When Damian Lewis took to the stage on the opening night for his new West End play, Edward Albee’s The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia?, critics noted some oddities.
Lewis was very good in the role, most agreed. But why had he adopted that nasal accent? And why was he moving so strangely?
The answer, it turns out, was a perforated eardrum.
Lewis was diagnosed hours before curtain up and was “high as a kite” on painkillers, he disclosed.
An ear infection left him so off-balance that he feared he was about to faint on stage, and the accompanying cold also affected his delivery.
“There was this awful cold that was passed around the company in the last four or five weeks and I held out until about four days ago,” the actor said.
“I had this streaming cold. The catarrh all transferred into my ear. I went to an emergency doctor at about three o’clock and he had a look in there and said, ‘You’ve got a great big hole in your eardrum and you’ve got an infection of the middle ear.”
Lewis was determined that the show must go on, but told the Evening Standard “there was one point in act three where I had to hold onto a chair because I was going to pass out”.
He joked that he was “high as a kite on performance-enhancing drugs, which luckily aren’t illegal in the theatre. But I’ve got tremendous pain in my right ear at the moment because of the pressure.”
Critics had picked up on some oddities in the Homeland star’s performance.
The Telegraph said Lewis’s “hefty side-order of mannerisms” included “sharply angled movements” and “oddball nasal inflections”. The Stage described his performance as impressive “once you accustom yourself to his nasal and slightly strained accent”.
The actor plays an architect who announces that he has fallen madly in love with a goat. Sophie Okonedo is his disbelieving wife.
Okonedo said she was to blame for Lewis’s illness. “He caught it from me,” she said. “I had it all last week and I lost my voice completely on the first night. I was croaking all the way through. He was really ill tonight, poor thing.”
The actress described The Goat as an “extraordinary” piece of theatre. “I found it really shocking when I read it. It left me breathless. And it’s really hard to be shocked in the theatre these days,” she said.
Lewis said the revival was timely. “We feel more uncertainty and absurdity in our politics at the moment - both here and in the US - and this is a play where something drops out of the blue sky.
“It’s utterly shocking, it's unexpected, and it causes great uncertainty and not a little trauma. And it feels a little bit like what we're experiencing now. I think we're all feeling a bit battered at the moment."