?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Changes In Acting Style - Eroticdreambattle — LiveJournal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Tony Grist

[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

Changes In Acting Style [Apr. 6th, 2012|11:07 am]
Tony Grist
It happened in my lifetime; we went from Shakespeare as recitation to Shakespeare as conversation. I've been reading Coriolanus- and I wanted to get an inkling of how Olivier did it. No-one filmed him (shame) but I managed to find a little audio clip of him speaking the "I banish you" speech. It wouldn't be done this way now. It's all, "listen to me articulate, groove to my inflections, you thought I was going to shout there, but I dropped my voice instead". It presumes an audience that already knows the text- and it treats the big speech as if it were an aria. The star steps into the spotlight, time slows down, the other actors give him space to perform. It's profoundly anti-naturalistic.

I don't know exactly how Shakespeare's actors worked, but I'm sure it wasn't like this. The plays are big, wordy texts, designed to be performed in the open air, with an audience that wasn't going to catch every word and wasn't afraid to heckle. If you took them at Olivier's pace they'd last forever- which is why, when he came to film Hamlet he had to cut it by two thirds. 

The old actors held the text at arm's length- like Yorick's skull- and turned it to catch the light. Today's actors try to get inside it. They speak fast, they are less musical and sometimes they slight the poetry. There is certainly a loss. No modern actor can be the kind of godlike Shakespearean star Olivier was; the new style prohibits it, but the gains are all in the direction of naturalism, authenticity, drama. Shakespeare was writing entertainment (Coriolanus is all crowd scenes, battles and  nose to nose confrontation) he didn't think of himself as the Bard- and I'll swear he wrote the way he did- words, words, words- because he expected his actors to gabble.
linkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: michaleen
2012-04-06 10:31 am (UTC)
The old actors held the text at arm's length- like Yorick's skull- and turned it to catch the light.
How delightfully put!
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-04-06 10:40 am (UTC)
Thanks.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-04-06 10:56 am (UTC)
Yes, it's a nineteenth century style. Maybe an 18th or even late 17th century style. Olivier was the last in a long tradition.

I think the differences in vocabulary largely disappear in performance. Obsolete words yield up their sense when an actor speaks them with understanding.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-04-06 02:21 pm (UTC)
I've seen actors at the RSC- who ought to be world experts at speaking it- turn Shakespearean blank verse into mumble-mush. I'm not an actor so I can't be sure, but I think the secret of getting it right is (a) never to lose sight of the meaning and (b) never to forget it's poetry.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-04-06 02:31 pm (UTC)
I like Trevor Nunn's film version of Twelfth Night. He has all his actors- who are a rag-bag of thesps and comedians- speaking the verse like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Same thing with his Macbeth. He directs the opening scene with the witches so it stops being gobbledy-gook and every word has meaning.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: sovay
2012-04-07 12:06 am (UTC)
He has all his actors- who are a rag-bag of thesps and comedians- speaking the verse like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Yes!

Richard E. Grant is the only casting choice that doesn't work for me; I can't believe him as someone as gormless as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Nigel Hawthorne, on the other hand, is my definitive Malvolio.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-04-09 04:08 pm (UTC)
Now I rather liked Richard E Grant in the role.

But then I think it's a great ensemble, from top to bottom.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-04-06 02:14 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen it yet, but I want to. I think it's one of Shakey's most cinematic scripts. Also I hear Vanessa Redgrave plays a blinder.

I must read Shirley...
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-04-06 02:27 pm (UTC)
OK, you've sold me on it, but I think I ought to read Jane Eyre first. Of all the many gaps in my reading that's probably the biggest.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-04-06 02:33 pm (UTC)
Yes, I read Villette quite recently- and fell in love with it.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: sovay
2012-04-06 04:21 pm (UTC)
The old actors held the text at arm's length- like Yorick's skull- and turned it to catch the light. Today's actors try to get inside it.

That is a lovely pair of lines.

I like cases of both styles; I have seen wonderful arias (Derek Jacobi as Richard II) and lovely naturalism (almost everyone in Trevor Nunn's Twelfth Night). And cases where neither works at all: I really don't like Olivier's Hamlet and I can't explain about half the cast of Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing. And then there are people who can perform a mix, and they're fun.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-04-06 06:41 pm (UTC)
Olivier was my first Hamlet, and I love that film- even though it's a simplistic version of the play and he was way too old for the role (at least in close-up). I think it's the best- and most assured of his Shakespeare films. Branagh's Much Ado is a weird cultural mash-up. Michael Keaton was a terrible mistake.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: sovay
2012-04-07 12:04 am (UTC)
Olivier was my first Hamlet, and I love that film- even though it's a simplistic version of the play and he was way too old for the role (at least in close-up).

I think my first was a student at Lexington High School, but my favorite is Innokenty Smoktunovsky.

Branagh's Much Ado is a weird cultural mash-up. Michael Keaton was a terrible mistake.

He's one of the cast I can't explain.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)