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OB Gerard Logan shares his love of Shakespeare

Theatre Studies recently saw a one-man show by OB Gerard Logan, a double bill of Wilde Without The Boy and Ballad of Reading Gaol. Gerard then returned our visit the next day to give a free workshop on Shakespearean acting.

Gerard Logan was delighted to be back and taken aback, as well as impressed, by the changes to the site since his departure. Having studied at RADA, where he won the Bancroft medal, and since worked in TV, film, radio and theatre, Gerard has carved out a successful career as an actor whilst maintaining a genuine and warm approach to his work and to his audiences.

Wilde Without The Boy explored the culmination of Oscar Wilde’s sentence in jail for homosexuality through interpreting the bitter letter written to his ex-lover and nemesis Lord Alfred Douglas – De Profundis. The second part was an intense performance of Wild’s famous poem, Ballad of Reading Gaol, which captured, amongst other things, the harrowing prison atmosphere in the run up to, and after, the execution of a prisoner.

Both performance and workshop were a success for Bryanston pupils, firstly opening up such an infamous yet fascinating subplot of theatrical history and giving them context for any Wilde productions they had seen or will no doubt see in the future. It was also a chance to see a real professional at work, in minimal setting, without the prop of a physical human connection (other than the audience), and without the additional visual effects of the majority of today’s productions. Gerard’s workshop the next day was down to earth and accessible, yet demanding too, reminding pupils now focusing on a written drama exam to keep using the fresh and independent ideas that come from theatrical practice in their writing.

Wilde About the Boy, kept you thinking and working out the specific relationships and past events, as well as conveying a genuine depth of emotion, introspection, wit and understandable bitterness, which disarmed. Considering the pupils’ lack of knowledge about Wilde, this was rewardingly challenging for them, but allowed them to piece together the events by the end. Historical detail was there, but it was conveyed naturally and almost incidentally in a way that gave strength and conviction to the tragic events. Logan’s mesmerising presence and Wilde’s naturalistic fluctuations of thought were interspersed with voiceovers, which reinforced the worst memories Wilde might have had of the court that condemned him. The result was an intelligent and emotional piece, which was also subtle and skilful in keeping the audience focused on the action.

Ballad of Reading Gaol had been foreshadowed by an effective section in the first piece, as Wilde, playing an intense and angry waiting game, paced his cell in a driven parody of the hard labour he had done, walking in repetitive, rhythmic and weary strides as he read some lines of the poem. The poem itself was no disappointment and some in the group enjoyed it the most. Hearing Wilde’s poetry performed is a rare treat, reminding you of his quick and pithy thoughts and superb command of language and the first half had established the emotional investment he put into this particular piece.

The workshop, in which he shared his personal view of performance with pupils, allowed us to benefit from his no-nonsense approach, rooted in practical life experience and thus often avoiding the pitfalls of categorising theatre based on genre and practitioner ‘boxes’. Gerard brought a blend of empathy and discipline to the workshop, which allowed pupils to relax, whilst empowering them to grasp the opportunities offered. No-one was off the hook, but no-one was traumatised either when exhorted to greater effort. Simple exercises allowed pupils (and teachers) to engage with the text, form opinions - and then be challenged in their preconceptions. This workshop reminded me as a teacher not to depend on how Shakespeare’s characters have ‘always’ been played, but to go back to the text, to engage my own brain and to think about life and people, not history and convention. Useful tricks of the trade helped pupils engage with emotion and audience impact and strip away the constraints of set practitioners and views. In conclusion, this was a freshener for all!

Jane Quan, Director of Drama, Bryanston School