David Lister: Actors should stick to the script

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The Independent Online

The New York Times ran an interview this week with Jude Law. The actor is about to appear in New York in the compelling Michael Grandage production of Hamlet. I thought Law's performance extremely moving when I saw it in London, and I suspect there is every chance of him causing a stir on Broadway.

One sentence in the interview pulled me up short. Law said: "There is no definitive Hamlet, because you don't play Hamlet, Hamlet plays you."

I thought about this but couldn't instantly understand what it meant. Fortunately, Law did go on to explain, saying: "You come out in him, which is why every production is different. You can have a scholarly Hamlet, or someone who is very comedic, or someone who enjoys the lethargy of the part. There's something so essential about him. He tattoos himself on your skin."

Well, all that is true, though you could argue it amounts to an actor playing Hamlet rather than Hamlet playing him.

It put me in mind of something a million miles from Shakespeare, the film actress Zooey Deschanel. She was mentioned last week in his Errors and Omissions column by my colleague Guy Keleny. Deschanel, who stars in the romcom (500) Days of Summer, was asked in an interview in this paper if she believed in love at first sight. She answered: "I believe everything is out there. Love is such a universally appealing theme. It just depends on your point of view. In some way, it exists in thought form. If it has a name, then you are creating it. I think people who try to force a relationship that's not happening are just insane."

This was judged both an error and an omission, an error to run it and an omission of the red pencil, as it doesn't actually mean anything. And yet I feel I understand what Zooey is prattling on about, just as I sort of understand what Jude is waffling about. But both examples raise a bigger and rather scary question. Should we bother with actor-speak?

It's scary to ponder, because if one did not have those interviews, not only would the whole Hollywood publicity machine grind to a halt, but also newspapers, magazines and entire TV channels would be left with a massive void. So there are certain questions that it is safer not to ask, such as how often does an interview with an actor or actress actually tell us anything revelatory.

The people who are more likely to have something revelatory to say about a script and the creative concept are the scriptwriters and the directors. They do not always have the sufficient glamour quotient, though. And I have to admit that I would probably seek to read an interview with Penelope Cruz before an interview with Pedro Almodovar, even though the director could probably reveal more about the concept behind Cruz's roles in his films. Cruz has an allure and charisma. And it is intriguing to discover how that translates into words. It is also usually the case that charisma, glamour and fame fulfil a need that overrides any textual analysis of what they say.

That's why media and public connive in a suspension of disbelief with actor interviews. Call it psychological weakness, but maybe we need to accept that Hamlet plays an actor and tattoos himself on that actor's skin, and that Zooey Deschanel can fleetingly equal John Donne in her analysis of love.

The flour and the glory

Colston Hall in Bristol seems to provoke stronger feelings than any concert hall in the country. There has recently been a proposed artists' boycott of the place because it is widely believed to be named after Edward Colston, a slave trader in the city. It wasn't, actually. It was named after the street that it happens to be in. It was also the place where the Beatles were flour bombed for the only time in their career, when two students hid themselves in the gantry in 1963.

Next week, the familiar Victorian landmark will reopen after redevelopment, along with a brash, bling new foyer, coffee bar, restaurant and studios, which are several floors high.

I visited the £21m rebuild designed by Levitt Bernstein Associates. It is striking. The hall will for the first time be open to the public 18 hours a day. And chief executive Graeme Howell is urging stars that play there to do some mentoring for local musicians. Go further, Graeme. Write it into their contracts. Tell them they will be flour bombed if they don't.

Keep things cool – and the prices low

This is usually the time of year when theatre managements moan that takings were down over the summer. But this year we have had very different news from the Society of London Theatre. Despite the recession – indeed perhaps because of it – the West End is booming. People decided that they couldn't afford foreign holidays and went to the theatre instead. A record July has been followed by a very good August.

So, theatre owners and producers can sit back, count the money and pat themselves on the back. But they shouldn't. They should use the money to make some much-needed changes that will encourage first-time audiences to make theatre-going a lifetime habit.

They should bring down prices, which are way too high. In particular the gods, where young people get their first experience of theatre, are often now £25 or £30. Why would teenagers pay that when they can get in to a movie for a tenner? Theatre owners should also install air conditioning in every venue.

They've had a windfall. Now give something back.