Monday, 21 May 2012

Me? Happy?

I don't do Happy. I've never done Happy. True, there have been moments over the past six decades when the thought has occurred to me "I'm enjoying life." or "This is fun." or "I have no problems on the horizon.", but these are rare.

My goal has always been Content. But I'm not very good at Content. No matter how well my life is going - as now, when I feel healthy, I have money in the bank and a partner whom I love and who loves me - my default position is Disgruntled. I usually present a light face to those around me, but underneath it Victor Meldrew often seethes at a world that is out of his control.

To my surprise, in recent months Disgruntled has begun to give way to Upbeat. Not all the time, but increasingly often I find myself in a good mood - a mood that owes nothing to alcohol or other endorphin enhancers. I first noticed the change in January, during rehearsals for The Duchess of Malfi. Even when doing nothing but sit in the freezing cold theatre, waiting for Glowering Bruce, the director, to call me to the stage, I found myself completely at ease. I liked being there. I liked being part of the process bringing a play to life.

It wasn't just The Duchess of Malfi. I have felt that way in almost every film and stage production I have been involved in. Only occasionally has boredom set in (the three hours waiting to be called for one 30-second shoot in Dead Gert comes to mind), but overall the minimum boredom has seemed a small price to pay for the fun of producing the final product.

And so it was with The Lower Depths. My role, as Dimitri the shifty landlord, was a definite step up from my previous two stage roles, where I was either on stage for such a short time that if you blinked you missed me, or where I was on stage for half the play but had no more than sixteen words in the whole evening. Just being in The Lower Depths, finding myself going deeper into Dimitri's character, was a drug that lightened my mood, not only during rehearsals, but at other times of the day.

Then on Saturday I get an email from Victor. The actor playing Luka the Vagrant, one of the key characters in the play, has had to drop out. Would I be interested in swapping Dimitri for the bigger role? Of course I would, and after a few minutes' reflection in which I ask myself whether I should take on the responsibility - and ask Victor whether he really wants to take the risk - I find it very easy to say yes.

Since that moment, my soul (not a word I would normally use, but Luka often refers to men's souls) has been humming. There's a smile hovering under my usual frown.I'm almost half-way through learning Luka's lines and the more I repeat them, the more I reflect on the character and how to portray him. I may do disastrously in rehearsal, I may do disastrously on the night, but right now, I'm in my element. In fact, I might almost say I'm happy.

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