Luvvie and understanding

`We describe 1984 as Orwellian not Blairite'

A MOST extraordinary trial is going on in the High Court at the moment, in which an actor is suing his own theatre company for mental cruelty, on the grounds that being forced to play big Shakespearean roles has caused him occupational anguish. Here is an extract from yesterday's proceedings.

Counsel: You are an actor?

Actor: That I am.

Counsel: A Shakespearean actor?

Actor: A very Shakespearean actor.

Counsel: And what is your name?

Actor: Do you mean the name I use upon the stage or the name my parents gave me?

Counsel: I mean your real name.

Actor: Ah, but what do you mean by real name?

Counsel: The name by which you were registered or under which you were christened, of course.

Actor: There is no "of course" about it. The name our parents gave us is one we had no choice in. It is something inflicted on us at birth. It is an uninvited piece of labelling which we can discard at will. And many of us actors do so discard our names. We embrace a name of our own choice and become known to the public under that name. Is that not more like a real name?

Counsel: Yes, but ...

Actor: When Eric Blair changed his name to George Orwell, which was then his real name? When we refer to conditions of the kind described in 1984, we call them Orwellian. We do not call them Blairite.

Counsel: Those of us outside New Labour do!

Judge: A hit! A palpable hit!

Counsel: Thank you, my Lord. Now, will you tell us the name under which you prefer to be known?

Actor: The name by which I am known is Adam Crayston.

Counsel: And it was under this name that you were chosen by the Terrestrial Theatre Company in 1997 to play the part of Macbeth.

Actor: The Scottish king, yes.

Counsel: In the play of the same name by William Shakespeare?

Actor: The Scottish play, yes.

Counsel: The play which is called ..?

Actor: The Scottish play.

Counsel: Ah, but what is its real name, Mr Crayston?

Actor: It all depends what you mean by real name ...

Counsel: The name that appears on the title page and the theatre programme ...

Actor: Do I have to say it?

Judge: What's going on here, Mr Willoughby? Why are you trying to get the plaintiff to utter the name of a play?

Counsel: Because, my Lord, actors are a very superstitious lot and believe it is bad luck to say the name Macbeth, so they say "the Scottish play" instead. I aim to force the plaintiff to say the word, in order to demonstrate to the court how irrationally and illogically he behaves.

Judge: Or, alternatively, to bring him bad luck.

Counsel: I am prepared to take that risk, m'lud.

Judge: Good. Carry on.

Counsel: Mr Crayston, it is your contention that having to play Macbeth adversely affected your mental state?

Actor: It did, yes.

Counsel: Did you perhaps find yourself wishing to be King of Scotland? Were you tempted to have rivals murdered? Did you go looking for witches at night?

Actor: No. It took a slightly different form.

Counsel: Tell us.

Actor: To be able to play the Scottish king properly, an actor has to master many different moods in one single performance. He starts as a loyal and eager subject. He ends as a roaring wounded lion. In between, he has known cowardice, ambition, murderous rage, terrible fear, tenderness and grim resolution. He has been feted and reviled. He has seen his wife go mad and had small children murdered.

Judge: Good heavens. This man sounds as if he needs psychiatric help to me.

Actor: Exactly, my Lord. And after a few weeks of this, I felt the same myself. That is why I am seeking compensation. I was subject to mood swings, black rages and fear of conspiracy. I thought other actors were plotting against me. I even started to see things.

Counsel: What sort of things did you start to see?

Actor: Why, look, behind the judge, in yonder seat there stands the figure of a hideous lion! It snarls, and makes as if to eat us all! No, stay! It fades, and we are safe again.

Judge: I think we might adjourn this for a while. Blank verse proceedings are not quite my style.

More of this soon, I hope.

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