George Dillon
Berkoff & Physical Theatre
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Dostoevsky's Heaven & Berkoff's Hell
Graft - Tales of an Actor
Stunning the Punters
The Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel of Matthew by Candlelight
The Man Who Was Hamlet
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Against the Odds
Dostoevsky's Dream of a Ridiculous Man
Ecce Homo
Hell & Other Tales
The Remembrance of Edgar Allan Poe
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Laurel and Hardy dance to Rebel Rebel by David Bowie

Monday 11th January 2016. I woke to the news that David Bowie had died. To avoid being overwhelmed with sadness and mainly to try to console my lover, who is a great fan of both Bowie and Laurel and Hardy, I made this tribute video and posted a link on Facebook, thinking that perhaps twenty or thirty of my friends would enjoy it. A week later it had been viewed over 35,000 times.

I didn't have to do any editing to either the video or the music to make it fit. I just dropped them both into my video editor, and magically this happened. Of many moments when the sync seems perfect there is a special one at 0:17 which maybe not everyone will notice. When Stan taps Ollie's shoulder, Bowie is singing "Hey babe". Oliver Hardy's nickname was 'Babe'.

Several people have commented that Bowie would have enjoyed this video and that he was a big fan of Laurel and Hardy (of course!) I like to imagine that the three of them are having a good chuckle about it right now and are planning more future collaborations.

Just as when Robin Williams died last year, Bowie's death was followed by a flood of stories from ordinary people who met him and were struck by his humility and kindness. I met Bowie once, when I was in Steven Berkoff's Sink the Belgrano! at the Half Moon Theatre in 1986. Berkoff and Bowie knew each other via Lindsey Kemp. After the show Bowie was hanging around in the bar and I got to shake his hand. I was so star struck I probably squeezed too much, because I remember his words to me - "Wow, you've got a hard handshake."

The film is from Laurel and Hardy in Way Out West

The music is, of course, Rebel Rebel by David Bowie.

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Marcel Marceau

Seeing Marcel Marceau close up, teaching at his school in Paris, was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life.

Marceau was an iconic figure, who can be credited with single-handedly reviving and elevating the art of mime to a new level of popular recognition through his extensive international touring, particularly in the role of 'Bip' with his stripey shirt, and white face surmounted by a top hat with a flower. As a teenager I had seen Marceau perform at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London, from the cheap seats way up at the back of the second circle, but in 1985 I got to see him at work close-up and it was a penny drop moment that changed my life.

It was thirty years ago, it was spring, and I was in the spring of my youth. And, once again, I was going a bit mad. When I left University I had formed a two-person theatre company (No Alternative with Denise Evans) and we toured Berkoff's Decadence to some success in Edinburgh and on the small-scale touring circuit. We were just about making a living. After eighteen months we decided to merge with another Manchester-based two person company, Theatre Totale, and we planned to tour Berkoff's four-hander - Greek - and an original play to be devised by the company on the theme of the Apocalypse. But the union was not a happy one - all four of us were very strong personalities and the clash of egos was quite intense. I must confess, in retrospect, I was mostly to blame... The new show was going in a direction I disagreed with, but I was persuaded that the director and writer just neeed some time to complete the script and I really needed a break after several months of intense touring - so everyone around me said I should take a holiday and get away, and I decided to go to Paris for a week. If I remember correctly there was an added incentive in the form of a potential reunion with a recent lover.

By chance, my stepmother knew Marcel Marceau and she contacted his school - L' École Internationale de Mimodrame de Paris Marcel Marceau - and arranged for me to go to see him teaching a class. It was a first-year class and there were about fifteen students and three or four guests observing. As I recall, the class began with stretching exercises and then for maybe twenty minutes they did limbo - yes, walking under sticks while bending over backwards. But then, Marceau announced "Toutes les mains!" and the class formed into rows with Marceau standing at the front, and they all began performing a sequence of hand exercises, like a martial arts 'kata' (sequence of forms) such as you might see in a Tai Chi class.

And there he was, the most famous mime in the world, standing about ten feet in front of me, performing this simple routine which he must have practised thousands of times, but still totally engaged in it, executing the movements with all the skill, all the focus and mastery as if he were on stage at Sadler's Wells. And he wasn't doing it for the tiny audience. And I don't think he was doing it for the students. He was doing it for the art, for the gods. He was doing it because that's what a great artist, a great master does.

I came away determined to become even more focused, even more self-disciplined. Within a year I had became a vegetarian and began studying martial arts. About three years later I read Nobuko Albery's book 'The House of Kanze', which tells the story of Zeami Motokiyo, the founding genius of the Noh theatre in Japan, which talks a great deal about 'the Way of Noh' - the idea that theatre training and practise is a spirtual path or 'Way' (a 'Tao' in Chinese, or a 'Do', 'To', or 'Michi' in Japanese).

After more than 30 years as a professional actor but also now that I have been training in Kendo for 24 years, I understand more completely what I witnessed in that room in Paris all those years ago. In martial arts training there are basic simple forms which one practises over and over. Even, or perhaps especially the most experienced practitioners will go over the basics again and again. And again... While obviously there are physical benefits, the real purpose is more mental or even spiritual. The repetition is not mindless. Quite the opposite. The mind and the spirit are strengthened by concentrating deeper and deeper on each moment of the physical form.

At the time I saw him teaching, in 1985, Marceau was 62. Sadly Marceau's school closed in 2005 and Marceau died aged 84 in 2007.

Of the numerous videos of Marceau on Youtube I have chosen three to link to here. The first begins with Marceau demonstrating several hand gestures and talking about zen-like concentration

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The second is a longer interview in which covers a huge range of topics. I particularly like his discussion of gestures in different cultures.

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The third is a very brief clip from Mel Brooks' film "Silent Movie" in which Marceau speaks the only word of the movie.

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Johann Lippowitz (David Armand), Austria's premier interpretive dance artiste, performs "Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia live in New York

One exercise I sometimes include in my workshops involves one student reading a speech, while another finds gestures to go with it. It's a slightly artificial exercise, as the sheer amount of gesticulating which results is way more than even I would use in performance, but it does help illustrate and exercise the connection between words and movement, and when I unexpectedly ask the student who is doing the gestures to then do both the moves and the words together it shows how quickly lines can be learned when they have a physical context.

I don't remember exactly how or when I stumbled across this video of a 'mime' interpretation of the pop song 'Torn', but when I did I was not only amused by how it resembled my workshop exercise, but also very impressed with the fluidity, speed and precision of David Armand's movement.

If I were a teacher, with the equipment to play my students video, I would show this as a part of every course!

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I'm not the only one who was impressed by Armand's skills. Natalie Imbruglia, the Torn singer, later appeared with David Armand at the Secret Policeman's Ball and gamely joined in the mime routine:

Dustin Hoffman on Laurence Olivier - Inside The Actors Studio

Steven Berkoff is on record as a great admirer of Laurence Olivier. Those of us who are at the more stylish end of the acting spectrum, when confronted with die-hard Stanislavskians (as some drama students tend to be) are sometimes inclined to quote Olivier's advice to Dustin Hoffman - "My dear boy, why don't you try acting?"

I was recently prompted to google for the exact quote, and discovered this video in which Dustin Hoffman tells his side of the story, confirming the words used, but also adding some context in his own defence and then he adds a another poignant Olivier story...

Wim Mertens playing La Fosse
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(as of Sunday, 16 May 2021)

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[Updated - 19 January 2016]
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