Measure of success
Barrhead Sports Centre is the less than likely venue for the RSC’S latest Trevor Nunn productions. Mark Fisher talks to lead actor, Claire Skinner, about education, improvisation and characterisation.
The last time you‘re likely to have seen Claire Skinner is in the role ofNatalie, the tomboy plummer and mismatched twin daughter in Mike Leigh‘s Life is Sweet. It‘s a role that recently won her an award at the Geneva Film Festival and an experience which she is never likely to forget. ‘lt‘s incredible,‘ she says about Leigh's unique improvisational way ofcreating his films and , plays. ‘You start from scratch and meet characters you’ve never met before. It’s really peculiar when you first use this voice and people are taking you seriously. The weirdest exercise is where he gets you to go out into the street and try and function amongst other people. You’re asking the way to McDonald‘s and you can‘t believe they’re actually telling you.’
The naturalistic snack-bar low-life of Leigh’s movie might seem a far cry from Skinner‘s latest role as the virginal Isabella in Trevor Nunn’s RSC production of Measurefor Measure, a tale of sexual corruption and attempted blackmail, but there are, she says. similarities in the approaches ofthe two directors. ‘The thing that I did learn from Mike Leigh was detail,’ she explains, ‘where you’ve been, where you‘re going, all that kind of stuff. Truth is the thing and ifhe doesn’t believe
_ you, he will tell you. You really get disciplined.
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Claire Skinner: ‘Such a stretch I’ve never known’
And Trevor Nunn is mad on detail as well.‘
Nunn, the director of Cats, Starlight Express and more artistically-credible work over more than twenty years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, has kept his eye on both Measurefor Measure and its companion piece, The Blue Angel. as they tour the country. It’s sadly unusual for any director, let alone someone of Nunn’s stature, to stay involved with a production once it is up and running, and it is symptomatic of his attention to detail that he should turn up to give notes to the cast several months into the run. ‘Such a stretch I’ve never known,‘ Skinner admits with enthusiasm. ‘He’s very keen that there should be precision in the production. With something that he‘s directed so precisely, it‘s quite easy for it to
get baggy, especially on the road.’
Having already completed a three-month run at Stratford’s The Other Place, the company has to cope not only with a three-month national tour, but also a daily programme ofeducational workshops. The cast is the same for both Measure for Measure, set here in the 18th century, and The BlueAngel, Pam Gems‘s musical retelling of Heinrich Mann’s 19205 tale of a respected school teacher who falls for an alluring nightclub singer. Skinner, who has a small part in The Blue Angel as ‘the wally in the background who falls over a lot’, welcomes the variety and the challenge. ‘I think it’d be more exhausting just doing one,‘ she says. ‘lt’s kind ofa relief after doing Measurefor Measure to do The Blue Angel, it’s more of a laugh?
Certainly she finds that the effort and concentration put into Measure for Measure over the past months continues to pay off. ‘lt‘s got more timbre to it,’ she says about the production. ‘Far from going stale, it‘s deepened and matured. You can’t just come on and do this play and halfdo it, because it flops, it falls flat on its face, it‘s so extreme. You‘ve got to risk something everytime you play it.’
And in her own character, Isabella, committed to entering a convent, but challenged by sexual advances to change her mind, Skinner finds a role that is continually demanding and one far richer than its squeaky-clean image might suggest. ‘I don‘t think she is whiter than white,’ says Skinner. ‘She’s flawed. That’s why it‘s interesting to play her. She‘s not like other Shakesperian women who you can’t get to the root of, because you can‘t see what their ﬂaws are. You play her as humanly as possible and not just to make a moral point. There’s so much in it. There’s so much left to ﬁnd. I was thinking the other day, we‘ve got till February to play this, am I going to be able to keep this up, and I think I am. It doesn‘t get boring, because it’s quite difficult to play, to keep it true.‘ The Blue Angel, Barrhead Sports Centre, Mon 16, Wed 18, Fri20, Sat21.
Measure for Measure, Barrhead Sports Centre, Tue 17, Wed 18, Thurs 19, Sat21.
Dependency Culture is a theatre company not prepared to ignore the darker side of life. Its productions have included Not, Not While the Giro about the hardships of life on the dole and The Hair of the Dog, a play concerning child abuse. Now the company is tackling the most bleak topic of all - AIDS. But, as director Anna Newel explains, Terminal Bar by Paul Zelig cannot simply be classified as ‘a typical AIDS play’.
‘lt’s set in a time that is almost like a parallel present, in an abandoned club in New York’s red-light district,’ says
Stewart Proton and David McKay in. Dependency Culture’s The Hair OfThe Dog
Newel. ‘The city is stricken by what is referred to in the text as “The Plague”. When it was first performed in 1983, Zelig's audience was quite confused as to what that was a metaphor for. at
course, by the time it had a New York premierthree years later, it was fairly evident. In 1983, Zelig was a young gay guy in New York and all he knew was that his friends kept falling ill.
‘In this club, a lonely schoolboy called Duane finds himself in the company of a New York streetwalker and a runaway housewife, and the play covers the relationship between the three of them. Although it seems a very bleak situation, their relationship reveals the endurance of humanity. In a way, it’s a very romantic play. Each of the characters has a dream, something that they hold on to. But, by the end, all three are left with a single dream, a shared dream, which is simply to be
Newel feels that the play manages to
convey optimism, not least as a result of the humour and irony in the dialogue of the three characters. The fact that these characters are all heterosexual also helps to lift the play out of the ordinary. ‘It takes that whole situation, that whole disease, to it’s greatest extreme,’ says Newel, ‘right Into the heterosexual population; going a step further than other plays on the subject. The play’s very much about beauty and the enduring beauty of people, and about how we must do something, we must not simply believe that it’s not
I going to affect “the mainstream population”. The message is that we must do something because people are worth saving.’ (Philip Parr)
Terminal Cafe, Tramway, Glasgow,
; until Sat? December.
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