chapter  8
15 Pages

Greg Hicks: Ben Naylor


Greg Hicks is, not unusually, upside down. Standing on his head against a wall, deep in concentration. The rest of the Royal Shakespeare Company ensemble are upright, rehearsing King Lear, in which Hicks will play the title role. In his solitary inversion Hicks is seeking Nothing: physicalising a Zen paradox on the ego which he has earlier invoked in discussion. Inversion and paradox are at the heart of Hicks’ work. Despite a career in which

he has played almost all Shakespeare’s major tragic heroes (with the notable exception of Hamlet), his remains a relatively unfamiliar face to those other than theatre habitués; he has appeared on our screens comparatively little. He has often been masked, literally, to his widest audiences: on stage, as the leading actor in the worldwide tour of John Barton’s ten-hour epic Tantalus, directed by Peter Hall; and as Dionysus in Hall’s 2002 “homecoming” NT production of Euripides’ Bacchai, which played to 15,000 at Epidavros. He is likewise masked in probably the most-printed picture of him, as Orestes on the cover of the ubiquitous revised edition of Phyllis Hartnoll’s The Theatre: A Concise History; the four-hour production (again, Peter Hall for the NT) was also filmed and broadcast by the UK TV station Channel 4 in 1982 – complete with masks. And despite Hicks’ association, from almost the beginning of his career, with the

UK’s two major national theatrical institutions, he has been no stranger to controversy. He originated the role of Marban, the victim of the famous rape in Brenton’s The Romans in Britain, for which indiscretion Mary Whitehouse initiated legal proceedings against director Michael Bogdanov; Hicks, masked by nudity, woad and a wig, is not easily to be recognised in photos of the scene of the crime. It is with paradox in mind that I shall seek to interpret the work of this complex

and fascinating actor. Critical responses to his performances have shown awareness of, if not always sensitivity to, his duality and ambiguity. He is often called a “physical” actor – “mannered” to some – but his interpretations are described in psychological terms: “intense”, “sardonic”, “bitter”, “haughty”. “Inside-out” actor or “outside-in”? Has concentration on the outer engendered a failure to perceive – or to reveal – the inner? This binary division is, however, too essentially reductive to describe acting of the

daring and precision Hicks often produces; rather, the coactive dualism of inner

effort and outer action is richly present and observable in his work. In the terms of the Zen paradox: that everything both implies and depends upon its opposite.