Monday, 20 January 2014

The Power of Soap - Hayley and Roy

Since becoming a grown up, I have not been one for soap opera viewing.  We can’t put this down to my life being an enviable social whirl but mainly due to working nights in theatre since the age of 21.

My only real relationship (obsession) with soaps was, like most children of the 1980s, with Neighbours.  I lived for 5.35pm on weekdays and I distinctly remember coming in for tea (at 6pm of course) distraught with my sister and my poor Mum trying to decipher what was wrong.  “Scott sniff gulp h-h-h-has had a row w-w-w-with sniff sniff Charlene, and we don’t know gasp, if they are going to be ok waaaaaail” Who could face chicken nuggets and alpha bites after such an emotional roller coaster?

So since then I have not let myself become emotionally involved in a soap.  Those who know me personally may think this is ironic, but I barely watch Coronation Street - until tonight.  There has been so much media interest in the euthanasia storyline surrounding the characters of Roy and Hayley Cropper that, with a free evening ahead, I thought I’d sit down and watch it.  If only to be clued up for any water cooler moments and Twitter chat tomorrow.

Well, I cannot lie to you dear reader, I am typing this to you through a veil of tears despite the episode finishing a few hours ago.  I am sure you all will agree that it was heart-wrenching, subtle, beautiful and unbearable.  I think I had my hands over my eyes at one point moaning “please don’t” to an empty living-room.

I am not going to debate the merits or dangers of tackling such a sensitive subject on primetime telly, that’s for Loose Women and The Daily Mail, but I’ll chat about it from my point of view.  The acting. 

As a theatre actress with hyperactive eyebrows and an over-expressive face, I envy any actor who can portray such depth through just their eyes.  The 1 hour episode was filled with pathos, empathy and yearning and all from two actors getting a script and making it real without the need for a number or a sparkly costume.  I believed their plight, sobbed along with half a nation and now feel emotionally drained.  That is the effect of powerful, effortless acting. 

It is easy to discount soap opera actors as ‘just playing themselves’ especially if they have been doing a character for so long. We never see the transformation and preparation that it requires. Those effortless performances, that seem so lifelike that they must only be the actor being themselves, are actually finely-crafted and nuanced.  I find that enviably, wonderful.

I am the first person to disparage members of the public who believe a soap actor really is the character they play; you know those people who bound over, screeching the character’s name and demanding a 20 minute chat and a photo.  “THEY ARE ONLY ACTORS!!!” I inwardly scream, no-one did that when I played Gavroche in Les Mis! Well, of course not because I wasn’t beamed into their homes every night. 

Tonight, I saw for the first time the power of a genuinely brilliant soap opera performance. You truly believe in the character and the stories played out to you, and you are left sobbing and bereft in your own home.  I think if I saw David Neilson tomorrow I would run over and give him a cuddle despite him buying some washing up liquid in The Co-op.

To me, that is brilliant acting, whether you are on a stage or on the front of OK! Magazine.  I may not be a soap convert yet but I think my experience tonight may encourage me lose my desire to scowl at folk who get excited to see a beloved character in the flesh.  It is a testament to a skilled actor and that is a very worthy thing to be praised.

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