National Theatre, London – until 18 March 2017
`Good my lord…see the players well bestowed…let them be well used; for they are the abstracts and brief chronicles of the time; after your death you were better have a bad epitaph than their ill report while you live…’ – Hamlet to Polonius.
Sorry, this won’t do, it won’t do at all.
It’s fashionable these days to rubbish acting and actors and lump them altogether, disparagingly, as `luvvies’. But really we’d be lost without them. They give us some of our finest moments, remind us what it is to be alive and the complexities of what it is to be a human being. As they grow older, of course, it gets harder. For a few, the work is still there and we’re in a bit of a golden age, we’re told, with recognition that life – and acting – does not stop at 55 or 60 or even 65! Tim Preece, one of the cast of this co-NT-Improbable `experiment’ makes a heartfelt confession on their website (there’s a workshop with Improbable’s Devoted & Disgruntled on March 17 in the National Studio to discuss it all further) about his loss of confidence in his acting persona as he has grown older.
We’ve a lot to thank Improbable for; Phelim McDermott and Lee Simpson have produced some wonderfully wacky, waywardly improbable moments of inspirational glee. But this `impro-experiment’ with older actors – elders as they’re called now – isn’t really one of them. Asking five experienced/veteran actors to go through their impro paces with McDermott and Simpson controlling and interjecting from time to time was like watching circus masters with performing animals doing tricks. It was embarrassing and patronising.
That may have been my own singular reaction. All around me, the Dorfman audience fell over themselves laughing as Anna Calder-Marshall and Caroline Blakiston played out a `love’ scene starting every sentence with the next letter of the alphabet. Was this giving `older’ actors new skills? Was it making us respect their experience more? More to the point, was it giving them more confidence?
Needless to say, Calder-Marshall came up trumps. A peerless performer, intuitive, frisky, intrepid, everything she did carried sparkle and invention. Preece too had a marvellous moment as a retired bus-driver awaiting removal to a Home and then with Caroline Blakiston as two people acting as one.
Georgine Anderson showed a deft turn in crispness and Lynn Farleigh one in parental fury. Of Charles Kay, advertised and listed on the cast sheet there was, sadly, no sign, or any programme slip to indicate the reason for his absence. Maybe he gave up in despair…
All in all, a dispiriting experience. Actors of experience deserve better than this, or rather, simply to be treated as working actors, like any other. Lost Without Words shows, rather than being an idea aiming to be `helpful’, ageism at work, exposing a surprising and extraordinary misunderstanding of what it is to be beyond `youthful’.
NT surely can do better than this. And next time, if we’re going to have `elders’, could we please also have a wider cross-section of society? Five, white, actors doesn’t do it.
Lost for words, really.