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Acting standards II: a partial reply to Krazy

Krazy Kritic (see comments) brings up some more excellent points (all of which I will comment on in due course), such as:

  • To what extent talent can be innate or not
  • Collective judgements
  • Nepotism
  • How do you judge acting
  • (again see my post on differing views on a recent performance of Shoreditch Madonna).

    There is occasionally that magic moment in the theatre when the audience lives as a collective. A shared experience. A time when everyone laughs or cries. When everyone’s heart is racing, or breath is still and a silence more profound than that of the desert because it is a silence generated by a full space not by an empty space.

    As a writer and some time director, this is one of the great achievements of the theatre, which tv and film can find hard to match. The collective experience for film, is not the same. The immediacy is not there. Music and gigs can recreate a similar feeling, but not that same quality of waiting to see what happens next (although I admit gigs produce the europhic collective experience for people probably more often than the average play).

    This brings me back to Krazy’s critique of Saffron Burrows. I haven’t actually seen Burrows so I take Krazy’s view at face value [Krazy also has the help of a Sinclair C5 in judging this thus dating Krazy’s preference to that golden age of computing]. However it is obvious that Burrows did not produce that magic for Krazy that I just described. So for Krazy (and I suspect others), the production failed.

    Krazy suggests there were rumours that Fiona Shaw / Jeanette Winterson may have wanted Burrows for her looks (although I believe Deborah Warner as director would have had final say but the same rumour would hold – looks may have an overly important role in casting today). Krazy also asks why Nick Hytner let Burrows ”through the checkpoint” and that maybe it was all a marketing strategy for his Transfomrations season.

    I simply do not know if Krazy’s suggestions have merit or not. They may be completely true. However, perhaps she actually performed a good audition, or Warner thought she mad the right mix of character for her cast, or maybe (if Krazy’s thesis that Burrows can’t act and everyone knew it, is true) they gave her the benefit of the doubt.

    Krazy would argue that you wouldn’t give that benefit of doubt to dentist or F1 racing driver, but maybe you would for a dentist’s first few forays and F1 racers do go through F2, F3 (if they crashed a lot in F£ I doubt they’d mkae it to F1) etc.. [It looks like Burrows trained at the Anna Scher Theatre school, so might have been expected to be able to act].

    My next observation is that Burrows (seemingly from her PFD CV) has only been in 3 major stage productions Earthly Paradise (Almeida), Powerbook, and Two Lips Indifferent (Bush, dir Vicky Featherstone) so by the time the Powerbook came round she had not been in many stage plays.

    Perhaps she did a good audition, got on well with Warner and if there was a suspicion on her stage skills, she was given the benefit of the doubt. The fact she has not had many theatre roles since may suggest Krazy is not alone in being a critic of Burrow’s theatre performances (or maybe theatre just doesn’t pay as well).

    Then again, maybe Krazy is right and she was cast because she’s pretty and a bit of a celebrity.

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    2 Responses to “Acting standards II: a partial reply to Krazy”

    1. Ben Yeoh on August 4th, 2005

      Krazy (from Wedding Collective Blog) writes

      Ben wrote to the Blog about ‘Advice to an Actress’ and I thought I’d print my reply here just to widen the discussion a tad:

      Dear Ben

      Thank you for taking the time to write about the piece.

      You’re quite right to point out that there aren’t NO standards. And to say that there’s no substituting perseverance – I was being slightly ironic. However, I do believe – with some passion, as you can probably tell and not as a debating point – but standards are constantly under threat. From agents, West End producers, catwalk models, print journalists, TV executives, stage schools, pop stars, ex-Big Brother contestants, Oxbridge graduates on the make and all the other pimps, cheapskates, whores and con-artists.

      Take dear Saffron. Please. She can’t act. Full stop. This is not a matter of debate. This is not a matter of conjecture. I can prove this on a Sinclair C5.

      She really can’t. She can’t inflect. Everything she says comes out with more or less the same vocal pattern. She reads her lines. What’s more she has neither screen nor stage presence. Let alone charisma. What I’m saying is not a personal attack against her. It’s a matter of fact and record. It’s like my granny; she’s NOT a Formula One racing driver. Or like me. I’ve got a tin ear. It’s a talent. And I don’t possess it. If I tried to sing at the ENO I’d be laughed out of the audition.

      But I’ve SEEN Saffron Burrows – with my own eyes – on the stage of the National Theatre. The Royal National Theatre no less. In The Power Book. Saffron Burroughs directed – and what is even more frightening – cast by Fiona Shaw, allegedly one of our finest actors. Didn’t she notice? Wouldn’t Pavarotti have noticed in a six to eight week’s rehearsal period my tone-deafness? Would he have cast me in the first place whatever the shape of my butt?

      And this is the point. What happened here? How did Nick Hytner let Saffron through the checkpoint? Was it because, as some cheap and foul rumours were having it at the time, that Fiona and Jeanette Winterton were trying to get into Saffron’s thong? Or that Saffron herself caught Fiona’s eye at Groucho’s one night and thought this might be a way to boost a flagging career? Or was it more a marketing thing? That the National were looking for someone young, someone a bit hip to sell Hytner’s Transformation season? But couldn’t get Kate Winslet? Couldn’t get Sienna Miller because she was still doing her A levels? So went for Saffron instead?

      DESPITE THE FACT SHE CAN’T ACT. And everyone knew it.

      Your see that’s what I mean. With brain surgeons you don’t just go out into the street and grab someone just because you fancy them. Or because they look pretty and you think you’ll get more patients coming to your hospital. Likewise with dentists. They get the job because they pull teeth good. Nor would you ask a man who has poor plumbing skills to fix your central heating. You’d want the best.

      Only in acting does the opposite happen. And it worries me. Because I like theatre. I love theatre. I am sick of people saying they get bored with it. I want people to come out of theatre going: ‘that was fucking amazing’. And they ain’t going to do that with Saffron Burrows, Jess Wallace, Madonna, Denise Van Outen or Frank Bruno.

      In devalues the people who really care. And really know

    2. Theatre » Defending Saffron Burrows for £100 on August 5th, 2005

      [...] Please see and archives at and [...]

    • About me

      I'm a playwright and investment analyst. I have a broad range of interests: food, gardening, innovation & intellectual property, sustainability, architecture & design, writing and the arts. I sit on the board of Talawa Theatre Company and advise a CIS investment trust on socially responsible investments.

    • Recent Work

      Recent plays include, for theatre: Nakamitsu, Yellow Gentlemen, Lost in Peru, Lemon Love. For radio: Places in Between (R4), Patent Breaking Life Saving (WS).

    • Nakamitsu

    • Yellow Gentlemen