PERFORMING SHAKESPEARE: Oliver Ford Davies
Nick Hern Books
Published 2007-05-0 RRP 10.99
ISBN: 978 1 85459 781 6
Review: Rod Dungate, 4 May 2007
So Guildenstern and Rosencrantz go toot
Oliver Ford Davies’s book has an easy-going nature to it, but don’t let that fool you. It’s full of information, wisdom and insight.
Davies is a highly experienced actor. Once you know who he is, you see how often he pops up in a host of television dramas and films. He has an impressive list of performances in theatre as well. It’s interesting to note that before he became an actor he was a university lecturer; this may explain the clarity of his book – both in its organisation and in its moment-to-moment writing.
Most importantly, this book is clearly the work of a hands-on, down-to-earth actor. It has a no nonsense feel to it. It’s eminently suitable for actors (professional and amateur), acting students and those interested in the practicalities of performing Shakespeare. At every turn Davies furnishes what he has to say with apposite examples. I should add here that, though the book concentrates on Shakespeare, it has relevance to much verse drama and acting in general.
The early section on verse, verse structure, punctuation el al is vigorous and full of realistic advice – you always feel ‘here’s a man who does this.’ Young actors can get their knickers in a real twist about punctuation and arrangement of words on the page. Davies has sound (really sound) advice. ‘The actor . . . should never trust that the printed version she has in front of her is necessarily an ‘accurate’ or ‘authorised’ text.’ My heart took wing.
Davies’s sense of humour is never too far from the surface – and it’s a delight. He gives an informed account of the missing vowels (as in ‘o’er’ or ‘give’t’. ‘One way . . . is to suggest, or at any rate to think, the missing vowel. On no account say ‘toot’ in Horatio’s line’– see above. [Ans = to’t.]
And speaking of humour, he quotes a number of actors in how to deal with Shakespeare’s jokes – often impenetrably unfunny today. This is in a lively discussion about Shakespeare and his complex relationships with fools and clowns. Best I like Joe Melia’s suggestion: ‘[I] adopt a confident vernacular tone, i.e. as long as I sounded as if I was saying something funny, so long as I used a recognisably comic rhythm, I would get a response regardless of whether the majority of the audience immediately understood the words.’
The book concludes with a series of short interviews with Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Harriet Walter and others. How about this delight from Ian McK? – he’s saying that Shakespeare could have done anything with words – written in any form he chose . . . ‘It makes me warm all these years later that the greatest man who ever lived should be in my line of work.’
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