Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Think No Evil Dramaturgy of Us: David Benson @ Edfringe 2016

Pleasance Dome

Following its Fringe First winning debut in 1996, David Benson’s classic solo show returns to Edinburgh for a special twentieth anniversary performance.

Think No Evil of Us: My Life With Kenneth Williams_Dramaturgy DatabaseThis classic one-man show unlocks the character of one of Britain's best-loved and most-missed entertainers. In this thrilling and hilarious tour de force we see Kenneth Williams at his funniest - and at his most badly behaved. David Benson’s uncanny impersonation was also heard in the acclaimed BBC Radio 4 series, The Private World of Kenneth Williams.

Following its Fringe First winning debut at the Edinburgh Festival in 1996, Think No Evil Of Us played in the West End and toured extensively. Now it returns for a special one off twentieth anniversary performance in an updated version. The show continues to prove its enduring popularity both with audiences who loved Kenneth Williams and those who know nothing of his work.

This brilliantly performed semi autobiographical show also reveals how David's unusual childhood led to an extraordinary connection with the Carry On star.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
This is a show that I first wrote and performed twenty years ago, at the 1996 Fringe. The initial inspiration brought to a close many years of pondering the question of ‘What subject can I find that will allow me to try out on stage all the un-tested skills I have been keeping to myself all these years?’ I was thirty-four and felt that if I were to leave it any longer, it would be too late to make my mark. The subject of the life, or rather, the character of Kenneth Williams came suddenly, on seeing a South Bank Show about him in late 1994. At that point, though his Diaries had been published, no-one had performed a show about him and since I had a facility for impersonating his voice, I decided that this was the ideal subject for my debut. 

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
Having settled on my subject, I began gathering research materials and immersing myself in the man’s mind. His Diaries and Letters had been published and there was any amount of recorded material available for studying his delivery. 
Once into my researches, I soon did what I almost always do with my best ideas: talked myself out of it. An innate lack of self-confidence and perpetual sense of foreboding that had hampered my self-expression to this time, once again over-came me and faced with the immense task of condensing this complex man’s life into a 75-minute show the difficulties seemed suddenly insuperable. 

I decided instead to turn to another subject I had been long toying with: a memoir of growing up in Birmingham, hiding my nascent homosexuality and dealing with a violently mentally-ill Mother. 

I soon talked myself out of that too. But in the final weeks before the premiere and with the script as yet unformed, I hastily threw it all together, Kenneth Williams, ‘mad mother’ and all into one show. Thankfully, and against all logic, it worked.

How did you become interested in making performance?
From at least the age of seven I had a mental image of myself stepping out onto a stage and enthralling an audience with my brilliance. It took me thirty-four years to work out what I would say when I got there. When I did commit at last, I drew on everything I had learned from the performers I has studied and revered all my life. Perhaps seeing some my heroes perform live as an adolescent – Spike Milligan, Morecambe and Wise, Barry Humphries – inspired in me the ambition to attempt to create work of my own one day.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
It was the template for what followed, with all my later works. Once one has decided on a subject, you throw yourself at it, learn all you can and think deep, making connections and finding resonances, particularly emotional ones. To me, creating a narrative is essentially making an emotional structure for the story, so that you take the audience on a journey of feelings as much as ideas.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I always hope that the audience will be surprised, challenged, provoked, pleasured and ultimately, moved. If you can touch an audience’s emotions you have really done the true job of theatre; an audience that has cried will never forget your work.
To provoke an audience’s emotions you have first to examine your own. It is not a process you can fake. In researching and thinking about a new subject, one must be highly cognisant of how and why your emotions are, hopefully, touched. In doing so you may hit upon a truth that you can then share with your audience so that they are touched, in turn. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
I was anxious to avoid clichés and the obvious in creating this show. My ethos was, ‘No one has written a rule book on how to make a solo show. I can do anything I want and say whatever I want as long as it does not bore.’
My aim was give the audience not what they thought they wanted but something they would actually enjoy even more. I avoided direct quotes from Williams’ writing and only used familiar anecdotes to illustrate how he himself used them, as a form of mask. 
I was clear from the start that I did not want to do a show in which I simply played Kenneth Williams but also to perform as myself and use autobiographical material in order to make the show a personal experience for me and for the audience.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
My prime inspiration for the performance style of much of Think No Evil of Us was the great American actress Ruth Draper (1884-1956) whose techniques of ‘peopling’ her bare stages with the bustling activity of many characters in widely-varying locations, all created solely through her brilliant writing and acting and her gift her harnessing the audience’s complete attention, I discovered from recordings and manuscripts. To me this seemed the ultimate in pure ‘total’ theatre and I wanted to try it out for myself. I was delighted to find that I could, in a small way, do it too and I keep Draper’s example and inspiration close to my heart and draw on her genius whenever I create new solo work.

David Benson most recently played Boris Johnson in Boris: World King (Edinburgh and Trafalgar Studios) which is also playing through the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016. He is best known for his many solo shows including the Fringe First award-winning Lockerbie: Unfinished Business. He played the Head Waiter in the original National Theatre production One Man, Two Guvnors with James Corden, completing over one thousand performances. Recent appearances include Doctor Who, as Frankie Howerd in the BBC Radio 4 play Frankie Takes a Trip, as Dracula with the Fitzrovia Radio Hour (Mercury, Colchester) and Nurse Nellie Nightshift in Sleeping Beauty (Theatre Royal Winchester). He played Noel Coward in the BBC series Goodnight Sweetheart and is a regular multi-voiced performer in the long-running audio series Iris Wildthyme and The Scarifyers.

Seabright Productions is an award-winning commercial theatre production company based in London’s West End. They have
brought over 200 shows to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, including international hit and Olivier Award nominee Potted Potter,
two plays directed by Steven Berkoff, five Scotsman Fringe First award winning premieres and two plays as part of the world
premiere of London’s Shakespeare’s Globe Fringe debut in 2015. In 2016 they were the recipient of an Olivier Award for Best Family and Entertainment for the West End run of Showstopper! The Improvised Musical. www.seabrights.com

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