What is the abiding Disney memory of your childhood?
For me, it will always be Kaa the snake from "The Jungle Book". Voiced by the surprisingly sibilant Sterling Holloway, I can recall even now on a damp south-east London Sunday afternoon those huge eyes as he entreats the young Mowgli to "Trust in Me".
This vision of the jungle hypnotist came back to me earlier in the week when I went for an eye test. I haven't sat in the optometrists chair for nearly 4 years since a successful cataract operation gave me back the distance vision that I lost at the age of eleven. But as we age, nothing stays the same, and I thought it now time to get my eyes checked. Sight for so many of us is such a vital component of our daily life that trusting it to someone is a huge undertaking. This was an opticians I had never been to before, and as I was asked to fill in my personal details, I wondered how much I could trust them. My email address was required as a component of the information they needed. An alarm bell rang. Was this just to send me offers, coupons, and no doubt to be sold on to other providers of such unwanted inbox information? I began to ask if this meant that the optician I saw would probably recommend that I needed spectacles anyway just to get a sale. How would I know if he was right? How would I trust?
In the end, my fears proved worthless and after thirty minutes in the company of the optometrist, I knew that I had been given the right information. I could trust him. A trust only slightly shaken when he said that his assistant would give me a test for my peripheral vision, and the girl who conducted it sat down and told me she was testing my prefferal vision. As she launched into this malapropism, I noticed that she was looking down at her papers, and from that moment, I didn't trust her.
Because that's what it's all down to. That's the reason Disney gave Kaa those huge saucery spiral eyes. It's eye contact. That's how we know whether we trust someone or not. Trust is a huge part of acting. Stepping out onto the stage with your fellow actors, trust is nearly always unspoken, and yet an almost invisible bond between the players. Currently at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, six actors set out each evening on a fantastic journey of trust as they create a full-blown musical every night in "Showstoppers - The Musical". With ever-increasing flights of imagination and invention, you can see these performers keeping a close eye on their fellows so that lyrics, song form, choreography, and story can be developed as a team. Watching it for a second time this week I was once again in awe.
I know from my own limited experience of improvisation just how vital it is to watch and look at what everyone else is doing.
That eye contact is incredibly valuable to both sides of the conversation. It allows me to see that I am being listened to. It's a little like leading someone to your home when you're both in separate cars. Checking in the mirror to make sure that there with you. It's probably the first behaviour that disappears in many people's presentations in the business world. They aim the conversation at a wall, or they bury their head in their notes, or keep it firmly focused on their PowerPoint. The less we see of their eyes, the less we trust.
It's that ability to maintain open and honest eye contact that allows drama graduates to do so well in so many fields alongside their acting. Sales, retail, customer service. The hotel receptionist who says "Hello and welcome Mr Clayton"and maintains eye contact until the end of the sentence is so much more effective in his greeting than the one who is looking down at his booking screen by the time he says my name.
It is on these small techniques - eye contact, pausing, authenticity, gravitas - that I spend many hours with my corporate actor hat on - working with lawyers, sales directors, CEOs, account managers, and marketing experts.
So when I see them being used naturally and effectively in real life, I never fail to be impressed. There might be some people who think that looking people in the eye is a good talent for any optician to have. It is not one to be underestimated.
In a world where increasingly we have to teach young children not to trust - a huge shame as trust is one of the greatest gifts we can give to each other- to find it in my workmates, my colleagues, my friends and my everyday life is a joy.
I only hope that I return it. As the snake said - though of course I mean it - "Trust in Me"