We’ve just finished a short run in Malmö and Copenhagen of Edward Albee’s funny and provocative play “The Goat – or Who is Sylvia?”.
I played Ross Tuttle, the best friend of the lead character, Martin Gray. It’s an interesting role. Our director, Boel Marie-Larsson, wanted to bring out the elements of Greek tragedy, which are woven into Albee’s text (he even subtitled the play: “Towards a definition of tragedy”). To this end we actors were given an overview of “The Hero’s Journey”, based on the mythologist Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero With A Thousand Faces”.
For an actor this was huge fun. Instead of building a character around the standard character bio, we were asked to think about our characters more as archetypes. Martin Gray is the hero, a man with an almost perfect life – a successful career, a happy marriage and a perfectly ok relationship with his newly outed teenage son Billy. Everything seems hunky-dory until an in-confidence chin-wag with his best friend Ross Tuttle reveals that he’s been having an affair with a certain Sylvia. Ross Tuttle, my character, turns out to be the archetypical trickster character – confidante, stirrer-up of trouble, a catalyst, the one who causes the shit to hit the fan and then washes his hands of any moral responsibility for the turbulence that ensues.
I had trouble with this to begin with – trying to join the dots between the archetype (other examples of this “trickster” archetype are Bugs Bunny, Jack Sparrow, Jimminy Cricket and a zillion other comic sidekicks) and a realistic character who would be believable in the context of the play. I fumbled around with various voices, movements and gestures but couldn’t really pin him down.
At one point I so wanted to resort to the safe option of the character biography, but I knew in my gut that this approach was at best a refuge and at worst a cop-out. I discussed it with Boel. She described Ross Tuttle as a deeply insecure man who has lived his life in the shadow of his best friend, Martin, and nurses a deep resentment. He is a man who plays the game of life according to certain moral rules of what is acceptable and what is not. Break these rules and you’re in deep shit.
The character of Ross Tuttle is a TV presenter. He’s a man who hides his insecurity behind a laddish swagger. It might sound corny to say it, but I eventually stumbled on the key to making Ross more than just a flat “trickster” archetype. The answer lay in the name – Ross. I hit upon the idea of basing him on the real life TV presenter Jonathan Ross.
Now, as an experienced character actor I realized that a mere impersonation of the mannerisms of Jonathan Ross wouldn’t work in the context of this play. They were a starting point but I wanted my interpretation of the character to have more depth and color. I hope I succeeded and I hope that by the time Ross Tuttle hit the stage on the opening night, nobody even saw the link to Jonathan Ross. And that is something I’m glad for. I hope I covered my tracks pretty well.
The interesting thing was that I could not be in the play when it transferred to Copenhagen, so we brought on the very talented Canadian actor David Barrett to take on my role. This was a peculiar experience – in the beginning I coached him in the archetypical aspects of the role, but then left him in the hands of the director, Boel, to build his own version of Ross Tuttle.
I went to see the Copenhagen show. It was a hugely enjoyable experience to see how my colleagues in Playmate – the wonderful Kevin Benn as Martin, the brilliant Vanessa Poole as his wife Stevie and the phenomenal Jeff Bond as their son Billy, had shrugged off any inhibitions and really let rip.The show rocked!
And this was enhanced by David Barrett’s highly entertaining, mischievous version of Ross Tuttle. Some people have asked me if I found it strange to see someone else step into the role I’d played just a couple of weeks before. I can honestly say it wasn’t in the least bit strange. Because at the end of the day it’s all about whether or not the play works. And in this case it worked.
Vanessa Poole as Stevie, Jeff Bond as Billy, Kevin Benn as Martin, Boel Marie Larsson (director) and David Barrett as Ross Tuttle (Copenhagen version)
“I hear a kind of ..rushing sound, like a wooooosh!, or…wings, or something.”
(Photos: Diego Monsivais)