Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

The Confessions of Miss Evans

Gwen Ellis explores her search for her character in Be O'dd Enw Ci Tin Tin?....

On breakfast television recently, the writer/director Connor McPherson, when asked how he managed to persuade actors of great stature to take part in his film, shocked the presenters by declaring that as far as he was concerned, all actors are mad. I can guess that every actor daft enough to be up this early would agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment. Actors never really grow up: our craft is not called play acting for nothing. What sensible person revels in the ability to become someone else for a couple of weeks and will put up with antisocial hours and months of unemployment in order to achieve it? Glamorous it ain’t, and believe me this is coming from the heart. At present I’m working with Theatr Bara Caws on the prolific vicar of Port’s latest; I’m exhausted, I’m aching all over from lugging pieces of scenery into schools and village halls, I don’t get home until very late at night and I wouldn’t swap it for the world.

Be O’dd Enw Ci Tin-Tin? by Aled Jones Williams was written a few years ago and thus precedes the wonderful Ta-ra Teresa. The character that I play is in some respects on the way to being the character of the mother in Ta-ra Teresa. Both are unfulfilled “respectable” middle-aged women who find ways of coping with their repressed sexual needs. In fact, Miss Anna Evans in Be O’dd Enw Ci Tin-Tin? (spinsterhood personified) appeared fleetingly in last year’s eisteddfod winning poem, Awelon, as the harmonica playing adulteress Miss Venables. During a presentation of Awelon Aled Jones Williams let drop that Miss Venables really existed. I couldn’t wait to hear more about her but it turns out that she was a bitter complaining old maid with a long dead sweetheart, and I suppose vicars meet more than their fair share of that breed.

On paper, this is what I have to work with: Miss Anna Evans lives with her ailing and more than likely unloving unmarried mother in Porthmadog. In fact she has strangled her but talks at her as if she’s still alive. She enjoys reading Mills and Boon romantic fiction but also knows of Caryl Curchill, Julian of Norwich and Marguerite Porete (which is more than I do) and gets her kicks imagining she’s on holiday while stripping off for a polaroid photographer. There’s nothing to suggest that she works for a living and what’s more, apart from the odd enigmatic exchange with a policeman, all her speeches are in very long monologues, including her taped confession at the end of the play.

To be honest, when I first read the play I was a little disconcerted by the structure: four characters with four secrets, three of which are revealed through monologue. The scenes with dialogue are well balanced and often funny and moving, but these monologues... It’s a personal thing, I guess, but I have never been over-fond of the monologue as a means of depicting a train of thought. I like them slightly more when they tell a story, but not much more. So this part is a challenge. How to make her hold the audience’s interest? Can I render her sympathetic? Can I make her real?

On the plus side, Bara Caws is a nice company to work for. I respect and admire my fellow actors (Bryn Fn, Rhodri Meilyr and Awen Wyn Williams) and Hugh Thomas is the sort of director I enjoy working with — he’s a fellow crossword fiend to boot. On the minus side, I cannot allow myself the luxury of learning the script gradually so that it goes in by osmosis as we block and rehearse. I have to have the train of thought mapped out in my head before I can begin to make sense of things to an audience. I’ve got to learn those bloody monologues parrot fashion and they don’t go in easily, largely because there’s subtle repetition, but not quite exact repetition, of words and imagery. There’s a connection between ideas but not necessarily an immediate one. For example, I mention that I’m going out to my mother in several different ways: going to somewhere, going as something, going out in the sense of being extinguished, and all this is written in short poetical phrases.

So this struggling to learn takes a while: I can remember chunks but find it difficult going from one to the next. And in the meantime I’m trying to let Anna into my head, I’m trying to find bits of her that correspond to bits of me. Hugh lets me do this in layers. First there’s the simmering sexuality. She looks ordinary and indistinguishable from any amount of middle-aged women, but the fact that she allows herself to be photographed naked in all sorts of lurid positions suggests that sensuality is important to her as it was, in a different way, to the mediaeval anchoresses she mentions briefly. We try to show that she finds the detective inspector attractive and I like to think that she wears sexy underwear.

And there’s another layer, for despite her capacity for matricide, there’s an innocence, a child-like quality about Anna. It’s important that she’s an only child who has been kept at home by a mother who is in turns ashamed of her (Anna is a bastard) and dependent on her (Anna is her carer). She is as lonely now as she was as a child, picked on in the school yard, and she retains the child’s capacity to make up stories in her head to divert herself: she keeps a lover “in her imagination’s parlour”, she sunbathes in exotic places when she’s being photographed. The longest monologue (five pages of script) is where I describe the transactions between Anna and Polaroid Jack and it was the hardest to get right technically as I have to switch from Anna to Jack and back again swiftly and seamlessly. Finding Jack’s voice took time but once we worked out that there could be a dapper and gentlemanly quality to him, the voice came out accordingly.

She’s very fragile and damaged is Anna, akin to the white vase she broke as a child when her mother refused to sell it to pay for a holiday in the sun. However, I felt that she shouldn’t be of the bitter-and-twisted school of old maid; she has been resourceful enough to find a way of coping with her boring life (her own admission) via Polaroid Jack. However, we find that I have to inject a degree of anger into her dealings with her mother, if only to begin the monologues on the right note. Pitching them correctly at the outset was difficult. I’d tend to warm up to them. Keeping them fresh is the aim now

She’s got another week living in my head and I hope I haven’t let her down but I can’t say I’ll be sorry to see her leave. She’s been one hell of a challenge for an increasingly mad actress.


This article is reproduced with permission of the Editor of Planet Magazine - The Welsh Internationalist, and of the author Gwen Ellis.

author:Gwen Ellis

original source: reproduced from Planet Magazine 159
24 June 2003


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