[Skip to content]

Sign up for our daily newsletter
The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

O, had I but followed the arts!

Lauren Brady participates in the enduring genius of William Shakespeare


While celebrating the arrival of 2012 at a New Year’s Eve party, conversation turned, as it usually does at these events, to resolutions.

As a result, my friends and I resolved to take up an activity we had frequently discussed but never acted upon. My friends pointed out that I should try acting as I had often alluded to it, and I agreed this was a great idea and that I would pursue this with relish... at some point... in the not too distant future... probably… If I am honest, I never really expected this to come to fruition, so nobody was more surprised than me when three weeks later, I found myself somehow acquiring a role in a play. A leading role, in fact, and not just in any play, but in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Suddenly, I had not so much stuck to my resolution as been thrown head first into it.

There’s a reason why school teachers can teach the same Shakespeare play, year in, year out
A rather intimidating flurry of emails followed; detailing rehearsal schedules, costume levies and cake rotas (apparently as essential a part of any amdram group as Friday food is in our office). The thespian lingo was also a challenge and initially I met talk of ‘blocking’ and performing ‘in the round’ with as much comprehension as a non-actuary amid talk of changing bases and rolling forward numbers. However, I soon learnt to bring a pencil to all rehearsals to write in stage directions and to meet my cake rota debut with brownies. I even began to look forward to rehearsal evenings as they proved a welcome break from revision and helped to overcome my secret fear of stage fright. Rushing to rehearsals from work meant I simply did not have time to work myself into a ball of nerves.

I began spending my train journeys alternating between actuarial books and Twelfth Night, in both cases gazing into the distance trying to remember what was on the page – formulae or lines. Either way, it meant paying scant attention to the page in front of me, so my fellow commuters were probably highly bemused at this strange traveller before them!

Performance week was hurtling towards me. As the drama group I’d joined was an outdoor theatre group, discussions about the weather swiftly changed from pleasantries to something of a taboo subject. I was told that, no matter what, ‘the show would go on’ and it soon became obvious there were no wet weather plans in place.

Having been blessed with grey and rainy skies thus far, my attention kept being diverted from learning my lines to scanning the weather forecast for the week of our performance. However, our fervent prayers for good weather were finally answered, as that week saw the first warm and rainless nights of the year. Thankfully, somehow I remembered my lines every night too.

The experience was definitely one I would recommend. I had discovered in each rehearsal a new meaning behind the words – a lot of innuendo admittedly, but occasionally deeper truths. Twelfth Night’s theme of reunited twins stemmed from the sorrow Shakespeare felt when his son, one of boy-girl twins much like Viola and Sebastian in Twelfth Night, died during childhood.

Reading Shakespeare again, which I hadn’t picked up since school, was without doubt worthwhile. There’s a reason why school teachers can teach the same Shakespeare play, year in, year out, without running out screaming. I’ve just discovered it. Shakespeare allows you the possibility of reinterpreting his work yourself as most lines or pauses can convey something different, depending on how they are read. Despite sitting through the same scenes again and again in rehearsals (to the point where I almost knew the other actors’ parts better than my own), I still found moments where a new understanding was unlocked. More surprisingly, the comic moments still made me laugh, while the moving scenes remained as poignant.

I will certainly make an effort to watch more Shakespeare plays, particularly outdoor productions. Watching Shakespeare in the open air creates a magical ambience – one review of our play commented on how much more intimate and vibrant the garden setting made it. Seeing his plays in modern theatres is still a wonderful experience but an outdoor performance, in the round, is how Shakespeare would have watched – or even been seen in – his own plays. Although I can’t guarantee Shakespeare himself at an outdoor performance, I can guarantee a far more thrilling watch.