LSW Sunday, 6th February 2000
LSW Special Guest: STEPHEN BOXER
A Brief Biography of STEPHEN BOXER
STEPHEN BOXERhas enjoyed a vast career encompassing a huge range of roles for the RSC amongst which fall his Olivier Award nominated performance originating the role of Goche in The Herbal Bed performed at Stratford, the Barbican and in the West End at the Duchess Theatre; Littlewit in Bartholomew Fair; Angelo in Measure (a play he was very familiar with having played the Duke under Declan Donnelan's direction with the celebrated Cheek by Jowl Company); Feste in Adrian Noble's celebrated production of Twelfth Night; Francisco in White Devils; originating the role of Kemble in Howard Davies' production of Richard Nelson's The General from America with LSW Guest David Tennant; appearing in Sam Mendes' production of Richard III with Simon Russell Beale; in the title role of Rousseau's Tale under Stephen Daldry's leadership and, among a vast many, as Bosola in Bill Alexander's production of The Duchess of Malfi. How's that for a collection?! At the 'other place', the RNT, Stephen has also appeared in a wide variety of assignments including Voltore in Matthew Warchus' Volpone with Sir Michael Gambon; in Richard Eye's fascinating production of Christopher Hampton's The White Chameleon (appearing later in Christopher Hampton's film Carrington with LSW Guest Sam West) and originating the role of W. H. Auden in Paul Godfrey's Once in a While the Odd Thing Happens with LSW Guest Malcolm Sinlair. Otherwise, there are a huge (three typed pages) array of theatrical credits including (very selectively)appearances at the Bush as Sturman in the original production of The Clearing; in the hugely atmospheric Faith, Hope and Charity at the Lyric, Hammersmith; under Robin LeFevre's direction in the British premiere of Mamet's The Water Engine at the Hampstead Theatre Club; for the celebrated John Dexter in a wide variety of projects including the West End productions of Portraits playing Joe at the Savoy and in admired Phoenix Theatre revival of The Cocktail Party with Alec McGowen as well as earlier playing 'Odipus the Younger' in Creon and Cassius in Julius Caesar under the same's direction at the Leicester Haymarket. At the Fortune theatre (as well as in Edinburgh and Russia) Stephen appeared as Aloysha in Brothers Karamazov and under John Adams' guidance appeared in the celebrated early years of Paines Plough at both the Cottesloe and the ICA in, among others, the title role of Richard III. Working also copiously with Michael Bogdanov, Stephen was seen as Horatio in Hamlet at the Old Vic and as Aerial in The Tempest and (again) as Littlewit in Bartholomew's Fair at (again) the Young Vic. Outside of London, Stephen has also toiled on stages throughout the U.K., where amongst his many credits are the roles of Subtle in The Alchemist for the Cambridge Theatre Company; Lockwood in Withering Heights; The Composer in Clare Venables/Michael Boyd's production of Mystery Bouffe and Demetrius in Midsummer Night's Dream all at The Crucible in Sheffield and Spurio in Revenger's Tragedy; Rakitin in A Month in The Country and Faulkland in The Rivals all at the Liverpool Playhouse; the massive title role of Ken Harrison in Whose Life is it Anyway at the Leeds Playhouse and at the Dukes Playhouse both Givola in Arturo Ui and Nick in The Caretaker. A heady collection indeed!! There are also a vast collection of television and film appearances inclusive of Rough Treatment (Col. Moorcroft); Grafters (Geoff); Killer Net (D. S. Hawks); The Bill (Tom Graham); Colin Fletcher in the hugely lauded The Politician's Wife; Thorndike on multi-award winning Prime Suspect; John Sargent in Thatcher: The Final Days; Father Gibbons in Brookside; Mooncat & co. with the lamentedly late Beryl Reid in Get Up and Go and the Headmaster in Crossing the Border. Wow!!
Needless to say, we were extremely honoured to have Stephen as our guest at the Workout. There was, before Stephen's arrival, some thrilling work. For the first time in LSW history, during the warm-up, we did a variation on the three tone exercise, wherein all participants lined up in equal number on opposite ends of the room and did their three tone segments as if they were in a country dance, originating the tones in the movement forward and then reversing both tone and movement on the way back. It proved an interesting experience in observation and led to much merriment. There was as usual some excellent work in WitSlings, (for the text employed please click here), with Katherine Shaw and Naomi Campbell delighting one and all with two interspersed original texts inspired and utilising a line of Shakespearean text sung as if they were performing in an original opera (which in a sense they were) whilst employing, respectively, their native Yorkshire and Manchester woodnotes wild. This, I must tell you, was truly magical and lead to a hearty round of applause. Aaron also won the same for his verse delivered in the style of the poet, Mohammed Ali. During the extemporary response segment to Shakespearean text, Angus Pope excelled as a London lowlife weazle confronting an increasingly manipulative Prince Hal rendered chillingly by Adrian Fear. Fresh colours in the Shakespearean text sprang thrillingly to life and charged the room with electric expectation. Highlights in Clumps included the irrepressible Kenneth Jay, delighting all with a fiercely directoral Hamlet and the most wimsical rendition, replete with Brogue, of 'Is this a Dagger I see before me' you are ever like to hear this side of Timbuctu! Kenneth suggested before we started clumps that we might try putting several different props into the centre of the circle and there was collected as if from nowhere, a wooden staff, two balls and a paper coffee mug. Much effective use was made of each, with the staff becoming at one point a magical wand which Angus utilised to enchant various members under his skillful spell and the paper coffee cup replete with handles, a hallowed crown, renounced and then returned to Adrian.
Stephen Boxer was a delight and, much like the jester, Feste, around which Stephen shared his hour, he demonstrated huge skill in becoming an immediate part of the LSW surroundings. The segments of Twelfth Night examined in this discussion, which might well have been subtitled 'On Playing The Clown', are posted here. Sitting in the same circle which LSW members had only moments earlier stood during clumps, the same interactive responses were encouraged. I must admit I was hugely touched by Mr. Boxer's modesty and, more specifically, frankness. Both were very refreshing, but the latter is as we all know, in many theatrical quarters, rare. We were treated at the end of the hour to a brilliant realisation of the final moments of the RSC production in which Mr. Boxer had played Feste opposite LSW Guest, Philip Voss' Malvolio. The 'Brechtian' sadness emersed with measured ease, made the melancholy inherent in this bleak comedy speak for itself. This was a rare treat indeed.
A photo of a more 'conventional' Feste, here played by the late, glorious MAX ADRIAN opposite LSW Guest DAME DOROTHY TUTIN'S Viola. As Stephen pointed out there were no bells for him. The sound of the mind and voice were left to ring in a darkened court.
LSW Participant Commentary - by Angus Pope
attended my first London Shakespeare Workout. As well as grappling with the concepts
of "Witslings" and "Clumps," I was also asked by Bruce to write a
diary entry on the visit of the special guest Stephen Boxer. It all made for rather
a full weekend.
Stephen arrived during "Clumps" and was obviously impressed with the excercise, noting how fresh and new the text sounded when you came at it from this angle. I think he would have been keen to join in and maybe the invitation should be proferred at his next visit.
Stephen started with an introduction to his work and key experiences regarding Shakespeare. One early anecdote intrigued me. He related how, when working on "A Midsummer Nights Dream" at the National, all the actors had been asked to go home to bed and dream. They then had to return to the rehearsal room and draw the images they had dreamt. The surprising thing was, that all the images appeared in the text.
I have to say I found this a bit odd, and, on waking myself, in the middle of that night, recalled what I had just dreamt. The image was of a white convertible vintage car that I had rediscovered after abandoning it. I know I'm being a bit perverse but surely some of the company at the N.T must have had contemporary dreams or was the power of the play so strong as to determine their subconcious? Or can someone tell me where in the canon a white convertible appears?
Stephen then went on to look at the role of Feste in "Twelfth Night," a role he played a year ago at the RSC. We each took a speech in turn and then Stephen took us through the scene. It was fascinating to discover how much freedom of choice the writing gives you as an actor. e.g when Feste first appears at the top of the scene he is scolded for being absent from Olivias household but the actor is left to decide for what length of time the character has been gone. Stephen then introduced us to the darker side of Feste, how his cruelty and loneliness manifest themselves. This threw up a fascinating debate on how melancholia is often a prescense in the lives of a great many comics and clowns, e.g Frankie Howerd, Kenneth Williams and of course the suicidal Tony Hancock all battled depression.
Stephen had a great deal to share but I felt was hampered by the length of time at his disposal, maybe I'm just greedy! I do feel though, that this particular guest should be invited back at a future date and asked if he would like to take part in some of the excercises such as "Clumps", or share with LSW group excercises he has learnt or divised when working with Shakespeare texts.