Who Is Malvolio?

No, I’m asking you, I don’t have the foggiest. Not yet, at least. I had my first proper rehearsal for Twelfth Night last week and found myself doing what I normally do when handed a Shakespeare play; stand tall, shoulders back, and enunciate with the received pronunciation of the Queen. Actually, let’s go with Prince Charles – his voice is a bit deeper and more like my own.
Apart from understanding the context of a scene, for me, finding my character – understanding who they are, what they want and more importantly how they act – starts with the voice. I think this has something to do with the fact if my character talks like me, then I have no way of separating myself from them.
Some actors prefer that; integrating many facets of their own physicality and personality into their character. And why not? After all, most people watching the play won’t know the actor in real life. They’ll not have a clue what they’re like. They might think he/she is the greatest actor in the world, the way they limp across the stage so realistically and so effortlessly, or that accent: wow, an Irish accent so good, so precise, it could be deduced which county they’re from, possibly even what street! Little do they know, however, that the actor playing the part is Limpy McGuinness, a man who managed to slot into his character like a 3-pin plug.
No, I don’t like to be anything like me when playing someone else. I want to be as far away from myself as possible. Okay, maybe not that far. I’m not auditioning for any black midget roles at the moment, but that would certainly be a challenge.
The voice helps me. It’s a springboard into the rest of the character; their physicality and their psyche. Voice leads to expressions, which leads to movement, which then feeds into their thoughts and helps build the mental cage that actors inhabit when they step onto that stage.
I’m still building my cage, but it’s early days (hold on, our first performance is 4 weeks tomorrow!!! Erm… I’ll be right back–

… Oh great, now is not the best time to run out of toilet paper. Yes I’m typing this on my phone. Don’t look at me like that, we all do it).

Okay, I’m back. Where was I? Oh, yes. Voice. The director told me to watch a few One Foot in the Grave episodes, to perhaps try glean a few things from Victor Meldrew. That seems like a fair idea. From the text, Malvolio is clearly an aging, miserable git. Of course, I don’t want to step onto the stage on the first night and go ‘’Tis but fortune, all is– I don’t belliieEEEEEVE it!’, and Richard Wilson did play Malvolio for the RSC five years ago. I don’t want to duplicate someone else’s performance, but as the supermarket says, every little helps, and ideas great or small are very welcome at this point in time. Just gather them all into a pot, pour in 500ml of time and add some experimentation to taste. After the time has cooked off, you’ll be left with a juicy, succulent, fully-fledged character to sink your teeth into. (Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef or actor. Cooking time may vary).

I’ve been stirring my pot for a couple of weeks now (that sounds wrong), and the other day I was driving with 90s dance music blasting so loud it drowned out everything but my thoughts, which I might say, are far too loud at any time of the day. For some reason I found myself running lines, and perhaps due to the acoustic shroud that loud music creates, I was saying them with a greater sense of confidence than if I were stood in a silent rehearsal space. I almost had to shout them, battling the throbbing beat and synthesized chords of Alice Deejay. Without realising it, I was speaking in a voice. It was new, unfamiliar, but funny to me – after all, Twelfth Night is a comedy.
If I had to describe this voice, I’d say It was a mix between Rory Bremner doing an impression of David Frost, Frank Spencer and Kelsey Grammer. But don’t let that put you off. I liked it. It felt right. I was pronouncing S’s through my back teeth and lingered on words that extra bit longer, squeezing them for all the juice they had, pushing them out into the car with a certain ferocity that is demanded when on stage. My discovery felt epiphanic, because I could feel the bars of my ‘Character Cage’ getting stronger. How exciting! (Not only in finding a voice, but coining the phrase ‘Character Cage’… Stanislavski eat your heart out)

Now when I run lines, my thoughts are more Malvolio’s than my own, and I’m reminded that with every play I’ve done there’s a turning point when it all snaps into place with crystal clarity. It always happens and yet you never think it will.

I think I’m on the right track in finding my Malvolio, but if any of you reading this have any other ideas, drop me a line and I’ll add it to the pot.

Now, back to the kitchen I go.

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