Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Abominable Showman by Richard Burnett, September 18, 2011 (New Feature)

Jeannotte and Patricia Summersett just before
THE scene. (Photo: Andrée Lanthier)

Much Ado About Dick
When you've got really hot guys like Lamont or Jeannotte stripping onstage, believe me, you can hear a pin drop. As well as a few jaws.
By Richard Burnett

There’s nothing quite like making a grand entrance. Just ask Montreal theatre legend Louis Negin, the first actor to ever appear nude on a legitimate British stage, in John Herbert’s Fortune and Men’s Eyes in London’s West End back in 1967. But if London audiences gasped when Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe appeared nude in the West End revival of Equus in 2007, imagine the reaction to Negin 40 years earlier!

Louis Negin (Photo courtesy Louis Negin)
“In London at that time if you went to see a play with nudity in it, you had to join a [theatre] club which couldn’t be closed down [by the police],” Negin explains. “When Lord Chamberlain dissolved that law, Herbert’s Fortune and Men’s Eyes – with its explicit scenes of gay rape in prison – was a huge success with audiences in Canada and the West End.”

Ironically, it wasn’t Negin being buck naked on stage that made him the toast of the theatre world, but rather an incident on opening night that made headlines worldwide.
“My mom came opening night and I didn’t tell her about the nudity,” Louis remembers. “The play was about boys in jail who chased me out of the shower, towel-whipped me and pulled off my towel. So there I am in the nude in the West End and my mom stands up [in the audience] and in a strong cockney accent says, ‘Louis, put your pants back on!’”

Louis laughs today but, he adds, “I thought I would faint on the spot. And it ran in every newspaper around the world. My mom did interviews and there were paparazzi camped outside the house!”

“Six blind horses and a schlong.”

Today, nearly 45 years later, audiences barely stifle their yawns when actors parade onstage naked. But while it is true audiences have become more blasé today, don’t underestimate the power of onstage nudity to still raise, um, eyebrows, especially when a revival of playwright Peter Shaffer’s famed 1973 play Equus comes to town.

The current production at Montreal’s Segal Theatre is the second such remount in Montreal in just six months (Village Scene produced another revival of Equus at Montreal’s Rialto Theatre in April 2011).
Equus is a sex-drenched psychodrama (inspired by a real-life incident near London) in which psychiatrist Martin Dysart uncovers why 17-year-old Alan Strang deliberately blinds six horses – a play I like to sum up as, “Six blind horses and a schlong.”

“If you want to do Shaffer’s play there’s a contractual clause that says you must do the nudity,” says Montreal actor Dan Jeannotte who portrays Alan Strang in the current Segal Theatre production and whose chest is – how shall I put it – ripped. “So in preparing for it, yes, I went to the gym. But the nudity seemed secondary. Playing this character honestly was more nerve wracking and challenging. Had the role itself not been challenging I think I would have focused more on the nudity.”

Bobby Lamont (Photo courtesy Bobby Lamont)
Montreal actor Bobby Lamont – who played Alan Strang in the Rialto production – told me earlier this year, “To be honest, I haven’t spent any time worrying about how my own particular naked body will look in the context of our production of Equus. I don’t think any amount of worry would help to make the performances any more real for our audiences. It is not my body that is the story, after all, either. And it would be vain of me to attribute it much importance by worrying about it. My concern is entirely with making sure I give every ounce of my energy to inhabiting the heart and mind of a beautiful and tragic character.”

But when you've got really hot guys like Lamont or Jeannotte stripping onstage, believe me, you can hear a pin drop. As well as a few jaws.

“Our director [Domy Reiter-Soffer] made sure that our nudity was not a strip tease,” Jeannotte explains. “It’s a tricky thing because people are going to focus on it because it’s exciting and sensational. It’s always been a topic of conversation when I mention I’m in Equus – even in theatre circles. But if the nudity draws people to the theatre for all the wrong reasons, it still serves the play very well.”
As Lamont says, “Too much focus on just the nude bits can cheapen the art of the thing, I think.”
But theatre legend Louis Negin – who returns home to Montreal this week from the Toronto International Film Festival where he was helping promote director Guy Maddin’s new film Keyhole, which co-stars Isabella Rossellini, Jason Patric, Udo Kier and Negin who is (wait for it) completely nude throughout much of the film – has a much different take.

Dan Jeannotte (courtesy Dan Jeannotte)

“I think all actors are exhibitionist, to be honest,” says Louis, who has worked on many of the world’s greatest stages, alongside some of world’s greatest actors, like John Geilgud. “Everybody does the same number: ‘Oh, I have to think about it.’ But really they’re overjoyed! The thing that would kill you is if someone snickered or laughed [at your body]. Then I think I would just die a million deaths. But it doesn’t happen.”

Says Jeannotte, “I was nervous taking it off in front of friends and colleagues at first – but it’s not the same in front of strangers. Once we got it out of the way it became quite normal.”

I must give Louis Negin the last word. On the Winnipeg set of Guy Maddin’s film Keyhole, Rossellini told Negin, "We don’t even notice that you’re in the nude!" But when filming on Keyhole wrapped up, the director of photography told the cast and crew, “Thank you for giving your all!”

Louis laughs. “Everybody was screaming and laughing and there was a big round of applause. But until then I just didn’t think about it.”

Equus, starring Dan Jeannotte, Jean Marchand, Ellen David, Susan Glover and Daniel Lillford, continues at Montreal’s Segal Theatre (5170 Cote-Ste-Catherine) through October 2. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes, including ine 15-minute intermission. Surf to for showtimes and tickets.

Read the CharPo reviews of Equus at the Rialto and at The Segal.

1 comment:

  1. Most interesting article and I once met Louis and he is a very charming man.


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