Cue Captain David Collins. He is a right and proper Englishman, an explorer, an adventurer, and a scholar. He muses with his colleagues on philosophy and literature, enjoys hunting safaris and exploring the savage aborigines that inhabit this land, and in general brings the most upper crust of England to Australia.
He is fascinated by Australia not as its own country, but as England’s new colony. His first line in the play is, “This land is under English Law.”
My opposite character is a convict by the name of Robert Sideway. He was a natural pickpocket back in England, forced to go to Australia with the other convicts. The very first scene shows Sideway being whipped repeatedly for his insubordinations.
Despite all of this, and despite the numerous complaints from other convicts about the conditions of the island (the hard labor they need to endure, and constant harassment from soldiers or other convicts), Sideway never talks about his problems as a convict in Australia.
He only ever talks about the theatre. From the theatrical customs and learning lines, to making sure the end bow is as good as the kind they do back in England, Sideway is only concerned with theatre. He has found an outlet through the play that lets him once more feel like himself and he clings to it for the rest of his story.
Robert Sideway is a character of emotion and feeling, someone with empathy and a good heart.
David Collins is a character of English Aristocracy and order, someone with power and an unyielding resolve.
I think the biggest difference I have found going back and forth between them is the undermining physicality between the two characters.
Sideway is a convict, even shackled for a time onstage, his every actions watched, and treated like an animal for the other officer’s amusement. And yet, I find his actions freeing onstage. He has more energy than he knows what to do with, even with his wobbled step he still has speed and urgency. I feel very liquid in this character, almost gliding with actions and words and movement onstage.
Collins is a free man, his every word is listened to by others, his actions are both applauded and envied by others, and he often corrects others of their mistakes. And yet, I find his actions completely limited onstage. He barely moves, and when he does it is with slow and deliberate purpose. When I arch my back, pull down my shoulders, and bring my head up in that perfect aristocratic pose, I can’t help but feel like I am trapped in this rigid body. There is no freedom here, there is only the constant pressure to continue to be as British as possible among all of these other people. They look up to Collins, and even though he isn’t the governor I feel like Collins is the best example of proper British etiquette they could bring to Australia.
It has been fun to play this juxtaposition between the two. Once I figured this out it has actually helped to narrow down my focus on each character. I get to play more with Collins’ trapped rigidity in his class, move, and posture. I am even trying to be more deliberate with him, his movements completely limited to the absolute minimum; a glacier only begrudgingly moving when it has to.
Whereas, Sideway gets stage directions like, “Sideway scuttles offstage.” What does a scuttle look like? Well, when I’m able to look at this juxtaposition and see how little movement that Collins has, I just do the exact opposite. Scuttling is all about having more movement than is necessary, the excitement of leaving the stage, no matter how graceless it might be.
That level of specificity helps me to get into the right mindset of these characters. The opposition helps with my physicality, which helps with my acting process, which I hope will ultimately help you understand this story better.
Our Country’s Good