I’m not a mime but recently I have been an actor that doesn’t speak…much. At least not in a normal way. 

My niche has recently been work that has linguistic restrictions placed upon it, work that requires me to find alternative ways of communicating a story. When Paul Hunter (Director of The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel) asked me to take the part of Charlie Chaplin in a production which is in the style of an old silent movie, I jumped at it. 

Paul first spotted me when I was doing a Tim Crouch show called Beginners, at The Unicorn Theatre, in which I played a mostly silent dog on a drizzly family holiday. Initially in the show you don't realise that's what I am, as I'm dressed like a human but through my interactions with the other characters you slowly realise... she's a dog!  The only time I really spoke was a monologue, written in dog. "Here's a tale tale in a sniff sniff, wags and wag wag” and my favourite line “bum sniff everyone!”

Of course that's not a normal way of speaking but the audience would find meaning and logic within it and after most shows someone would come up to me and ask - “are you a Labrador” or a terrier or whatever their pet was. In the spaces we left, the audience filled it with their own experiences, understanding and love…of canines. It was quite magical.

Prior to that I did another show with Tim where the restriction of the piece was that we could only speak using three specific words which were - Jeramee Hartleby and Ooglemoore. This was also the title of the show. Each word had to have a clear intention to communicate the narrative. What you find with this work is that intentions are a global language - doesn’t matter what the words are. So you need to get those intentions right. 

I'm so fascinated by linguistic restrictions that my company All in, are about to start developing a new show with The Unicorn Theatre called Mountains. Partly inspired by the steep rise of linguaphobia in the UK, in Mountains each character speaks a different language to one another - none of which are English. Next week we will be in a room with 5 brilliant actors who speak Finnish, Greek, French, Spanish and Polish. Our aim over two weeks is to find a way to ensure our audience understand exactly what’s going on - without subtitles and with a healthy dollop of physical comedy. 

I’ve also delved into the world of linguistic restriction in film, I recently voiced Lula in Farmageddon, Aardman’s new Shaun The Sheep movie. Recording Lula was one of the most ridiculous jobs I've ever had. I was hired to show up intermittently over a year and make long lists of alien noises into a microphone. Heaven! Lula scared, Lula eating popcorn, anything and everything in my alien arsenal, reams of gurgles and yelps that would give the animators something t
o work with. And the intention behind each sound had to be crystal - a whimper would be broken down into hundreds of variables each one telling a different story. Each time I went back, a little bit more plasticine would have taken shape and eventually it became my job to find sounds that fitted the mouth shapes already mo
ulded - known as pick ups. It’s a collaborative process on a vast scale, I feel very proud to have been a part of it. 

It's been and continues to be an interesting journey with this type of work. As an acting student I remember the first thing you wanted to know was how many lines you had in your end of year show...now I enjoy working with as few as possible! I think words can sometimes muddy a good story - and as Paul said today "when you don't have lines to rely on you have to stay constantly active as a

performer" because in that space we see EVERYTHING. Charlie Chaplin certainly knew this. I can’t wait to share The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel with everyone – it’s a brilliant cast and has been such an exciting experiment in restriction, intention and finding alternative ways to tell a story.

In the wise words of Boyzone - You say it best when you say nothing at all.  

Amalia Vitale

Charlie Chaplin in The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel