Whispers from the Wings

Playing roles with fewer lines

June 5, 2014

Paola Dionisotti and Jasper Britton in Henry IV Part III thought I'd have time. Five scenes in ten acts, one character, no understudying - a very light load by any criteria on this project!

I thought to myself, I'd have loads of time to reflect, from the perspective of a 'veteran' of the profession, a foil to that of the first timers. I couldn't have been more wrong.

About time in any case; which will come as no surprise - alas alas - to my colleagues, having had the extraordinary good fortune in work over the decades, on larger parts with many lines. I had quite forgot just how demanding and how very exhausting playing roles with fewer lines can be!

With Shakespeare, the text is chocker-full of clues as to who you are and what you are up to. It's like a rail track on which the story of the play travels; the fewer lines you have, the more gaps there are in this rail track. These gaps you must fill in, imaginatively, sensually, accurately, believably, for which, much research is needed, much selection, and inevitably much trial and error.

In our 21st century world of visual imagery, of the close up, and of an abused and debased language; in our post Stanislavski, post Chekhov, post Grotowski, post Lecoq, post Artaud world of theatre, we  ignore the reasons for the silences, for what is not said, for who does not speak at our peril. These silences create the context out of which a centuries' old text speaks as clearly to us now, as it did, though in quite another way to when it was written.

All great fun, but for this could-be great grandmother, it's very exhausting, so I'm off to Stratford's Leisure centre for a session round the gym!

Image caption: Paola Dionisotti and Jasper Britton in Henry IV Part II

by Paola Dionisotti  |  4 comments

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Jul 5, 11:41pm
Steve shorter

I would like to say that having seen both of your performances in part one and two I was completely in awe of your representation of the part and thoroughly understand what you are saying. The hardest act is the silent part, your stage presence was immense and worth all the hard work that you put into it.

Aug 23, 7:39am
Colin Hartley

In the early eighties I lived near Stratford and saw most of the current productions. I saw you in various roles then but will never forget your 'Taming of the Shrew' as being superb. So revisiting the theatre I was delighted to see you again as Quickly - a wonderfully characteristic portrayal - hugely enjoyed.

Oct 2, 8:10pm
Mary Moore

What fascinating insight into the demands of your performance. I saw both Parts I & II and assumed that a seasoned actor like you took all in your stride. I have a new respect for actors in similarly small Shakespearean roles.
Despite this you still managed to nip over to the Tyneside Cinema to see Doll Tear Sheet in 'Pride'. A treat to meet you in person.

Jan 21, 10:19am
Nigel Alabaster

So enjoyed your performance in both parts of Henry IV.

Also, thank you for your insights and comments at the post-play seminar with the audience last night (20/1/15). I found your comments on "sensing your body" in "the space" so interesting. Having started my theatre going with RSC in the days of Peter Brook/ John Barton/Terry Hands/Peter Hall et al., that all made a lot of sense. I realised that each "generation" of actors has to find this for themselves???

Do thank your colleagues for attending the seminar. It is such a treat for us "on the other side". We realise how tired you all must be by that stage of your working day!

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Teaching Shakespeare