Last term, during a celebratory night out after the first run of a comedy show, I was casually strolling through the Student’s Union (greeting my fans, signing arms, taking pictures with babies) when I heard someone nearby yell the word “SIMBA!” behind me. Simba of course, is not my name. But I defy you to not turn around; the intrigue was too much.
I was met with a girl looking me right in the eye – needless to say I was unnerved, already anticipating the awkward moment when she realised she had got the wrong girl. But she merely called out again, and continued to grin. It took me a moment, but then it dawned on me. One of the characters I’d played earlier was Simba from the Lion King (in a sketch about West End character group therapy). She was talking to me. I was Simba.
Only thing is, I’m not Simba, I’m Lolly. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t angry, but merely found it very very peculiar the ways in which we link performer with character. And how as time goes on, the line between them becomes very fine indeed. A few years ago, the RSC banned Doctor Who fans from bringing merchandise to be signed by David Tennant, who was at the time playing Hamlet. This was, according to producers, a limit imposed due to the sheer volume of interest, in order to make things “as fair as possible for everyone”. I can’t help but think that even if not intentionally, the decision was successful in depicting Tennant as more than just one of his characters, and reminding the public of the dynamic and versatile actor that he is.
Similarly, in one of Ricky Gervais’ stand-up routines, the comedian mentions the number of times he hears “Oi, Brent!” being called after him. Naturally, we link character and actor in our heads – the character is what we know and the actor what we see. Yet when it comes to shown appreciation or address in public, surely we must remember to distinguish – as proud as I’m sure Gervais is of the characterization behind David Brent, I’m not sure being thought of as synonymous with the humorous yet cringeworthy individual is wholly complimentary.
A character, like Doctor Who or David Brent, that is so well-crafted and resonates with many is something to be praised. It’s just interesting to consider, when we demonstrate our appreciation, is it for the character we’ve formed a relationship with, be it through television or stage? Or is it that of the actor’s talent in doing so… or an amalgamation of the two…