5 days in the life of ... Alex Jennings
The RSC actor juggles the roles of Benedick, Hamlet - and Dad
Sunday 29 March 1998
TUESDAY: I visited a sports and injury person who tried to solve my recurrent back problems. I was returning home from university 20 years ago and something went 'click' as I unpacked the car. It's been on and off ever since. I have to exercise quite a lot, which is slightly worrying. I was pummelled and pulled and massaged and punched, but I think I've finally found somebody who has worked out what it is. On stage, the adrenaline takes over, but sometimes I notice it. I'm playing Hamlet as well at the moment, and it's quite physical; you're on stage for four hours and you are knackered by the end of it, physically and mentally.
WEDNESDAY: It's been a busy week. At lunchtime I went to the Ivy for the launch of a BBC trilogy of Arena documentaries about Noel Coward, which is going to be shown over Easter. They have unearthed a lot of home movie footage that he took of his travels during the 1930s, which is fantastic. There were all sorts of people there; Sir John Mills; Sir Anthony Havelock- Allen, producer of the films made during the 1940s; Ronald Neame, cameraman on some of the films Coward made with David Lean; Coward's secretary; and Graham Payn, his companion. It was great to be involved. I came home and played with the children, then went to play Hamlet. How it went I can't remember; the performance tends to blend into the next.
THURSDAY: Played Hamlet twice, in a matinee and evening performance, so I was absolutely exhausted. We have a lie-down between shows, and I get up feeling a bit punchy before the second one. I don't do any special preparation; I just try to empty my head and see what happens, see what the words do. I have just read a book by David Mamet, called True or False, about good and bad acting, and I am trying to be simple and not to try so hard. It can pay dividends.
What's so wonderful about Hamlet is that you are never going to be definitive; you just have to try to tell the story in a clear and fresh way. Luckily, the play's pretty good so it supports you and there's always something else to be mined from it. I never particularly wanted to play the part. Adrian Noble, the RSC's artistic director, asked me; I was quite surprised but there was no possibility of saying no - it seemed slightly churlish and I knew I probably wouldn't get the opportunity again as I was fast approaching 40.
Tonight, we had a major technical glitch when something went wrong with the sound system. I broke a prop in a fit of pique in the wings - Hamlet's father's urn. I threw it at the table. I don't usually do that kind of thing ...
FRIDAY: Went to see my daughter Georgia, who's five, playing a dinosaur in her school play. Then off to play Hamlet again.
'Hamlet' and 'Much Ado About Nothing' are at the RSC Barbican Theatre, London EC2 (0171 638 8891).
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