London’s West End theatres attract millions of people every year – from seasoned theatre-goers to those out for a special celebration. However, every spectator expects to enjoy the performance and emotionally connect with what’s happening on stage.
There are two fundamental factors that can make or break a drama performance: plot and actors. They’re mutually dependent, and a successful symbiosis of the two makes for a truly outstanding performance.
Crafting a great plot is challenging – people give preference to different paces of narrative and storylines. But some of the characteristics of a good story are universal.
An interesting plot is a relevant one. A story doesn’t have to be based on current events to be relevant – some of Shakespeare’s plays have more in common with the 21st- century reality than more recent works. An Elizabethan setting merely provides a backdrop and Shakespeare’s plays often revolved around love, betrayal, passion – themes that don’t have an expiry date. His plays are so successful because they explore things that can happen anywhere, anytime, to anyone, which increases their appeal and reach.
Successful plays don’t require a long foreword. Viewers want to be thrown into action and feel like they’re in the middle of something, as if they were peeking through a key hole. The sense of spontaneity makes the performance more believable. For example, Shakespeare’s Tempest opens with a shipwreck which immediately propels the audience into the action, creating an immersive experience.
Good acting is a combination of excellent technique that performers develop through training, and innate acting talent. Not many accounts of Shakespeare’s acting years have reached us, however, the fact that he endured the judgment of often disrespectful and impatient audiences for 15 years can attest to his acting skills. At the time, performances didn’t rely on strict scripts, and it was important to capture the mood of the crowd in order to successfully improvise.
Great actors are able to put their personalities aside when they go on stage. Some actors’ ability to transform goes beyond the obvious – Dame Harriet Walter, for example, is a renowned Shakespearian actress that brilliantly played King Henry IV in 2014. This transformation required incredible technical skills – the ability to change posture, voice, mimic facial expressions, as well as acting talent required to convincingly project the moral turmoil experienced by the character.
Good acting has to be believable – regardless of the actor’s track record, they have to be able to start from a clean slate every time and learn to see the world through the eyes of a new character.
This formula has stood the test of time – much has changed since the Elizabethan times, but people still enjoy skilful acting and relatable stories that leave a mark on their souls.