We are dedicated Burdall’s Yard attendees. A couple of nights ago we were at the first round of the “Monologues” knockout competition for third year acting Students at Bath Spa University. The idea is for each competitor to perform a soliloquy (guys, it’s not a monologue if it is a speech by a character in a play IMHO) of their own choosing and for the audience to then vote for whoever they considered to be the best. There were two rounds of four and five actors from which a top three were selected for a final choice of the winner for the round. I am not sure how many rounds there will be in total but the final is to be in May some time which means unfortunately we will already be somewhere in Mittel-Europe heading for the land down under.
The first thing that was clear to me was that we didn’t know any of the playwrights as they appeared to be all contemporary British writers. Although that is not quite true on either count as I do know Sandy Toksvig, not as a writer but as the former presenter of “The News Quiz” on Radio 4 and occasional TV presenter soon to take over from Stephen Fry as host of “QI” and she, of course, is Danish. So you can gather that one of the pieces was by her, a play called “Bully Boys” which I haven’t heard of before, like all the others.
I excuse our ignorance, though, as living in Sydney for the last nearly thirty years means that we are generally exposed to Australian playwrights and quite right too. Which is not to say that some British productions and plays don’t ever come to Sydney, because they do, but not such that we would be aware of what is really happening in contemporary British theatre, especially if it is of the non-West End variety.
That said, what is important is the performance, so in some ways, having no previous context for the soliloquies was helpful as we were forced to come upon them sui generis, as it were, and rely entirely on the skills of the actor to bring us instantly into the world of the character. That is I think the chief criterion here. Who was best able to so immediately inhabit their role through a single speech that we could believe in them as an authentic character? Who was able to most be the character and convince the audience that they were not, in fact, acting, that is consciously deploying a set of learned skills in a self-aware way, but rather losing themselves, just for the moment, in the imagined thoughts and feelings of the character such that the words that were spoken were not just a set of carefully learnt and rehearsed sentences but were flowing from the characters lived experience and emotions.
Needless to say the performers were all very impressive and clearly there will be much fresh talent flowing into British theatre very soon. The audience was tremendously enthusiastic and very supportive and I think that the winner on the night was deservedly so, and that, as the cliché has it, we the audience were the ultimate winners.