Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Book Review • PLAYING LEAR • Oliver Ford Davies • 2003

playinglearPlaying Lear by Oliver Ford Davies

‘What will go next — socks or pants? The socks make you look vulnerable. And ridiculous. Yes. So it’ll be the pants?’ Oliver Ford Davies wonders just how naked he will have to be for the storm scene in King Lear.

In the Spring of 1998, when Oliver Ford Davies was playing in Jonathan Kent’s production of Pirandello’s Naked, the director asked him to play the king in an Almeida Theatre production of King Lear. He had already played in Chekhov’s Ivanov for Kent the previous year and felt that at sixty he should take on the challenge. In this book he takes the reader through the process of exploring and developing the role until the production finally opens nearly four years later.

To get him ‘in training’ Kent suggested that he appear in his 2000 Almeida productions of Richard II and Coriolanus and it was after these plays had crossed the Atlantic and opened in New York that Davies began his serious study of the play.

For the next year we follow him through his analysis of the text, and thoughts about the play and the role. He looks at the way other actors have played Lear and considers the choices that are open to him, looking at different approaches to acting, at the ways of speaking verse, and directorial approaches as well as the cutting and editing of the text.

In the December, he begins a journal recording the seven weeks of rehearsal (less a 5 day Christmas break) up to the first public preview when the public find themselves enclosed in a panelled room with the actors, which disintegrates around them as the storm breaks and the actors are deluged with real water, and then on to the press night. Some months later, following a retrospective conversation with the director, Ford Davies looks back on the experience. He includes in the book a selection from the critics, a conversation with John Barton, and considers other productions and the programme note which, when the actors saw it on the night of the first preview, did prove to have some relevance to what they had been trying to achieve.

Thus Davies shares his own experience, writing in a direct and fluent style that takes the reader into his confidence. It is not an account of the creation of the production, though of course we incidentally learn much about it, but recounts the whole process from the viewpoint of the individual actor: his concerns both alone and in the rehearsal room. It is a fascinating read, not only for other actors and theatre workers, who will find much with which they can identify, but especially for the theatre goer who will gain a real understanding of the way in which an actor hones his craft and brings a character to life. It deserves a place on your bookshelf alongside Simon Callow’s Being an Actor and Antony Sher’s Year of the King.

Tom Howard © July 2003

Originally published n R&V 28-07-03

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This entry was posted on 03/27/2016 by in Books, Reviews, Theatre and tagged , , , , , .
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