My life as an actor

You never saw me take this, right?

I don’t think I’ve ever blogged about the pinnacle of my acting career.  It happened towards the end of my time at university.

Well, I say “pinnacle”; “totality” would be more accurate.

A group of friends of mine were active in a drama society during my last year at Aberdeen University, when I was undertaking my sabbatical year as president of the students’ association.  They were working on a short one-act play, and while I can’t quite remember how I got involved, they roped me in to play one of the key parts.

The play was the comedy farce The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard.  I’d never heard of either the play or the playwright, but as I got more involved I found it a rather fun story.

Essentially a play within a play, The Real Inspector Hound begins with two critics meeting up in their theatre seats to review a performance.  They chat away, noting that a third colleague of theirs hasn’t turned up.  The action switches to the subject of their review, with the commencement of an early twentieth-century murder mystery which is shamelessly packed full of all the best parodies of Agatha Christie-style stories.  The set is a large dining room in a lonely but grand country house, the characters are all very posh, and over in the corner of the room lies a corpse, as yet unnoticed by the characters.

The action switches backwards and forwards from cliched mystery in the form of the play within the play to the sanctimonious banter from the two theatre critics, both still unsure as to where their third fellow critic has gone.  At one point, in a break in the murder mystery, the critics’ chat is interrupted by a grand old telephone ringing on the set.  Inexplicably, one of the critics marches on-stage and answers it.  It’s his wife.

From that point, things get ridiculous, with the line between the two realities completely blurred, and more than a few connections emerging between the lives of the critics and the the lives of the characters in the murder mystery.  Perhaps predictably, the corpse in the corner turns out to be the missing theatre critic.

It’s a delightfully silly story, and not a little complicated in places, the absurdity adding to the sense of farce and parody.

To quote Wikipedia:

“The play deals with the nature of reality, the lack of a fourth wall, the relationship between real life and art, the role of the audience, and the metafictional idea of a ‘play within a play’.”

I played the corpse.

It was quite a challenging role – for the best part of an hour I had to lie completely still; no easy feat on a cold, hard floor.  As I liked to declare at the time, it was a hard part to get because the competition was very stiff.  The student newspaper, alluding to my student officer role at the time, described it as “the best presidential death since JFK”.

The subsequent offers failed to flood in for someone capable of playing a pivotal character despite remaining motionless and emotionless for the duration of a performance.

I suppose Tom Hanks gets all those sorts of roles instead.

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