08 December 2011

The Importance Of Not Being Algernon

A few posts back I wrote about how thrilled I was about landing the role of Algernon in a local production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Well, we opened last night to great reviews and I’m still extremely happy to be involved, particularly with such an awesome role. But I have to say, ever since I got back from holidays and plunged head first into production week (with a resounding splat, I might add) I’ve been battling the rather disconcerting feeling that, as much as I’m enjoying being Algernon, Algernon seems, in a strange way, to enjoy being me.

The most enjoyable part of the whole play for me is the chance to poke a bit of (thoroughly deserved) fun at the aristocracy and the upper class culture. Algernon’s persona as we’ve come to develop him over the last few months is glaringly ostentatious, absurdly dandyful (shut up, yes it is) and poncy to the point of being overtly camp.

Put more simply, Algernon is English.

I, on the other hand, am Australian and take pride in the fact. It’s one of the few categorisations or labels that I will allow to be applied to me without any objection. So the startling tendency for Algernon’s ridiculous affectations to hang around on my person long after we’ve taken the final bow is causing me an intermediate amount of cultural distress. I don’t have the broadest of Australian accents to begin with, but I’ve taken great care over the years to cultivate the few Strine diphthongs I do use to the ultimate level of inner ear rupturing nasalisation.

Nowadays, thanks to my spending every waking hour either at work or at Earnest, not only do I sound more pompous than Mark Nicholas interviewing the Duke of Edinburgh, I’ve managed to develop a slight labialisation of my rhotics, despite the fact that not even Algernon has that particular speech impediment anymore. We got rid of it about a week and a half ago because it sounded ridiculous. And now I’m doing it.

Earlier this week at a staff meeting I was inviting my co-workers along to see the play when I got this gem from one of the senior managers:

“I was just saying that you’re perfectly suited to the role (take that sopranos). You just look like you would fit right in in Victorian England”.

What. The. Hell?

For one thing, we wear a uniform at work, and it’s about as far from Victorian as you could get without being downright unprofessional. For another, it is a well established fact that if I were a product of any historical era, it would be the Spanish Civil War. Or possibly the Early Cretaceous Period.  I certainly don’t belong in England. I have the documents to prove it. Mind you, this was from the same manager who has described me in my performance review as “shy,” “methodical” and “too compassionate,” none of which remotely apply to me. That last one doesn’t even make sense.

The point is I’m a little disturbed by my inability to shake Algernon off when I’m not being him. I’m not a method actor by any stretch of the imagination and I’ve never had this sort of character invasion before. I didn’t start bossing people around or standing around being ceremonial and useless (well…) while I was playing King Hildebrand. It probably has something to do with the fact that a single, twenty-something year old mischievous cynic has a little more common ground with me than a fifty something year old monarch from a Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta in the first place, but I’d love to be able to convince myself that it has something to do with becoming a better actor.

Either way, there were still no messages from fans, agents or pretty girls’ mothers on my phone this morning. But at least no-one in my family got engaged this time. Make of that what you will.




Gawwy with 2 Ws
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