Shakespeare on Stage
By Julian Curry
Nick Hern Books £14.99
Dateline: 1st December, 2010
Nick Hern has followed up on yet another a moment of genius in asking
Julian Curry to create this book with the assistance of 13 leading actors.
Curry is best known for his performances as Claude Erskine-Brown in
Rumpole of the Bailey but has done much stage work, which gives
him a special insight into the pleasures and problems that actors experience
in creating major theatrical roles. Indeed, he has acted with many of
those contributing to the book, sometimes in the productions illuminated.
Shakespeare on Stage comprises interviews with these top stars
about their roles as major Shakespearean characters in often legendary
productions. These stretch back as far as Judi Dench's Juliet for Franco
Zeffirelli and as far forward as Jude Law's Hamlet and Derek Jacobi's
Malvolio, both for Michael Grandage as part of the Donmar's West End
season last year.
In between, come a stream of fine British stars including the likes
of Rebecca Hall (Rosalind), Sir Ian McKellen (Macbeth), Dame Helen Mirren
(Cleopatra) and Patrick Stewart (Prospero) as well as that adopted and
much-loved American, Kevin Spacey (Richard II).
The book comprises interviews in which Curry uses not only his skill
as an interviewer but also an intimate knowledge of acting and building
up roles to draw out fascinating views that would be beyond "normal"
journalists or authors.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Shakespeare on Stage is
the way in which the interrelationship between actors and the parts
that they are playing is dissected. Again and again, Julian Curry talks
to the actors as if he were speaking to their characters.
In doing so, he brings out points of character and interpretation which
says so much not only about the ways in which these experts do their
jobs but also elucidates their understanding of how the characters behave
There are great contrasts: for example it seems as if Dame Judi Dench
is largely natural actress who can play a part without thinking deeply
about it while at the other end of the scale, Sir Ian McKellen, whose
Macbeth opposite her for Sir Trevor Nunn (who provides the book's introduction)
is one of the chosen performances, intellectualises his own vision of
a role both before taking it on and when describing it.
There are many pleasures to be derived from reading this book. It presents
portraits of actors in their prime looked at from a particular perspective,
it illuminates major Shakespearean roles and, in passing, we learn a
lot about the directors with whom these actors worked and their methodologies.
There are also odd pieces of information hidden away that are truly
fascinating. For example, it was simultaneously chilling and heart-warming
to learn that Sir Derek Jacobi has stage fright but overcame it to play
his award-winning Malvolio.
One might expect a book of this type to cover every major Shakespearean
role but there is no space for King Lear or Richard III and neither
Othello nor Iago makes an appearance. This might suggest an unusual
set of selection criteria or, more optimistically, the chance that a
second volume will follow.
Either way, Shakespeare on Stage is yet another fine book from
the Nick Hern stable and will please any lover of classical theatre
or great acting and directing.
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