Richard Armitage (‘Spooks’, ‘Robin Hood’, ‘The Hobbit’)
There are many of Christian’s techniques which I still use for my character studies, vocal work and preparation for performance, whether it’s on television, radio or stage.
I regularly use animal study to seek out an inner character. I remember when Christian took our human zoo for an outing to Regent’s Park. I really quite believed I was a tamarin monkey and that branches in trees would support my weight. They didn’t!
Christian took care of the very fine details; and was inspiring for a bunch of overenthusiastic drama students who crashed in on day one of the first term, just wanting to ‘act the face off everything’. I feel I ended my three years with a physical vocabulary which was highly sensitive and expressive, and sustainable through a career of varying characters and media.
Something that Christian said to me has served as a mantra ever since. Whilst studying the seven states of tension, we were set us an exercise to devise an original movement piece involving all seven states, but not more than five minutes long. I spent hours editing Orff’s Carmina Burana to bring it in at exactly five minutes, to accompany my pieces incorporating all the qualities. With my stopwatch in constant use, I finally had a piece that matched the criteria. When it came to performing our pieces, other members of the class began extending over the five-minute time limit; five, ten, twenty seconds over… I was appalled and, after performing my piece, was very unsatisfied as it so clearly lacked something.
‘Had you taken a few extra moments with this, this and this,’ Christian explained, ‘it would have been lovely.’
‘But, Christian, that would have taken me over five minutes!’
She laughed. ‘Well, Richard, it is good sometimes to be a little anarchic and break the rules to find what you want.’
I have carried that with me ever since.
Dominic Cooper (‘Mama Mia’, ‘Tamara Drewe’, ‘The Devil’s Double’)
I never admitted to Christian that the ‘smelly dog’ that she thought I imitated with such perfection was actually meant to be a lion. I loved Christian and her magical classes. She was like a delicate sparrow tiptoeing around the dilapidated, mirrored rehearsal room, whispering words of inspiration. She created a calm and serene environment that gave us all the confidence to take risks – but ultimately enjoy what is essentially lots of fun. I always think of her smile and her excitement when a student realised in themselves the potency and effect our physicality on stage has on an audience.
Samuel Barnett (‘The History Boys’, ‘His Dark Materials’, ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’)
I had danced for ten years before going to drama school, and I feared I had a
lot of bad habits to undo. I felt very held in my body from all the ballet work I had done; I could only work from the neck up and was not fully in touch with myself. Working with Christian I began to discover things about myself, in terms of my body and my physical movement, as well as my acting, that I didn’t know I had inside me. That was always the way with her classes, whatever we were doing, and the work opened me up as an actor. I
learned how to express myself through my whole body. I learned the meaning of ‘a sense of timing’: if I could sense when to move at just the right moment in an exercise or
movement piece, I could also begin to learn how to time the delivery of a line perfectly.
Christian showed us the value of movement to acting. Many of the group at LAMDA had perhaps not been interested in movement or dance of any sort before, but her classes were relevant to actor training by showing how to investigate character from a physical perspective, instead of just the emotional, intellectual and psychological elements, where a lot of actors stay stuck. Sometimes working from the outside in can produce the best, most revealing work – much more quickly. I can’t say what it’s like to be old man. But if I imagine and change my physicality then I might begin to feel it far more effectively than if I analyse it emotionally and intellectually. Then you can make a true transformation where people say, ‘I really didn’t see you in there anywhere.’
Since leaving LAMDA many of my acting roles have required me to move, especially Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials at the National Theatre, in which I had to convey my entire physical and emotional self through a puppet. Without Christian’s classes I wouldn’t have known how to begin.
Felicite du Jeu (‘Waking the Dead’)
As a teacher and as a person, Christian had an ability to expand people’s vision. Theatre is the work and result of many. She embraced that idea fully. Softly yet firmly, she’d push any believed limit a little further, a little more towards giving, a little more towards the unsuspected. All her teaching was based on the ripple effect of any given interaction. Movement is life’s answer back to nought; it bares our inner clock, our inner souls. For Christian, that’s where the actor’s work started, that first impulse triggering a physical chain effect. It was the actor’s job to seek out those first truthful movements. The rest would follow. Joy, dedication, precision and finally fulfillment were always in reach in Christian’s classes.