There's no glory in acting drunk

Acting is about the only profession where you can perform the work pissed out of your mind

THE HORROR! The horror! More drunken actors! How come I never really noticed it before? I took it for granted, like the smell of the stuff they use to glue backcloths, which gives that pungent aroma that stays in your memory. It's part of the trade, par for the course...

On tour, actors gather round one table endlessly boozing, boring themselves into a numb zone. Most know when to stop, but there is always the one for whom booze acts as an incendiary device blowing part of his brain up. He fixes you with his newly acquired freedom, runny eyes pinning you in an accusing stare for being so stiff, reserved or sober. You feel guilty for not sharing this abandoned joy, his uninhibited release. Curiously, we other actors are involuntarily forced into a kind of submission, admiring his outrageous antics. His idiotic boldness we see as courage. We feel lesser as he grows bigger.

I was sucked into it as a young actor when the pub did nothing but sell booze, and maybe a few crisps to soak up the river of beer. We would dash desperately to the pub after the show, terrified lest we should miss our alcoholic reward. Like those newborn turtles racing for the sea, we raced to the pub. Conditioned thus to desperation, we got wasted when abroad, carried into hotels by sympathetic colleagues, lifted on to planes after international festivals. Didn't even Shakespeare know about this? Hamlet says: "They clepe us drunkards and with swinish phrase soil our addition..." Maybe we were always so inclined.

We can get wrecked, since the acting profession is about the only job, apart from pop and rock perhaps, where you can perform the work pissed out of your mind. With memorising and repetition, once the words have sunk into your brain no amount of alcohol can budge them. The become like a tattoo that you can't remove.

So, paradoxically, for acting you need great skill to create the role and then, once it's airborne, it seems to propel itself under its own volition. A dynamic company that included many disciplines, a demanding physical theatre, would not be able to tolerate indulgence; nor could the boozy actor endure the pace. Every actor has a story about someone who has gone on stage blind drunk. We admire the gall, interpreting it as a kind of wild roguishness. The great 19th-century actor Edmund Kean could go on stage after copious amounts of brandy because he kept the same plays in his repertoire for years - obviously, wisely so.

Booze is taken for granted, almost like the rum station for sailors. I have to have a drink after a show as if to replace something, or even keep that sense of freedom going; however, I can't feel comfortable with the idea that the liver, kidney and brain are invincible.

In the Sixties there was a strong reaction to stolid, heavy theatre when young, idealistic groups attempted to radicalise plod naturalism. The criterion for joining such companies was a radical attitude towards theatre, and a strong physical awareness. Rehearsals were most often commenced after an arduous warm-up - both vocal and physical - and much of the rehearsal discoveries came from the warm-ups themselves.

We were liberating ourselves and poured scorn on those "real" actors who propped up the bar at the Salisbury pub while, proudly, we felt ourselves to be pioneers of the new movement. However, it was still the booze-and- fags brigade who were getting highly paid TV work while we contented ourselves with touring the outer reaches of Europe winning accolades unknown to anyone.

But in those heady days there was always one actor, recruited from the "straight" theatre, who wasn't happy unless he was sliding in his own vomit, and it was the one who managed somehow to sour the group: the boozer. There was always someone in each production who had a problem with his intake, especially when he was loosened from family and ties of England and could let himself go... abroad.

Later, after the idealistic Sixties and Seventies, life continued much as it had before. I formed groups and again toured the outer regions of Europe, and again there would always be one or two who would enjoy a toot until they collapsed. The normal drinkers, curiously, thought of themselves as the "wets", since they felt dull for not poisoning their brains each night. I got used to the sour smell, the stinking breath, the lachrymose confessions.

That's why I wanted to form a company where we would continue to study, go to the gym and not end up as wine-tasters. The problem seems endemic in the theatre, and even worse on film.

I have no great wish to smile and tolerate the malfunctioning of an actor, and watch as the glory we have won so arduously and painstakingly is covered in grime when our hosts stare at us in disbelief. However, that is rare; our actors are usually way above the average.

Years ago, we had a first-class company but there was one actor we almost had to carry from town to town. He was on loan from a large subsidised company and we put it down to his previous under-usage that had demoralised him. Perhaps the material maketh the man. The junk movie and crap TV; the simplistic staging that makes little demands. Who knows or cares?

But one day I should like to see a company of actors with the dedication of athletes.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering