“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,”
William Shakespeare – As You Like It
I have just put down Graham Greene’s novel The Comedians, one of his classic tales of contrition and betrayal. It focuses on men and women hiding behind their actors’ mask, that hesitate luxuriously on the peripheries.
They are afraid of love, pain and fear itself. They were not born with the desire to make history but to flourish selfishly by adding colour to the grey of the world.
They are examples of a key element of society that I think of as actors – those who offer a lot more style than substance and are unforgettable with an image that seems un-scratchable. They are blessed with heaving drink stained plumes of chests, that shout for attention and smite the world with generosity.
I first understood what an ‘actor’ really was at a woozy drinks party almost a decade ago. My host reached for an impossibly placed packet of nuts. The nuts tumbled but he caught them with ease. In a stunning moment of showmanship he hurled said nuts high into the smoke stained sky.
After a waterfall of ‘gollys goshes and crikeys’ my generous host danced a most extravagant waltz with the nuts in front of an audience, whose voluble guffaws encouraged him to combine the best of Rudolf Nureyev and Boris Johnson.
After this impromptu show I grabbed his arm and told him that i was onto him. “You’re a bloody actor, old cock,” I exclaimed.
His sharp blue eyes snapped at me in terror, his voice laced with supplication.
“I know, please don’t tell anyone”
I kept his secret as there is no greater fear for an actor than to be exposed as a fraud. The audience must never be allowed to dismiss this genuine sense of honour, intelligence, and duty as only attention seeking frolics.
You see, I know quite a lot about this subject because I, like my nut-dancing friend, am also an actor.
Indeed I was only three when I started. Poorly cast as an inn keeper in the school Nativity play, boredom and rebellion coursed through my juvenile veins. I decided that the only obvious way to break the ennui was to burst onto the stage and tear off Mary’s, played by the prodigious Tilly Barker-Snowflake, wig and run into my adoring fans.
Half the audience loved it, the rest, including my red-faced mother, appeared to condemn it – though I gathered many years later that almost all the public critics were privately laughing.
My Christmas holiday began early and I drank in all the attention. The experience gave me a taste for being the class comedian, a role I adopted for my entire school career.
I am – for now – resting, my wigs replaced by a pipe and a smoking jacket. But the desire to play The Dane never goes; so I slap on the metaphorical make-up from time to time, usually drink is strongly imbibed or when I’m with a certain dear pal who is most definitely Laurel to my Hardy.
There are ‘actors’, fortunately, in all walks of life. Take chefs – would you like to be at a dinner party cooked by the fabulous Keith Floyd type or beige Jamie Oliver?
My real hero is that greatest of scene-stealers, Oliver Reed. A character actor of esteem both on and off the screen – a loud attention seeking mountain of a man who ate up attention like an American in McDonald’s.
Fond of a practical joke, he once placed carrots that he sculpted into goldfish in a hotel pond. At breakfast the next morning he gracefully dived into the pond and began to masticate heartily on the orange objects. The coffee swilling guests looked at a saturated Reed in disapproval.
Security speedily extracted the thespian, an unyielding Reed boomed out the preposterous.
“You can’t touch me – I am a musketeer”
As I write this, a memory of last night has slipped into my goldfish bowl upstairs. In a small kitchen at a soirée I spied one of my favourite ‘actors’ in full flow; a tweed wrapped man, with a voice like an Etonian elephant, called Bertie Tibbles.
Bertie had got himself into a bit of a pickle earlier and had been universally admonished. A quick sulk and drink later the old boy decided to drive through the awkwardness on a car named obliviousness. He blasted through the sitting room, in a daring tornado of noise, insulting every Tom, Dick, and Wendy. Soon his haughty laugh was driven into the kitchen where he absentmindedly forgot the six people’s names standing in front.
His old rakes radar was detecting that it was perhaps time for Bedfordshire. With his manners still intact (a constant filler of glasses) he bid adieu and left his name on everyone’s lips ’till the end.
This highlighted the true reason for the actor’s masquerade – the whimpering voice saying “Please remember me!”
(EXIT STAGE LEFT)