Renowned and prolific playwright David Edgar's plays include Written on the Heart, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Pentecost and Playing with Fire. His close association with the Royal Shakespeare Company includes his time there as literary consultant and as honorary associate artist. This year is his 70th year, and in a twist to his usual output, Edgar will himself be taking centre stage in his new play Trying It On, a solo work which looks at the legacy of the events of 1968 and his time as a student during them and beyond. Here he explains the challenges of turning actor.
I thought this was probably the last time in my life I was going to be able to perform. So I felt I should tick that one off the bucket list now. I knew it would be interesting to see what it's like to work on something more collaborative than the work I usually do. And this piece is a conversation between my two ages – now and when I was 20 in 1968 – so it makes sense for me to take it on.
Trying It On is about someone who was radicalised in 1968. At the time I was a student bang in the middle of the worldwide student uprising against the Vietnam War and many other things. And that formed the rest of my life. So I am looking back on that person and he is looking forward to me.
Performing is a psychosomatic experience. I am developing all sorts of back trouble, vocal trouble and getting worried if I will need a pee. I have moments of getting very nervous about it but sometimes I walk on set and see the designs, lighting and hear the sound and I enjoy it. I am told I keep locking my knees and there are various things with stance I am working on. I am also finding consistency challenging too – doing it the same each night.
This year has been a terrific 70th year. It began at the end of last year when the RSC staged my adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which they're bringing back this year. Then there was a touring adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde and my play Maydays which I wrote in the '80s is coming back too. And there's this. Trying It On is actually the factual background of Maydays so it's interesting to be doing both. We're performing Maydays and Trying It On together over three days at the Other Place in Stratford-upon-Avon which will be quite exciting.
In the show, there's a line from my bucket list which says: never go to Edinburgh Festival ever again. We did think about taking Trying It On, but there were financial issues. But next year it might be an obvious place to take it.
The company joke is I'm doing this in order to audition for Falstaff. And a tiny bit of me feels that performing is quite an entertaining, engaging and interesting thing to do. But who knows, one thing at a time, I think.
Without the theatre, I wouldn't be here at all. My parents were actor stage managers when they met on the stage door steps of the Birmingham Rep. It was always in the blood and when normal children wanted to be train drivers when they grew up, I wanted to be an actor. It was a slow realisation that I wasn't very good at it, and ended up at writing through the process of elimination.
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