A. L. KENNEDY FEATURE
no dry run
Now establishing an impressive reputation as a novelist, A. L. KENNEDY initially pursued a career on the stage. She explained to Sue Wilson how she drew on her own experiences while writing her new play The Audition.
ﬁle Hayward: ‘Aboot the years ape I stopped drlntlnpmndllatedtoreﬂectonnnatlltemlike when I was drinking.’
lays about actors often seem designed to invite accusations of luvvie preciousness. But when the playwright is award-winning Scots author Alison Kennedy, recently named as one of Granta magazine’s top twenty young British novelists, and the performer is the decidedly un-luvvieish Welshman Mike Hayward, a National Theatre veteran best known to many as Take the High Road‘s Alun Morgan, you’d be safe to bet on its being something a bit different. The play in question is The Audition, Hayward’s first one-man show and a very personal project, in many ways, both for him and for Kennedy. ‘About ﬁve years ago I stopped drinking, and I started to reflect on what life was like when I was drinking,’ Hayward explains. ‘So I had this idea of an actor’s life as going from the bedsit to the boozer to the audition, which was the sort of triangle l was trapped in quite a few years ago - sort of a drinking actor’s journey to failure. When I met Alison, I gave the idea to her — I didn’t know anything about her, that she was this ,‘i‘ very accomplished writer " and so on, but I took to her straight away, just the way she listened to me. And about two weeks later, this amazing script came through the post - I just couldn’t believe what I was looking at, it was incredible to receive something so in- depth and so incisive. She enables me to say so much about the feelings I used to
“" have, and in a way to make Alison Kennedy: ‘I wanted to look at the eﬂects of being a drunk because III the end It llll klll yon.’
comment on what I feel now, on reﬂection.’
Kennedy’s insight derives partly from the similarities between her background and Hayward’s — she is half Welsh, both experienced a religious upbringing — and partly from the fact that she herself trained to be an actor, and had eventually to come to terms with failure in that sphere herself. ‘I went through this whole thing of being obsessed with the theatre, being in love with it, and it just didn’t work, which made me very bitter for a while,’ she says. ‘The play’s looking at all those sort of artistic insecurities - how do you c0pe with that pressure to feed on yourself to be creative? If you create this idea that you have to bleed internally, then people will go for that, because any other way you feel you’re not doing enough. And for a Welsh drunk actor it’s practically compulsory, though it’s a Celtic thing, he could as well be Scots or Irish -
you wander around in a big cloud of this whole
Calvinist-Celtic guilt»doom thing, and you can
feel yourself turning into a cliche; Jack Rees,
the character in the play, is a huge, terrible
cliché, but I wanted to look at what that means.
Everybody goes, “oh yes, Welsh drunk”, and
you don’t actually think about the fact that
somebody has to wander around living that. I‘ wanted to look at the effects of being that way,
because in the end it will kill you.’
The Audition sees Kennedy exploring the ‘all- the-world’s-a-stage’ idea, and subverting it with characteristic, unﬂinching starkness. ‘I got drawn into acting partly because I wasn’t very good with people, I think — with acting you know your part,’ she explains. ‘Again, Jack Rees gets all this stuff, he goes on about how it’s nice being on stage because you know what you’re going to say, where you’re going to go, who you’re going to speak to — it’s much easier than life, but it doesn’t actually prepare you for life at all. He goes on at one point about how everybody should have an agent, so they can present themselves properly in life, because the
‘iiobody knows what’s Inside you. You can’t audition for life, go out In trout of people and say: “look, I can do this, and
this, and this, I’m not as small as i look”!
whole thing is - I felt this myself - that nobody knows what’s inside you, you can’t audition for life, go out in front of people and say, “look, I can do this, and this, and this, I’m not as small as I look”.’
For Hayward, being an actor, playing an actor who’s agonising about how to be both an actor and a human being has proved a powerful and somewhat unsettling experience. ‘It endorses how lucky actors are, in a way, to be able to escape into the characters we play,’ he says. ‘As I’m doing the piece, I begin to feel the pain of the actor Jack Rees, and then as soon as I get to one of the audition pieces within the play, I feel almost an escape from him — at last, this is a bit I’m secure with, people can recognise me from this audition piece; I don’t really exist until I give one of these speeches. And yet I don’t feel safe saying the rest of the lines, even though it’s still a character I’m playing. There’s a bit when I try to convince the audience that I can do anything - I can be younger, older, insane, a man with a dog, a drunk, a hole in the room, an actor; and last of all is Jack Rees, and slowly, it’s almost underneath my breath, I say, “how can I? How can I be Jack Rees?” And as I’m saying those words I’m actually thinking, “well, who is Mike Hayward?” I’m here, I’ve said all these things, some of which are lies, some are the truth and I think, that’s the way I’ve conducted my life so far anyway, you’re trapped here . . . it’s extraordinary.’ D The Audition (Fringe) Borderline Theatre Company, Stepping Stones Theatre (Venue 51) 225 6520’226 2151, 29Aug—4 Sept, 9pm. £6 (£5).
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