As an actor I played Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible by Arthur Miller at drama school, used a speech by Kyra in Skylight by David Hare for auditions and aspired to play Sheila Birling in An Inspector Calls by JB Priestley. These plays are my desert island plays – not because I want to re-live my acting moments on a desert island but because these plays provide a complete spectrum of the capacity of human nature at its worst and at its best. They have common themes of conscience and responsibility – on a social and individual level; being true to oneself and living that way. But these plays do not present these themes as clear-cut but with their nuances and ambiguities so that we can have a true emotional connection with the characters.
Daniel Day Lewis as John Proctor is an image that will stay with me and tugs at my heart strings at the thought of it so much that I would want the play with me to have Miller’s great language right there to read and hold on to. It is an affirmation of standing alone as yourself – perhaps more helpful when you feel you can’t stand alone – ie, trying to live with the injustices and intolerances of society which you perhaps wouldn’t be so aware of on a desert island – but nonetheless, you would be reminded of the true anarchy of the world you left behind where all too often the Danforths rather than the Proctors of it have the monopoly of power.
They are all empowering plays and though they do a damn good job at shaming humanity – with this they also show that actually it is much sexier to be moral and considerate of others. Sheila Birling’s transformation is conducted in such a head strong manner that her father’s behaviour becomes completely unattractive. Priestley brings you round to the side of Sheila with the menacing digs by the Inspector where to not be like her is an uncomfortable prospect.
Kyra’s dig at Class (and many other things) does all of the above things and she has some cracking good monologues which I could just shout at the top of my voice – which I often want to do in reality about the same things she shouts about but can’t. There are no barriers on this island for being me. These are just a selection of the plays I love…and I’ve not mentioned musicals yet (there are many I love…like music, where to start…).
Other favourites include After the Dance by Rattigan (the National Theatre production with Benedict Cumberbatch, picture below, blew me away) and The Caretaker by Pinter. I suppose what attracts me to these plays (they are not a bundle of laughs) are the fact that they are both about broken people trying to carry on living…the plays make you feel human – it is ok to feel lost. When Jonathan Pryce played the caretaker in the Trafalgar Studio’s production, he delivered a perfect portrayal of pathos. The three characters in the play appear lost, they have hopes for the future but don’t get it together.
The characters in ‘After the Dance’ are literally trying to carry on dancing when life instead demands sitting down to talk things through. They are performing when they need to be being; being truthful with each other before it is too late. The play is about the dangers of people ‘performing’ their way through life and the shock to others when that performance stops to reveal the real person behind that.