relation to the other characters on stage. It also enabled me to make a list of her character traits which varied from scene to scene:
In addition, I have been influenced by my research into the original casting of Jane Hippisley in the role of Kitty, as it has led to further assumptions about character which I have drawn upon in my own interpretation and have directly influenced my vocal delivery. For example, Hippisley’s father drew upon comic provincial accents throughout his performance career, something I felt might have inspired Jane’s own performances. Moreover, her other performance history such as Cherry in The Stratagem and Miss Biddy in Miss in Her Teens marked her casting type to be one of a formidable woman: experienced in her dealings with the opposite sex.
When acting opposite Alex (playing the part of Sharp), we were aware of the text alluding to a sexual chemistry between these two characters and when discussing the levels of familiarity, romance and status battles, we often found ourselves drawing on our previous study of Much Ado About Nothing. Beatrice and Benedick’s warring ,yet deeply affectionate, relationship helped us to colour the way in which we approached our on stage behaviour and proxemics.
Considering the decision to set our production of The Lying Valet in the 1920’s, I have also been influenced by the popular culture and somewhat glamorous depiction of the era seen most recently in Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs. Downton in particular helped pinpoint the way in which a maid can be a confidante to her mistress, when considering Mary and Anna’s relationship in this way. More recently, I have begun to research the 20s performers of the Music Hall and Gracie Fields, in particular has inspired my characterisation of Kitty. I feel that the embittered delivery of Field’s performances and comic songs and her ‘no-airs-and-graces’, northern working class style embodies some of the humour which I’d like to inject into my portrayal of Kitty Pry.
PERFORMING AND CREATING AN EARLY MODERN FARCE:
As we settle in to week six of the process, Mr. Charles Gayless, or Charles William Gayless Allen as I like to call him, is starting to come to life! Having spent a number of weeks focusing on close textual analysis and general comedic exercises from practitioners such as Anton Chekhov, Maria Aitken and John Wright, we are now moving on to closer character based work, as well as loosely blocking scenes in order to get a feel for the farce. Obviously the early work we did was completely necessary and indeed very useful, but for me personally this more recent character work has seemed more beneficial and has made it feel like the cogs of the play are now well and truly in motion. One of the most challenging parts of the process for me, thus far, has been the paradoxical nature of Gayless, an 18th Century comic tool. For example, he is convinced that he is a man of “honour and conscience”, yet he has squandered all of his fortune, presumably given to him by his father Sir William Gayless, and intends to marry for money (though I must point out that he does ostensibly fall in love with Melissa anyway). Similarly, given that Gayless is Sharp’s master, he is above him in social status and therefore we might expect him to consistently demonstrate the higher status. However, due to Sharp’s wit and intelligence, and Gayless’s lack thereof, it is in fact Sharp who has the higher status for the most part. Furthermore, when the guests arrive for the party, Gayless is evidently terrified of being found out as penniless, and so has to put on a seemingly calm front so as not to draw attention to his circumstances. Thus, playing Gayless is a constant balancing act between letting the audience know the truth of any given situation, whilst putting on a front to make him appear like an honourable gentleman to the other characters of the play.
‘Garrick?… He wrote plays?’
That was my first thought when, at the end of last term, we were told what plays we were going to be performing for our Early Modern Production Project. I’d hedged my bets on them being, as with previous year groups, something French; Molière, Marivaux or perhaps Goldoni? The last thing I expected was to be performing a farce by the 18th century virtuoso actor-manager David Garrick who, just for good measure it seems, also tried his hand at playwriting! Though he did nick the plot for The Lying Valet from a previously written French farce, All without Money by Peter Anthony Motteux (1660-1718), Garrick, like he did with every successful role in his repertory, made the play his own. He changed the characters’ names, added in new plot twists, and saved the best part of the eponymous Valet, Sharp, for…well, himself. So, it is both an exciting and somewhat daunting prospect to be following in the great man’s footsteps in a play that, to my knowledge, has not been staged since its original performance at Goodman’s Fields Theatre back in 1741.
Rehearsals so far have been a combination of analytical, discussion-based work, games and exercises designed to ‘free’ ourselves mentally and physically when approaching our roles, in addition to staging the script. The analytical work, or ‘table work’, may sound tedious, laborious and plenty of other adjectives… BUT, it has been invaluable exercise for clarifying the reasons why the characters say the things they say and do the things they do, and is a stage in the rehearsal process that every professional company must go through. So far, I’ve counted 44 lies told by Sharp throughout the play; that’s almost a lie per page!
Given how crucial our ability to create physical comedy is going to be in this play, we’ve experimented with games and exercises in clowning taught by French actor/mime artist/actor trainer Jacques Lecoq (even at University level, that name still triggers unwarranted sniggers from the cast), as well as teacher/director John Wright in his extremely useful and insightful book, Why is that so funny? (Wright, 2006). And finally… the script itself. So far we’ve sketched out most of Act I, which has proven both fun and challenging in giving action to the words and plotting out the comic highs and lows in which the characters find themselves. I’ve already got bruises and scabs to show for my efforts, and I’m sure there’ll be plenty more in the weeks to come!
We’ve started to block my entrance in Act one where we start to see the first few lies from the Lying Valet, Sharp. We started to work on Kitty and Melissa’s relationship and how Kitty wants to guide Melissa away from Gayless, without being too harsh. Melissa is completely oblivious to Sharp’s lies and Gayless’s financial states, or is extreme denial. Focusing on the different characters objectives has really helped us find our characters, as we’re in such an early rehearsal stage. We found that Melissa and Kitty’s master-servant relationship was really important so we played a game where we pulled each other’s arms when we were trying to assert ourselves. At the moment I think we’re really focusing on finding our characters, their flaws and their relationships with other characters to really get solid foundations for the play. We have been analysing the text really heavily and this extra work has really paid off as when we came to acting it out, the comedy in the lines was so strong and has given us a head start on character work. Even through these early stages the comedy is coming through so strongly!