On listening, preoccupation and physicality (and the comic genius of Jenny Rainsford!):
Orange-Tree Theatre, London, January 2019
But how do you tell an actor to listen, or that she isn’t listening enough? How do you encourage better listening among actors and, dare I say it, greater truth in a scene? Is this a question that can even be asked?
I recently saw Congreve’s restoration comedy, The Double-Dealer, in London. The actor, Jenny Rainsford (Fleabag), about whom this review is centred, gave the most thrilling comic performance I think I’ve seen because her listening was first rate. Consequently, every twitch and turn came with an embodied focus on her acting partner(s).
Here’s what appeared to be happening with Jenny Rainsford:
‘I know this person; I saw him yesterday. He had a nose; today he doesn’t have a nose. Where is his nose? Why has he gone into public without his nose? I better not let on that I know he has lost his nose. Does he look better or worse without his nose? I think he looks a lot better without his nose. No, come to think of it, he looks much worse!’
The effect of this, physically, on her performance was the persistence of an angular head and, at times, a slightly stooped, subtly liminal body that clearly communicated the corporeal reality of being caught between the states of certainty and uncertainty – a body that reflected the quizzical, inquiring, mildly incredulous, fascinated yet appalled, character; a character so deeply intoxicated by the preoccupation that her imagination had conjured, that listening appeared effortless and automatic. In short, it was the kind of physical performance that lifted the audience forward in their seats because the actor was at once coming and going, and dwelt intriguingly in this between-state.
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Copyright © Cameron Sievers, 2019