I was recently fortunate enough to find some time to nip up to Stratford (on Avon – that bit confuses people as I live about a ten minute walk from the London Stratford).
As well as the usual Shakespeare tours, tea, ice cream and beer I also got to the RSC, Royal Shakespeare Company, to see this season’s version of Anthony and Cleopatra.
I have wanted to see this play since I studied it for A level English Lit but this is the first time I’ve found one I could go to. Now, I don’t want to make this a review, that’s not what we’re about, but it didn’t disappoint and I would recommend people that can get there to go.
What I did want to talk about is what the play inspired me to think about, and it’s very close to what I talk to my students about all the time when teaching how to perform Shakespeare. Although on stage there was every type of Shakespearian actor to be seen, from the naturalist – who utters the words with such simplicity that he could be talking to his mates down the pub – to the traditionalist, who caresses each word with love and reverence but could have been performing it in the 20s, or the 1820s! Now I won’t say which I preferred but you can probably guess.
Whichever style you prefer they all had one essential thing in common. They knew what they were saying and why they were saying it and so the audience, who can sometimes feel alienated to the point where they could be watching it in French, understood it. I even overheard a teenage girl in the interval saying in a disbelieving voice, “It didn’t take me very long to get what was going on.”
So, when I bang on, and nag, and tell off my students about WHAT they are saying it’s for a reason. If you aren’t quite sure what your lines mean the audience definitely won’t. So translate it, get your Shakespeare dictionary out, paraphrase it into modern speech and don’t forget to BE SPECIFIC! Do whatever needs to be done so you understand every single word you are saying. Until you do this you have no hope of acting with any believability.