While I saw a good number of online shows from the Edinburgh Fringe this year, there were some that I just didn’t manage to get to. After reading the show blurb I had shortlisted A Theatrical Life for viewing; indeed, as it shared similar subject matter I had planned to watch it straight after Simon Callow’s Shedinburgh piece Being An Actor – 50 Years On. Time, however, defeated me, so I was pleased to see it turn up recently on the Scenesaver platform.
Although it may share some similarities with Callow’s reminiscence based piece there are, in fact, key differences. Where he was looking back from the heights of the profession and from a position where he is famous for what he does, Siobhan Bremer in her piece cannot claim anything like the same level of fame. That’s not to say that she is any less of an actor – simply that she is less well known. Where this gives her narrative strength is i the fact that there are far more actors in her position than there are in his which gives her the advantage of complete relatability. It is also much more tightly scripted; whereas Callow seemed to be speaking extempore, Bremer’s piece has a far clearer sense of structure and trajectory.
Her story takes us back to her childhood where she and her identical twin sister were regularly cast in plays being directed by her mother; she’s only half joking when she explains that this saved on the cost of a babysitter. From there she became a regular in school productions, went to college to study acting and joined the profession full time after graduating. Since then, she has also worked (and still does) as an Associate Professor of Theatre at the University of Minnesota Morris with a focus on performance. Although this is mentioned it is her time on the boards which forms the main focus. Bremer recalls the highs and lows of auditioning, rehearsing and performing in a way that will be familiar to many who have trod the same path. The first of these three comes in for particular scrutiny as she ruefully pokes fun at the routines and etiquette of the whole auditions business. There’s a telling anecdote about how she is giving a speech from Cat On A Hot Tin Roof to a director who doesn’t appear to have heard of Tennessee Williams. There is also plenty of drama in her offstage world as she tells us about the time when her father effectively kidnapped his children and how she has had to overcome health issues.
Bremer is clearly committed to her craft and with the aid of writer Daniel Munson has constructed a show which retains interest and showcases some of her talents. She plays a gallery of characters as well as a constructed version of herself making her way through life. Director Judy Myers sometimes opts for longshots emphasising the relative loneliness of the solo performer and the piece plays out on an empty stage in front of an empty auditorium – a clear sign of the times in which we are living. It’s a pleasant show which comes in at well under an hour and does what it says on the tin. It will perhaps be of limited interest to the general viewer; it is very much a piece which will more readily appeal to members of the profession and those interested in the mechanics of the business called show.
Today’s bonus Scenes For Survival piece is Longest Summer. What will future generations make of the summer(s) of lockdown? Richard Rankin ponders this question in a part monologue, part musical from Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie. The surprising twist partway through brings this piece to life and ends on a positive note (in more than one sense).
A Theatrical Life is available via Scenesaver – click here
Scenes For Survival pieces are available from the NTS website – click here; a number are also available on BBC iPlayer – click here
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