She said “I hate to be pedantic but I’m driven nearly frantic
When I see that unromantic, sycophantic lot of sluts
Forever wriggling their guts.
It drives me absolutely nuts.”
She refused to Begin The Beguine when they requested it
And she made an embarrassing scene if anyone suggested it
For she detested it.
~ Noel Coward, ‘Nina’
If we are to only focus on stage time, lines and overall importance to the story, Adam Fenwick-Symes, played by the sensational Matt Bent, takes the role of lead every time. Not because he is the most fascinating character, but because he holds the more flamboyant cast together with his own-brand marmalade of normality. Adam has to be the sort of chap you notice for a second before drifting to focus on a Simon or a Miles.
But potentially the most exciting character to think about, just in terms of half-formed hints and potential elements to the character, is Nina Blount. Whilst Agatha Runcible (who we touched on last post) is riddled with fascinating bits and bobs, they do not float so very near the surface as Nina’s fascinating character.
Some have called Nina soulless, some have compared her to the classic and fascist beauty that was Diana Mitford (pictured above). One can see Nina as the true victim of Vile Bodies, as she thrusts herself between men in a search for security in a world where nothing is certain. But the true beauty of Nina is that she is neither damsel nor villainess, but instead that rare thing; a human being.
Nina’s trajectory in the play is very different from both book and film. In the film, Nina is humanised more than in the book where Waugh portrays her as almost unscathed by such human things as emotion or morality, and instead she becomes something slightly more pathetic. The final scene, of her sadness, coming home and finding Adam and the candles, shows her to be a woman in need of rescuing, yet at other parts of the film she is very much book Nina, in that she can take quite a lot of pain and show almost nothing.
Very early on in the process Chloe Dichmont, our movement director, and myself talked about how natural the characters tend to be sitting on a spectrum of natural to absurd caricature. In my mind, this is a spectrum between Adam and Ape, and Nina to me sat just a few notches below Adam in ‘real as anything’. But as the auditions wore on, and we saw a thousand different takes on Nina (as a cold-hearted bitch, as a petulant child, as a fragile gothic waif at times) it became clear that sometimes the very performative and fake Agatha is actually the more candid; her dream monologue is more full of fear and emotion than anything Nina ever says in the play. Whilst Nina is incredibly natural, this naturalism is perhaps the greatest performance of all, because she is performing the perfect woman and the perfect hostess, and, as I said to Katie last night; Nina’s great hubristic flaw is that there is no etiquette book for love. The heart follows no decorum.
Katie and myself, rather drunkenly, had a long conversation last night about who and what Nina is. Katie told me she was ok with me playing Nina as a villain to build sympathy for Adam, though I said I had no intentions of going for such an easy take on the character; it is incredibly easy to say that Nina is a bitch for what she does to Adam, but the fact of the matter is Adam doesn’t exactly help matters; at no point does Adam sit her down and say that money shouldn’t matter. He plays the game that Nina has been taught to play and both want to just stop the stupidity and be together, but neither can. That is the ultimate tragedy. That the only thing separating them is society.
There are big questions to ask Matt, Katie and indeed Dan about who and what Nina is; what has her life been like? Did she, like Diana Mitford, have a whole swarm of siblings? What is her relationship with Colonel Blount? Where is her mother? Did Nina learn any of her lessons on love from the Colonel and his wife? When is it that Nina and Adam both realise the relationship may never work (for me, it sits in a scene in Act 2 in which Nina expresses a fear this may be the last time they ever really talk.) When is it that Nina’s shell cracks? For me originally it was when Adam tells Nina he’s sold his share in her, for Caddick it’s Miles, Agatha, Archie and Adam all turning round and leaving her at the Asylum.
Most importantly: how sexually experienced is Nina? Evelyn Waugh puts it across very clearly that Nina is a virgin before Adam, and vice versa, but how clear does Nina make this? Nina is such a siren, and lures so many men in the play, that we have to presume she does not make it clear she is inexperienced.
And if we forget about sex and think purely of love; does Nina really love Adam? There is a good argument for either side. Equally, does Nina love Ginger? Does Nina, perhaps, even have feelings for Simon?
The first stage in the rehearsal process is for the actors to know exactly who the cast are to each other, know the lives and habits of the people they will be playing. The actors need to be able to step into a scene and know where they are, who they are and how they are the people they are playing, from the thoughts to the external habits of the character. This may not all come in the first week; it may take time to discover how posture and fidgeting effect each character. I’ve said to Katie that we want Nina and the Colonel to have, even if just one subtle thing, mannerisms in common. The immediate thought was to have both be very languid, slow drinkers, running their fingers round the rim of the glass and then taking long, powerful glugs. Something almost predatorial to the everyday activity of consuming liquid.
I look forward to looking back at this blog- both this post and the whole thing- at the end of the project and seeing what has become of the characters and ideas I write about here. I have a feeling the characters I have come to know and love in my head are in for a real adventure in the hands of our incredible cast.
On Tuesday we start rehearsals, and I’m terrified but also super excited. From Tuesday onwards I will also be keeping a log of what we do and what comes of it, and posting it on here as soon as I get a chance. I can’t wait!