"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars. But in ourselves that we are underlings"
Julius Caesar Act1 Sc 2 - Shakespeare
As actors, when we step out onto the stage each evening, we must take responsibility for our own work. No matter how many creative minds have joined together to make the evening's entertainment, we are the people who step onto the stage each evening at 7.30pm and stand in front of the audience. It's our commitment that will sell the show and hopefully have the audience on its feet and cheering a couple of hours later.
In my 40 year career, I've been in many productions where finding that commitment each evening has sometimes been difficult. A particularly conceptual Julius Caesar in the 1980s springs to mind. With a marble clad senate which looked like the Roman version of the set for "Celebrity Squares", a video relay system rather akin to something invented by Logie Baird himself, and a job lot of old Time Lords costumes, we had to steel ourselves each evening to present this to the paying public.
Yet pay is what they have done. Their ticket entitles them to the best that we can deliver and though encumbered by the strange and inexplicable workings of our directors mind, we had to step out there every evening and tell the story.
It's no use being on stage and blaming the higher authorities who have long since left us to just get on with it. We are the ones who have to deliver every night. We, the underlings.
For our audience are our customers. Ultimately they pay our wages. It's our duty to deliver the best we possibly can even when we know we've been dumped into something that is 98% turkey.
It's a source of constant irritation to me that other people in customer facing roles don't feel the same. The phrase "it's not my fault" is one guaranteed to press every single red button that I have and produce a reaction which would not be amiss at Chernobyl. Shops, hotel receptions, what passes for cabin service on airlines; all places where a brand has a really great opportunity to make an impression on you the customer. Yes - your British Airways flight may be delayed.... when isn't it? - but the person at the customer service desk can make things a great deal easier by taking responsibility and saying "I'm sorry for the inconvenience the delay is causing you". How sad it is that the more established response is "It's not my fault".
Several large hotel chains are still foolish enough to charge for in room Internet. Having paid €335 a night to stay in the Hilton hotel in Frankfurt, you can imagine my reaction on being told that in room Internet would be an additional €25. The receptionist told me that I could have free Internet in the foyer. "Having paid a considerable amount for the room, why would I want to sit in reception to work" I asked.
She had a look of Eva Braun about her. She wasn't giving in. "It's not my fault" she said. Let's say that the interaction didn't go from strength to strength. The poor girl was obviously embarrassed about the hotel policy, and so was desperate to blame somebody else. At that moment of me talking to her however, she was her hotel brand. She was the face-to-face representative of the people who were getting the €335 a night. She was the person depriving me of Internet and quite simply I didn't need denial. I needed an apology.
I've just returned from an extra special holiday on the island of Saint Lucia in the Caribbean. The sea was warm, the sun shone down, and the service, both in the resorts and in the restaurants we visited, was impeccable. But what was truly memorable was the willingness of staff to take responsibility for actions that might not have been their own.
A breakfast latte was late one morning. Having asked twice, the drink had been delivered to the wrong table. I pointed this out to another waitress. Not the one I had originally asked for the coffee, so she would have been perfectly within her right to say, "it's not my fault". But she didn't. She took full responsibility and sorted the problem out. Then she returned to the table to say "Please accept my apologies. That shouldn't have happened and I'm very very sorry." It was impossible for me to say more.
The taxi driver who turned up 20 minutes late one morning to take us out on an excursion. Not his fault as the traffic had been particularly bad, but as soon he was out of the car, he walked straight over to us to apologise for keeping us waiting. By the time we sat in the car, we were assuring him that it didn't really matter.
It's such a simple thing to do and yet so effective. The attitude of "What can I do?" replacing that of "it's nothing to do with me".
After a gap of nine years, I will be stepping onto the London stage again in May. I'm part of an exceptionally good cast, and I'm in the hands of an exceptionally talented director, so if anyone who is sat watching my work has a problem with it, then it is my fault. Yet I am in a slightly luckier position then our charming fräulein on reception. Whereas there can't be many people who relish paying the extra charge for their Internet, judgement of acting is much less objective. On the same night we can have people in who absolutely love us, and people who find we aren't their cup of tea. And we can happily say to both parties - "It's our fault"
Paul Clayton appears in "Brimstone and Treacle" by Dennis Potter at the Hope Theatre, Upper Street, London N1 from 2 - 20 May.Suggest a correction