“I find it incredibly refreshing and freeing to play younger characters”
How do you approach playing a teenager as an adult actor?
I have been cast as a teenager in several productions in my professional career. Even now, at 26, I’m about to play a 17- year-old. Pigeonholing ‘teenagers’ as a specific archetype of character is unhelpful. Every character is unique, no matter their age. However, there is a certain distinction to be made between adolescents and adults in terms of physicality. I have been aided, superficially, by being relatively short, slim, and with a distinct lack of meaningful facial hair. But beyond the aesthetic, I’ve found the key to playing children or teenagers is tapping into the specific energy of a mid-pubescent character. For the purposes of a stage performance, this has tended to be a blend of childish arrogance and ‘exuberance of youth’, along with a naivety and vulnerability lurking beneath the bravado. As an acting teacher once told me at drama school, one must be “unnatural in order to appear natural”.
How does playing a teenager differ in terms of physicality?
This links back to the adolescent energy I referred to earlier, but also ultimately depends on the character in question.
In Bottleneck (Theatre N16, 9/16) I played Greg, a 14-year old desperate to go to a football match. He had bags of energy, and was bouncing off the walls for the majority of the play. There were several stage falls that had to be carefully choreographed, and then it was simply down to my own stagecraft to execute them each night without injury.
In upcoming play FCUK’D (Bunker Theatre, 12/17) I play Boy, who is 17, only 3 years older than Greg, but in entirely different circumstances. The adolescent energy is still there, but reveals itself in different ways. Brooding and menacing with anger and resentment lurking just beneath the surface, the energy is more internalised and reveals itself in violent bursts, but is still imbued with the childish vulnerability and naivety.
As Luke in Jumpers For Goalposts, (Oldham Coliseum, 10/16) I had to find a way to physicalise his nervousness and insecurities. This lent itself it to lots of small gestures and ticks, exposing internalised feelings to the audience, and finding comedy through blatantly revealing what he was thinking or feeling without realising.
How do you get into the mindset of a teenager?
Well, we’ve all literally been there haven’t we! Though my own life may be very different from some of the characters I’ve played, there are many insecurities, curiosities and hormonal feelings that everyone experiences at some point during adolescence. I find it incredibly refreshing and freeing to play younger characters, because of their ignorance or naivety or whatever you want to call it. Their optimism and lack of cynicism is not only enjoyable to experience, but from an actor’s point of view, gives me a lot more freedom to be creative during rehearsal and performance, because the characters have far fewer inhibitions. This is relevant because many teenagers in reality are not extrovert or outgoing. A quick scroll back through my old Facebook photos reveals that I was certainly anything but the life and soul of the party at 15 years old.
Does the script help at all?
Any good script will help with character development. It’s where all the answers to any questions you may have always are. In some scripts, like Bottleneck by Luke Barnes, the dialogue is written in such a way that it flows in the same energy that a 14-year old would speak. This in turn influences the physicality and overall energy of the piece.
In Jumpers For Goalposts by Tom Wells Luke is 19, and has led a very sheltered life. His dialogue is stilted, with lots of punctuation and repetition, which immediately indicates his nervousness and insecurity. I was then able to use this trait during rehearsal to form the basis of my characterisation. So yes, the script always helps, with all plays, and especially when working on texts by such talented writers as Luke Barnes and Tom Wells.
Have you found yourself typecast in only teenage roles when you would prefer to play older parts?
Not at all, and if I was, I wouldn’t mind at all! As long as casting directors deem me young enough looking, I’m happy to play roles of any age. Yes, of course its frustrating when a role comes around that I’d love to play but I look too young for it, particularly when its only a year or two older than my actual age. For instance, I was desperate to be seen for the lead role in The Woman In Black in the West End. I chatted to the director, wrote him a personalised submission letter, had some contacts put in a good word for me – essentially everything I could to get myself in the audition room. But I didn’t get seen. This could, of course, be for many reasons, but from the feedback I received, it’s because I simply looked too young. But I see it that, the younger I look, the longer my career will (hopefully) last. As an actor, one’s ‘actual’ age is kind of irrelevant. Characters of any age can be equally rich and rewarding to play, and if they’re well written and there’s a good team behind the production, that’s what’s important to me when choosing work.
What’s next for you?
As I have briefly mentioned, I am next performing in FCUK’D, a beautiful piece written by a very good friend of mine, Niall Ransome. It’s a one man play, written entirely in verse, and details the story of a 17-year old running away with his little brother at Christmas to evade the social services.
Presented by Eastlake Productions
Bunker Theatre from 11th – 30th December