An Actor's Life for Me: The Scottish Play by Paul Mayhew-Archer

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BBC Radio 7, 28 February 2010
Radio 7 seems particularly interested in scheduling Shakespearean spoofs at the moment. Hot on the heels of Desmond Olivier Dingle's guide to his plays, starring Patrick Barlow and a host of bewildered guest stars, comes the second series of Paul Mayhew-Archer's comedy dating from 1990. First broadcast a year earlier, An Actor's Life for Me is based around the adventure of Robert Neilson (John Gordon Sinclair), a struggling performer who always believes he is about to be catapulted into stardom. While never achieving his goal, he always believes that his career will change following the next audition. His girlfriend Sue Bishop (Caroline Quentin) and his hard-pressed agent Desmond Shaw (Gary Waldhorn) beg to differ.
In this episode Robert auditions for a part in the Scottish Play (no actor would ever use the title Macbeth), which is about to be helmed by a precocious university-educated director with little concern for theatrical superstition, and every intention of imposing a radically new intepretation on the text involving Macduff (Neilson) in a kung fu fight. Needless to say no one - particularly the actors - has a clue what he is talking about; but they become more and more apprehensive when the director keeps repeating the play's title; and, what is worse, within the confines of the theatre!! Predictably everything goes wrong: the actor originally slated to play Macduff is injured (Neilson takes over), Duncan ends up performing drunk, while Lady Macbeth confuses her lines. Neilson tries his best with the kung fu, but the performance as a whole is a travesty, recalling (as one member of the cast does) the never-to-be-forgotten version at the Old Vic in 1980 with Peter O'Toole in the leading role.
Writer Mayhew-Archer took some potshots at the old superstition, without trying to explain why it still exerts such a hold over the theatrical world. This episode was mildly amusing in a predictable kind of way, but I couldn't help thinking that Ben Elton and Richard Curtis did this kind of thing much better in Blackadder the Third, when Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) has great fun at the expense of two actors (Kenneth Connor, Hugh Paddick), by continually repeating the title of the Scottish play in their presence.