How To Do Acting (Properly)

Mon 20th – Sat 25th August 2018

reviews

Jessica Loram

at 09:59 on 21st Aug 2018

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Zoe Cunningham’s ‘How To Do Acting (Properly)’ is a misleading title. Whether you’re a thespian or just a curious spectator, I’m not convinced that you would gain any useful knowledge in the art from her show. There were promising moments, but these were few and far between. I was left unsure of Cunningham’s intention: was it to amuse us by ironically showcasing her newly acquired acting skills? Or to inspire us to leave “the shadows” by demonstrating that anyone can secure a venue at the Fringe? Unfortunately, both of these messages missed the mark - by quite a wide margin. I am left unable to pinpoint her intended audience, and with no burning desire to venture out of “the shadows”.

Zoe is personable and there is a gentle charm to her self-deprecating commentary on her eighteen-month acting career. Yet her opening warm-up exercises felt empty and uncomfortably self-conscious, and not in a comedic way. Genuine moments of enjoyment for me were limited to her entertaining school memories. This makes me think that Zoe could be a good storyteller, and perhaps she should concentrate on this, rather than performances with vaguer aims of explaining "how to do acting (properly)". She made me feel intrigued by her career in technology... and I am genuinely curious to hear what drew her back to acting in her adulthood. I imagine these would make for fun and potentially insightful tales.

Equipped with flipchart and pen, Zoe intersperses her personal anecdotes with presentations of her own theories on acting, and passes photographic proof of her appearance in a film with stars Steve Coogan and Anna Friel. I liked this touch, and wish she had divulged more of her own experiences in evidencing her theories. This might have made her final bizarre scene (involving gobbledygook sounds and crumpling paper over her face) more meaningful.

Unfortunately, what could have felt liberating or ridiculously funny fell flat, completely undermining her concluding song in which she encourages us, voice trembling, to leave our comfort zones, because otherwise “we’ll never find out”.

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Alina Young

at 10:00 on 21st Aug 2018

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Somewhere between a one-woman show and a presentation rests 'How To Do Acting (Properly)'. Charting her mid-life career change from a successful businesswoman to an actor, Zoe Cunningham feels ready to share the ups and downs (though mostly downs) of an “18 month” acting career.

Cunningham herself is undeniably a sweet and relatable woman. Her whole show essentially revolves around the idea that she isn’t overly successful, and tries to address her fears about not fitting in to the actor ‘type’ and not knowing how to take the next step. She’s blatantly intelligent and I hope she stays committed to her goals, however the show itself falls somewhat flat. It's never boring, but it is just lacklustre at times.

In a way, she doesn’t take it far enough; she acknowledges her anxieties, but that doesn’t liberate her or give energy to her performance. The premise of the show is interesting, but there were many moments that awkwardly felt like she was struggling to just let go of herself.

She is asking the right questions. How much should actors, or indeed anyone in a new career, pay attention to past unsuccessful attempts? How can you comfort yourself, or handle your nerves after you’ve taken the leap? Mathematically minded and having given many presentations throughout her career, she uses what she knows to try and make sense of it all. Through graphs and speeches, she bravely confronts her issues to a crowd. I feel the show is a cathartic project. However, while this is a great milestone for Cunningham, it isn’t always engaging to watch.

The show needs to be bolder: the gestures bigger, the jokes delivered with more personality, the energy higher. While it’s described as an “interactive lecture”, it needs to be firmer in its showmanship. Regardless of how it’s framed, the picture needs to be performative when it’s under the bright lights of the stage, or else it gets lost. Perhaps this is her point, as she is quirky and self-reflective and not a typical show-off actor. Nonetheless, she could push it further and make the show reflect her good intentions.

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