“The Half” is a theatre term for the call that comes 35 minutes before curtain up and half an hour before the “Beginners” call that tells those first on to get to the stage. In Richard Dormer’s The Half, confidently directed by David Calvitto, we see an actor dealing with the thoughts that plague him in this highly pressured time, whilst dealing with nerves, superstition and a soulless concrete and metal dressing room where we are the mirrors.
During his preparation for performing a four-and-a-half long, without interval, one man Hamlet, Guy Masterson’s Actor mentions giving only 95% of himself – after all, to give 100% is just to be desperate. For a while, watching Masterson’s controlled, clever speech and humorous antics, it seems he himself might subscribe to this notion. Oh, he is clear, funny – witty, even – obviously highly skilled, and somewhat intriguing, but will he let go of the reins at all, will his physical t-shirt-and-undershorts vulnerability actually become an emotional one that lets you in?
The answer is ‘yes’ – Masterson will open up, will let you in, and the wait for this is part of an entertaining build up that gently leads you into the Actor’s world, life and heart.
It is clear that both performer Masterson and playwright Dormer have a love for language. The very word ‘half’ takes on various associations as the play progresses as you start noticing it cropping up here and there with different meanings. The script, with a driving use of sounds, rhythms and imagery, shows Shakespeare’s attraction for them and their own connection to Shakespeare’s works. Not only are major Hamlet speeches credibly included, but lines drop in here and there beside modern language both elevated and rough, until the Actor is actually babbling Shakespearean lines in the manner of anyone just ‘losing it’, the long dead playwright’s words flowing believably from a modern man tumbling over a cliff. Along with this great facility for words, Masterson uses physical comedy to fine effect and is not afraid to go to the extremes that suit his material.
The Half sees an actor preparing for the most important acting moment of his life and fighting his demons. As Masterson states in the programme: “although the actor’s fears are perhaps more heightened and immediate due to their imminent exposure to an audience, their emotions are pretty universal.” Masterson’s great achievement with The Half is not just to embody what is universal, but to make it also extremely personal. His Actor becomes convincing enough that only the programme’s mention of a playwright persuades that this is not, for him, an autobiographical piece.
Masterson is a master at the solo show, in his choices and performance skills, and, with The Half, he once again delivers a piece that grabs your attention, tickles your funny bone and stop-starts your breath.
By Danielle Farrow