How to Act

Theatre Extra / Martin Powell

Before it starts properly a man comes on stage and says “We haven’t started yet, talk amang yourselves, this isn’t a church” or words to that effect. I thought I bet that’s not an ad lib. During this time I was thinking what have I come to see? You list so many shows at Edinburgh that by the time you see them you are thinking “Why is this on my list?” What does How to Act mean? Does it mean this is going to be a play about acting or does it refer to proper behaviour?

It starts with a woman we later find out is called promise (Jade Ogugua) introducing a very famous theatre director Anthony Nichol (Robert Goodale) who is about to lead a masterclass in Acting. So it’s the former meaning. He starts by saying he doesn’t like the word masterclass.

I have only ever attended an event like is portrayed here for real and that workshop was a humbling event for it told me how little I know about theatre. The point in mentioning that is that it felt like a very real workshop in theatre with the exception that there is only one person at it and in a real workshop all the participants would be sat in a circle not in an end on space which has been turned into a thrust space by putting 5 seats on each side of the stage. At some points I was thinking this would have worked so much better in Paines Plough’s Roundabout, but then realised that it was Important it wasn’t played in the round because part of the point of this play is making a circle out of a space that isn’t a circle. He starts by asking four members of the audience to remove their shoes. These he places around the stage to create a circle.

He is of the view that theatre is dying and needs to return to its roots. At one stage he asks the woman to remember an incident as a child and play it on stage, which she does. Then he asks her to become that child and replay it, which she does. Personally I couldn’t see the difference, but then I take the Barrie Rutter of Northern Broadsides view of method acting which is that it’s nonsense especially when applied to film.

At one, or perhaps more, points the woman steps out of the workshop and tells us about the destruction of parts of Nigeria, where she originates from, by oil and other western companies.

This isn’t the only reference to Nigeria. The theatre director was heavily influenced by what he saw there almost three decades ago. Of people who don’t call it theatre but sit round in circles and tell stories.

Then towards the end the roles seem to reverse with the woman taking the lead and telling the director some facts about the way Western people treat Nigerians. Pretty much as though the colonial era still existed. She also tells him things he wasn’t expecting to hear and he becomes very uncomfortable.. At this point I’m thinking perhaps it’s the second meaning of the title that’s right. I expect the title is really meant to reflect both meanings.

Superb writing and direction by Graham Eatouch and faultless performances by the two actors. The effective lighting design by Karen Bryce also helps considerably. See it if you possibly can.