Recently I received a message, casually enquiring as to whether I might be interested in taking over from Mark Little as Farley Flavors in Shock Treatment at the Kings Head. This told me two things; first that someone in the cast knew me and had recommended me which is of course a great compliment, and second that the part is probably that of a big, loud and brash character with a voice like a foghorn. Regardless of how many beautifully subtle and gentle characters you play, you will always be considered on how you appear and sound first. It’s the same laws that apply to forming instant opinions, flirting, etc. and should not be seen as an insult, rather as a reminder that one must always be careful of the image one cultivates. In my case I have no real option as a 6’7” tall bass-baritone, but as humans we do like something to hang a label on and so beware the typecast trap…
Taking over a role, however, is something quite different as it demands a level of ‘fitting in’ and a healthy respect for what an extremely talented cast and team have already discovered, rather than embarking on that initial discovery process together. The circumstances were also difficult as although there was a week off to prepare me, the rest of the cast were away and so I rehearsed alone with the creative team and didn’t get to put it into practise with the cast until the day before I opened. Consequently, with all the new thoughts and angles I wanted to bring to the part to make it my own rather than a reproduction of Mark’s version, the poor cast had to endure almost entirely new scenes coming their way halfway through a run. It is to my everlasting good fortune that they were absolutely open to any new ideas and embraced everything I had to suggest to a piece which had run for three weeks but still had three weeks left.
I was lucky enough to be able to watch Mark perform in the role three times before I had to start work; once to decide whether I would like the role, and twice more to get my head around the structure. I was left with an impression of a man who had stamped himself all over it and that of course is of little use to me – I had to play Farley, not play Mark playing Farley! As with any role, I had to go by what was in the script; Farley proved on the page to be an egotistical nightmare – exactly the kind of character one likes to get ones teeth into and enjoy in its most arrogant form. I made some early decisions – many concerning the hows and whys of his powers of intimidation and persuasion. He clearly has the arrogance of a very wealthy man who believes that counts for much in life. Physically I looked at The Hoff and David Dickinson to produce something that was over-tanned, overbearing and mulleted! That is the fun part. By the way, I am equally sure that these two celebrities are lovely – we are just talking physical appearance here!
Much of what you do on stage depends on how flexible the cast and team are though. I had to make sure that nothing I did spoiled their already established work, which is why it was so important to watch the show three times, and also to talk to each of them so that I knew what each of my fellow cast members was bringing to the piece. On the odd occasion when I felt that I may be heading down a path that could destroy a laugh or a ‘moment’ they had created, I ran it past them first and they were always brilliantly accommodating, especially as this all had to be done in a single day before my first appearance. Everything depends on being respectful of the hard work others have already put in, and showing that you are prepared to equal that whilst still bringing something new. You are looking to be a jigsaw piece of your own design, mindful of the rest of the picture, and especially of the point that if you are respectful enough of their work, they will happily create a space for your piece to fit in perfectly. I was very lucky. I hope you are too.
Shock Treatment runs at The King’s Head Theatre until 6 June. For more information click here.