Sunday, 16 December 2018

Playing a donkey with silly teeth is privilege

BY day Chris Myles is a Labour councillor in Hackney, specialising in licensing and scrutinising the borough’s schools. But by

BY day Chris Myles is a Labour councillor in Hackney, specialising in licensing and scrutinising the borough’s schools. But by night he changes into a completely different beast — a donkey in fact.

Myles’ other career is as an actor and he’s playing Bottom in an all-male version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream coming to the Wycombe Swan in a couple of weeks.

The production, directed by Edward Hall, has won acclaim from all over the globe, and is back for its second revival tour of the UK. In the previous two tours, Myles played Peter Quince, but this time he has been given the starring comedy role.

“Playing Bottom is fabulous,” he said. “Any part where you get transformed completely into something else is always great fun because of the massive differences you can play. Also, any part where you get the joy of being told you are a bad actor, and to go out and act badly, is also a great joy.”

Myles grew up in High Wycombe, attending the Royal Grammar School, before studying modern languages at Oxford University and training at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, graduating in 1993.

Just four years later, he took a part as a soldier in Henry V at the Watermill Theatre near Newbury, directed by Edward Hall. Little did he, the director or any of the cast know that the show would give birth to an all-male company, Propeller, that would tour the world with its innovative Shakespearean productions.

He said: “The company ethos is to tell the story as clearly and entertainingly as possible. We don’t have embarrassing scene changes — the scene is changed seamlessly by us.

“Another company ethos is we try to find a chorus out of which the characters grow and helps to tell the story. In this production we sing and also provide the music ourselves with harmonicas, xylophones, with a bit of cello and flute.”

Contrary to what you might expect, the fact that the company is all-male is not a conscious throw-back to Shakespeare’s day when women were banned from the stage and all the female parts were played by boys.

“Ed Hall always says that it ended up being all-male almost by accident,” said Myles. “It started off as a one-off idea for Henry V, where he used the Watermill as a specific site, a third of the show being outside in the grounds.

“It started with the soldiers trooping in, weary and miserable, and finding a crown which conjured up the memory of Henry. From there, they tell his story. It was just a nine-week job and Ed Hall had no idea that would be the start of something.”

It just so happened that one night, some people from the British Council came to watch, and approached the company with the idea of touring Asia the following year as part of their 10th anniversary in Asia celebrations. Since then Myles has been in every one of Propeller’s productions.

He said: “It’s very rewarding. By day I’m a local councillor for Hackney, and I have two kids at primary school. So to be dressed as a donkey with silly teeth when you have been dealing with people with terrible houseing problems it feels like a different world. Then I have to pinch myself and remind myself that it’s all part of the same world.

“I’m very lucky to have full-time employment that I enjoy so much. Doing the councillor work and helping people solve their problems, it’s almost my way of saying ‘thank you’ to the fates for having another job that I enjoy.”

* A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays at the Wycombe Swan Tuesday to Saturday, November 26 to 30. Box office 01494 512000 or visit

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