Theatre in Wales

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Actors Speaking

Actor Theatre Book

Richard Eyre "Talking Theatre" , Nick Hern Books , October 5, 2009
Actor Theatre Book by Richard Eyre “Talking Theatre” comprises 42 interviews across the spectrum of theatre. That spectrum includes eleven actors. The interviews with John Gielgud, Luise Rainer, Jason Robards and Willem Dafoe go into theatre history from Lilian Baylis to to the Wooster Group. The encounters with actors of Ireland are particularly revealing in their composite observations on language, nation and theatre. Liam Neeson recounts his encounter with Synge at the age of twelve: “something of the music of it did enter my whole body and persona.”

Fiona Shaw is expansive on Yeats and O'Casey, Wilde and Bernard Shaw. She sees in the latter “a sort of fire or fury- I think that anger was a very useful tool for him...He's a phenomenal contradiction- full of generosity and full of fury, full of public-spiritedness and full of private suffering.” Stephen Rea recalls Wilde's elastic nationalism. In front of American Irish he became one of them. But “he was ambivalent about Ireland, he wanted to escape from the narrowness of it.”

Eyre guides his interviewees towards their experiences with directors. Victor Spinetti is enormously revealing on the work that went into “Oh! What a Lovely War.” As for Joan Littlewood, says Spinetti “She watched a lot and listened a lot and used what was coming from us, but she had a framework in which to put that.” The production moved thousands but was made in a spirit of “She'd say “Our job is to entertain. We're seducers.”

Eyre asks Kim Hunter about Elia Kazan. She replies “the best director I ever worked with. He had this capacity and need and way of getting to know his performers very closely- and much of their personal lives- so that when he needed a particular area of your emotional background and being, he would know which button to press to get what he needed out of you. He was ruthless in that way, but also extremely generous and kind, because he would never do it in front of a company if he got that personal; he would do it in person.”

Judi Dench goes to the heart of the relationship of actor to script.”The thing about acting is: you don't play what's on the page. What you play is like that cake called mille-feuille, which is made of thousands of layers of that thin pastry. It's as if the line is the bit of icing on the top. The bit you're playing is the fifty-ninth bit of pastry. So that what you're saying is one thing, what you're meaning is another.”

Eyre asks “is it difficult to talk about acting?” Dame Judi: “I don't think we should talk about acting because there's nothing to talk about, really. It's as if we are blank canvases. It's the play and the author and the author's intention that energise the actor. It's only when you're telling the story that you're doing your job; after you've done that you've done that there's nothing really to talk about.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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