The Single-Mindedness of Mr. Smith By Peter Mortimer

On the first rehearsal day of our new production, the one hander titled A Parcel for Mr.Smith with Dylan Mortimer in the eponymous role, director Neil Armstrong came up with the intriguing suggestion that for the play’s duration Mr. Smith could be talking to a full size dummy as against simply out into the ether.
Neil was aware my own house was full of the species, discarded by various shop windows. We chose a specific dummy – rapidly named Bon by Dylan – and placed him in the set’s living room corner, where he could witness everything that happened in the play. As rehearsals proceeded, so Bon became more integral to the play, and eventually it was difficult to think of the play without him. Mr. Smith confided in Bon, asked Bon questions, chastised him, joked with him and slowly built the whole performance round him.
Bon of course was unable to utter a single syllable but he did manage a show-stealing moment at the end of the final performance at Seaton Delaval Arts Centre. Dylan left Bon free standing for a few minutes and walked downstage to deliver his final lines. By some strange dynamic which is beyond human comprehension, the dummy began slightly to sway back and forward. The incomprehensible momentum grew in strength until it became obvious Bon was soon to topple over.
Which he did with a loud crash just as Dylan was delivering the final lines. Thinking on his feet, (which was more than Bon was now capable of doing), Dylan picked up the dummy and embraced him in a way to suggest the topple was a fully intentional piece of symbolism. And maybe it was – from Bon. He then spoke his final line – Dylan not Bon.
Later I drove home Bon was now split in two and sprawled over the flattened back seats of the car. It was nearly midnight when I carried his two-piece body into the house followed by the two large packages used as props. A young couple walked past on the mainly deserted street and some yards further on turned back briefly to view the packages. “A parcel for Mr. Smith?” enquired the man, then they walked on.
Nice one.
We did six performances in four venues. Five were full. One night at The Low Lights Tavern, North Shields, a member of the audience inadvertently knocked an essential part of the sound system to the floor when squeezing past our tiny control desk (space was at a premium as we crammed as many people in as possible). Sound was restored seconds before the 7.30 start.
In another performance, a severely drunk member of the audience (always a hazard with pub theatre) kept shouting out, ‘Eeeh, Dylan!” before staggering out mid-play. On a third night our musician (the show’s first half) failed to turn up, meaning a hasty readjustment was called for.
We survived all of this and the play was enthusiastically received, both by audiences and the critic Peter Lathan of the British Theatre Guide who wrote about it walking a fine line between the world of the absurd and the real. Dylan lost about three stone nightly in the extremely demanding one man role where his physical appearance plus stage persona meant some people simply failed to recognise him.
Bon of course recognised him all the time – and throughout was patiently awaiting his final show-stealing moment. END

Updated: May 23, 2015 — 8:17 am
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