A year ago, Christopher Woodward’s debut play - The Man with No Identity was performed at the Theatre at The Casa, Liverpool. A (nearly) one man show, The Man with No Identity tells the story of Edgar J Harris through a complex bitter, angry and melancholy monologue. I caught up with Bob Towers who played Edgar in this debut performance to find out more about this portrait of a man and how it feels look back on it a year later.
The Man with No Identity is a year old. How does it feel looking back on it?
It was a great time. Performances at the Casa Theatre were sold out with every available chair found and occupied and a really excitable crowd. The set looked brilliant and all the weeks of rehearsal had paid off.
What do you think Edgar would be doing a year after the events in the show?
I think Edgar would have reinvented himself in a new guise and be back in business having slipped away from his debts and the collateral damage of his personal and business life.
Is performing in (essentially) a one man show a lot of pressure? Was it difficult not having other actors on stage with you to take cues from?
In some ways it’s better than working with a cast because you are in total control and can set the pace, emotion, volume and choose the emphasis. On the other hand there are no other actors to “bounce off”, interact with, confront, give you prompts or clues, and there is nowhere to hide because the attention is on you the whole time. All actors want this.
What were some of the challenges in rehearsing for the show? How did you learn all of the lines?
I mind-mapped the whole monologue using colours, symbols and pictures. I spoke the lines in my head whilst walking or driving. I rehearsed with the director/writer Christopher Woodward and in my flat, to the annoyance of my neighbours. The issue wasn’t learning 75 minutes of monologue, it was accessing the “state” of the character and staying in that “flow”. The more I thought about the words, the poorer my performance was, the less I thought about the words and just got into the flow of the role, the better the words came. To help with this I had a combination of hypnotherapy and NLP (neuro-linguistic programming). This enabled me to capture the optimum state of the character and “anchor” it to certain gestures, so when I did the gestures I immediately became the character and if I ever lost concentration I would repeat the gestures and get back into the state.
Was Christopher very strict with direction or did you have a lot of free reign in how you performed?
Christopher knew exactly what he wanted but he was open-minded enough to consider changes or difference. A couple of times he would enthusiastically greet a minor change I had made (purposely or accidentally) in the dialogue by demanding we keep that bit in the show. So he is not a control freak by any means, but he has the vision and was able to work collaboratively with me to bring it to life. We both pushed each other to the boundaries of the character and behaviour until one of us would say; “No, we can’t do that. We’ve gone too far!” We would have 30 minute discussions on how to deliver the F-word. So we analysed and evaluated the whole thing. He was great for evoking the range of moods in the character, the pace and the interactions with the audience. He saw the bigger picture of the set and the audience while I just obsessed about Edgar.
Did you enjoy interacting with the audiences you performed in front of? Did you feel that they responded well to the show?
Absolutely. The great thing about Edgar is that he goads the audience. He insults them, talks down to them and deliberately provokes them with his arrogance and flamboyance. He doesn’t care what they think. But then he also bares his vulnerability so this is challenging for audiences as he’s not just a pantomime baddie, he is multi-dimentional. The beauty about The Man with No Identity audiences was that they were people who were not traditional theatre-goers. They were generally excited, expectant, edgy, noisy and alcohol fuelled. This is the best type of audience as there is a direct connection with the actor who is so close to them, thanks to the intimacy of the Casa theatre; that they can see every facial twitch and they live through the events of the drama with the actor in real time.
Would you do the show again? If there was a chance to resurrect Edgar in a different piece, would you consider doing that?
Without hesitation. I think there are still plenty of “places” for Edgar to go.
If someone else was going to perform as Edgar, would you go see it?
Yes and I’m sure someone else could do a great job. But I would have to strap myself to the chair to stop from getting up on the stage and ragging them off because I’m Edgar.
What piece of advice would you give someone who was going to perform in a one man or one woman show? What’s the best way to prepare for being on stage by yourself?
Become the character in terms of thinking, physiology, gestures, mannerism. Embrace the character fully, anchor it deeply to you. Even if this means you become “difficult” in work or your relationship, there’s plenty of time to apologise later. Don’t spend too much time worrying about remembering the words but access the state and get into the flow of the character and everything will fall into place.
Do you miss Edgar?
No because he hasn’t gone away. He is a part of me (and all of us), which we can choose to access if we want to. I bring him out from time to time when I find it necessary to do so, then struggle to put him away.
The man with no identity play book is available to purchase in our store.
Words by Donna Day
Pictures by Andrew Smith