Henry IV at the Donmar Warehouse

Prison guards welcomed us at the Donmar Warehouse production of Henry IV.  We were told to cross over to the Seven Dials club and wait to be called.  As Phyllida Lloyd was directing. I knew this could be no gimmick and felt a frisson of expectation of what Grotowski would call being taken into a reality performance way of thinking.
The all female cast of Henry IV was set in a Women’s Prison and this backdrop gave extra understanding of the “clan” based action of the play.  As with the all male productions of Shakespeare at the Globe, the text takes on a priority of significance when all the parts are played by the same sex.  The physicality was intense and the fights, especially the final battle, were stark and wonderfully staged – Kate Waters was the fight director.  The discipline of the actors was fantastic.  Jade Anouka being outstanding in her physical portrayal of Hotspur.  Falstaff, played by Ashley McGuire, Lady Percy/Gadshill played by Sharon Rooney, King Henry played by Harriet Walter, Worcester played by Ann Ogbomo and Hotspur’s messenger played by Katie Robinson  gave outstanding performances.  The delivery of the speeches by the actors was clear and I felt that most of the voices were good and I went with Harriet Walters voice and speech in her final scenes.  Hal, played by Clare Dunne seemed too wired/tired to be emotionally comfortable with the text and the strong Belfast accent perhaps was restricting.  The voice coach – the esteemed Barbara Houseman – must have had her reasons for this.
It is a great production and shows the struggle for power, leadership and ownership in a clear and disturbing way, with affection and love as the ultimate, heartrending sacrifice.   Some of the actors have worked with the Clean Break theatre company – a theatre company cast from women who’ve been in prison.  For many reasons is a great production.

Henry IV
Henry IV

Lady Mary Crawley – Downton Abbey

Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) please deliver us from our boredom.  Take a leaf out of the book of your screen mother – Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) and screen grandmother – Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith) and allow acting.  An RP accent does allow you to act.

Lady Mary Crawley marries a man many consider as beneath her social standing.  Her husband dies in a car accident and she gives birth to his posthumous child.  Soldiering on she helps run the family estate that her father, Lord Crawley, has let slip into the red – and helps turn it around  with her late sister’s husband.  She fends off endless suitors and forays from country to town with ease and aplomb.  When her personal maid’s fiancé is put into gaol she helps get him released.  She wears all the latest fashions and she becomes one of the first women in society to have her hair cut.  Yet she never, never, never, ever changes her speech pattern and always ends her sentences on a same level spondee.

Lady Mary Crawley - Michelle Dockery
Lady Mary Crawley – Michelle Dockery


Google App Voice Search

I like the female voice on Google Voice UK – it’s a mummy voice for the authority and has a smile in it which makes it pleasant.  While imagining a picture of the woman who’s speaking, I realise that the voice has been voice-shopped a little.  I think it’s a great app – if there were similar voices on Satnav, it would be good.

Francis Parkes working in house
Frances Parkes working in house

The Half – Faces and Voices

The photographs of actors waiting backstage to go on in The Half by Simon Annand are special.   You can see the backdrop of memorabilia in an actor’s intimate working life.  This is that hiatus of time before an actor goes on stage – a time of preparation that is different for every actor.  Every actor has their own way of being physically, vocally and mentally prepared.  This can grow and change.

Looking at the photographs of actors who’s voice I’m familiar with made me wonder – if I’d never heard them before – would I be able to match the actor’s voice to the actor’s face?

Simon Annand
Simon Annand

I’ll Start Speaking When We’re Comfortable

The impact we make as speakers is dependent on how comfortable we are about speaking and how comfortable we are with what we’re speaking about.  When we don’t know our subject it shows, when we haven’t worked out how we’re going to “work” our audience it shows, when we’re unsure about our voice and diction – it shows.  How it shows is in our face, our hands our body and our voice and speech and it makes our audience feel uncomfortable.

It’s not a discovery of the past 30 years – Cicero suggested that the passion of the soul expressed itself in the body’s actions when we’re speaking.  Francis Bacon who wrote the Advancement of Learning in 1605 saw body language as instrumental as it wasn’t dependent on the language of the country you came from.  He said that listening and looking were equally important in understanding conversation.  In the end the maxim of parents, “just be yourself”, is the one that works.  Unless you’re a spy or lying…..
Why not come and try out what it feels like to be totally at ease when you’re speaking in public?  Free Public Speaking Workshop

Drinks and refreshments available – kick start the season with style and a lot of fun

With Power comes responsibility

Are you ready to Max Your Voice?

Learn which type of communicating speaker you are

People assess you on the first minute of your introduction – make the most of it.

With your themed music as an intro – you can try out the first couple of minutes of your speech or presentation.  If you don’t have anything prepared and want to talk, we’ll feed you a few lines on autocue

Free event –  Saturday December 6th  – 6 until 9.00pm

Diorama Studios
201 Drummond St,
020 7383 0727
0208 5422777

Donations to Kids Company are welcome

Frances Parkes
Frances Parkes




Simon to Stephanie Hirst – man to woman

When you listen (click on the picture) to Stephanie (erstwhile Simon) Hirst being interviewed by Stephen Nolan about his journey to finding freedom as a woman, you’ll hear his engaging voice.  He’s currently seeing a speech therapist to produce more of a female sounding voice.  Stephen Nolan remarks that as Stephanie is an accomplished broadcaster wouldn’t it be better to leave his voice alone.  He says it would disturb him if he didn’t feel his voice reflected his femininity.  He investigated and found that there is an operation for the vocal folds in Bangkok but he’ s uncertain about going there.  I understand his concern – wouldn’t it be better for him to contact John Rubin the wise and esteemed Otolaryngologist?  He would be best placed to help and advise him on available operations.  As a performance trained voice coach I look at a person’s physicality and physiology.  Everybody varies and it affects the voice so much.  Women produce their voice in a different way to men and you can learn how to mirror that.  By utilising your breath you can learn to tilt the larynx and raise the pitch of your voice.  There are of course many exercises that can help and please contact me on frances@maxyourvoice for further information on any of these. Richard K Adler, Sandy Hirsch and Michelle Mordaunt who wrote “Voice and Communication Therapy for the Transgender/Transsexual Client – A Comprehensive Clinical Guide” say nonverbal communication, cultural differences and chronemics are important.  Different experiences and notions of time for men and women (yes really) radically affect our movement and pace of speaking.   In the end this overall experience of communicating as a woman, is what enthuses my transgender clients the most.  Manners, gesture, stance, phrasing and eye contact are all fulfilling.   As Simon now Stephanie says during the interview “no matter what – I am me”.  I’m sure that’s why Stephanie’s gathering so much support.  It’s wonderful that you gave the interview and it’s wonderful that you’re giving confidence to others in a similar position.  I’m really happy that you’re happy – confident and happier people make life  better.

Stephanie Hirst and Stephen Nolan
Stephanie Hirst and Stephen Nolan








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David Starkey

Always good to see TV Presenters and writers give a talk live.  On TV we get the edited version whereas live we can hear and see their style and ability as speakers firsthand.  David Starkey, the historian well-known for being bristly was at our local Wimbledon Bookfest today.  He came across as a contemplative pussy-cat until question time.  It was then that his hackles rose and began charging in to his subject with relish.  It was a clear message that greatness is achieved in history by people who have challenged the accepted rules of their time.  The achievers that have gone on their way steadily working to achieve change and kept their heads down are not much mentioned in our history books.  With great power comes great responsibility and the responsibility bit is a hard pill to swallow unless you have grit, self-belief and humility.  On this occasion Mr Starkey came over as a good speaker and likeable in the flesh.

David Starkey