Saw and Heard Nicholas Hytner in conversation with Rachel Cooke to promote his book Balancing Acts at the Wimbledon BookFest. He was entertaining and succinct. You wonder if his clarity and single mindedness had come about after having so much thrown at him during his 12 years as Artistic Director of the National Theatre. He was both fortunate and astute in choosing the people he worked with. He had two great associate directors, Marianne Elliot and the late Howard Davis and a wonderful producer Nick Star, who he’s now working with at The Bridge Theatre. Among the achievements he’s most proud of are originating the streaming of live performances into cinemas the successes of War Horse, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and two Men and a Guvnor. When rehearsing One Man, Two Guvnors there was something not quite right and they invited an audience of school children to a rehearsal. James Corden was being pretty much his television personality – witty and bright and although the school children responded to him and the play they didn’t find it very funny. James Corden’s character was based on a Commedia dell’ Arte character from Richard Bean’s adaptation of A Servant of Two Masters (Italian: Il servitore di due padroni), a 1743 Commedia dell’arte style comedy play by the Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni. The character is stupid and devious. James Corden delivered the performance that made the play so funny, once he understood this. Comedy is the most difficult to get right and rehearse Nicholas Hytner said. It’s practise, practise and timing with none of the enriching, enlightening moments that can happen with say Shakespeare or Shaw. Nicolas Hytner is optimistic about live theatre with the number of talented playwrights emerging such as Lucy Kirkwood.
Young Marx by Richard Bean with Rory Kinnear is Nicholas Hytner’s next directing project at the new The Bridge Theatre. It is the first theatre to be built in London for many years and Nicolas Hytner and Nick Star are responsible for the project. The Bridge Theatre is by the Tower of London and the nearest station is London Bridge. Young Marx opens on 18th October and is followed by a production of Julius Caesar with Ben Whishaw. Probably a good idea to book early.
Nicolas Hytners’s book Balancing Acts is on sale now and would make a great Christmas present for anyone who is curious about The National Theatre and life in general.
Wonderful news about Kazuo Ishiguro being selected for the Nobel prize for literature. A graduate of the creative writing course at the University of East Anglia, started and led by the great teacher and writer Malcolm Bradbury. All Ishiguro’s books read extremely well out loud. It’s as if he has planted the words in a rhythmic conspiracy to hold your heart just far enough away from the raw emotions of the narrator. When We Were Orphans, is my favourite Kazuo Ishiguro book. If you can only read some of it out loud, it gives you a deeper sense of being inside the setting of the book. The lingering, bitter sweet sensation, which is the end result of coming through a totally absorbing and often traumatic story, is enough. Ishiguro’s writing is sometimes about characters finding themselves in circumstances beyond their control, often due to political upheaval. I suppose then that Kazuo Ishiguro has enough material now to last him a lifetime.
“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.
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
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
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.