Best known for his solo performance “Shylock”, thespian Gareth Armstrong has performed in over 50 countries during a career spanning 40 years. He fondly remembers the favourable audience response he received for “Shylock” in Bangalore, and so was compelled to visit it again — this time to share his theatre experiences at Jagriti.
A graduate in drama from Hull University, Gareth's mastery over all Shakespeare's plays and the honing of his twin talents as actor-director have earned him both critical and popular acclaim.
How does he effortlessly perform a range of emotions? “The sign posts in Shakespeare's plays give a fair indication of how a particular role ought to be performed. Every actor has a different approach. I learned by experience and watching some wonderful Shakespearean plays.” Gareth was a member at the Royal Shakespeare Company, worked at Shakespeare's Globe and in the West End, and has essayed diverse Shakespearean roles, from Puck to Romeo and Richard III to Prospero. Besides Shylock, Prospero was the other character Gareth loved performing. “Prospero is a very powerful figure. He is not a sympathetic character, with no clear relationships and has wonderful speeches.”
About his dream role, Gareth says: “As an actor matures, his preference for roles changes. Earlier, I had a preference for villain's roles. Now, I would love to play King Lear.”
Gareth has authored “So You Want To Be A Solo Performer” and “A Case For Shylock”, but he laughs and says humbly that the latter was well-received because “the foreword was written by Dame Judi Dench”. “A Case For Shylock” is Gareth's exploration of Jewish history, Elizabethan social mores, how Shylock has been performed by different actors and his experiences playing Shylock.
During Shakespeare's time, Shylock was considered wicked and astute, but today's audience sympathise with him.“Sensibilities changed post-Holocaust. Shylock reacts this way because he is isolated by society. Today, we understand the psychological effects such treatment can have on a person.”
The first book is close to his heart as he is all for actors finding their unique creative expression, which they can only achieve by performing solo. He is at present devising new solo plays for upcoming actors.
There are different schools of thought regarding acting methods. Some contend that talent is the only requisite for good acting while others argue that sincerity and hard work are all one need. Gareth sees merit in both points of view. “For theatre that has a message, a sincerity of purpose and conviction in the issue is essential, so anyone can act. But in performing a literary text, talent is important. A good actor is one who hones his or her instincts.
This is especially true when it comes to comedy. For a good performance, a combination of mind and emotion is required.”
Gareth believes that theatre's greatest stumbling block is the low attention span of the audience. “Theatre is a thoughtful and emotional experience, but due to other media, people's attention span has decreased; the problem is that we always want a quick fix.”