Private Viewing: Fame may be alluring but the stage remains the true test
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The arrival of Lindsay Lohan in the West End, making her stage debut in David Mamet’s play Speed-The-Plow, has got Twitter, the world’s gossip columnists and London’s theatre critics all hot under the collar, says Andrew Clarke
The more mean spirited members of the world’s celebrity-watching community were probably disappointed by the fact that Ms Lohan acquitted herself rather well. The reviews were generally warm and recognised, that as the play was all about the nature of celebrity and the way that Hollywood shapes the culture of the world, it was a cleverly appropriate piece of casting.
Many people assumed that Lohan, as a Hollywood actress, a former child-star with no formal stage training, a celebrity haunted by some well-publicised demons, would immediately crash and burn under the glare of the West End spotlight.
The fact that she embraced the challenge and actually did rather well, re-affirms my belief that stars become stars because they have something more than a pretty face.
It has always surprised me that people are amazed when soap stars and so-called personality actors reveal themselves to have more than one string to their bow. The modern world loves to pigeon-hole people, particularly actors.
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We are seeing something of that at The Colchester Mercury at the moment. Nicholas Bailey, who plays Macduff in Daniel Buckroyd’s dynamic new production, spent five years playing Dr Anthony Trueman in EastEnders. He appeared in an astonishing 229 episodes and yet it turns out that Albert Square is not the limit of his world. He is something of a huge Shakespeare fan. He toured in the RSC’s production of King Lear with Sir Ian McKellen as well as performing in Hamlet, Julius Caesar, The Winter’s Tale and acts as consultant to British Black and Asian Shakespeare Project which is based at Warwick University.
There is no reason why this should be unusual but a number of people I have spoken to have expressed surprise that the “doctor, off EastEnders should be a Shakespeare fan”. When I query the surprise, I get the unhelpful reply. “I dunno. It’s not what you expect is it?”
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I think the problem is, if you appear in people’s living rooms night after night, playing the same character for years on end, it is easy to forget they are actors playing a part and you come to view them as real people who form part of your life.
So when they leave the series and have the temerity to do something different, to play a different role, there is more psychological resistance than you might expect.
The problem is that the public perceives that there are different types of actor – television actors, stage actors, soap actors and there is also a lot of unintentional snobbery displayed towards TV acting. We can remember the huge brouhaha that greeted Ian McKellen’s announcement that he was going to join the cast of Coronation Street in 2005. There was a feeling in some newspaper columns that McKellen was slumming it.
There seems to be a feeling that soap stars aren’t proper actors. Stars like Kenneth Branagh, Romola Gari, Julie Walters, Derek Jacobi or Tom Hollander can choose between leading roles in film, theatre or television drama because they are viewed as character actors. They are not seen as playing themselves or being part of the furniture in the way that soap stars are.
American stars have an additional hurdle to overcome – their unfamiliarity with the stage. Most British actors are still the product of drama schools which provide the skills needed for the theatre. In America the situation is different. A friend of mine went to New York a couple of years ago and caught Claire Danes in a performance of Pygmalion. Although the staging was fine, my friend said she had trouble hearing George Bernard Shaw’s witty dialogue. The problem was that Claire Danes could not project enough to hit the back of the circle.
Which brings us back to Lindsay Lohan. London has long been a magnet for Hollywood actors wanting to prove themselves on stage. Nicole Kidman did it brilliantly in The Blue Room and Gillian Anderson permanently relocated to London to pursue a theatrical career following the end of The X Files. It’s good to see that after her personal troubles that Lindsay Lohan is channelling her efforts into some professional development.