Actors’ Voices: The People behind the Performances

Edited by Patrick O'Kane
Oberon Books £15.99
304 pages

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Actors’ Voices is a book made up of 11 conversations between its author Patrick O'Kane and actors. It gets off to a really promising and enlightening start with a discussion between O'Kane and Claire Price.

This is an excellent exposé of the trials and tribulations, joys and insecurities of a life on the stage. Miss Price is a very successful actress but it took some considerable effort to get to the top. For some reason, despite the fact that it has never been apparent in performance, she has or is perceived to have weight problems that have come close to blighting a highly promising career now coming to maturity.

Following this piece comes a series of interviews with actors from outside the mainstream. Many of these are closer to performance artists than those that work regularly in mainstream plays and this almost certainly owes something to the author's own predilections, not to mention friendships.

As a general bunch, they seem to be unhappy with most aspects of their lives and careers although this outlook may partly be a reflection of the attitudes that O'Kane's questioning leads his colleagues towards. Railing against directors is all too common. In many cases it quickly becomes clear that the paths that these actors have chosen do not allow them to be particularly inclusive.

They would much rather be performing something that they believe is artistically valid and exciting than actually go out and entertain an audience, the people that pay them to go on stage. In many cases this might not be so unreasonable since it has admitted that they do seem to be working for a pittance.

This means that the lay reader could well struggle with the heart of this book but perseverance (or skipping some sections) pays off.

Starting with a highly intelligent and thoughtful Selina Cadell, a great believer in directors thank goodness, it really takes off.

Her wisdom is then succeeded by the thoughts and experiences of three brilliant actors in differing styles. Simon Russell Beale, Paterson Joseph and Jim Norton might seem to have little in common, but at least they love theatre and express their passion vehemently.

Miss Cadell sums up a perfect approach to acting when she says "it's flexibility, it's listening, it's being open, but the purpose is to express the play to the audience, without the purpose it’s just a series of self-indulgences". One fears that, if other interviews are representative, some actors may be more comfortable with those self-indulgences.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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