At the age of 10, after a string of parts in church Nativity plays and school musicals, my daughter decided to sign up for proper drama classes, once a week, with a professional outfit here in Amsterdam.
Now, a year later, her eight-year-old brother is going for it as well. I cheer them both on, and can’t wait to see how their interaction develops as they become loud, posturing foils for one another over the dinner table. For me this will be a poignant double mystery. I can write and direct, but I can’t act – indeed, I couldn’t act wet in the bath – and I am also an only child. They will be skipping, hand in hand, ever deeper into territory where I can’t follow.
But for anyone who has the talent (and apparently they both have. Anything’s misery if you’re no good at it), the study of acting and stagecraft is perhaps the best all-round extra-curricular activity a child can have.
The mastery of posture, movement and gesture imparts physical confidence, the habit of improvisation its social dimension. The enunciation and interpretation of lines teaches the young not to be careless of meaning and nuance, arguably more important than ever in this age of Twitter diplomacy and instant comment rushed out under the lash of the online update. Learning to project the voice exercises the lungs, which also benefit from the straight posture required.
As the course progresses, the study of heavy roles will inculcate emotional literacy, the absolute opposite of the destructive navel-gazing exploited by the likes of Psychologies magazine, while the context of a play casts light on the complexity of a world in which there are no easy answers. And, like all the arts, the theatre at its best speaks to its audience in a language that transcends both the divisions between us and the limitations we see in ourselves.
Yes, the children will benefit enormously from their drama class. And fortunately they also have parents who will not shrink from telling them, if need be, that their political opinions are utter tosh.
Because that’s the down side of encouraging your sprogs to become luvvies – you expose them to the temptation of believing that all they need to sort the world’s ills is the emotional generosity of the artistic soul, soaring high above the quotidian nitty-gritty. They can so easily come to believe that the nature of their profession affords them an insight denied to the rest of us. And celebrity thesps are the worst.
I used to regard Russell Brand as a wholly negligible irritant until I heard him as the voice of Dr Nefario in the joyous Despicable Me films. Then I happened on this remark of his: “I need to hear the political viewpoint of an actor, like you need to hear my plumber’s movie reviews.” Quite.
And whether they’re voting Remain because “it’s about building bridges not walls”, or shouting abuse at the banks because… well, because they’re banks, famous actors’ lefty rants invariably bespeak a worldview subcortical in its simplicity.
Some of them are actually stupid, but most of them are not; they just haven’t thought about the politics that hard, because they have higher concerns. And you don’t get on in the biz by breaking from the herd, confessing to voting Tory or Leave or whispering that perhaps some of David Hare’s dialogue doesn’t trip off the tongue quite as naturally as it might.
The kiddy-commie tantrum is de rigueur for actors, and it’s best to ignore them when they’re offstage. I call their gaffes Tufnelisms, from the moment in This Is Spinal Tap when a tiny Stonehenge has been built because the daft lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel has marked his sketch in inches instead of feet. Berating the hapless techie who has followed the plan, band leader David St Hubbins observes: “But you’re not as confused as him are you? I mean, it’s not your job to be as confused as Nigel.”
So the next time you are reduced to tears of frustration by some blast of naive drivel from a thesp on Question Time, remember: it’s not your job to be as confused as him. Just buy your theatre ticket, be thrilled and exalted by his work, and spare a thought for his poor, worn-down parents.
Nick Thomas is a freelance writer based in Amsterdam