Michael had started with Shakespeare. That was before he knew him. He played Romeo at Cambridge, and when he came down, after a year after dramatic school, Benson had engaged him. He toured the country and played a great variety of parts. But he realized that Shakespeare would get him nowhere and that if he wanted to become a leading actor he must gain experience in modern plays. A man called James Langton was running a repertory theatre at Middlepool that was attracting a good deal of attention; and after Michael had been with Benson for three years, when the company was going to Middlepool on its annual visit, he wrote to Langton and asked whether he would see him. Jimmie Langton, a fat, bold-headed, rubicund man of 45, who looked like one of Rubens’ prosperous burghers, had a passion for the theatre. He was an eccentric, arrogant, vain and charming fellow. He loved acting, but his physique prevented him from playing any but a few parts, which was fortunate, for he was a bad actor. He could not subdue his natural flamboyance, and every part he played, though he studied it with care and gave it thought, he turned into grotesque. He broadened every gesture, he exaggerated every intonation. But it was a very different matter when he rehearsed his cast; then he would suffer nothing artificial. His ear was perfect, and though he could not produce the right intonation himself he would never let a false one pass in anyone else.
“Don’t be natural,” he told his company. “The stage isn’t the place for that. The stage is make-believe. But seem natural.”
He worked his company hard. They rehearsed every morning from ten till two, when he sent them home to learn their parts and rest before the evening’s performance. He bullied them, he screamed at them, he mocked them. He underpaid them. But if they played a moving scene well he cried like a child, and when they said an amusing line, as he wanted it to be said, he bellowed with laughter. He would slip about the stage on the leg if he was pleased, and if he was angry he would throw the script down and stamp on it while tears of rage ran down his cheeks. The company laughed at him and abused him and did everything they could to please him. He aroused a protective instinct in them, so that one and all they felt that they couldn’t let him down. Though they said he drove them like slaves, and they never had a moment to themselves, flash and blood couldn’t stand it, it gave them a sort of horrible satisfaction to comply with his outrageous demands. When he wrung an old trooper’s hand, who was getting seven pounds a week, and said, by God, laddie, you’re stupendous, the old trooper felt like Charles Kean.
It happened that when Michael kept the appointment he had asked for, Jimmie Langton was in need of a leading juvenile. He had guessed why Michael wanted to see him, and had gone the night before to see him play. Michael was playing Mercutio and he had not thought him very good, but when he came into the office he was staggered by his beauty. In a brown coat and grey flannel trousers even without make-up, he was so handsome that it took your breath away. He had an easy manner and he talked like a gentleman. While Michael explained the purpose of his visit Jimmie Langton observed him shrewdly. If he could act at all, with those looks that young man ought to go far.
“I saw your Mercutio last night,” he said. “What do you think of yourself?”
“So do I. How old are you?”
“I suppose you’ve been told you’re good-looking?”
“That’s why I went to the stage. Otherwise I’d have gone into the army like my father."
“By gum, if I had your looks what an actor I’d have been.”
The result of the interview was that Michael got an engagement.
1) Present the story as a conversation between Michael and another actor.
2) We have got acquainted with Michael. What makings of an actor does he have?
3) We have also got to know two stage-managers – Benson and James Langton. Langton’s nature is rather complicated, isn’t it? What could you say about it? Can he be called a failure? What else can you say about the stage-managers?
4) J. Langton ran a repertory theatre. Can you comment on the specifics of the theatre? What other kinds of theatres can there be?
5) Now you’ll be able to speak about actors’ life and work, their relations with stage-managers.
6) If “the interested people” were speaking about Michael beginning his career, what would they say (Mary, Lily,…)?
7) As we know Michael played in two theatres. Will you compare:
a) the way he worked in Benson’s and in J. Langton’s theatres (you’ll have to suppose the latter):
J. Langton’s theatre
played a great variety of parts in Shakespeare’s plays
probably not so many parts
in modern plays
to engage smb, to gain experience in …, to run a theatre, to tour a country, to prevent smb from …, to rehearse the cast, to comply with smb’s remarks, a leading actor, …
b) You will be able to compare the two stage-managers, Langton and Benson, as well. You’ll have to suppose some things about Benson to contrast him with Langton.
Staged modern plays,
more lenient, flexible