I have chosen to devote this week’s blog post to what will be the UK’s premiere of Saltimbanques. As many of you will know, as well as being a writer, I have also undertaken a professional actor training and have just completed my first year at City Lit drama school. (This is not such a divergent route as it may initially appear as I have a degree in Drama from Exeter University and used to teach Drama in London secondary schools back in the day!) Our end of year production will be Jim Knable’s play Saltimbanques, directed by Jason Riddington and performed at the John Lyon’s theatre at City Lit, in Holborn, central London on Thursday 23rd June and Saturday 25th June at 7.30 pm. There will also be an additional matinee performance on Saturday at 2.30pm.
The play is named after Picasso’s painting, Saltimbanques, which depicts six circus performers in a desolate landscape. For the poet, Rilke, Saltimbanques suggests ‘human activity.. always travelling and with no fixed abode, they are even a shade more fleeting than the rest of us, whose fleetingness was lamented.’ For Rilke, the painting encapsulates the ultimate loneliness and isolation of Man.’ Existentialist stuff indeed!
Saltimbanques, the play, is about art, death, fantasy and the power of the imagination. I play the character of Paul, an artist, who becomes convinced that he is possessed by the spirit of Pablo Picasso. (I have found Francoise Gilot’s memoir, Life with Picasso, particularly enlightening.) I also personally find it somewhat uncanny that I am actually playing a character who believes he is possessed since my second novel, Pharmakeia, deals with just this – albeit demonic rather than artistic possession. Both Saltimbanques and Pharmakeia also concern themselves with the potentially dark nature of art, creativity and fantasy. I guess a Jungian devotee would call these apparent coincidences ‘synchronicity’
Mommy, played by Penelope Maynard, convinces me, Paul, that I am possessed by the spirit of Pablo Picasso.
The plot centres around James’ and Louise’s eccentric artist mother who tells them they are Picasso’s illegitimate twins. James runs from his sadistic sculptress girlfriend and Louise follows him to their mother’s cabin in the woods, where the ghosts of their very different pasts haunt them in the form of memories of love gone wrong, parenting gone crazy, and in the flesh of Mommy’s former student, Paul (played by yours truly) who is convinced he is the reincarnation of Picasso himself.
James, played Karim Jabri with Eva Mashtaler as his sister, Louise, discussing their traumatic childhood.
Sue Ruddick, as James’ sadistic sculptress girlfriend, engages in a little light role-play.
We have been in rehearsals for the last six weeks and it has been a pleasure to have been directed by Jason Riddington. We have rehearsed to the music of ‘Massive Attack’ and certain tracks from the sound track of the movie, ’21 Grams’. (This music will accompany the action of the play during each performance.) Rather than being ‘blocked’ in a heavy-handed fashion, we have been encouraged to explore character and relationship dynamics in an organic and actor-centred way. (Jason Riddington is also an actor and will appear in Agatha Christie’s The Hollow at The Mill theatre in Sonning from July 7th.)
I have learnt so much as an actor from working with Jason Riddington. Everything from his entertaining theatrical anecdotes to his belief in the actor as an alchemist or magician in communion with the audience. But for this magical alchemical formula to work – the actor needs to tread the knife edge. It has to cost us emotionally. I have personally invested a lot emotionally in the role, and in addition have grappled with getting to grips with the Spanish accent and the physical and vocal demands of transforming into a character who becomes increasingly psychotic. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Acting was my first love. And it feels amazing to come home, at long last.
Saltimbanques will be performed at the John Lyon theatre, City Lit, Holborn on Thursday 23rd June and Saturday 25th June. The actors involved have also formed a theatre company, The Flying Bull, and are hoping to transfer the play to a London theatre later in the summer. Tickets cost £9 and can be purchased online from Eventbrite.
Next Friday’s blog post will look at the potentially dark side of creativity.