Sworn enemies, bete noires, one a hero, one a villain... look at it anyway you can, the lives of Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler are entangled with each other. Immortalised in the annals of history as they are, Hitler and Churchill’s lives are a rich inspiration for stories that will be retold for now and forever more.
But unlike putting up, say an ensemble play that has multiple actors, props and the whole shebang, their stories get more powerful, insightful and in a strange sort of way, ironical, when you have one actor portraying the two of them. Entangling themselves, all over again.
How does it feel when you are portraying Hitler and Churchill alternately? How difficult is it to play one character who is much reviled, and another who is venerated, all by yourself, and all in one evening? Do the dichotomies of the personalities clash in your head? Why did he want to portray the two, in the first place? These were questions we had in mind, and what we put forth to Pip Utton, a veteran of one-man performances who will performing at Going Solo.
Now, instead of a typical Q&A, however, Utton chose to write his thoughts about playing Hitler and Churchill. Here’s what he penned:
Adolf vs Churchill
“Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill are two of the towering figures in twentieth century world history. Both are remembered throughout the world because of WWII, although Churchill was at the centre of world politics for almost 50 years. Like many historical figures, they have become somewhat two-dimensional, not real people. I have tried to bring them to life again as three dimensional figures with all the necessary passions and emotions. However, I have used them for different ends.
I wrote Adolf as a warning. A warning to be aware of our prejudice and intolerance and to be wary of the people who seek to manipulate them; I wrote Churchill as part-history lesson and part-uplifting entertainment.
My newest play, Churchill is not an attempt to decide whether or not he was a great man, wiser men than me can debate that; it is not an attempt to judge. This is just 70 minutes spent in the entertaining company of the man whose life spanned two centuries and saw the decline of the British Empire. The man who was Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland twice, whose paintings were exhibited at the Royal Academy, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953, who in 1963 was made the first honorary citizen of the United States, and who in 2002, in a BBC poll, was voted the Greatest Briton in history.”
THE MANY LIVES OF JAILOSHINI
Jailoshini Naidoo is a woman of multiple talents. And multiple personalities! A popular actress, TV and radio personality, comedienne and compere in Durban, South Africa, what really will have you raising your eyebrows high with incredulity, is the fact that the woman can play 38 different characters. That’s exactly what she did in 1949, a one-woman show where she portrayed 38 different personalities, deservedly winning the Durban Theatre Award for Best Lead Actress for the same.
Now, the actress is ready to get on Bangalore’s stage and enthrall you with the play, At the Edge, that will have her portray 20 different people. The actress in a conversation with After Hrs...
Going Solo is all about showcasing, celebrating even, one-person acts. As an active theatre person who has dabbled in different theatre styles, what do you most enjoy about solo-acting?
Performing a one-woman show is extremely fulfilling for any actor. Apart from it giving one a great sense of accomplishment, it allows for creativity and a special connection with the audience. During my performance, I feed off the audience and rely heavily on them as I have no fellow actors on stage from whom to garner support. This requires tremendous committment and intense focus. I love it and thrive on the rush of adrenalin as I take my audiences from one episode to another during my enthralling journey on stage.
What makes At The Edge the globally-popular play it is? What do you always hope the audience takes away from the play?
At The Edge is a masterpiece created by one of South Africa’s master playwrights. It has universal appeal as it touches on the human element and digs deep into each person’s psyche, helping them connect with the characters and their situations making them relate in some way or another.
The piece itself offers social commentary, side-splitting comedy and superlative entertainment without being prescriptive or offensive.
You are playing 20 characters in the play. We’ll bluntly ask you, are you schizophrenic at some level?
I honestly believe that I am consistent in every situation. However, everyone has a tinge of Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde in them. With me this comes to the fore especially when I see a slab of my favourite Belgian chocolate... a part of me wants to eat the entire slab in one sitting, and then the gym bunny side of me chastises me!
Jokes apart, what is the biggest challenge in doing a multiple-character play like At The Edge?
It takes lots of effort and energy to change from one character to another in a split second. Therefore, one has to keep the focus and not lose the essence of each character while trying to remain authentic and believable.
As the only person on stage, you are the one in control, and so you have greater chances to improvise as you go along. Do you improvise? Or are you extremely diligent about sticking to the script?
As a seasoned actor, once should always stick to the script but nobody is infallable. On the odd occassion, even the most professional actor has a lapse in memory and it is at this point that one’s formal training comes into play and improvisation helps get one out of a tight spot. Thank goodness only my director will notice this and hopefully will be forgiving enough after I buy him/her a glass of wine.
What’s been the most surprising audience reaction you’ve received for the play?
I often feel overwhelmed by the warm reception wherever in the world I have performed the play.
People exude warmth and appreciation for my art and the script. My connection with the audience is humbling and inspires me to stay true to the story and look for more opportunities to share its beauty.
By the end of the play, what’s going through your head?
I often think “I hope the message has been conveyed in an honest and entertaining way.” After several performances I sometimes feel relieved it’s over! ....until the next one.