Sunday, 27 July 2014

Medea at The National - I am still in shock

Fifteen pounds doesn’t get you much these days.......3 coffees at Starbucks, a weekend wardrobe from Primark and it’s half the price of a Travelcard from Surrey. But yesterday, £15 got me a sensational 90 minutes at The Olivier Theatre at The National. Medea has just opened with Helen McCrory (Mrs Nicholas Brody from Homeland) as the title role giving the performance of her career.
Medea at The National Theatre. Helen McCrory - I want to be you
I have yet to venture into reviewing on my blog but I was so blown away by those 90 minutes yesterday that I had to tell you about it.

Medea was written by Greek poet Euripides in approximately 431 BC. Medea has been left by her husband Jason (of Golden Fleece fame) to marry a young princess. Reacting to this betrayal after she gave up her family for him, she vows to revenge him. She murders his new bride but it’s not enough to truly wound Jason forever and so she murders their two sons. WTF! would be the response of modern folk, but McCrory’s performance is so forceful that you like her, pity her and understand her logic. It is a study of heartbreak and grief and how these emotions can unhinge you.

The first image of Medea smashing rocks in the middle of a dark, gnarly forest firmly plants the idea that she has the ability to be feral, physical and wild. It was like stumbling upon a sacrificial ritual which is immediately shocking. But then she appears slouching around, cleaning her teeth and smoking roll ups. The set reveals the tangled trees with empty children’s swings hanging from the branches amidst the tattered Greek home with the glitzy wedding above, enclosed in glass. Clear cut and yet a tangled mess.

The Greek Chorus, oh how I loved them. They were a most effective and beautiful part of the production. A gorgeous lady I did Oklahoma with years ago, Vivien Carter, was one of these women in a peach dress and I was so in awe of her. The chorus are vital in any Greek play, commenting and advising the protagonist; here these Stepford Wife-esque Women of Corinth sang lingering music composed by Goldfrapp and created pulsing movement through contemporary dance. They were unsettling, beautiful and haunting- just brilliant. The dancing was used to horrifying effect as Medea exited to slit the throats of her two young sons, I was genuinely appalled and had my hands over my face but my god, it was fabulous.

There aren’t enough adjectives to justly describe McCrory’s performance. She is all sinew (I need to know her fitness regime, she looks incredible) with emotions so raw that her costumes shudder with the ferocity of her feeling. She is funny, sexy and wholly engaging; a 90 minute master class in connecting to text.

I heard an interview on radio 4 with the writer, Ben Power, who said that “during rehearsals we spoke to criminal psychologists and grief specialists who were astonished by acutey with which Euripides describes this emotional trauma.....2,500 years before psycho-analysis he is describing grief and trauma, the stages of grief, the movements between grief and anger with absolute pinpoint precision.” If you don’t listen to Front Row yet on Radio 4, do it!

Some reviews have suggested that Ben Power’s modern adaptation has lessened the poetic meter of traditional Greek theatre. Greek purists may hate the contemporary costume, iPhone selfie and children moronically staring at tablets and televisions but I appreciated it. 
The modern setting only highlighted the constant relevance of the text and I think made it more accessible to an audience. Greek theatre, like all of the classical texts can be off-putting to some audience members “Oo that’s a bit dark for me” or “I want to be entertained not use my brain” But with stories like the woman in Utah on trial for murdering her 6 newborn children only this week and Mikaeel Kular’s mother admitting she killed him how more pertinent can this play be? 2,500 years later we are still plagued by mental illness, female inequality and heartbreak. To be honest I may have struggled with Euripides’ original rich text for 90 minutes on a humid Saturday afternoon, Ben Powers’ adaptation kept me as engrossed as a teenager on an iPad.

Oh my gosh I can’t tell you enough how bloomin’ brilliant this production is; GO GO GO! I left inspired, thoughtful and in need of a stiff drink. Helen McCrory is exceptional and the ticket is 1/6 of the price of many top West End musicals, it’ll be £15 well spent.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Heads You Win - a guide to getting headshots

Yesterday I drove around the M25 looking like Ena Sharples with a head full of rollers to the great delight of many a van driver in the perpetual traffic. You see, I was getting new headshots done and my hair is lanky mc’drab so I was just making the most of the journey time!

Headshots are a stressful part of being an actor, for some of us anyway. Many enjoy to pout at the lens whilst an Austin Powers style character barks ‘work it baby, work it’ but I find it uncomfortable. Suddenly I am terribly aware of my wonky eyes, arched eyebrows, Jimmy Hill jaw, swimmers’ shoulders.....ah man the list is endless and so I tense up as if my head is literally about to be ‘shot at’ instead of photographed.
Here are some thoughts on headshots-

·         Keep them recent

“Ah look that actor playing Mr Brown has his son in the cast too “ says audience member as she flicks through the programme squinting in the dimmed house lights, “Oh no, that’s actually him! Goodness, how OLD is that photo?”

We’ve all done it; spent a few moments double checking that the broad-waisted baritone on stage really is the same hot young matinee idol as the programme photo suggests.
Worse still, if a casting director is scanning and on seeing your headshot calls you in, only to be confronted by a wrinkly, one dress size larger version of the photo. You’ve wasted their time by not truly being what they are after. Like that advert says “It does what it says on the tin” you’ve gotta really look like the outside of your tin or you are committing some kind of theatrical fraud. It’s the headshot equivalent of keeping the size 8 jeans you wore aged 21 in the belief that one day you will diet your way back into them.  Let them go and make sure you look like your current self in your headshot.

·         Have different looks

You are told to take a selection of tops to help you achieve different looks in your 2 hour session. Here’s a few helpful hints to get you started!

White shirt and serious face = “I am assertive and ballsy yet still attractive” in the olden days this would have been your one for The Bill, but it now covers all kinds of hospital/law dramas

Cheesy musical theatre big grin = “look how happy I can be for 8 shows a week and belt out a pop song mid jazz pirouette” (you may want to add an extra coat of mascara for this one.)

Black top and big eyes = “I am classical actress because I wear black and can be demure yet strong with the ability to learn lots of text”

White vest top, messy hair, steely face = “I could live on a council estate and bash your face in” This also applies to men with stubble and low lighting

High necked tops and period hair style (men will have shaved by now in the photographers downstairs loo) = “I can be in a period drama, please oh please let me be inDownton Abbey, upstairs or downstairs or in the dog basket I don’t care, but please see my period style hair and think I’d be perfect for Downton.” (nb. Downton is probably heading for the 1940s now so I’d recommend Victory Rolls and red lips!)

·         Find a photographer that works for you

Just like finding the right agent, boyfriend or mascara you need to feel comfortable with a photographer. If your eyes are the windows to the soul then you need to trust the person staring into your soul for £300. The right photographer will create a comfortable atmosphere where you feel safe to pout, stare and smile. It is a very personal thing; some actors like to be told technically what to do and others respond to emotions and feelings.

Like many a young woman I had to go through a few until I found my Prince Charming of photographers.  My first experience was under a bush in a garden in Surrey sat on a bin bag, changing outfits whilst the photographers Dad mowed the lawn. You’ll find many 2003 shots of actors surrounded by leaves whilst their heads seem to be at a weird angle from their torso.

Another encounter saw me in another garden where I had to spin around and respond to the emotion that the photographer said to me. By the time I had got through “joy”, “worry”, “sexy” and “peace” I had a crick in my neck and most of the final prints had “f*$k off” behind my eyes!

My Prince Charming photographer has down my last 3 sets of photos, no bushes or feelings he just said to me that someone with my face shape shouldn’t be shot straight on (Jimmy Hill chin, remember?) and that I should keep my chin low. Hooray! A photo that looks like me but on an exceptionally good day.

·         You get what you pay for

Headshots, GOOD headshots will cost you. It is an expense that an actor has to undergo but remember it can be taken off your tax! It may be tempting to go to a cheap photographer when jobs are scarce and funds are low, but remember that these photos are going to represent you in the industry. You don’t need to spend a fortune as there are many mid-price, well-established photographers so don’t go for the bargain option; you may as well get your 3 year old nephew to take a snap on your grainy iPhone. There are certain things in life that an actor cannot scrimp on – repertoire, headshots and loo roll.

And if I seem to really know what I am talking are some dodgy ones from the Daniella Gibb album. Happy headshotting everyone!

Before I discovered Low GI food
and what is that tufty hair??
(Think I was under the bush for
that one!)
There is more bleach on my hair here
than at your local swimming pool

Wake up...thats OK...wake up...and wake up blondie!
Either sat on a sharp pin or my attempts at
Nala from The Lion King
I am your friendly nurse

(this ended up on my Grandad's wall)