And so ‘Treat Week’ continues with my dear friend and fellow cast member, Ben Lamb. I hope you enjoy it, it’s a great insight from a very talented man:
Alex has asked me to write a little about my experiences during working on Hamlet, particularly being as it is my first professional job since leaving drama school this year, and I might go on to talk about the telephone man on Saturday night’s performance - but only if you, dear readers, behave….
I trained at RADA for three years and on leaving signed with a lovely agent who started putting me up for work, meeting directors, casting directors, etc. It was a long time before Hamlet that I went up for a ‘general’ with Sam Jones who cast this production. I did a couple of speeches and had a chat with her about how I had found drama school, what I had done before etc. Then many weeks later, my agent asked me to go to Spotlight (a place in central London where they cast a lot of things) to meet Sam again, and Paul Miller. The meeting was similar to the general with Sam, only this time, Paul was asking most of the questions, and I had to read a couple of scenes from the play.
Anyway, even further down the line, when I’d forgotten all about Hamlet (I’m finding as I do more and more auditions that the sooner you can forget about them the better - it saves any heartbreak) I had a call from my agent telling me that I’d got the parts of Voltemand, Fortinbras, and a player, all of which I was very chuffed about, and especially because I had liked Paul so much when I had met him.
However, it was now time to stew. I had found out about Hamlet even before my penultimate public show at RADA, and there was another show, and graduation to go, even before we started rehearsing in north London.
At RADA we have something called a ‘buddy system’, which is a slightly naff way of saying that there are actors in the profession who are happy to give of their time to help the new blood coming through. One of my buddies mentioned that the one thing he realised after doing his first job was that rehearsing and putting on plays in the real world was exactly the same as we had done prior to, and during drama school: I.e. Not to worry. And I did try, I promise.
But when you have a couple of months waiting for the unknown, what is there to do but worry and do excessive amounts of work on the play and your characters in order to assuage your fears.
A phone call from Paul welcoming me to the cast definitely helped, but you get the picture!
The first readthrough was a nerve racking experience - I don’t have that many lines and I didn’t want to muck them up - but from what I hear, everyone continues to feel that to varying degrees every readthrough they come to.
Then working round the table - this was a departure from what I was used to, as at RADA we rarely had time to do this due to the other classes (voice, movement, etc) - we discussed each scene in more detail.
Next, we were on our feet and working through each scene, very similar to the way in which we rehearsed at RADA most of the time. However, what I realise as I continue, is that every director is different. All you can compare between working professionally and not, is the quality of the acting, which is undoubtedly a step up. Beyond that, every director has their own process, every play it’s own unique challenges. I just hope those of you that have seen or are going to see this production think we’ve done it justice.
And now onto: the phone man!
You may or may not have read on twitter (we certainly did, after celebrating Tim Delap’s birthday in the interval) or elsewhere, about the interruption to the show on Saturday night on account of a gentleman’s mobile phone going off (6 times).
It started in the first scene, as soon as Alex walked on. He said in our dressing room that he wasn’t sure where it was coming from, but thought it was interference on the speakers in the downstage entrances.
Then Harry and I went on in the scene 2 court scene, and thought it might be music from an iPod or something. We came off and mentioned it to Colin, who had also heard it in the opening scene. He went on to tell us of an occasion when he was on stage in a production of LOOK BACK IN ANGER and was treated to a local police car chase which was somehow being transmitted over the theatre loudspeakers!
Back up in the dressing room we heard the phone several more times, during important setup scenes, such as Laertes bidding farewell to Ophelia and Polonius.
As Harry and I came back down for our next scene, Barbara asked if we had heard Colin stop the show (- we had missed this because as you come down the corridor from the dressing rooms to backstage, there is a section where you can’t hear the show relay on the microphones). Barbara also expressed her frustration that there wasn’t any announcement in the theatre telling people to turn their phones off - in general the Sheffield audiences have been very conscientious about turning their phones off, but to be honest, we couldn’t understand why the audience member continued to let his phone ring: there was one more (particularly loud) ring even AFTER Colin had asked him to turn it off. But that was the last one.
People might think ‘actors should be able to deal with phones going off’ and I would agree with them. We should be able to deal with distractions (within reason!). And generally we do. But there were two problems in particular which happen when the distractions continue: 1) the audience’s concentration lapses and they’re taken out of the world that they have paid good money to enter into, and 2) the rhythm of the play - which is inherently written into any piece, and honed by the actors through rehearsal - is interrupted, also affecting the audience’s enjoyment of the play.
Thankfully the audience seemed to be almost galvanised into enjoying the play, and their reaction to many bits was the best we have had; no more acutely noticeable than when Hamlet was giving his notes to the Player King - ‘to split the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise. I would have such a fellow whipped…’ The audience erupted into spontaneous applause!
So in this instance, while the play wasn’t ruined, if you’re after a good night out, I recommend you turn your phone off…