This weekend Ottilie Mackintosh brings Martin Arrowsmiths ‘The Level of Being’ to the Hen and Chickens Theatre for it’s London Premiere. It’s a one-woman show that tells the story of Louise, as life throws all sort of obstacles in her way she turns to a self-help book for answers.
‘The Level of Being’ is a powerful treatise on how to fulfil your life’s true potential, Louise adjusts her life in accordance with her guru’s advice – she’s meditating, meeting new people and pursuing her new-found dreams of becoming an actress. But is the books advice really all it’s cracked up to be?
We caught up with Ottilie during a busy rehearsal schedule to find out how she feels about performing a one-woman show, what she learned from the shows Nottingham run, and what she really thinks of self-help books.
What got you in to performing?
I think when I was little a really desperate desire for attention…! But thankfully that turned into a true respect for the art form. I don’t know if there is another medium that has the same ability to start dialogues, to have a visceral effect on an audience, to conjure compassion and empathy, to ask questions and take people out of their small worlds and into an entirely different one. I felt that if I could be instrumental in all that, it would be the best and most important thing I could do.
What attracted you to The Level of Being?
Louise is a completely three dimensional, deeply flawed, and often entirely dislikeable character. I think there is a sense in much theatre that female characters must be ‘nice’ and palatable in order for them to be engaging. As an actress it is a pretty rare and exciting opportunity to be presented with a role as complex as Louise, and it is very freeing to let go of the expectation that she must please the audience aesthetically or psychologically – she has some liberatingly ugly moments.
Did you learn anything from the Nottingham run that you will incorporate to the London run?
I learnt a lot about staying open to the audience’s reactions and responses and adapting accordingly. I think most actors would say this is essential in any performance situation – staying responsive and alive in the moment – but there is perhaps an added need to be relaxed and open when your main interaction is with the audience. Once I had become comfortable with this there were so many new things that came out each night, and I’m really excited to take that further this time round.
In the show Louise is having a rough time, how do you get in to that frame of mind?
Martin Arrowsmith, who wrote the play, has very skilfully crafted Louise’s journey in such a way that the pressure builds almost organically throughout the piece. Because Louise’s interactions are almost exclusively with the audience, there is a sense as the play progresses that she is clutching at straws to keep them on side with her. As a lone performer in a one woman show, this can be a pretty relatable sensation!
How does performing on your own compare to performing in an ensemble?
I definitely miss the the company! It’s been a massive learning curve – performing solo requires you to carry all the energy of the piece, to not drop the ball as it were, so it’s pretty exhausting. I have conquered many many fears I had about stage performance though; you sort of have to when there’s no one else to pick up your lines and you can’t leave the stage for an hour! And Elliot Keefe and Stephanie Houtman who play ‘X’ and ‘Y’ are an extremely reassuring presence and are completely intrinsic to the play – and they are around to celebrate or commiserate with post show!
How do ‘X’ and ‘Y’ fit in to the story?
‘X’ and ‘Y’ represent the male and female characters in Louise’s life. They are clown-like characters who have no dialogue but express themselves through mime. This creates a very alienating and isolated world for Louise, and the ambiguity of these characters means the audience are left constantly questioning whether Louise’s interpretation of things is entirely truthful. If we could hear what ‘X’ and ‘Y’ had to say, I’m sure this would be a very different play!
Louise is turning her life around thanks to a self-help book- have you read any and what do you think of them in general?
I actually became quite taken with the book ‘The Power of Now’ by Ekhart Tolle not long before we did the play the first time round, but the play takes such a cynical look at the self-help culture it was difficult to remain invested! I think that there is a growing culture of self-improvement, now more than ever, and I think there can for sure be a hugely superficial element to that given that it is essentially a business. But I think self-reflection is essential, and it is possible that this is what Louise is subconsciously looking for – she is just struggling to get past her obsessive need to present as someone who has it all together. And I think that is certainly something a lot of people can relate to.
Is there anything you would like the audience to think about as they leave the show?
I think the most important thing the show explores is the need to ‘perform’ in our lives. We are very good at presenting in a certain way to the world, and there are any number of things going on behind that social persona. I’d like for the audience to question the assumptions they make based on people’s public behaviour, to explore the possibility that because someone seems together it doesn’t mean that they are, and also to realise that being a bit broken, or failing, or not being perfect, is just being human. And also, if they recognise someone in Louise, to breathe a massive sigh of relief and think ‘thank goodness, it wasn’t me! She/he really was being extreme!’
What are you doing next?
I am in the process of writing my own full length spoken word show – I write and perform spoken word poetry all over London. I also organise poetry events and have a very exciting one coming up in November in aid of CALM, a fabulous charity which raises awareness of male suicide and supports those affected by it. And I am looking forward to discovering and playing interesting, complex women, with the added luxury of fellow actors on stage!
‘The Level of Being’ is at the Hen and Chickens Theatre 7-9th October 2016.
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