The Crystals are Clear about English Accents

“You Say Potato – The Story of English Accents”  by Ben Crystal and  David Crystal

I first met David Crystal at the start up of the Globe Theatre.   There were fascinating talks on how Shakespeare wrote his work and how the actors would sometimes go on with the just written script in their hand – (not too disimilar from today, when actors sometimes learn script changes  while in make up).   Thanks to David Crystal we would hear how the words sounded in Shakespeare’s time.
I met his son Ben Crystal when I was doing phonetics at UCL.  ‘You Say Potato’  is never boring, an endlessly fascinating book and never pompous and often funny.
Ben Crystal describes his accent as ‘modified RP,  a slightly rougher version of Received Pronunciation.” This is becoming the norm in our standard English speech.  He writes of influences on his speech:
“I was born in Ascot, raised near Reading and grew up in North Wales.  I went to university in Lancaster and I also have their short ‘a’ in my accent….After travelling in the States, I often tell my dawg to seddle down while I boil the keddle.”
If you want to take the mystique out of English accents, understand the difference between accents and dialects and want to understand a bit more about your unique way of talking in English, then this is the book for you.  No way of talking is perfect, but you are perfect in the way you talk.  Click below for details on You Say Potato.

Ben and David Crystal

 

Action or Talk – The Bigger Questions

Eddie Izzard spoke about his role in the new Victoria and Abdul film in the Guardian.  Eddie’s zest and curiosity of life are revealed.  He dares to ask the bigger questions “What made us who we are?”  “What brought us to here?”  Click on the image below for a trailer of Victoria and Abdul

Eddie Izzard

Visiting Culloden recently and walking around the scene of the bloody 1746 battle between the 25 year old Prince Charlie supporters and the government supporters led by the 25 year old Duke of Cumberland, it’s tempting to ask the same questions.  Some people make sense of life by constantly facing new challenges and always being outside the zone of “the expected ” as with Eddie Izzard.   Others like the author and journalist Robert McCrum explore the incidents of their lives and make sense of them through words.

Robert McCrum had a stroke when he was a young man, just brimming with life and making his name. Since then he’s been fascinated by neuroscience and the brain.  “It’s an enthralling and mysterious subject and one that encourages a literary response because it raises very big existential questions about the nature of thought.
We’re storytelling people, aren’t we?  We default to that mode when we’re making sense of otherwise chaotic data.  A good actor can still a room of boisterous kids because they’ll be gripped by the music of the words.  Words evoke memories and thoughts, put us in touch with ourselves. And that’s consoling.”
Robert McCrum the Writer of The Story of English

 

 

Wired – A Dramatic Voice from the Army

“We want empathy not sympathy, I love my job”.   This was a statement said by a major during a question and answer session after the play ‘Wired’ was shown as part of Army@TheFringe.  When you think about it, it’s a very brave step on the part of the army to open its doors to the Arts, Comedy, Theatre crowd.  More and more though, the army has realised the need for media involvement, especially social media involvement.
In ‘Strike’ a Drama series based on the novel by Robert Galbraith. Cormoran Strike, an injured war veteran turned PI, investigates.  In one scene Robin Ellacott played by Holliday Grainger  tells her boyfriend that her new boss, the detective Cormoran Strike, lost part of his leg while he was fighting in Iraq.  Her boyfriend’s reply is off hand and scathing, as if Cormoran deserved the injury fighting in a war that no one supported.  Of course he’s just jealous, but many people share similar thoughts.
‘Wired’ is about a young girl joining the army, getting trained up and being sent  to Afghanistan, where during one posting, while  she is checking people and  is suspicious of someone wearing a burqa, she reacts too late and  her best friend is killed by a bomb.  She subsequently goes into meltdown suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and is – all over again – torn apart by the memory of her father’s suicide when she was a young girl.  The award winning playwright Lesley Wilson has a background in mental health and brilliantly describes the effects of a soldier being  pumped with adrenaline while on patrol in a war zone. The director Jordon Blackwood stages ‘Wired’ as individual monologues with physical inter-action.   The young soldier Joanna, played by Jasmine Main is excellent and there’s great support particularly from Una McDade who carries the main narrative of the play.
In the end Joanna recovers and chooses to go back to her army job.  Like the major said, there is empathy and support within the army for all who choose to join – and many are from backgrounds that ironically make them vulnerable.
Whatever your views on war – this is a powerful play.

Joanna played by Jasmine Main

 

The Whip Hand at the Traverse, Edinburgh Festival

Whip Hand has a  theme that’s come through a lot this year at Edinburgh.  How our past deeds – good, bad or indifferent have affected where we are now.  This play explores our feelings of guilt and how we can manipulate and be manipulated by them.

It’s  Dougie’s 50 th birthday and he says that he’s been contacted by a solicitor.  His whole demeanour is alive and excited and you can tell that this is not his usual self by the attitude of his ex-wife and her new husband who are throwing the birthday party for him in their comfortable expensively furnished home.  We at first think that Dougie’s come into money that will take him from sleeping at his mum’s house into an income bracket on a par with his ex and her new husband.  Not so.  The figure is £25,000 and he’s being asked to pay this amount to the ancestors of the slaves that his great, great, great grandfather Saracen Bell kept on his plantation in the West Indies.  Backing up Dougie’s story is his nephew Aaron who lives at his mum’s house with him.  He is the son of  Dougie’s sister and (now disappeared) husband, a person of colour.
Arlene, Dougie’s ex-wife thinks he wants to borrow the money from her and her  new husband (again), but Dougie already knows that they’ve run out of cash and are in debt.  No, he wants to take the £25,000 fund put aside for Molly, his bright, young daughter for when she starts university in a month’s time.  Douglas Maxwell the writer  turns  the whole audience against Dougie, this hate filled man.  It doesn’t matter to Dougie when  Aaron, his  nephew  reveals that the solicitor and the Saracen Bell website is a scam.  He still wants the money put aside for Molly.  Before the climax of the play Dougie succeeds in dealing body blows to all the characters in the play, in particular to Aaron.
So it’s a great story with a terrible message that we are all victims and that vulnerable people of colour are still treated badly.  There are some wonderful scenes where individual actors are able to truly shine, in particular Michael Abubakar who plays Aaron.  The assurance of Richard Conlon who plays Lorenzo is there from the start but it takes the other actors time.  This may be a director’s error.  We cannot see the difference between a character who is unsure and an actor who’s unsure unless the direction is tight.  The Whip Hand is on at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre from September 5th to September 16th.  Book tickets by clicking on the picture below.

The Whip Hand by Douglas Maxwell