The Tales of Chris ‘Emergency’ Jarman
After a not-so-exciting start to the week, I have since been thrown into the stratosphere of excitement, I really have! There I was on Monday and Tuesday pining the loss of a job (well, a job not gained anyway) to which I felt so suited that I couldn’t see any possibility but to win it. But I had a call from my agent telling me that ‘They’ had gone another way; I really felt that ‘my way’ was spot on, so any other way seemed so strange to me. This was the first time in a long time that I had been so attracted to, and connected with a part so much in an audition that it felt like a natural step for me, as opposed to a leap of faith or just burning desire. Of course the desire was there, but it was as if the cards had already been dealt. Oh well. So there I was, morosely playing my Xbox360 that I hadn’t touched in maybe six months and I wasn’t even yearning to play it. I did enjoy, but it didn’t have the same charge as days gone by…
I had a lovely time on the Tuesday night though with a couple of friends, Lara and Spencer, at Spencer’s abode. Conversations were had, along with a little bit of drink and some very good food; it was quite an inspiring night actually, which got me into a better place mentally. Physically I think I was in West Hampstead, yes that was it.
Then came Wednesday morning, when at 10.30 I received a phone call that alerted me to the possibility of playing a role that I’d played before, 9 years ago, The Prince of Morocco in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. I would be going on stage in Rupert Gould’s production inStratford-Upon-Avon that very night; due to the indisposition of the actor originally cast in the role, they needed someone to step in instantly. Ok, maybe I exaggerated there… I mean within four hours! Without thinking too much about it, I said yes, because of course I remembered the role… ish. In actual fact, after the brief yet congratulatory phone conversation I had with the director Irealised that I only remembered the first four lines! Anyway, I thought it’d be great to do something to get me out of my funk and this seemed like a golden opportunity.
So, running around my house grabbing clothes and trying to find my original Arden text of the play, I almost gave myself a hernia sifting through stacks of books, DVDs and the like. This was to no avail, although I did find a few books that I hadn’t seen in a while, the ones that I occasionally come across and always think ‘oh yes, good, I must read you again’, or more often simply ‘I must read you’. I shoved my my weighty copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare into a small suitcase with a few days worth of clothes, as it was only to be a 2-week job. I clambered on a train up toCoventry, and then got a cab from the station to the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. All of this, within 3 hours! I quickly rehearsed and went on that night. Well, it wasn’t quite as perfunctory as that… The train journey had me cramming like a student before a final exam; I felt sorry for the gentleman sat across from me who had to deal with my rambling, gesturing at my laptop as I read the emailed version of the script as I attempted to learn both ofMorocco’s scenes.
I arrived at the theatre to a staggering view. I was taken aback by the how true the realisation of the building and its surrounding area was to its sketched-out promise all those years ago. But I had more pressing matters at hand! Walking through the stage door I was welcomed by the company manager and escorted through to meet Rupert Gould and the company that were rehearsing on the new ‘thrust stage’. This new design means that in performance the actor has to be aware of the audience on three sides of his/herself; the theatre’s equivalent to cinematic 3D, but with glasses not required. Using a stage like this poses plenty of challenges for designers and directors in terms ofconceptualising their ideas to be shared with this three-sided, three-tiered auditorium. I could see that this challenge had really been taken on fully as I sat in the audience in conversation with Rupert, looking out at a Las Vegas Casino, black jack tables and all! Its shameless glitz was one of many reminders that this was going to be nothing like my last production of The Merchant of Venice.
The last production had me cavorting around the stage in a full-length tweed jacket and trousers, a jewel-encrusted turban and my favorite prop, a scimitar (a curved sword). Rupert gave me the lowdown on this new concept, and my role within it. In this production the Prince of Morocco is a boxer. He is Afro-American. He’s topless (if only I’d known that before!). And he has more bravado than sense, which is not to say that he is not clever; he is a well-educated man, but he falls prey to the superficial. Also, Rupert wanted to bring out the racism in the piece, and found a way to convey reflections of the present world to a modern audience. I’ll reveal no more, but I must say that from my point of view it’s very rewarding to play off of something that makes me feel so uncomfortable to help achieve our goal.
So, we rehearsed the scenes with my script still in hand as I got familiar with the space and with the blocking. I hoped for instantaneous osmoses. There was an overwhelming amount of support from the rest of the company and cast, and it was such a relief to be greeted by Sir Patrick Stewart. And despite the fact that he had, since the last time we worked together, acquired those three letters that sit before his name, unsurprisingly he seemed exactly the same. Still as cool a captain as one could hope for. Going on that first night was such an adrenalin rush. I focused myself on the task of just doing it, slotting in (as it were) to a very talented cast, which also put my mind at ease and at the same time forced me to raise my game. And I suppose because of the enormity of the task at hand I didn’t really have time to fall prey to the worries and distracting contemplation that I usually indulge in during the run up to a performance.
Of course, this isn’t the first time such a thing has happened to me. It happened, in fact, on my first job after leaving drama school; I was a member of the ensemble and understudying the part of Mufasa in the original west end cast of Disney’s The Lion King. Incidentally, the role I was covering was played in the original movie by James Earl Jones, a man that I met for the first time last year at the 10th anniversary of the stage show. I can remember only being able to blurt out things like ‘inspiration’ and ‘an honor’ as I shook his hand. Jump back 10 years and I was called at about 10.30 in the morning to be informed that, due to a loss in the family, Cornell John would of course not be going on that night and I would be required to fill his shoes in the legendary role of Mufasa. Before that day I’d had only 30 minutes of rehearsal time in a room in Pineapple Studios, as the show had only just opened and understudy rehearsals were not the priority. That afternoon however this particular understudy was being given a crash course in Mufasa, including his flying sequence, so that I could go on that night. Throughout that year I went on over 30 times, though it was only by the fifth or sixth performance that I started feeling as if I was breathing the part, as opposed to reproducing directions.
And then there was a particularly interesting performance of Julius Caesar in which I was playing the part of Trebonius during the highly acclaimed Bite 05 Tour directed by Deborah Warner. One night in Madrid, at ‘Teatro Espanol’, I had just walked into my dressing room (after assassinating Caesar and fleeing the angry mob) when I got a call to the stage to go on for one of the many parts I was understudying in that show. The part was Cinna the Poet, and I had approximately one minute to get from where I was two floors down and on stage to play a different character. Upon entering the stage, I was confronted by a group of actors that looked slightly puzzled. I realised that they had obviously not heard the tannoy call as they would have been on stage at the time of it. So our eyes exchanged as if to say ‘what the hell?’ and ‘yes, this is happening’ and ‘well, we’d better do it then’. And we did, and it was great. There is such a rush to those moments where, as a performer, you are forced to listen intently to the moment. And there’s something so inspiring about a group mentality that reacts together, taking on a challenge in just a moment. Am I an addict?
Fast-forward to 2011 and I think I’m getting a reputation as Chris ‘Emergency’ Jarman, a nickname that I have fondly adopted while being here. I’m here for one more week, as the gig for me is as a two-week stand in, so I’m just loving every minute and enjoying being back in Stratford with so many familiar faces and so very many new ones. Right I’m off to watch people row badly up the Avon…