We had the opening night of Hamp at the Playhouse in Dunedin last night. There was a very appreciative audience who were obviously deeply engrossed in the play: we hardly heard a sound out of them all night, except for the occasional chuckle at one or two of the lines. I was interested in particular to see that no one laughed at the part of the play where Hamp collapses (too much rum) during the communion service. Plainly my concerns that people might find this funny were unfounded.
In fact, my perceptions, from the inside of the play, are obviously quite different to the way in which people see the play, as a whole, from the outside. My character, the Padre, opens the second act, under cross-examination from the prosecutor at Hamp's court martial, and then vanishes for the rest of the act, only to turn up as an important character in the third act. A number of the actors, in fact, only appear in the second act.
This has given me, as an actor, a slightly dislocated feeling in terms of the rest of the play. Of course I've seen the first act in rehearsal, and last night listened to it again on the Tannoy system that lets those backstage hear what's going on onstage, but because I have no connection with this part, I have to come onstage cold at the beginning of the second act, when several of the other actors have already been well warmed-up for an hour.
It's rather like being a bit-player in a movie: you turn up for your couple of day's shooting without having experience anything of what the other actors have been involved in. Not that I'm complaining: I'm quite content with the role because it's actually an interesting part - and I don't have anywhere near as many lines to learn as I did in Sunshine Boys!
I just have to understand that what the audience sees isn't what I see, and that the author of the play, John Wilson, knew what he was doing.