Born to play the role?


I’m very lucky.  In my theatrical ‘career’ so far, I have played four principal roles and two of them were so brilliantly suited to my abilities that it was almost unbelievable.  Herr Schultz in Cabaret was admittedly some fifty years older than me when I played him, but it was in a school production, so questions of age were irrelevant.  However, his mixture of quiet joy and pathos, combined with his characterful songs, made him a perfect match for me.  Gerald in Me and My Girl was just ridiculously right, as well.  Everything from the ridiculous accent and the old-fashioned singing style through to his complete ignorance of his own ludicrosity was so ‘me’.  I slipped into the role like a glove.  Not that it wasn’t hard work, it most certainly was, but it was all so right.

The trouble is, there aren’t many perfect roles for each performer, and I’ve already used two up before the age of 30.  And if I really was born to play Gerald Bolingbroke, as some people said, does that mean I’ve peaked, and it’s all downhill from here?  I certainly hope not.  But the idea does make me think – what roles would I like to play, and what roles am I ideally suited for?  Strangely enough, the two don’t match.  If I ever get a chance to do a pantomime, my dream part would be the villain, as I think it would be immense fun.  But what sort of casting decision would land me the role?  The role I am (at least on the surface) most suited for is Buttons or his equivalent, the ‘audience friend’ as the part is known.  Act a bit thick, get a bit messy, get beaten up by a variety of comedy props, have a singalong with the audience and end up without the girl at the end.  It probably would be fun, but not as much fun as being booed and hissed.

So which roles combine the two for me?  Roles I seem built for, which I would also kill (metaphorically, of course) to play?  Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors.  Amos Hart in Chicago (though not for a few years yet).  Pretty much any of the young idiots in By Jeeves or any other adaptation of Wodehouse.  Georg in She Loves Me.  And perhaps, if we stretch credibility a tad, Motel in Fiddler on the Roof

But then there are the roles that I’m itching to play, but probably never will.  The ones that make my ears prick up when I hear the music or make me buzz with excitement when I read the script?  Finch in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, but I’m not the cheeky and confident ‘type’, which probably rules out the leads in Me and My Girl and Half a Sixpence as well.  Cliff in Cabaret, Billy in Carousel and Sky in Guys and Dolls are off limits as romantic leads (I have certain physical limitations!), and I’m already too old really to play poor old Tobias in Sweeney Todd, which otherwise has my name written all over it.

I should perhaps take a break here to mention that being right for a role doesn’t necessarily mean that you are in any way like the character in real life (though the correct gender and a vaguely close age do tend to help).  There are just certain things that each actor can do particularly well.  There are ‘Judi Dench’ roles, and there are ‘Maggie Smith’ roles and they’re not the same roles.  In the same way, there are roles for Fred from the Post Office, Vera from the Co-Op and David from the library.

Back to those roles, we come finally to the parts heading towards me like a runaway steamroller.  The parts that practically scream ‘David’, but which I’m not too keen to play. Thankfully, my lack of romantic lead qualifications does allow me to dodge some of the dullest boors in the musical theatre canon, but there is, I fear, an inevitability heading my way with the name Freddy Eynsford-Hill.  Actually, I wouldn’t mind having a bash at Pygmalion (which reminds me that there is a theatrical world beyond the musical which is almost virgin territory for me), but when it comes to My Fair Lady, which is essentially Pygmalion with songs, it’s another matter.  He has one of the most gorgeous tenor songs in English,’On The Street where You Live’, but as a character he’s a bit of a nothing.  But he’s one of those characters that would match my abilities point for point, and one that it would be churlish to turn down the opportunity to play, should it ever arise.  I may as well resign myself to the Eynsford-Hill inevitability.

None of this answers my most immediate theatrical dilemma, which is ‘which role(s) should I audition for in Kiss Me, Kate?’  But that question still has two months to answer itself, and in the meantime, I’ve managed to write one of the most self-indulgent posts in the history of blogging!

    • Claire
    • July 31st, 2006

    I can definitely see you as Herr Schultz… Did you sing the ‘Pineapple song’?

  1. Au contraire, mon ami, I think you are showing an unusual degree of self-awareness and objectivity. Would all performers were so gifted.

  2. I did indeed sing the Pineapple song (a.k.a. ‘It Couldn’t Please Me More’). I’ve added a page to the blog, ‘On stage’ which has a rambling run-down of the parts I’ve played.

    Reed, my self-awareness is a very variable thing. I do think it’s a good thing to know my limits. Some people (such as a particular colleague of mine) think I can do anything, but I’d rather do something small really well than something larger in a mediocre way.

    • Claire
    • August 1st, 2006

    Ahh I love the Pineapple song! I was wondering what the ‘On stage’ button was for…

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