Exposed By the Mask
By Peter Hall
Oberon Books £9.99
Dateline: 31st October, 2010
Although this book was first published in 2000, it is worthy of a reprint
in this series of otherwise new short volumes.
Exposed by the Mask consists of the series of four Clark Lectures
delivered by Sir Peter Hall at Trinity College Cambridge. In them, perhaps
the greatest director of the last fifty years muses on the nature of
the theatrical experience taking four separate subjects, the Greeks,
Shakespeare, Mozart and the moderns that he helped to popularise, Beckett
His first piece gets almost halfway through before reaching the Greeks.
Before that, the writer considers the nature of the relationship between
those who create theatre and their audience.
This is a fascinating analysis that will undoubtedly provoke thought
in anybody who reads it. An immediate consequence is the potential for
a very different experience the next time that one goes to the theatre,
thanks to some deeply philosophical but intelligibly conveyed ideas.
The suggestion that we have somehow to bridge and inevitable dichotomy,
both believing in something that is happening on stage while simultaneously
knowing that it is something happening on stage is the starting point.
This leads to the concept of the mask as a means of both hiding and
elucidating the feelings of actors and characters that they play.
For Sir Peter, physical masks are only a starting point since, in his
view, it is also possible to create virtual masks, for example by acting.
These masks change perceptions in many positive ways but, according
to our guide, probably the most important is that they encourage restraint,
the facet that he regards as essential if actors are to convince and
win over their audience.
In his second lecture, the former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare
Company (not to mention the National Theatre) lays out his theories
about playing Shakespeare. In particular, he emphasises the need to
listen to the text.
He firmly believes that everything necessary for an actor to perform
is encoded into the writing, with the verse giving signs about how to
speak, move and even breathe. To demonstrate this, he analyses a few
short lines from the start of Twelfth Night showing their hidden
In addition to the verse, he also insightfully explores the form and
settings for plays in Shakespeare's time and the way in which audiences
react to and interact with the players.
The parallels between Mozart and the theatre may not seem obvious but
the third lecture brings them together, comparing the great composer
with Chekhov and Ibsen.
Finally, we move up to date. Sir Peter Hall is almost certainly the
greatest living expert on the direction and performance of plays by
Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter. He selects the start of two early
works, Waiting for Godot and The Homecoming, and delivers
a masterclass in textual analysis.
From there he moves on to some thoughts about how desperate is the
need for Theatre in today's society. This leads to a plea to politicians
to recognise its value, which is even more timely following the recent
announcement of such swathing cuts to the Arts Council's budget.
Exposed by the Mask is quite a short book but is filled with
wisdom and would make a perfect gift for anybody interested in theatre,
whether as a practitioner or spectator.
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