chapter  18
14 Pages

Jonathan Slinger: Phillip Breen

WithPHILLIP BREEN

The British theatre critic Quentin Letts wrote in the Daily Mail that ‘Mr. Slinger… [looks] like a cross between Bill Gates and the BBC reporter Nicholas Witchell, yet he strides and swaggers like the sexiest dude in town.’ Although writing about his performance in Dennis Kelly’s new play The Gods Weep for the RSC at the Hampstead Theatre in 2010, this by-line touches on something at the heart of Jonathan Slinger’s acting. It identifies a playful and unabashed eclecticism: an ability to inhabit two seemingly diametrically opposed ideas simultaneously and revel in the uncomfortable distance between the two. It references a sensuality, a sexual ambiguity, a carnality even, that he brings to the most unlikely characters, at the most unlikely moments. It hints at an actor who is comfortable in his own skin, who likes who he is, but craves an exploration of the ‘other’, his ‘flip-side’, his own and his character’s. On the outside it’s a young Bill Gates on the inside it’s Ziggy Stardust. ‘Why do you have to be young and good looking to fall in love?’ he questioned in one of our interview sessions. It’s deliciously Shakespearean. This article is an account of a four-year period of Slinger’s work with the Royal

Shakespeare Company (RSC), from his 2005 debut as Puck in Gregory Doran’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, through his Syracusian Dromio in Nancy Meckler’s The Comedy of Errors, to his Richard III and Richard II (among other parts) in Michael Boyd’s complete Histories cycle of 2006 to 2009. The article aims to explore Slinger’s processes as a Shakespearean actor, the unique influences that were brought to bear on him through participation in the Histories, and how he developed over those four years. I was assistant director to Meckler and Doran for the 2005/06 season and saw at first hand the creation of Puck and Dromio. I was an enthusiastic regular at the Histories at Stratford throughout their run and have interviewed Michael Boyd for his thoughts on Slinger’s work. It’s worth noting the context in which this work took place. In autumn 2010 the

new Royal Shakespeare Theatre will open. The large 1300 seat proscenium arch theatre was demolished in 2007 to be replaced by a new large thrust auditorium, in which no audience member will be more than five metres from the action. The Courtyard, an exact replica of the new theatre, was erected on the site of the old Other Place and was to be a test drive for the new permanent home for the company. Boyd chose the Histories as his first production in the new space as artistic director.