Much Loved Shaftesbury Arts Centre Actor Remembered With Classic Comedy Play

You’ll be guaranteed laughs when Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Bedroom Farce’ is performed by the ‘Close To The Mark’ theatre company in three Shaftesbury area venues this month. The group was formed in tribute to popular East Knoyle actor Mark Boyden, who died in March.

Mark Boyden was well known to Shaftesbury audiences. Last October, ThisIsAlfred reviewed his perfect comic portrayal of Major Courtney in ‘The Ladykillers’ at the Arts Centre, when the actor performed the role in ‘a nice but dim way’ with ‘a touch of Boris style buffoonery’.

The cast of ‘Bedroom Farce’ includes Mark’s brother, David. The production has been put on in Mark’s honour. “He wanted to put this production on with a bunch of friends. It was supposed to be a fun thing to do and for a good cause. When he was diagnosed, it all came to nought,” said David Boyden. “The group of people involved are very supportive of the cause in memory of him. We’ve tried to carry on with it and make it happen.”

Mark Boyden (far right in brown jacket) on stage in ‘The Ladykillers’

There are five dates for this tour which includes local venues, the Arts Centre, St Mary’s School and East Knoyle Village Hall. Money will be raised for the Salisbury Hospital Stars Appeal. David says the hospital was fantastic in Mark’s diagnosis and his palliative care.

David performed with his late brother onstage, just the once, in ‘The Ladykillers’. “It was fantastic. On the back of that I am stepping into some very large shoes,” he said.

David says his brother was a born actor. “Mark would deliver Shakespeare at any point – in a bar, at a party, or in a bus stop. It just seemed to flow out of him. It’s not flowing out of me quite so well but I’m working on it.”

David says he’s found the acting process difficult. “At home alone, the lines are fine in my room. When I get on stage and have to act, recite the lines, remember where I have to be standing and where I should be looking, I have gained a new respect for the other actors and what Mark did over the years.”

He recalled that his brother sometimes couldn’t remember where he had parked his car but most of the time he could remember 400 lines. David says he now understands how hard that is.

Before last year’s Ladykillers, David hadn’t acted since his school nativity. He worked as a helicopter pilot all over the world for 25 years before switching careers to property development. You might expect an experienced commercial pilot to be unflappable, with nerves of steel, but David says going on stage is quite different.

“I’m quite happy with a large flashing red light in the cockpit but if you have a hundred people staring at you in a darkened room, it’s slightly more unsettling,” he said. “If you are flying a helicopter, there’s a lot of adrenaline involved but it’s just you choosing to fly the machine in a certain way. If you are on stage, it is a group thing and it’s live. You are committed. It’s challenging.”

William Scott-Masson has taken on Mark’s intended character of Trevor in ‘Bedroom Farce’. “There’s an abiding image for me of Mark. He is at a wedding, standing with a glass of champagne, in his morning coat. And he’s just beaming,” said William. “He was a very happy, joyful character. He gave a lot of love everywhere he went. It’s obviously very poignant to be doing this in his memory. And it’s a constant reminder to us to enjoy the process and to remember to laugh all the way through, which is what he would have wanted.”

David Boyden (left) and William Scott-Masson

William’s professional acting career has included speaking parts in blockbuster movies and top-rating TV shows, although he modestly points out that he’s not taken lead roles yet. Still, William boasts an impressive CV and appearance list.

“People might recognise ‘Sherlock’,” he said. “I was in the first episode – the first casualty and the first person to die. I was on for about twenty seconds. Similarly, with ‘Braveheart’ I had one line. In ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ I had one line. I’ve been fortunate to work in quite a few television things. It’s normally an episode rather than a whole series. I’ve also done a couple of plays.”

Like many actors, William says he prefers stage work and projects like this. “TV and films are always very bitty because you are never shooting in sequence. You shoot everything that happens in that location and then move onto the next location. There are any number of takes and you can wait a long time. Then you’re called and you have to be ‘on it’ and get it right. With live performance, you’re telling a story from the beginning to the end. But more than that, it’s the interaction with the audience where you can hear and feel the response,” explained William.

He has found working on this production hugely fulfilling so far. “It’s the idea of getting a group of people together and making it happen, where you don’t have the infrastructure of a proper rehearsal room, a theatre or technicians,” said William. “When we take this on tour, we rely on the technicians at each venue to sight-read from the script. The timing of the lighting and the sound effects is crucial to the play. Being nomadic is fun but when the curtain comes down each night, we can’t have a drink in the bar. We have to ‘strike’ the set and get it in the van with all the props. We get into the theatre on the afternoon of the performance, erect the set and hopefully have time to go through the play with the technicians for the lighting and the sound cues. Then we are on.”

The group plan to anchor themselves to a venue, rather than continuing as a nomadic travelling troupe. “We are a local theatre company. We are drawing on talent from the area. Some people have trained and worked professionally, some are very keen amateur actors. There is a great wealth of talent around here. Maybe every year or couple of years we’ll put on a production, each one raising money for a specific cause,” said William. He added that the group would always choose to stage a comedy as a reflection of Mark’s character.

They haven’t found a fixed base yet but expect it to be around the Shaftesbury, Gillingham or Tisbury areas.

If you’ve never seen an Alan Ayckbourn play before, William strongly recommends ‘Bedroom Farce’ as a great example of the writer’s humorous work. “He was an extraordinarily brilliant observer of character. He wrote his first play when he was ten. It’s quintessential Englishness that you only really appreciate if you were raised in this country. Every character is familiar to you because you have met somebody like that. It’s the way he observes them, realises them and the rhythm of the dialogue he uses. It is just genius. As a comic writer, he is absolutely immaculate. Our job is not to play the comedy, it’s to play the situation and to allow the writing to do the rest,” explained William.

As the characters are so recognisable, I asked David whether he could see any of himself in his role of Malcolm. “Malcolm is an atrocious DIYer. There is one scene when his partner won’t let him put a heavy thing on a shelf he has put up. Since then, my girlfriend won’t put a jar of honey in a cupboard I have put up. She is seeing me as Malcolm, which is somewhat concerning,” he laughed.

‘Bedroom Farce’ is a classic, gentle comedy which David compares to TV programmes of the 1970s, like ‘The Good Life’. The local performances of the play are at 7.30pm on Sunday 17th November at Shaftesbury Arts Centre. Tickets available directly from the venue for £10.

The run continues at 7.30pm on Saturday 23rd November at St Mary’s School, Shaftesbury. Tickets are £20 and include free drinks and canapés throughout the evening.

The play moves to East Knoyle Village Hall at 7.30pm on Saturday 14th December.

The performance at Shaftesbury Arts Centre is in aid of Ataxia UK. All other monies will go to the Stars Appeal at Salisbury District Hospital.