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Old Boy Ralf Delivers Acting Masterclass

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

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Aspiring Senior School actors enjoyed an instructive masterclass in the hands of Ralf Little, who left Bolton School in 1998. Enjoying himself immensely, Ralf, now a household name after starring in the Royle Family and Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crips, asked the boys to read unseen script extracts from television, film and theatre. The boys were given three scripts to pour over and to then interpret in their own way. 

The tv script was from the Royle Family (where Barbara had just cut Jim’s hair), the film clip was from 24 Hour Party People, in which Ralf played Peter Hook, Joy Division’s bassist and the theatre dialogue was from Ugly Lies the Bone, a play written by his New York-based girlfriend Lindsey Ferrentino. The boys were asked to perform the different scenes in their own style and Ralf was very impressed by the manner in which they set about the task and their final interpretations. He was particularly impressed with their ability to interpret character as the character names had been stripped from the documents. 

The Old Boy had much advice for the boys, including writing about what you know and he told them for drama to work, the characters need to be invested with a view or polemic. Sometimes, he said, dialogue can work better if the precise problem is not articulated; the indirect approach can be more interesting. He also provided examples of using overheard conversations verbatim from real life and illustrated how hanging ideas on tropes or stereotypes can also work. He told the select gathering that his own mother says the maddest things. He quoted Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, co-creators of the Inbetweeners, who said as a writer you have to have a balance of humility and arrogance in order to take criticism but also to believe that your writing is the best. He said what they were doing with the lines was the question that all actors struggle with – how can I take these ideas and words and relay them to others? Ralf congratulated the boys on making the lines work and said he had seen plenty of professional actors who cannot read scripts for the first time that well! He also told pupils, having set up his own production company, he had come to learn that writing your own scripts is a good thing to do and a process by which you learn – and you are fruitfully making use of your time rather than just waiting for your agent to call! 

In a questions and answers session with the boys, Ralf said that whilst taking GCSE or A Level Drama wasn’t and still probably isn’t critical to a career in acting, the subject is vital to fostering early passion and expression. He also told the students that all actors have a fear of the unknown, however successful they may be. It is a pervading shadow as you are at the mercy of other people’s whims. He mentioned that actors often wonder, if your last production bombs, then what next? 

Post-session, Ralph said: “This is my first ‘official’ visit to Bolton School in almost 20 years. It is an extraordinary school. I was aware that it was 20 years ago when I was here but I can see that astonishing progress has been made with the building of the Arts Centre and that the opportunities, support and facilities for pupils is even better than in my day. The arts are clearly burgeoning here.”  

Earlier in the day, he spoke with an audience which included sports stars, musicians, drama students and those interested in a career in medicine as he reflected on his own experience of juggling other interests whilst studying and applying to Medical School. In the evening he delivered the Tillotson lecture to an audience of pupils, parents, teachers, Old Boys and friends of the School. 

In a later tweet, he said: “Had an unbelievably enjoyable day at my old school yesterday. Nice to see (and gently mock!) some of my old teachers too. Current set of pupils smart, eloquent, charming and polite. The future is bright @BoltonSchool Thanks for the welcome.”

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