This week Fiona considers the power of body language.
One of the most enduring theatre memories I have is from my days as a Drama student. Then, with time to cram in as much theatre, clubbing and music as possible, my senses seemed to be on hyper alert to fully absorb and react to the concoction and bombardment of arts experiences that were available to me. Everything felt new. Everything felt as though it was being given to me as a special gift to unwrap and add to the story of my life! Well, that's how it felt at that time.
The reality was that I was growing up, stretching mind and body to see what the horizon felt like. I was young!! However, despite my purple prose and nostalgic reflection - I have to say that if I were to see that production now - I'm sure it would have the same impact on my older, time poor self.
The show was called Klimkov, staged at the old Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, with a young Andrew Normington in the lead. The play was an adaptation by Chris Hannan of a novel by Maxim Gorky entitled The Life of a Useless Man. Chris entitled his piece Klimkov: Life of a Tsarist agent. It’s about a young man who has the bad luck to become a Tsarist spy right on the eve of the 1905 Revolution and was first produced by the Traverse in 1985. I clearly remember an interrogation scene with Klimkov being questioned, but determined not to give anything away, he remained silent. Sitting at a table, huddled into the corner of a wooden chair his body spoke volumes though.
As the interrogator became more insistent Andrew's body reacted, not with any big actorly gesture, but with small intense movement that fully expressed his inner fear and torment. His skinny white hand reached out and gripped the underside of the table, his head sunk lower into his neck, as if he was trying to hide himself. But it was his feet that spoke to me the most. Two long, narrow flat boards clad in shabby black leather that were motionless until the questioning threatened to become violent. At that point, even though he had shoes on, you could feel his toes curl in terror. The arch of one foot became pronounced and the other foot curled around the base of the chair leg. The movement was small, precise and completely connected to the core of what the character was feeling. It was intense and thrilling and I left the theatre determined to say less with words and more using this silent vocabulary that I'd been introduced to.
Our bodies are legible and we just have to learn how to read them. One of my first professional jobs taught me masses in this area.
The British Theatre for the Deaf insisted that all performers- including those with full hearing like me - communicated using BSL. It was an amazing language to learn and communicate in, with every movement being hot-wired to convey meaning. No rambling or being overly verbose with this form of communication. It was instructive having to think about the quality of contact and weight of each gesture. I think we can neglect what our bodies are telling the world. We have also forgotten how to make the best use of our silent selves.
This week we publish my interview with Movement Director, Struan Leslie. Struan is passionate about the unconscious messaging that bodies engage in and how to harness this to amplify the tone of theatre performance. For him the body is text and we need to learn how to read it. Thank you Andrew Normington for helping me open that particular page of my training.
Today we publish an interview with Struan Leslie.