Middle at the National Theatre: Understudies steal the show!
The understudies had just six days to rehearse before National Theatre performance
Last Friday, Chapter Z had the pleasure of attending a preview of David Eldridge’s new play Middle at the National Theatre. However, this performance was unlike any other. Rather than the usual cast, this performance was led by the show’s understudies Gabrielle Jourdan and Mark Middleton.
Middle is the second of three plays written by David Eldridge. Following the sold-out runs of Beginning a few years ago, the writer and director (Polly Findlay) have reunited to bring us a raw, touching and funny portrait of 21st century married life.
The show is usually performed by Claire Rushbrook and Daniel Ryan, two extraordinary actors. However, this performance saw their understudies take to the stage, and let’s just say if, for whatever reason, Rushbrook or Ryan are unable to perform, the show is undoubtedly in safe hands.
Both Gabrielle Jourdan and Mark Middleton delivered gentle yet powerful performances. Having only been cast three weeks prior, and with just six days of rehearsal, they were word-perfect and completely captivating. Jourdan brought a heart-breaking quality in her portrayal of Maggie, a wife and mother who is questioning her marriage and whether she has done enough with her life. Meanwhile, Middleton’s portrayal of a husband and father who longs to be the best he can be for his family was witty, heart-warming and devastating in equal measure.
Ever since the pandemic, understudies have really had to step their game up. Often going out in front of hundreds of paying audience members having only had a few weeks to rehearse. Sometimes they are required to go out in roles they don’t even cover! For too long now, understudies have gone underappreciated. There was even a time when you’d turn up to the theatre to see the person you were expecting is unable to perform and your heart would sink. And yet, every single time I have turned up to watch a show to find out the understudy is stepping in, I have always been impressed by their performance.
With the landscape of theatre changing, and the industry trying to rebuild itself post-pandemic, one thing we know we can count on are the understudies, so let’s give them the credit and support they deserve.