(For the background to the company & this production see Elizabeth I or just click on “Previous”).
The second play that we performed with the Young Company was Saved by Edward Bond. A more completely opposite play from Elizabeth I couldn’t be imagined. Whereas the latter was an in-your-face, funny, bawdy, openly theatrical slice of English history, Saved was a gritty piece of English contemporary realism, meant to be sobering. It’s about the lives, loves, and dwindling hopes of a bunch of young people trying to make their way in a gritty modern world that spares neither time nor care for them. On their own, they partake in sex and violence, some of it quite shocking. Probably the most famous scene in this play occurs when Pam (played by the marvelous Jain Dickson) takes her baby in a tram to the park, then walks away distracted and leaves it alone. A bunch of toughs come by and start to play roughly with the child - and within minutes it turns into murder when they grab stones and pummel the infant to death. “Get it’s ‘ooter!” “And ‘is slasher!” Then they run away.
I played Harry, the father of Pam - and Alison Lawrence played my wife. Harry was an interesting character in that he might be able to see what’s going on around him, but he prefers not to. His life is routine and he likes it that way, so when mention is made of what the young kids are up to, he pays no attention. I always thought this was brilliant writing on Bond’s part. I also remember liking my costume very much. I had thought “aha - English” and so I was thinking tweeds and whatnot; but the designer came up instead with a polyester ensemble that was marvelous. Much more telling about the character. My parents knew an English couple in Cambridge, and the fellow always wore a pencil-thin moustache. The only person I ever knew with one. I grew one for Harry. It worked, too.
The play was staged on a modular set with a large chain-link fence on hinges and rollers. Sometimes the fence would swing in to bisect the stage; sometimes it would swing out, making space. I remember it was open for the stoning scene, which gave the guys distance to throw their rocks. We used real stones, but not big ones; still once or twice a stone would ricochet into the audience. Good thing we didn’t bean anyone seriously!
Jonathan Whittaker (applauding in the background), Jain Dickson (lower left) and Allison Lawrence (in back with Jonathan) look on as Allegra gives director William Lane an opening-night post-show hug.
Bill Lane was a wonderful director. A bit quieter than Eric Steiner, he had a sly sense of humor. I remember we were working on a scene where the stage directions say that Harry is ironing his clothes. As we worked on it, we began to imagine Harry as an ex-military man who takes great pride in this sort of thing. Not a slapdash typical-husband-doing-woman’s-work kind of gag, instead the whole ironing segment turned into a lovely sort of pas-de-deux between myself and the clothes; I would bring them out, lay them down, iron them, and fold them up all with precision yet a bit of a flourish. Just enough to make you think, hang on, this old geezer may have a bit of the poet in him. Lovely stuff. It’d be fun to go back and do it again.
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We were meant to do a third play with the Young Company but towards the end of Saved it was announced that the budget wouldn’t support it. So for the month of August we continued to show up at the rehearsal hall, where the lovely and wonderful Pam Brighton took us through a series of theatre games, improvs, and exercises. Thinking back on it now I realize what a golden chance this was; but I remember at the time grousing a bit. Talk about ungrateful! Anyway, that was only at the beginning; by the end we all had great fun.
I have often thought in the years since The Young Company how, if I hadn’t moved to New York City the following year, but instead had stayed in Canada, these people would have almost certainly remained my professional colleagues and, in time, even become my lifelong friends. How sweet that would have been - for they were (and remain, I’m sure) tremendous (and very talented) people. I’ve lived the ambitious actor’s life now for nearly twenty years; I’ve been to New York, and been to Hollywood, and done lots of acting in both. I know now what I didn’t know back then; that people like those in the Young Company are as good as it gets. You may find bigger names out there in the world; but you won’t find better.
And I’ve also realized, over the years, just how high a price I’ve paid in the name of my acting ambitions. I may have gained a lot when I left Toronto to act in New York and, later, Los Angeles; but in moving away from Andy, Jain, Jonathan, Jon, Allegra, Alison, and all the others forever ... I gave up an awful lot too.