Our Country’s Good, Acting Advice For Act 1 Scene 5
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This scene is the one in which Ralph Clarke is auditioning some of the convicts for some parts in the play for which he has struggled to get permission to put on.
The scene starts off with just Ralph. I think I would tell the actor to look studious and intellectual, as Ralph would be making every effort to make the play to a very high standard so he can impress Captain Phillip in the hope of getting the promotion he has desired for some time.
The mood should then change as soon as “Shitty” Meg enters on stage. She should walk on with a “tarty’ stride. She is old and thoroughly unattractive but she makes an over enthused effort to look glamorous and highly sexual. She should move toward Ralph in a very intimidating manor. Her sexual innuendoes should be delivered with a knowledgably bawdy tone and charisma, “I can play Lieutenant, I can play with any part you like”. When trying to convince Ralph into giving her a part in his play, “You don’t want a young woman peculiar, Lieutenant, they don’t know nothing”, I think she should grab Ralph’s leg as soon as she says the line; “Shut your eyes and I’ll play you as tight as a virgin”. Ralph should seem very intimidated and should jump up and back away from her in disgust. Meg should continue like this until Ralph has enough and shouts “Long!”. At this point Meg should be slightly scared of Ralph’s anger but she keeps face by accusing Ralph of being a homosexual, “We thought you was a madge cull”, she should say her lines in a patronising matter-of-fact way to try and lower Ralph’s high persona of himself.
The comic mood should continue when Sideway comes on the stage. He should be lively and full of character as he is your typical London “geezer”. He delivers his first few lines with an almost fake admiration for Ralph; “I am calling you Mr Clarke as one calls Mr Garick Mr Garick”. Sideway should have a very “in-your-face’ attitude to Ralph. Ralph should be very intimidated and suspicious but remain on the spot in a very militaristic manner to give the impress that he is not phased by Sideway’s very forward and friendly approach. Sideway should be walking around Ralph the whole time to try and show that he is nimble and enthusiastic; “top of my profession, Mr Clarke”.
As Sideway delivers his lines, in a very reflective thoughtful manner, Ralph should gradually ease out of his rigid posture and himself seem to be thinking of the wonderful London which Sideway speaks of; “London bridge at dawn”. Then when delivering the line “plucking up courage, I pluck her”, he should remove a handkerchief out from Ralph’s back pocket, unknown to the audience or Ralph himself. Then when saying “the handkerchiefs” he should reveal the handkerchief in a very theatrical way so it is made clear to both the audience and Ralph that Sideway had stolen his handkerchief. Ralph should seem surprised but should then give the impression that he is still very important and pretending almost that nothing had happened.
As soon as Dabby and Mary enter, we should realise how different the two characters are. Dabby should be confident and pushy whereas Mary should be quiet and highly reserved. Ralph should be infatuated with Mary as soon as he lays eyes on her. Although he can’t take his eyes off her I don’t think that Mary is either confident or keen enough yet to achieve eye contact with him. Dabby should push Mary forward quite forcefully after saying her line; “You asked to see Mary Brenham, Lieutenant. Here she is.” Mary is still very nervous and still doesn’t show any sort of interest in Ralph whatsoever. He intimidates her because he is one of the officers and she is also scared because she is about to audition for a play. Ralph should seem keen to want to talk to Mary rather than Dabby, purely because he is smitten with her “Do you know what a play is?”. Dabby to him is just an annoyance “I’ve seen lots of plays, Lieutenant, so has Mary”.
Mary must still remain quiet and nervous (this shown in the stage directions when it says that should say some of her lines “inaudibly’. Although Dabby is very keen to get Mary her part in the play because she feels that Ralph would be a good person for Mary to be with and sleep with on the ship “Mary wants to be in your play, Lieutenant” but should be very obvious about the fact that she wants in the play as well “and so do I”. Ralph wants to make sure he gives Mary the impression that he wants her to be in the play by telling her all of the good things that other people have said about her; “The Reverend Johnson told me you could read and write, Brenham”. The first time that Ralph’s and Mary’s meet should be when they both start reading the play to each other, “whilst there is life there is hope”.
Every time the two look each other in the eyes when they are reading the play the looks should be held and prolonged to show an obvious attraction from both of them. Ralph for the first time in this scene is above the convicts and seems to have intellectual superiority over the two of them. The actor should say this lines in quite a patronising way not because he wants the convicts to know their place but because that is how he treats everyone “This is a comedy, they don’t really mean it”. Mary should seem very innocent and like a little girl. Especially when Ralph tries to explain the plot of the story which is rather bizarre “she falls in love with Silvia”. In the stage directions it actually says “Mary begins to giggle but tries to hold it back’.
The mood then changes drastically as soon as Liz enters. Her stride should show that she is aggressive and very confident. Mary should very subtly sneak away and not say anything. Dabby and Liz should give each other evil glares. It says in the stage directions about the characters; “each holding her ground, each ready to pounce’. Ralph should seem unphased purely because he knows nothing of the hostility between the two characters; “Dabby: You can’t have her in the play, Lieutenant. Ralph: Why not?” Liz’s anger just mounts until the point at which she nearly cracks, the stage directions say that she “looks briefly at Dabby, as if to strike, then changes her mind’. The actress playing Liz should be forward and confident and intimidated by nothing “she snatches the book from Ralph and strides off’.