SPEAKING THE SPEECH: An Actor’s Guide to Shakespeare
Giles Block: Foreword by Mark Rylance
Nick Hern Books
ISBN 978 1 84842 191 2
Review: Alex Taylor
Tools not Rules
Giles Block was appointed ‘Master of Words’ at The Globe Theatre in 1999 by Mark Rylance, the Artistic Director at that time, and he has worked there ever since. And his relationship with working on the texts of Shakespeare’s plays goes much, much further back to a working relationship with Peter Hall, no less. Suffice it to say, then, that this book, written with the actor in mind, about how to approach the speaking of Shakespeare’s texts, is a useful and valuable addition to the field of Shakespeare scholarship – especially for those who are concerned particularly with acting or staging these texts.
So much has been written and recorded about how to speak Shakespeare in recent years (Peter Hall, John Barton, Cicely Berry, Patsy Rodenburg, Kristin Linklater, the list goes on and on) that one might be forgiven for feeling that there is a glut in the market. However, this book has some fresh and innovative things to say. It is well worth delving into, is provocative in places, and is a valuable addition to the field of manuals for teachers, directors and actors.
There is a great balance maintained throughout the book between the general and the specific, and it includes material, for instance about Shakespeare’s use of punctuation and its implications for actors, that you will not find elsewhere.
This is not to say that I agree with all that Block has to say about the requirements of Shakespeare’s verse but as his writing is a reflection of years of practice, of directing and coaching actors in order that they can fully inhabit and bring alive these texts, his views and his approaches are well worthy of consideration.
For instance, he has much to say early on about the iambic verse line, how to phrase it and the implications this has for breath. His arguments are persuasive, but I am not convinced by all the conclusions arrived at here. However, he is able to write about Shakespeare’s texts in a way that makes these texts, and the speaking of them, more accessible to all of us.
It is tempting, and easy, to think with all books of this kind that each writer is attempting to lay down a blueprint for how to lift Shakespeare’s words of the page. This is never, the intention. At a recent RSC conference concerned with the training of actors for classical theatre the phrase, ‘Tools not Rules,’ became the much-spoken mantra. It is in this spirit that Giles Block gives us the distillation of all of his experience in this persuasively written, and comprehensive, book that we might better have an awareness and understanding of the tools that we can access in order to bring these rich and challenging texts to life for a contemporary audience.