Saturday, 24 May 2008

Neighbours Choice: An interview with Ian Smith, May 24, 2008

Neighbours Choice 
An interview with Ian Smith who performs in Hobson’s Choice by Harold Brighouse
By Kate Herbert

Hobson’s Choice by Harold Brighouse is at Chapel off Chapel from May 29 to June 12, 2008

Ian Smith, the dignified and skilful actor who plays dotty, old Harold in Neighbours, describes the theatre as his first love. Many years ago he performed in theatre and musical comedy but now, because he was a smoker for many years, he laughs, “I sing with a vibrato you could drive a truck through.”

Many screen actors return to the stage and Smith is treading the boards playing He plays Dr. McFarlane, a dour Scot, in Hobson’s Choice.

“His entire life has been frustration with human beings who won’t do what he tells them to do,” says Smith. “He loves medicine. The only problem is, it involves human beings.”

Smith is retiring from Neighbours in August after his final six episodes are recorded. “I’ve been an actor for 50 years and the last 21 it’s been Harold. That’s a big slice of your life.”

Smith sees differences between television and stage acting. In theatre, he says, “You plot your character, you talk your character over with the director and, sometimes, the writer. After much discussion and much rehearsal, it’s set in cement.” However, he believes that, in theatre, one can be more adventurous and take more risks.

In the theatre, he says, “You have to lie well enough for those people sitting out the front to believe you. Because it’s all about lying, isn’t it?”  Perhaps theatre is simply advanced deception.

Peter McTighe works on Neighbours as a script editor and writer but leads a double life as an actor. In Hobson’s Choice he plays Willy, the illiterate bootmaker who builds a successful business. McTighe prefers screen acting to stage because he likes “the challenge of the stop-start and piecing together the sequence.” He is usually cast as a bad guy so he says he enjoys the journey of this dynamic character.

Director Richard Sarell, another Neighbours veteran, met Smith in the 1970s on the set of the popular ABC series, Bellbird. He admired Bellbird’s excellent actors who all came from live theatre and recalls that actors learned on the job in those days both in front of the camera and by watching their performances on videotape.

Sarell, who runs an acting studio, believes that the fundamentals of acting are the same for stage and screen. He says he looks for people who are listening and likes to work with actors who can “stay on the story; move the story forward.” Young actors, he says, want to focus on emotion in their character but Sarell wants actors to explore the difficulties that characters experience in the story.

This play was written in 1916 but is set in the late 1800s. Sarell says that he selected it, “Because it is a lovely story about a strong woman and a man who doesn’t trust himself.”  He thought it was an optimistic story and “we need a bit of optimism.”

By Kate Herbert

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