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

Diana’s Recordings by her Voice Coach

 

Have all the facts behind the recordings of Princess Diana by her voice coach Peter Settelen been revealed?  Probably not.   As I understand it – her faithful butler Paul Burrell

kept them safe after her death.  Why didn’t he throw them away?  He may have thought it safer to keep them.  Look what happened to the photos of Sarah Ferguson that were thrown away? The Princess Diana recordings were then claimed by Peter Settelen as his property.  This, I do find very strange, unless he didn’t receive a fee for his voice coaching.

Many of my clients ask me if they can record or film our sessions.  Usually it’s because they need a record of their progress and want to study and practice between appointments.  I would never ask a client if I could record a session.  I make notes immediately after or during the session and record exercises only when a goal in their progress is achieved.  All information is strictly confidential and while I keep a database, it’s for notes and analysis. As anyone who’s had voice and speech coaching will tell you, it is an experience of freedom of speech and expression, so it is very important to ensure that you have a confidentiality agreement beforehand.

Why then would Princess Diana agree that Peter Settelen owned the recordings?  They were kept at Diana’s home and I would have thought that they were hers and therefore would be passed on to her children.    Earl Spencer went through the courts to reclaim the recordings but lost to Peter Settelen who then sold them to an American TV company to pay off the costs of defending himself in court – he says.

Now they are showing them.  Why?  Just because the Princes Harry and William have been celebrating their mother’s life?  Peter Settelen may well have helped Princess Diana to speak in public – and she did give some good speeches, but to make their coaching sessions public is professional misconduct.  She’s been dead for a long time.  Everyone can guess pretty much what’s on the recordings anyway.

Diana Princess of Wales

 

The Voice of Jane Austen

 

Penquin Classic Audiobooks brought out a set of audio books a few years ago and I was asked to review them.   With 10 books to listen to it could have been a chore, but they were exactly read by skilled actors and it was an enriching experience.  Last week I listened to Pride and Prejudice again while driving by myself to the north.  It was an even fresher more entertaining listening experience than when I first heard it read by Joanna David.  The journey took a bit longer when I turned RDS off because I was eager to listen to the next part of the story.
July 15th was the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. Claire Tomalin, herself a wonderful writer, chose Pride and Prejudice as her favourite Jane Austen novel.  Jane Austen first drafted the novel in 1790 and read it aloud to friends and family who, it would be lovely to imagine, recognised some of the personalities in the novel.  I wonder at the wit and  vivacity and changes of Jane Austen’s voice while she was reading?  The opening lines still ring true for many women, who travel from near and far and via the internet, with this thought in their minds:  “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”  This statement gets us as readers hooked, but soon discover the protagonist’s  Elizabeth Bennet’s  independence of thought with regard to her circumstances.   Great wealth is not something she would sacrifice her happiness for.   Ironically it is her independence that helps her fulfil the opening statement of the novel.   Ahdaf Soueif  writes in the same Guardian article: “Austen’s genius is that you find in her a true reflection of whatever you, at a particular moment, think is a reality.”
This collection of Penguin classic Audiobooks is sadly no longer available, a couple of mine are missing (not Pride and Prejudice) via clients on the Speak English Clearly course, well,  they are very good to listen to.  You can get downloads of the classic Penguin novels but they are read by other narrators.

Jane Austen – click for article

 

 

Anatomy of a Suicide

 

As soon as Anatomy of Suicide opens you feel the isolation of Carol and her freefall into a life that does not consider her and won’t understand her.  With the dialogue intercut between scenes, there are words that pop out to highlight the story with humour or pathos.  The slow rhythmic changes of set and costume draw in the progress towards the inevitable fates of Carol and then Anna.  When the final scene opens up into light and space there is a feeling of hope, but at a terrible price.
This play throws up so many questions about expectations, attraction, mindfulness,  genetic  inheritance that I suggest you go and see it with someone who you can really talk to afterwards.

Written by Alice Birch with Katie Mitchell directing.  The Royal Court, Jerwood is an excellent theatre for accoustics and listening to the cast speaking these painful and sometimes funny words was cathartic.

Kate O’ Flynn, Hattie Morahan, Adelle Leonce

An Original Voice – Dame Hilary Mantel

 

My best friend gave me Beyond Black as a Christmas present ages ago.  It was because of the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire connection (Hilary Mantel is from Glossop in Derbyshire and we’re from Nottinghamshire).  I spent a lot of time reading Beyond Black with my mouth open in shock and kept putting it down only to take it up again minutes later.  It was as if I were reading about a relative – one who the family didn’t often see and generally talked about more with their eyes than with their words.  The spirit world was accepted  in our family but not encouraged, for the very reasons that are contained in Hilary Mantell’s Beyond Black.

Hilary Mantell has a playful voice that is full of knowledge and reflection.  Her fearless imagination weighs up the odds facing those between life and death.   She is able to inhabit the minds of those now dead, with compassion.  Looking forward to hearing her Reith Lecture: The Day is for Living – art can bring the dead back to life. Radio 4 Tuesday 13th June at 9.00 am.

Dame Hilary Mantel

Nervous Energy in Voice and Movement

 

 

When people are confused or afraid of saying something that they think might not be received well,  their voices can become constricted.  This may result in even a quite pleasant “young” sounding voice, but the long term effect on the listener will still be vapid and the content of what they’re saying  pointless.  Many voices in the media at the moment, sound stuck.  When I came across these excerpts from Keith Bain’s  book called The Principles of Movement it was something I wanted to blog.
Nervous Energy
from Keith Bain’s book “The Principles of Movement”
“To work subtlety with emotional energy you need great discernment and relaxation.  Otherwise that bugbear nervous energy takes over.  Nervous energy  can be a manifestation of fear of failure, determination to be better than everyone else, or just plain self-consciousness.  Apart from the forced quality that nervous energy produces, its worst effect is the way it depletes your energy resource, wearing you down and using up your reserves.”

Keith Bain

In the business world a company’s performance is more dependent on sentiment than immediate performance.  The same can be said for politicians.  Their views and values are never stated with any semblance of passion unless some poll has told them to say what is popular and will get them or keep them in  power.
Nervous energy apart, how long will it be before we hear wake up voices and see people who are not repressed by doubt or uncertainty  or influenced by desire for personal power?

 

Radio 1 Surgery on Shyness and Stuttering

 

Always like to listen in to Radio 1 surgery on a Wednesday eve when I’m coming home from the gym.  Dr Radha and Gemma Cairney give really useful advice.  Recently they had an evening devoted to speaking – which is right up my street.  They had one amazing girl phone in who had cured herself from stammering by turning her shyness and fear into a belief and appreciation of herself and her worth.   She’d worked on her self – value and stopped worrying about people judging her.   It’s been life-changing for her.  The committment needed to make the changes take time, but when you believe, then the transformation does take place.  Annik Petrou overcame her fear of speaking out loud and formed the Pony Express company – teaching others to speak in public
www.ponyexpressclub.com
Her business has  grown and the events are stimulating and fun.
When we’re in situations that make us particularly nervous like an interview or meeting a date for the first time, remember the onus is with the other person.  Interviewers have to be good at their jobs and you are evaluating them.  A date is there for you -to see if you have anything in common – if you don’t feel relaxed when you’re with them, then they’re not right for you.
There was good advice about thinking “bum and feet” to help you relax before a speaking event/presentation from voice coach Caroline Goyder.  Part of the Max Your Voice Check List Before Speaking.
Drinking water was recommended for hydrating the voice.  Yes but please sip small amounts frequently rather than glugging it down.  It’s good to sing in a steamy shower – the steam helps the vocal folds.
Relieving a stammer is about clarifying the message from the brain to the speech mechanism as Doc Radha said.   When we’re unsure of what we’re saying and nervous -the muscles can get into a habit of trying to stop the word being formed just before it’s said –  and a stammer can develop in this way.  The muscles can be released and this allows the words to free flow – but it all starts in the mind with how we feel about ourselves and what we’re saying.  Once a client who’d stopped stammering told me his girlfriend missed the stammer as she though it was sweet.  Fortunately she thought he was great without the stammer too.

Gemma Cairney

What Makes Actors Easy to Hear?

 

 

“Judi Dench is the latest actor to criticise younger performers for poor diction.
In a speech before unveiling a blue plaque at the former home of actor John Gielgud, Dench complained that younger actors are not applying themselves to develop their vocal technique, expressing her frustration at not being able to hear them properly.” The Stage

There are lots of reasons for poor diction among some young actors.
Not always because they haven’t been to Drama School.
With the casting done by sending self-tapes, the emphasis is on the look and instant openness to the camera.  Providing the actor says the lines with conviction and is entirely convincing in the role a director will be satisfied that they can direct them and they’ll be good in the roles. Often they are, but for more demanding parts – vocal technique is essential.
Actors like to deliver in their “natural” voice and are keen to preserve this.  When younger actors come to me for voice coaching they are more concerned with learning accents than with learning vocal technique. Depending on the job, I’ll coach vocal technique along with the accent. Maxine Peake has a fantastic vocal technique and her ability to stay with her own accent as well as embrace other accents is a great role model for young actors.
The most successful actors have been fortunate to realise early on that their voice is very much part of their craft.  When an actor is working all the time then the voice grows and technique is passed on by the more experienced actors.  When you’re not working all the time – actors need to build in a daily routine of simple voice exercises that they can incorporate into their lifestyle.  Love of poetry and reading out loud along with the daily voice exercises will always support them – mentally as well as vocally.

Judi Dench

The Voice, Speech and Communication Specialists