January 15, 2024

Keeping a Straight Face

In "Keeping a Straight Face," Theatretrain Artistic Director Kevin Dowsett shares hilarious mishaps, in-jokes, and the art of subtle humour on stage. From detaching wine glass bottoms to unexpected shirt slogans, discover the entertaining side of live performances.

There’s a long tradition among actors called corpsing – laughing when you shouldn’t. Sometimes things go wrong in a live performance and it can lead to unintentional hilarity. I remember performing in an Agatha Christie play where I had to pick up a glass of wine, have a sip or two and later place it down. For some reason, it was one of those picnic glasses with a detachable bottom. The inevitable happened and when I took a sip, I noticed I was holding only the glass and the stem. What to do? I don’t think anyone else in the cast knew but maybe the audience did. I fretted for a while wondering what to do, until I just laid it on its side on a table. The solution is not to pretend it hasn’t happened – it has. I performed in a play where the door kept swinging open so before the next performance the stage management packed the lock with extra wood. The result was that when I tried to enter, the door wouldn’t budge. It was completely stuck and somehow, I had to get on. My solution was to enter through the French windows which got a laugh and then another when I said “You seem to have a problem with that door.”

By tradition the final matinee of a play’s run can have moments of unexpected corpsing, in-jokes, and attempts to put you off your stride might come along. The worst I heard was in a modern dress production of Julius Caesar. The actor in question was a Roman citizen who had to be so persuaded by Mark Anthony that he roared his approval. This performance was in Newcastle and the actor had a plan. He came to his roar and he ripped open his shirt to reveal on his chest the words “Shop at Binns” a popular store at the time.

He was shown the door.

I suppose it keeps you awake on stage in a long run but it all seems a bit self-indulgent. If I’ve paid my money, I don’t want to see a bunch of actors having a good time at my expense. For that reason, I think subtle humour is cleverer. It doesn’t spoil the play for the audience but it keeps the actors engaged with each other.      


Theatretrain, a nationwide provider of weekend theatre schools for young people aged 4-18, specialises in weekly classes in acting, singing, and dancing. An emphasis is placed on learning valuable life skills such as confidence, empathy, courage, and resilience. If you know a child who loves to dance, act and sing or could do with a little confidence boost why not visit to find out what our performing arts classes can offer your child at one of our 80 locations across the UK.

Related Articles

The Greatest Love

In the late 80s, Kevin Dowsett would have made more money if he had a pound for every audition featuring The Greatest Love of All. The lyrics, while sometimes seen as cheesy, truly resonate. He witnessed many off-key renditions, but one moment at the Royal Albert Hall transformed the song into pure magic.
Read more >

Break a Leg    

Kevin Dowsett, Theatretrain's Artistic Director, delves into the intriguing origins of "Break a Leg" and shares his recent experience watching Madagascar Junior by Waltham Forest Theatretrain. His heartfelt reflections highlight the joy of seeing young performers grow, their ensemble spirit, and the bittersweet farewell to long-serving student Ben Owen as he heads to university. Break a leg to all our talented performers!
Read more >

Meeting in the Middle

Theatretrain Artistic Director, Kevin Dowsett, explores the significance of space and personal boundaries in British culture, linking it to theatre training. On National Handshake Day, he reflects on the handshake's role in defining personal space, from crowded trains to the stage. Discover how stagecraft teaches us to own our space confidently.
Read more >

In the Room    

Welcome to Theatretrain's blog! Kevin Dowsett, the Artistic Director, shares his recent experience returning to the classroom. In a movement workshop at The Place in London, he worked with a Laban expert from Brazil, exploring creativity through movement. Discover how these exercises inspired flexibility and connection, and the lasting impact they had on him and his peers.
Read more >

Matilda

Kevin Dowsett, Artistic Director of Theatretrain, recently attended a captivating production of Matilda Jr. The young cast, many performing for the first time, dazzled with their enthusiasm and stage presence, especially during those powerful songs. 🌟 From Roald Dahl's book to Tim Minchin's musical, Matilda's charm continues to captivate audiences. 🎶✨
Read more >

Computer Says No

Kevin Dowsett, Artistic Director of Theatretrain, reflects on the frustrations of modern complexities in everyday tasks. Drawing a parallel with The Truman Show, he highlights how simple processes have become burdensome due to excessive regulations and risk aversion. Dowsett's insights resonate with anyone who feels thwarted by bureaucratic hurdles in an increasingly complicated world.
Read more >