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Guest Blog: Actor Robert Neumark Jones Talks Farce BANG BANG

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Richard Earl and Robert Neumark Jones
in rehearsal

Actor Robert Neumark Jones plays Gontran in Georges Feydeau's 'Bang Bang', adapted by John Cleese for Mercury Theatre Colchester

In a business where landing a role as Zombie Corpse #3 (expenses only, darling) is considered a big break, when one gets the chance to work with a supremely talented cast, a genius director and a world-class comedian on a fantastic script at a top regional theatre, it's safe to say that taking the part wasn't the toughest decision I've ever had to make.

So with the champagne toasted and the dust settled, the work had to begin. Like a good little actor, I dutifully set about doing all the necessary prep one undertakes for any project. So with a belly full of butterflies and a notebook full of, well, notes, I arrived at rehearsals, only for director Nicky Henson to proclaim that farce must be done in reverse to drama, so we better get blocking right away. Right then, notepads down, up on our feet!

It was immediately apparent that Nicky's mantra was true. Since timing is key to comedy, rehearsal priorities naturally shift. Less table work is required, more tempo work, to aid the flow and rhythms of comedy. Minute changes of inflection can turn ordinary moments into side-splitting ones. A lobster can be mystifyingly flat on one hand and suddenly hilarious on the other. The only way to find out is to stay curious and keep hunting.

However, this isn't pantomime or slapstick. Farce is its own strange beast with its own set of rules and conventions. It must be played straight and fast. A good farce can't begin with people running around in their underpants and slamming doors. The ludicrous and the impossible must be built from the mundane, via a series of increasingly improbable coincidences that force the characters and the stakes beyond breaking point.

Robert Neumark Jones in rehearsal

Bang Bang is a "well-made play" full of intricacies. It has all the hallmarks of timeless farce: misunderstanding and mistaken identity, wordplay and wit. Most importantly, it has winners and losers. As Feydeau said, "In comedy there are two main parts. He who slaps and he who gets slapped."

In farce, characters accept appearances as reality. As such, farce is unafraid of presenting archetypes. These characters are scheming, lustful, greedy, deceitful and vain. By presenting humankind's shortcomings, farce skewers the morals and ethics of its time, while the heightened reality creates breathing space so we can see our own foibles without getting derailed from the laughter train.

Farce is a pressure-release valve. It allows us to laugh at things that are unfunny or taboo in real life: infidelities, sex, lies and scandal. In rehearsals, however, "Because it's funny" is the rarest of justifications. Nine times out of ten, every crazy thing must be justifiable within the world of the play.

However, let's not to get too artsy-fartsy. People come to see farce for fun, for an evening, a gay old time. Buster Keaton once said "Life is too serious to do farce comedy"; a statement that in these turbulent times has never seemed truer. He was of course being facetious, but perhaps now when laughter is needed more than ever, life is too serious not to do farce comedy. After all, being silly is a very serious business.

Bang Bang is at Mercury Theatre Colchester until 11 March

Photo credit: Robert Day


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From This Author Guest Blog: Robert Neumark Jones