For it is a truth universally acknowledged…

And so another show comes to an end, and we are once again in that awful space of nothingness that follows.

The post-show blues is indeed a truth universally acknowledged (well, in the acting world), and everyone knows that the best way to cope is to get started on the next project as soon as possible. But before I start making preparations for my next venture – directing a three-hander by Michael Frayn called Here – let’s look back on what a wonderful journey this has been through the world of Pride and Prejudice.

Lizzie and Jane

We had a longer rehearsal period than I’m used to, starting with the read-through back in November. Back then, March and show week seemed a long way off, but here I am now, having to pinch myself to realise that it’s all over.

There have been several highlights of the show, including Nick’s hilarious sideburns as Darcy (I’ve forgotten what he looks like without them!), Leigh’s (Jane Bennet) questionable sewing skills, accompanied by exclamations of ‘I’ve got to sort my tapestry out!’ around the 15-minute call before each show, and the hideous centre parting and fringe curls I sported that looked like I’d stuck a bunch of pubes on my head. I can only pray that particular hairstyle never comes back into fashion. After each show I would run upstairs to our two lovely hairdressers in dressing room 12, wailing ‘get rid of them!’, and they would kindly sort me out with a pretty fringe plait so I could leave the theatre without a paper bag over my head.

In the last week of rehearsals I went a bit ‘Method’ and rediscovered how to play the piano, then practised doing this while talking until my neighbours surely thought I was deranged. I’m rather chuffed to say that in the final two performances I didn’t play a single wrong note, or slow the playing down to hurriedly fit in a line between each bit. Not bad considering I hadn’t played in years, and had never played to more than one person!

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There were downs as well as ups, as with any show – forgotten lines, a missed entrance, dance tights several sizes too big that required constant yanking up in the wings to avoid the Nora Batty effect. But, as always, the ups far outnumbered the downs – the backstage banter, the camaraderie, the hilarity fuelled by a constant supply of Haribo in DR4 (dressing room 4). And, of course, the chance to perform on that beautiful stage in the Kings Theatre.

The production, however, was struck with a great sadness when we lost one of our own. Fellow cast member Roger Taylor, the original Uncle Gardiner, passed away during the weeks leading up to the show. The loss was felt by us all, and although I had not known him before the read-through, I’d quickly grown fond of his sense of humour, the familiar combats and Doc Martins combo, and his regular attempts to get out of dancing in the show (including milling around in the background and hoping the director wouldn’t notice!). We dedicated the show to Roger, and I hope we did him proud.

Along with making a bunch of new friends, I have learnt a lot about myself and grown a little bit more, as an actor does with every role. I’ve played an instrument in front of hundreds of people, something I never dreamt I could do. I’ve learnt an insane amount of lines and been line-perfect in all but one performance, something I only ever hoped I could do. And I’ve come out of it even more convinced that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

 

Mid-run magic

We’re now in that magical place that is halfway through show week. Pride and Prejudice opened at the Kings Theatre on Wednesday with a matinee, and runs until Saturday night. We’re three shows down, three to go, and it feels like I’m in a strangely pleasant no man’s land.

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Show week is a special yet strange time when you may be filling your hours during the day with chores or work, but your mind never really leaves the theatre. As you’re reading an email, speaking to a client, or if you’ve taken the week off work and are just popping to the shops or for a walk, you feel a tug towards that building; the stage, the dressing room gossip, the running around backstage like a mad woman when they give the five-minute call.

The raw nerves of the first night have calmed to a steady buzz, you’ve done several performances and are by now in the swing of things, and the post-show blues are still a long way off. It’s a time of make believe, a time of magic. A time of looking back and forwards. And you’ve still got everything to play for.

 

From page to stage – acting Pride and Prejudice

In rehearsals for Pride and Prejudice we are getting deeper into the subtext of some of the scenes, and the subtleties of emotion that characters such as Jane and Elizabeth Bennet show.

Page to stage - Jane Austen

If you’re playing a character that is larger than life, and some of those in my familiar treading ground of Shakespeare are almost caricatures, it’s quite easy to project your character’s feelings, thoughts and opinions out into an audience of hundreds. If you’re playing a truthful and at times very subtle character such as Lizzie Bennet, that’s where the challenge comes in.

I think the key element of acting is communication – with your audience, and with the other actors (and therefore characters) on stage. If you don’t communicate effectively with your audience, you may as well be all alone in that theatre.

In a play there is a story, and in each scene there is a part of that story that you are trying to tell the audience. Lizzie’s feelings and emotional responses to what’s going on around her are so important to the overall story, it’s vital that I communicate these to the audience. But how do you show all this without it becoming pantomime?

I’m afraid this isn’t actually leading up to an answer to that question, as I don’t yet have one. In the rehearsal room my director has said she’s enjoying watching the subtext play out through my eyes and facial expressions, but will the audience also see this when we’re in the Kings Theatre, and they’re up in the dress circle?

With stolen glances and subtle nods a-plenty, Pride and Prejudice lends itself perfectly to the flexibility and intimacy afforded by film, but how will this play out on the stage? Will they notice the faint flicker in my eye as contempt turns to love, or will it be lost in the vast space of the auditorium? Perhaps just as crucial, will my contact lenses attempt to pop out as they like to every now and then when I’m doing a bit of ‘eye acting’?

You’ll have to come and see the show to find out! You can buy tickets online or call 023 9282 8282. Pride and Prejudice, performed by One Off Productions, runs from Wed 26-Sat 29 March (evenings 7.30pm, Wed and Sat matinee 2.30pm) at the Kings Theatre, Southsea.

A visit to Jane Austen’s House

On Saturday I paid a visit to Jane Austen’s House Museum in the pretty village of Chawton. Although I’ve always wanted to go there, this seemed a particularly fitting time to finally make the short trip, with One Off Productions currently rehearsing Pride and Prejudice.

Jane Austen's House Museum

Jane Austen’s House Museum

I wanted to get a feel for the writer behind the story – if I can better understand her, surely I can better understand her work and the characters within that. I’m lucky enough to be playing Elizabeth Bennet, and though I’ve seen the film and TV adaptations, and am a great fan of Jennifer Ehle’s Lizzie in the BBC series, the original source material has to be the novel, and indeed the writer herself.

As the novel is set during Jane’s lifetime, seeing the house also helped me get a taste of the clothes, living conditions and day-to-day life of that period, which I can apply to Lizzie’s life.

The baking was done in an outhouse, which would have been lovely and toasty when in use, but on a chilly day in the middle of January was rather less so! Inside the house, we wandered round the kitchen, which is entered separately from the rest of the house, then headed back out and in through another door to the other rooms. Although it’s not a small house, the upper quarters seemed a little cramped, probably due to the number of visitors trying to circumnavigate the furniture and each other.

The Austen kitchen

The Austen kitchen

The kitchen was my favourite room as it had things to play with – quill fountain pens with ink and paper, dresses and bonnets to try on, dried lavender by little circles of fabric and string to make lavender bags with. The writing proved to be particularly difficult, as you could only write a few letters before needing more ink. To think that Jane Austen wrote all her novels by this means fills me with an even greater admiration for her.

Upstairs there were further examples of the type of clothing worn at that time, including some delicate dancing slippers, which I’m guessing would have been worn at the infamous balls. Perhaps Lizzie wears these at the Netherfield Ball when she is dancing with Mr Darcy, ripe with sexual tension.

The museum portrayed a life of eating, writing and taking long walks, with a spot of needlework in the evening. Now if only I could give up work and do a spot of method acting – I reckon I could cope with that!

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It was wonderful to see the place where Jane Austen lived, to look down at the desk where she did so much of her writing, to walk in the footsteps of a person who’s beautiful stories have so delighted me – well worth a visit! I felt closer to the writer, closer to the mind behind Pride and Prejudice, and that bit closer to Lizzie. Bit by bit, I’m getting there…