WORDS INTO ACTION: William Gaskill
Nick Hern Books
ISBN: 9 781848 421004
Review: Rod Dungate 22.10.10
Opens so many doors to discovering the power of words
It took me a little time to get the hang of this book; however, I’m glad I persevered. In fact, I’m now asking myself what my problem was! For anyone performing with words, this book will be invaluable study.
William Gaskill’s book is a fascinating and absorbing collection of short essays connected with a common thread – how the actor can approach words (that is the script or text) and discover the action of it (assuming it’s there) and turn that action into acting. Each chapter takes a specific aspect of this; there are chapters on, for instance, What is an Action?, Action and Inaction, Movement and Stillness. In all there are 20 little chapters or essays. Each topic is dealt with in absorbing detail though they refer back to each other from time to time.
There are delightful revelations and discoveries. Gaskill explores, for instance, the effect of moving Hamlet’s first soliloquy to an earlier place – as it was in the early versions; intriguingly Gaskill muses that the transcribers must have been writing down what they actually heard. He points out, elsewhere, that we tend to use psychological analysis when studying scripts, then examples occasions when he’s interpreted actions from a sociological or political viewpoint.
Gaskill employs a host of illustrations to make his points – mostly they’re from Shakespeare, but there’s fair sprinkling of others too, including Brecht, Pinter and Beckett. One of the most interesting chapters for me is Sentences and Rhetoric in which he turns to Wilde, Webster and Winston Churchill.
Throughout the book, Gaskill makes a number of axiomatic style statements. ‘British actors . . . are inclined not to identify, not to commit themselves, to the passion of a part.,’ ‘For me the only punctuation invariably to be marked with a pause is the full stop.’ I found myself challenging these, but the effect, rather than irritating, is of a conversation going on – which is most satisfying.
But not as satisfying as reading, ‘Plays by aspiring writers today are peppered with the meaningless direction ‘Beat’’. Good for you, WG!
Here’s a link to the book on Amazon