Since JACK ABSOLUTE relauched in the States last week, he has been bothering my mind. To the extent that I left my desk and the Great Plague and I searched my bookshelves for the script I used when I played Jack Absolute in Sheridan’s ‘The Rivals’ for the Oxford Playhouse Company, touring England from the Autumn of 1986 to Spring 1987. In it I discovered the notes I made at the time – both during rehearsals, and later when I developed the role in performance. Now I marvel at how fresh it all seems.
This is me, playing Jack:
It was a wonderful time. I’d returned from Los Angeles not long before, having decided that my dream of living and working there was, in reality, not what I wanted at all, nor where I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be an American TV actor. I desperately needed to return to my roots in the theatre, to really find myself again as an actor – I’d been playing the Hollywood game too long.
I’ve always felt that my true theatrical form was 18th Century comedy – give me thigh boots and a sword and I’m your man! So when I found out that a director I knew a little was casting The Rivals – and I remembered seeing a performance of the play once and coveting the role of Jack Absolute – I got in touch, auditioned, got the part.
So here’s my playscript open before me on my desk in my hut on a small island on the West Coast of Canada – quite a long way from The Malvern Festival Theatre where I opened in the play. And at the back of the book I find my ‘letter’ to myself. Written in pencil. A series of things I came up with to get myself into the part, to be read to myself every night before I went on stage. What’s most remarkable is how much of my stage Jack found his way into the novel that I wrote sixteen years later. Take the opening sentence:
‘Life is absurd. I have seen men love and I have seen them die. I have seen them do the latter without ever achieving the former. Tomorrow may well be my last day on earth so… Enjoy it. Live it. Live fast, furious and fun.’
Pretty much the philosophy my ‘novel’ character has. (Pretty much the philosophy I have too!) Even stranger, a little later I find myself exhorting my Jack to action with these words (I’d developed quite the ‘back story’ for him):
‘Climb the Heights of Abraham, mount a stallion for a gallop across a moor…’
The Heights of Abraham? Well, in the prequel to the first novel, (out in the US later this year “The Blooding of Jack Absolute” my young hero does exactly that: is one of the first soldiers up the cliffs at Quebec, paving the way for the British victory over the French that gave them North America.
Ah, its fun to look at the script and revisit my 31 year old self! It’s as much fun to consider where the ‘playscript notes’ took me: around the world, researching every aspect of period and place; around the world now ‘by blog’, connected once again, differently, with my boy Jack.
You’ll find a lot of actors who mourn a role’s ending. Sometimes they mourn with the bottle. I think I found a better, healthier way: write novels about my favourite character and live him still.