I thoroughly enjoyed acting in the Melodramatic Elephant in which I played two roles.
My first role was a Victorian actor playing George, a character from a Melodramatic play called "Lady Audley's Secret." The audience would see George in a scene with the great Marie Henderson as they rehearsed it in the Coronet Theatre back in the 19th century. Initially, the idea of acting in a play within a play was daunting, but I managed to strip it down to a situation where I was simply playing myself rehearsing for a scene. I read "Lady Audley's Secret" and understood George's motives and how his experiences fed his volatile passion and rage.
Our multi-talented director, John Whelan, helped us express the Melodramatic acting style mainly through our faces and ensured we controlled our volume, projecting our voices only at appropriate times during the scene. I found this melodramatic scene not only representative of Marie's mental conflict and emotional struggle, but also a prime example of Brechtian Theatre enabling audiences to think about class ranks, loss, infidelity, relationships and social issues. It was a pleasure to act alongside the unique Marie Henderson (played by the superbly talented Shelagh) and I'm proud we managed to pull off one of the more intense scenes in the play.
Another aspect of the play I will also treasure was portraying Charlie Chaplin. I think the expression "big shoes to fill" springs to mind and indeed his boots were massive considering how short he was. Having done some research into the timeless icon, watching Chaplin's early short films, reading his biography, listening to his interviews online, copying his smile, his walk and his mannerisms. I built up my own interpretation of the great man behind the Little Tramp. For me, his mischievous behaviour and love for life were two key traits I needed to portray.
In the silent comedy written by talented Aubrey Ayoade and filmed by the brilliant Constantine Gras, my Chaplin was a lazy worker, but a cheerful soul nonetheless. Even after being scared silly by Marie's ghost, the final scene shows Chaplin watching a film contently with his small dog and a portrait of Marie next to him, tipping his hat out of respect to her. I felt like I needed to convey his kind heart even in the face of adversity, which was synonymous with the Little Tramp taking on the corrupt system against all odds!
The other notable Charlie Chaplin scene on stage showed how he met Michael Caine (played by the tremendously gifted Michael Tuffnell) at the Elephant and Castle in the early 1970s. Since I would now be playing Chaplin in his 80s, I decided to make him sound and walk much older than he actually looked. I utilised some Method acting to materialise my own experience of loss, matching Chaplin's sad realisation that his childhood neighbourhood was transformed and remodelled into "monstrous blocks." There were also socioeconomic and politically-charged discussions with the charismatic Caine, prompting encouraging reactions from the audience to highlight the power of Epic Theatre. I imagined Chaplin at that ripe, old age as an onion with many layers: first, as the young orphan from East Street who lost his parents too early (his father to alcoholism and his mother to the mental asylum), then as the ambitious artistic pioneer who took on America and inspired the world; and finally as the isolated elder clutching onto memories of his distant past ("They don't make proper movies like they used to, Michael."). The scene ends bittersweetly with Chaplin remembering his old Elephant and Castle theatre (where I imagined him drifting back emotionally to that 19th century world seeing his mother perform on stage) before snapping back to reality and inviting Caine for a drink in a nearby pub coincidentally named "The Charlie Chaplin."
To conclude, this unique experience of playing the Little Tramp has taught me that in an ever-changing world, no matter how downtrodden life gets us, the human spirit can elevate us in our search for beauty.
Excerpts of the stage play and short film, Marie Henderson's Ghost will be screened as part of The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle art exhibition.
The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle - Art Exhibition
9-20 December at The Art Academy Gallery
Former Newington Library
155 Walworth Road, London SE17 1RS.
Saturday and Sunday 12.00-17.00
Monday to Friday 15.00-19.00
Reflecting the views of artists, actors, residents
and participants in
The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle.
An art project about the Coronet from 1872-2017.
Past present future
Music and animation
Euan Vincent on Horror
Tiberius Chis on Chaplin
Final Curtain Call
Directing and acting
Jacko at the Coronet?
Ale and steak pies
This Is Where I Came In
Pollock's Toy Museum
Adventure with the Mayor
Reach for the stars
Ghost of Marie Henderson
Shop till the zombie drops
Faith, Hope and Charity
Singing and sketching
History and legacy
Dark Side of Metropolis
Interview with Sam Porter
Blood and Thunder
Culture and Capital