Performing alongside the legendary David Ryall.
“Dominic Kelly’s Edgar was heartfelt and his solo scenes were show stealing.”
“Dominic Kelly’s strenuously physical Poor Tom…an absorbing performance.”
Read below a blog I wrote from the salon:collective the week before show opened.
It’s been “seven long year” since poor tom (the character whom my actual character, edgar, impersonates in act three of king lear) has eaten anything other than “mice and rats and such small deer”. It has been “seven long year” since i have rehearsed a play. I was starving.
My self-imposed acting drought was ironically, brought about by my desire to act more. I had been teaching the meisner technique at the actors temple, and felt that i needed more experience working as an actor and director, applying the work to as many different genres and styles of theatre as i could. I founded a group of other actors with similar passions and ambitions, and we began to work on chekhov’s the seagull. As the company (the salon:collective) moved forward, so did the demands of running a company (don’t get me started!).
To keep this brief, let’s just say that designing your own website, visual identity and social media, agonizing over cash flow and artistic goals, forging relationships with theatre professionals and managing company members’ aspirations, does make one pretty busy and in my case mentally and emotionally stretched. Playing Konstantin (my biggest dream as an actor) was suddenly a hindrance; as forming a company took most of my energy and many of the founding members followed their own goals in different directions, doing all of this to play a leading role seemed like an ego trip.
I ditched the dream and replaced it with another; to create a company of like-minded performers and artists from the bottom up. I embraced teaching with both hands. Four years later, a student (a director wanting to learn more about acting) said, “i was going to ask you if you were interested in something, but then i saw your schedule and realised you’d be too busy.” i, obviously, couldn’t resist: “let me be the judge of how busy i am.” Lewis responded, “Would you consider being in my King Lear?”
So here i am, in the final week of rehearsal with a fantastic company of actors, led by our director, Lewis Reynolds, playing a part that scared me instantly. Edgar has a spectacular story arc and makes extreme decisions: from pretending to be a lunatic to convincing his father to commit suicide. I found myself drawn to the extremities of his situation, the desperation of a man who has nothing left to lose.
Rehearsals have been a balance between table work (breaking scenes into units and discussing in simple terms what each moment is about), blocking and running the scenes. What has been lovely about working with lewis, is that in this analysis stage the execution of the moment is left entirely as our decision; whether we seduce, intimidate, coax, threaten, is our choice, and this has given the cast a great amount of freedom. I overheard regan, played by Nikki Leigh-Scott, talking to Goneril, Wendy Morgan, saying, “it’s amazing, whatever way we feel, he’s letting us just say the lines with that feeling”.
To me, this is the essence of what i adore about the meisner technique; its ability to encourage you to become a more active part in the story, to bring your feelings and responses to the character and their situation. Shakespeare’s text, usually revered and often treated as a strict, inaccessible inconvenience by actors, is in fact a meisner actor’s dream. Freedom of feeling and instincts balanced with the rhythms, imagery, half lines, and structure of iambic pentameter.
My first rehearsal on Edgar’s Act II monologue is an interesting example of what shakespeare brings to the table. I thought that the speech was a fairly straightforward affair: “This is my situation, this is what i plan to do about it”. As soon as i got up in front of Lewis and the rest of the company, and lived each line moment by moment, something very scary happened. The rhythms and the imagery took me somewhere very dark and brutal. Within 19 lines, i went from sad, to angry, to scared, to resolute, to fierce, to methodical, to insane, to content. I was shaking after the experience. Where did that come from? Reflecting on that experience, i went back to the text. It was all there. Clever Shakespeare wrote it all, all i had to do was follow his poetry.
The second hurdle was to discover the madness of Edgar’s disguised alter-ego, Poor Tom. Does he go mad, does he pretend madness, is he a bit of both? Why, oh, why, oh…why…does he constantly say “Tom’s a-cold”? I wrapped myself up in knots worrying about act iii when poor tom appears. After a rather wobbly couple of weeks, i asked my colleague and shakespeare guru, Lizzie Conrad Hughes, what her thoughts were. She simply pointed to one of my ulcer-inducing “Tom’s a-cold” lines and said, “see, he’s finishing his father’s line. That’s a shared line. He’s speaking poetry.” I sipped my coffee pretending to understand. “If your character is speaking poetry, they are sane. If he’s finishing someone’s metre, he’s hyper aware.” another penny dropped. I had been trying to understand sub-text when the answers were in the actual text all the time.
The cast are a wonderful mixture of seasoned hands and new actors hungry for experience. This is a clear goal of lewis’s, and darker purpose theatre has really instilled a feel of the old repertory theatre system. Working with David Ryall has been such a rich gift for me as an actor, director and teacher. At the first read through, david effortlessly picked the words off the page, lacing poetry with pathos. It set the bar for the company.
Googling David before rehearsals started, i realised he was a member of Lawrence Olivier’s company of actors at the National Theatre, and worked extensively with Peter Hall. To be working with someone linked to that era of theatre has been a true privilege. David has taught me that there is a balance to be struck between the form of the language and your experience with it. He has also taught me the beauty of an “end-stop”, where the end of a line floats in the air for a tangible moment before you land on the start of the next one.
Wendy Morgan (who has also worked with Peter Hall) elegantly likened it to a horse running up to, and jumping over, a fence. Rather than an affectation i have previously hated, he has taught me that it brings more sense and feeling to the meaning of the line. People out there affect the sound of this technique, but david truly proves how it adds more depth to the moment.
So, we have one more week to further develop our character’s journeys, make sense of tricky moments, nail our stage fights, and play with blood.
What have i learnt from this experience so far? Freedom in acting is truly a mixture of thorough preparation, an open vulnerability, and a deep connection with the text. I used to be scared of shakespeare, i’m now realising, that shakespeare wrote for actors, not academics. Every word he chooses, every sound, the rhythm he gives you is all packaged for your performance. If you take your hand off the steering wheel, he drives you to some exhilarating places.
I also directed and edited the production trailer
“Have more than you know, speak less than you show.”