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Dear West End Producer: ‘Should I do ‘big’ monologues for auditions (Lady Macbeth, Fleabag, Victoria Wood) or obscure ones?’

Victoria Wood, Ann-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag. Photos: Chris Lobina/BBC/Tristram Kenton Victoria Wood, Ann-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag. Photos: Chris Lobina/BBC/Tristram Kenton
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If you can do it well and you feel it sells you better than anything else, then do whatever monologue you want. It’s not actually useful to think of monologues as ‘big’ or ‘small’ – they’re all the same. Some may be better known, but this doesn’t mean you can’t do your own interpretation of the piece and redefine it for everyone watching. The main thing is to make sure you pick a piece that’s right for you.

Many people make the mistake of choosing monologues that are far removed from who they are. Like doing a monologue written for an OAP, when in fact you’re 21. You may be excellent at doing an ‘old’ voice and may even have a brilliant zimmer frame prop – but you’d never play that part professionally at this point in your career – so what’s the point? Always pick speeches that are close to your age, and ideally with your own accent. So, if you’re a Fleabag or Lady Macbeth kind of character, and think you’re the right casting for these parts, then go for it.

However, I’d advise leaving things by Victoria Wood alone (unless it’s from her plays) – as the temptation here is to do an impression. Her skits and stories are so iconic that it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing them. But if the speech is from a well-known play it is different, as many actors have played the parts and there are lots of different interpretations.

Obscure speeches can be good, as a panel won’t have any preconceived ideas about what to expect – but equally the speech may be from a shrubbish (a rubbish show). There’s a reason why some plays are well known and others aren’t – because the famous ones are bloody good. I would say it’s far better to do a popular monologue from a well-known play, than a bad monologue from a shitty play.

That’s not to say obscure plays can’t be brilliant – because of course they can. You just need to be sure. I would suggest seeing a production of the play, reading the script several times, and asking for advice from trusted colleagues and ex-lovers.

But the main point is to have a connection with your chosen speech – and feel it shows you well. And finally, in your quest for a good monologue, may I offer these words of advice:

• Make sure it shows a range of emotions – it’s useful if three of your seven acting faces can make an appearance.
• Your monologue should have at least five pauses (good pauses = good acting).
• Please, for the love of God, never do a speech more than two minutes in length. We lose focus after that.
• Funny over fuming. I prefer something that makes me laugh, over something that makes me feel threatened or upset.
• Avoid doing accents – unless you’re good at them (this is different from thinking you are good at them). Most accents end up giving the audience a tour of the globe.
• Read the whole play – in case we ask you questions. You’d be surprised how many people don’t do this. Idiots.

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer. Read more of West End Producer’s weekly advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/westendproducer

Already missing Fleabag? Read the Phoebe Waller-Bridge columns for The Stage

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