Tuesday, October 19

Beware of the actplasm! Parody actor Nicholas Craig returns | Theater

IIf you’ve ever marveled at an actor who “pumps the truth,” “shakes,” or sprinkles his “actplasm” in the front row, then you are familiar with the wisdom (and lexicography of love) of Nicholas Craig. The parody of the actor and the self-proclaimed sage of the stage, created by Nigel brush and Christopher douglas, shared his hard-earned lessons on acting in theatrical strongholds like RSC and “The Nash” in the memoir I, An Actor.

Published in 1988, the book came complete with a glossary (for example, Berk off: “go to Los Angeles”) and photographs of Planer, as Craig, meditating in rehearsals, brandishing weapons in a cloud of smoke as Coriolanus and dressed in scuba gear for a submarine. cutting edge production of The Winslow Boy. Hailed as “The Spinal Tap of Actor Bios,” it spawned a series of television and theatrical outings for Planer and was reprinted in 2016 with a foreword by Steve Coogan, thanking Craig for a custom acting masterclass on top of Helvellyn.

Hearing the artists’ stories of their valiant quests to scale mountainous roles is what led Douglas and Planer to create the character. When I first met the duo at Zoom, they recall the rise in the 1980s of a certain class of actors, full of pomposity and lack of self-awareness, who loved to keep the court evaluating their work and craft.

Nigel Planer in I, an Actor, directed by Christopher Douglas at the Hampstead Theater in 1989.
Nigel Planer in I, an Actor, directed by Christopher Douglas at the Hampstead Theater in 1989. Photograph: Tristram Kenton / The Guardian

“In those days, the big tasks of acting could sometimes be just having someone show up at a theater screaming in a cloud of dry ice,” says Douglas. “There were a small number of people who seemed to get all the jobs, and then they would go on TV and say how incredibly difficult the job was.” As the pair’s mocking actor became more famous, the actors began to recognize, in their more mature moments mid-interview, that they might be having a Nicholas Craig moment. “We spoiled their fun for a short time,” Planer observes with a smile.

There were as many clichés to observe in the behavior of these artists on stage as off stage. On his list of classic acting chestnuts of the time, Douglas relishes “motivated squats” as “the melancholic squat before battle.” Before the confinement began last year, he saw an actor assume that pose and says it was like seeing an old steam train. Planer adds another favorite: “Talk quite normally and then SHOUT,” he yells, “and then talk normally again.” What was that all about? “To show the control you have,” he explains, “and to wake up the audience, I guess.” Douglas, who started out as an actor before concentrating on writing, noted how Shakespeare was increasingly portrayed with manly clasps, lots of hugs and slaps. Remember a Cymbeline essay when “a fairly distinguished classic actor did that to me.” On this occasion, at least, “it was a completely wasted effort because it was on the radio! But I still felt the need. “

Douglas and Planer have been busy planning a post-pandemic comeback for Craig, and earlier this year, they had a first script reading for their new drama. The character’s past appearances on stage, including at the Hampstead Theater, the National and on a UK tour, have been solo shows for Planer. It was essentially a stand-up character – “a lead voice,” says Douglas. The new script gives him a son, played, in reading, by Jack Farthing of Poldark. On his own account, Craig has always been “disgustingly cocky and malicious,” reflects Douglas. In this new scenario, however, he becomes more understanding. In one scene, she has prepared a meal for her son, who does not show up to eat it. “He’s become a sitcom hero,” adds Planer. “Put a selfish character like that in a situation and we love him. When he’s alone, you don’t love him, you just love the way he attacks things. “

Craig, who now lives in a crumbling pile in Primrose Hill, has no regular income but refuses to sell and move on. These days, their performances are likely to be featured in commercials found online, they suggest. But Craig’s gasp to launch a short film festival in Primrose Hill earns him a small fortune on entry fees from wealthy locals. However, Douglas explains, he is simply bothered by the administrative challenge of handling such a large amount of money. “Even at his most successful moment, Nicholas manages because of his temper to spoil it,” explains Planer. “Pee on your own shoes.”

When it was created, Craig was at the height of his popularity; the memories end when he packs up for America to star on television. In that sense, he differs from another of Douglas’s long-running characters, the grumpy Ed Reardon, whom he expresses in a BBC Radio 4 series co-written with Andrew Nickolds. “We met Ed when he was in his early 50s, when his career was already in shambles,” says Douglas. That felt a little easier to write. Failure is always more interesting than success. ”Craig’s career quickly collapsed, as did that of Douglas cricketer Dave Podmore, whom he also plays on radio (co-written with Nickolds and Nick Newman) and that he once had a sports column for The Guardian.

Christopher Douglas took his Ed Reardon character on the fringes of Edinburgh in 2011.
Christopher Douglas took his Ed Reardon character on the fringes of Edinburgh in 2011. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod / The Guardian

Reardon, now collecting his pension, returns this summer for the fourteenth season of Ed Reardon Week. The first season aired in 2005, describing his faltering career hitting novelty books in a leaky abode he shares with a cat named Elgar. Douglas soon discovered that other writers would be delighted to offer him stories of their own humiliations. “We use a lot of them. We tweak and distort things for dramatic effect, but there’s not much makeup on the show. “The fights and outrages from Douglas’s daily life invariably end up in the files he keeps for the Craig, Podmore, and Reardon material as well.” Ed has aged like me, “he says. Planer laughs:” He must have aged worse than you! “They both say that Craig’s experiences of rejection as an actor didn’t require much research.

Many real-life actors, directors, and critics are satirized in the book; Was there any criticism from your stage brothers? Planer recalls that Warren Mitchell was not very impressed. “I used to be nervous about meeting people, thinking they would hate me,” he adds, “but they were generally very nice.” The idea of ​​a book about a parody actor had appealed to Planer in the years after his portrayal of the dejected hippy Neil in The Young Ones. Nickolds suggested that he develop it with Douglas, who came from a family of actors. But Douglas says everyone warned him that the idea was a self-indulgent joke. “In particular my parents, who were in business.” Once they had the book deal, they wrote a letter from Craig and sent it to famous actors, asking for ideas about their craft. Among her questions was “have you ever had an orgasm on stage?” Douglas starts to laugh: “And someone said yes … twice!” Only a couple of recipients smelled a hoax. The couple decided not to use the responses. “It wasn’t funny,” Planer says. “That was sad.”

Douglas acted as a teenager, but his introduction to the magic of the theater was a job as an assistant stage manager in a Porthcawl panto, cutting toilet paper for a snow scene. He recently saw one of his first screen performances on the archive channel Talking Pictures. “Things from 30 years ago that make you ashamed. Forty years ago, do you think … is it really me? Planer says “the world I grew up in did not take [acting] seriously or approve ”, but dropped out of college to attend Lamda. He and Douglas share a passion for the history of theater and farce, especially those of the late Brian Rix. Planer, who knew Rix’s family, laughs as he recalls his performance as Nicholas Craig at the Rix memorial: “getting really cheap laughs in front of Ray Cooney and Nicholas Parsons.”

Nigel Planer with Idina Menzel in Wicked at London's Apollo Victoria in 2006.
Nigel Planer with Idina Menzel in Wicked at London’s Apollo Victoria in 2006. Photograph: Tristram Kenton / The Guardian

They acknowledge that the industry is ready for a post-Covid reckoning. “Theaters are very expensive buildings to operate now,” says Douglas. “A lot was subsidized by freelancers who have had to find ways to survive this crisis. You may not feel like going back to the way things were. “They agree there is still snobbery in the theater. Planer, whose stage hits include Wicked and Chicago, says musicals are” looked down upon by the elite of the theater. theater, I think that’s nonsense. “There is a similar disrespect for comedy. Douglas believes that” the agenda is set by more and more gatekeepers … there are fewer weird and interesting things.

As our conversation ends, I wonder if Douglas’s characters have ever crossed paths. The couple have been envisioning a play written by Reardon with a plum paper for Craig. Reardon’s earlier attempts, Educating Peter and Stanley Valentine, were overshadowed by Willy Russell’s efforts with similar titles, Douglas explains. This one “should be absolutely criticized,” he acknowledges. “But Nicholas successfully comes out of this mess,” adds Planer. “This is how these characters work.” They mutter about ideas for Craig’s bravery. “If we have a session like this every week for the next six months, we may have a good result,” Douglas bets. “Can we all make this normal?”


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