This year’s Classical Acting Showcase, produced by DUCT, is a triumph of unadulterated acting talent and impressive organisation in the face of a new wave of Covid challenges. The performances were recorded in the Assembly Rooms Theatre and streamed over three days on their website, and were successfully delivered without any noticeable technical difficulties. The showcase works surprisingly well in this format, the nature of monologues means that there is already only one person on stage at a time, and the proximity of the camera and audio means that no change in facial expression or phrases are missed.
Five finalists were selected to perform, Antonia Hogan, Flo Lunnon, Ben Willows, Ruth Louis and Maire McGovern, and as promised they are all exceptional in the deliveries of their chosen monologues. Each performs at least one from Shakespeare, but other than that they range from speeches so well-known that I could almost mouth along the words, to ones which I barely know the context for. This doesn’t make a difference however, as taken in isolation these performances transcend the need recognise the relevance to the plot or dynamic with other characters. This showcase clearly brings acting talent to the forefront, and successfully creates a stimulating and engaging production which is unique in its aim to highlight classical monologuing as a skill.
Antonia Hogan is first, with two monologues from Shakespeare. She first takes on the role of Juliet, from Romeo and Juliet, and delivers the sweet, vulnerable speech of a young girl in love. She manages to portray the mixture of excitement and apprehension, and demonstrates a true understanding of the rhythm and poetry of Shakespearean language. Hogan’s next performance is Queen Katherine from Henry VIII, a lesser known play but an excellent choice to showcase her acting in a more mature and emotionally intense role. She conveys Katherine’s hurt and frustration incredibly convincingly, and is emotional without resorting to excessive shouting, which can be the temptation for student and professional actors alike.
Ruth Louis also successfully manages to portray deep anger in her portrayal of Andromache from The Women of Troy. She uses a swaddled doll as a prop, who she uses to represent her doomed son, and addresses some of the emotional lines to it. Her delivery of Queen Margaret’s speech from Henry V Part III is also very effective, the strength and cruel dignity of the character coming across even without the sympathetic Henry as a counterpart.
Flo Lunnon is the only performer to choose a comedy part for one of her monologues- the part of Launcelot Gobbo from The Merchant of Venice. The comedy in the section is understated and relies on wordplay and a sort of warped philosophy, which Lunnon does well, putting on a bit of an accent and using a very limited number of props to emphasise this aspect. Overall however, she delivers this speech with a straight seriousness which highlights the moral dilemma, but sometimes underplays the lighter side.
Maire McGovern also takes on a male role, performing one of Hamlet’s famous soliloquies. ‘To be or not to be’ is certainly the most well-known of the chosen speeches, however McGovern delivers it excellently, with a deep yet quiet anguish and a confidence in the language. Her pauses are at times a little long and possibly ill-chosen, but overall, she inserts a good degree of character and individuality into her delivery, and so gives a fresh take on this often-recited speech.
Ben Willows was the only guy who took part in the showcase, and he performed as Mozart from Amadeus and Richard II from Shakespeare’s Richard II. I preferred his performance as Mozart, partly because ‘Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs…’ is one of my favourite parts of my favourite Shakespeare play and I have a very specific way I envision it being performed. For me, Willow’s Richard is a little overly emotional rather than quietly despairing, whereas the energy and personality of his delivery and mannerisms fits well with the part in Amadeus.
Even though I appreciate the emphasis on showcasing the acting, and the brevity of the judges’ involvement, I would have liked to hear some comments from the judges regarding their decisions and opinions on each of the performances. Nevertheless, I was pleased when Antonia Hogan was chosen as this year’s winner, as although I thought all five actors were worthy of this spot, I agree that her performances are of a remarkably professional standard and every word is enunciated with a special clarity of diction. I also thought her performance best encapsulates what the showcase is about, the skill of stripped-back acting without the aid of props, costumes or even much action or movement about the stage. The focus was continually on the words, emotion and meaning without any of the normal distractions of theatre productions.
The Classical Acting Showcase is available to stream until Sunday the 8th of November at 1pm.
Image: from the DUCT Facebook page.