Over the course of two summer weeks South Hill Park will stage a performance of Bums on Seats, a riotous comedy that stiches together madcap scenes highlighting the inconceivable, bewildering nature of actors, and their craft . The performance documents the staging of Fecund, where we meet actors both unrivalled and unknown, heralded and haggard, luvvee and unloved. It’s clear that they would be more at home in a contained section of a hospital, than a commended stage in Hollywood.
It’s a real whizz-bang romp, and to preview South Hill Park’s open-air display, I caught up with Benedict Thrush, an accomplished actor who is starring in Fecund, the play within the play.
Q: So, Benedict, you’re in South Hill Park now, yet where would we have seen you last?
A: Probably in the shop around the corner, stocking up on some Soothers, Lockets, Strepsils and bucketfuls of honey and lemon – my throat took a real battering during last nights rehersals. You see, being an actor is a constant battle against all normal physical responses. A normal muggle can just take a day off sick if they get barely a flicker of phlegm – any job at the bank would easily continue with one less cashier to slowly sift through a queue of people desperately paying in money for the menial. However, you see a thesp. cannot just ‘phone it in’. It requires upwards of 100% of emotion and dedication. The show must go on.
Q: No, I mean…what would I have last seen you in? I’m pretty sure I caught you on TV in a sitcom only a few months ago.
A: Ahh, yes… my mistake. No, yes…erm… that old thing. Come to think of it, I did briefly share a screen with Zara Roscoff from Fecund in that too, perhaps more than a screen, but actors never kiss and tell. To answer your question – as humans, in order to make ends meet, one must occasionally forget principles, honour and dignity, and simply do what is necessary. Many take their track-suited selves to the job centre. Others will stand on street corners wearing purple, glittery eye-shadow and latex. I found myself doing something far worse… appearing in a prime-time comedy filmed in front of a studio audience on BBC 1. Work can occasionally suck at the soul of an actor.
Q: So, Fecund, how are you getting ready for such a prominent role?
A: Many, simple-minded norms. believe that being an actor is little more than repeating a few lines, whilst standing in a specific spot on a stage and pulling a funny face. The time with which I could spend detailing just how wrong these muggles are would tire even the most hardy of Ibsen fans. In preparing for my role in the piece, I have had to delve to uncharted depths of my emotional range. I have scoured the bed of my psychological floor in desperate search for an undisturbed treasure of feeling, which I can use to accurately tell the truth of my character on the boards. It is one thing merely saying the lines, but to make the audience…the no-doubt bountiful audience believe them, that takes proper time, care and effort.
I could just as easily spend much less energy on a job in a nearby supermarket, and like many regular men I’d flog teas, toothpaste and Twiglets, and take home a similarly sized packet at the end of each day.
Yet, I have chosen a different path in life. A more complex, unearthed one. This requires weeks of reading and researching, and to justifiably earn my crumb – which, despite what you may read of actors, is actually fairly insubstantial when you deduct agent fees and what-have-you – one must put the work in.
When I stand centre-stage at the end, open my arms and receive rapturous applause, commendations and presumably a bouquet of flowers from the audience, I will, however, know I have earned my shilling. And more importantly, for a brief moment, told a tale of real truth.
At that moment a door opened, cameras flashed and we heard distant cries of adoration for one of the greatest actresses of our generation, Zara Roscoff. She entered and immediately illuminated the room, swiftly followed by her husband Hugo who promptly dimmed it – both will also be appearing in Fecund.
With this, Benedict appeared to sweat suddenly and then awkwardly glared at his watch, repeating how he ‘must be getting on his way…’, ‘important people to see…’, ‘real trouble if…’ – he didn’t complete one sentence as Zara and Hugo paced towards me for our interview. Making minimal eye contact, he jumped up, profusely apologised and made for the exit. Thrush departed in such a rush he left his Saville Row Tailored Scarf, which no doubt was guarding his already damaged throat from any windy chill.
Realising his mistake, he swiftly turned and ran to retrieve the neck-piece, then galloped off, leaving a cartoonish silhouette of where he once stood. He did find time here, however, to hastily throw in my direction one of the national tabloids, with a 5 star review of his sitcom. It was glowing. Literally glowing. That’s what happens when you repeatedly trace over the word ‘remarkable’ with a highlighter pen.