Philandering Phil Caught on the Hop (June 2009)

Once you have the acting bug, it’s in your blood.  You want more more more – more of that adrenalin buzz from being up on stage with a live audience in front of you, no safety net other than a prompt, a performance to give and people to entertain.  Maybe not quite the same as skydiving but when you’ve come to realise that body can’t necessarily keep up with mind, acting is an amazing thrill.

To this day, the award I was given for my role in an Agatha Christie called the Unexpected Guest is among my most treasured possessions.  It made me realise that I can do this, create a credible character and move people.  There was a part of that show where my character had to rant on for a bit, then pause downstage, arms folded, facing the audience, before ranting on again.  I remember the Saturday night of that show – packed audience, and when it came to the bit where I stood for maybe 4, 5 seconds you could have heard a pin drop.  Even now it brings a tear to my eye to thinnk about it – acting stirs up powerful emotions.

In truth we all long to be loved and to be the centre of attention from time to time.  In fact, much of the trill comes from the process of rehearsal, the challenge of learning lines and moves and gradually finding the character inhabiting your body, taking over your life.  I once played a nervous American TV weatherman called Howard in a backstage farce called Moon Over Buffalo. Howard’s catch phrase was “Oh my gaaaaaaaahd!”  To this day, if anyone says “Oh my god” I’m on autopilot, just can’t stop myself slipping effortlessly into the guise of Howard and yelling out “Oh my GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHD!”  My daughter Lindsey knows this only too well.  I can just picture her now, rolling her eyes, sighing heavily and saying in a voice dripping with contempt but rhyming neatly with my own: “DAAAAAAAAD!”

Assuming the mantle of a character is astonishing.  You’re not aware of it happening, but happen it most certainly does.  The character takes you over, words are no longer a problem because the character speaks them in your voice.  Bit like the Exorcist, though to date I’ve managed to avoid the revolving head or green vomit.

Anyway, the problem with all this is that it takes over your life.  Completely.  Last year I did three productions: a revue (assorted songs and sketches), An Inspector Calls and a forgettable Durbridge thriller called A Touch Of Danger, where I played a golf pro and part-time terrorist with an eye for the ladies, who had to beat up his girlfriend offstage and murder an undercover CIA agent on stage.  Try making that credible….

Having had a break since last November, it was time to get back into the swing.  Couldn’t keep away!  So having moved to Chelmsford I joined another amdram group (http://www.phoenixtheatrechelmsford.co.uk/index.html), auditioned for their next production and was rewarded with an excellent role.  And I’m getting a huge kick from it!!  The play is a very farcical comedy called Caught on the Hop, and the part is Phil, “an incurable romantic” with an unbelievably tolerant wife who philosophically forgives his philanderings. But this time he intends to marry the girl in question and move in with her… next door to his wife, and to use his long-suffering best friend George to cover his tracks with wife Maggie.  Cue all manner of increasingly desperate lies to cover up the situation, mistaken identities, flights of fancy and lines both saucy and absurd: “I’ve got a very long loofah” springs to mind!!  Oh, and there’s also a neat twist in the end…

The challenge of Phil is that unlike the big role I had in An Inspector Calls, there are no long speeches to get your teeth stuck into.  It’s all bang, bang, bang – short snappy remarks and one liners, many of them almost identical.  Fiendishly difficult to learn but an absolute scream to perform.  I mean, hysterically funny but you keep a straight face and act as the character would act – except you don’t get time to think or analyse any of this.

Welcome to anyone who wants to venture out to Chelmsford to see the production.  It’s 7-10 October 2009 at the Christ Church hall, New London Road, Chelmsford CM2 0AW.  Good (and cheap!) night out guaranteed for one and all, and you can safely bring your kids along – no swearing or nudity in this one ;).

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