Is that Simone with Simon Russell Beale?
Blink again! This can’t be real! I can tell you now that this is not photoshopped, this actually happened and most of my whole evening has been spent transcribing notes and coming up with this breakthrough article to share.
This is the first official non-theatre stalking activity I have done since I have come out in the open and unashamedly announced to the world about my love and admiration for Simon Russell Beale. Theatre outings are legitimate excuses but today just smacks of stalking in the highest order. Dying to find out what I did? Well, whilst catching up on my daily SRB web browsing a couple of weeks back, I stumbled upon an events website that listed SRB giving an Ernest Jones lecture for The British Psychoanalytical Society in June. I mean a lecture? Then I remembered this was mentioned in his interview with the Times Online. My heart skipped a beat and quickly checked my iCal if I can squeeze it in, or bump anything off that’s in the way, so the short and end of it was, I got my ticket.
Not really knowing where to go as the blasted map feature on my iPhone is showing that Guilford Street is somewhere in Southwark, (duh!) I had to rely on Google Maps to navigate my way and after a blissful ride on the 38 bus, I decided to get to the UCL Insitute of Child Health via a taxi cab, which reminded me of fellow theatre trotter JohnnyFox’s preferred use of transport. I couldnt find fellow SRB cheerleader Abigail anywhere in the lecture theatre so I made my way and found an empty seat in the 3rd row and like some illumination, I saw him across the room making his way to the platform. Oh this is just too good! We are not just practically breathing the same air but we are in the same room, okay with other people too. I recorded the lecture in my QuickVoice app but I will not dare transcribe the whole lecture here. I must say that even before the lecture started, SRB endeared himself to the audience for when Mike Brearley, the Society’s President reminded the audience to switch off their mobile phones, guiltily, SRB got up to get his rucksack, and tried his darnest best to look for his phone to switch it off. It was just so comical! So if the academics that were present havent heard of him until today, they might just be booking his shows now and why wouldnt they?
Without wanting to embarrass SRB with his introduction, I have to agree with Brearley when he said that apart from being one of the best leading actors of this country, many will go to the theatre especially to see him. I have always thought the same, and even believe that if they have Hollywood box office stars whose presence in the film will make it a certified blockbuster, cast Simon Russell Beale and be assured of very good box office returns. SRB started off by thanking the audience for being there and remarking that we should all be in bed, and that his vanity wouldn’t allow him to refuse the invitation to do another lecture. Why is the lecture called ‘Without Memory or Desire’? SRB mentioned that it was the suggestion of a friend who was studying psychoanalysis and it was coined by Wilfred Bion and should be how psychoanalysis is approached.
As he was preparing for the lecture, he eventually decided to speak about how an actor approaches a Shakespearean part, trying to wipe out all the performances he’s seen, to rid himself of misconceptions or wipe the slate clean so to speak. He proposed that some of the Shakespearean characters he has portrayed over time like Cassius, Iago, Macbeth, Hamlet, Leontes, all end up in a state of suspended animation, a sort of transcendental state, without memory or desire. He then goes into their characterizations wherein Hamlet gets to an extraordinary serenity, Macbeth a timeless misery, Iago an absolute hell, that loveless universe that he inhabits, and Leontes’ experience of a wife coming back to life. He shared snippets of how some of the characters were approached for instance Sam Mendes’s treatment of Malvolio as having a secret vice where his own suggestion of giving him alcohol didnt catch on, and moving the scene from the backyard to his own quarters. He also felt that his portrayal of Macbeth was soft around the edges, not at all blood and guts, with a critic pointing out that his Macbeth was more interested in his suffering than butchering, how Hamlet was such a sweet Prince, and Leontes’ jealousy unforgivable.
SRB reckons that the process of reading afresh has it roots from literary criticism. He mentioned that it is an important part of the actor’s job cast in a classic play to lead the audience through a detailed thought through a series of arguments, and as a component of this it’s essential to clarify and distill the line of thought in an individual character’s head before one begins to explore other emotional areas. A large part of the actors time is spent in this process and the benefits, if pursued rigorously are threefold: (1) an actor cannot safely open his/her mouth without knowing precisely the meaning of the words at the surface level, (2) it clarifies the character’s function within the larger picture of the play, (3) shows a careful analysis of a series of thoughts mainly the actor’s to an unexpected emotional territory. When this happens, in an ideal world, it can lead to discoveries beyond, or without memory or desire. Although there is the emotional component of an actor’s work, but that no figure can come alive on stage without the thought processes, the arguments being galvanized by some emotional energy. Shakespeare’s plays are designed to explore the heart, as well as the head. Some who yearns the dream of the neutrality of delivery, a live version of reading of the writer’s words are presented unmediated to the hero but SRB believes that that is an impossibility for every word spoken carries the fray to the speaker’s atttude, even neutrality in context is an emotional statement.
The lecture lasted about 50 minutes, and there was no dull moment as he peppered the lecture with his wit and humor, and showed us a sampling of his Shakespearean characterizations. My favorite was his inclusion of Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing where the play’s power and magic lies in its use of the everyday and the possible. The declaration of love between Beatrice and Benedick which to SRB is the best love scene Shakespeare ever wrote, and it worked so well as it is so often the case in real life, it’s at the wrong time and in the wrong place. It’s very short, only a few lines long, in prose, and hurried. Left behind in church where Hero, Beatrice’s cousin has been accused by sexual betrayal by her fiance Claudio, the two older lovers, had the space to squeeze out a few words mostly simple mono syllables before other demands came to their attention. I do love nothing in the world so well as you is that not strange? / As strange as I think it will not, I was about to protest I loved you. / And do it with all thy heart./ I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.
SRB reiterates that this is not Romeo and Juliet who delight in what they feel to be an extraordinary experience, Benedick might describe her love for Beatrice as strange but they are both wise enough to know that their feelings are ordinary, even commonplace. The scene is effective because of this as the fear of rejection, and sense of inappropriateness where things have to be said now, or they will never be said, all of these are things we can easily recognise and experience. Some of us, like Beatrice and Benedick. have experienced too, a happy ending. He then talked about National’s production of Much Ado in 2007 which had a large pool on stage. What they didnt know was that jumping into the pool had a deeper significance, in the event that Benedick jumped into it and had to stay in the water, he emerged out of the pool a new man, baptised, born again, not only recognising the love of another person and his feelings for her, but he is also ready for a moral reassessment. SRB goes on about Benedick’s courage, one of the bravest characters he has ever played. Benedick challenges Claudio to a duel even if duelling is something that he hates, and he is not very good at.
In the Q&A portion he mentioned having a bad day and when they were doing dress rehearsals for The Cherry Orchard, he was such in a foul mood that when he tipped all those chairs, he was quite taken aback as to where all this fury was coming from, and regrets that it was something he has yet to discover anew. The lecture ended with him being awarded an honorary fellowship to the Society, previously accorded to the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci and Anish Kapoor.
In the flurry of excitement of what looked to be a very promising day, after finally having cornered Abigail and drinking our glass of wine, somebody approached us and she called me by my name! Oh my, the jig is definitely up, I have definitely been found! After calmly explaining a few things, I would like to say that it’s neither me or Abigail who are SRB’s biggest fans but our new friend, who wants to remain anonymous as she goes back as far as 20 years ago.
I told her that I never claimed I was his number one fan but it was the Times who said so, so take it up with them! As it turned out, she’s such a jolly nice person, who loves the theatre, opera and okay, SRB. To show how a good sport she is, she was the one who took the photo above, even having a go at Simon as he fell on her when she saw Candide at the National some years back, and he surprisingly still remembers! All three of us went to Russell Square (pun not intended!) for a cuppa, shared our most favorite SRB moments and promised to keep in touch.
What else can I say but it seems like our SRB Appreciation Society is definitely growing, when we have enough members, what do you say about maybe inviting SRB to do a lecture?