Hearing voices. Or not. As the case may be.

Tuesday 22 January 2008

The West End Whingers are always happy to support expressions of disgruntlement aimed at sloppy stagecraft and are happy to be able to commend to you two articles in today’s The Times.

Quite what the context was for this is not reported, but in an article entitled Speak up, we can’t hear you at the front arts correspondent Dalya Alberge (must be an anagram; we suspect her real name is Bella Yardage) reported that some old people can’t make out the words when they see plays these days:

The director Sir Peter Hall, who founded the Royal Shakespeare Company and headed the National Theatre, told The Times that “most actors under the age of 40 are struggling to be heard”. He was backed by the actor Edward Fox who ridiculed younger actors for mumbling their lines in the pursuit of realism. Both blamed the decline in diction on the demise of repertory theatre and young actors doing more work on television and commercials than on stage.

In an accompanying “comment” piece called Wordies are becoming scrambled burblies (sack that sub-editor NOW) Benedict Nightingale does some fabulous naming and shaming:

Three fine young performers who could improve their diction: Tom Hardy, the lead in the National’s recent Man of Mode; Sally Phillips, the TV actress in Pinter’s People at the Haymarket; and sadly, Ewan McGregor, whose Iago in the Donmar’s Othello whizzes over Shakespeare’s lines the way Evel Knievel leapt across buses.

Now all this is of great interest to the Whingers because it’s actually a very complicated issue: Phil is profoundly deaf (at least when it comes to hearing responses to his admittedly rare utterance “Does anyone want a drink while I’m at the bar?”) whereas Andrew likes the theatre to be nice and quiet so that he can snooze undisturbed.

But it also harks back to our previous question – When did theatre audiences get so wussy? (never satisfactorily answered). And indeed, it’s years since we heard a member of the audience shout “Speak up!” to the actors.

If it’s not too late for New Year resolutions, please make one now not to suffer in silence. We’ll be right behind you egging you on and then going “tsk” and shaking our heads.


Much blame is laid at the door of telly as the new breeding ground for actors which goes to prove how prescient All About Eve was:

Claudia Caswell (Marilyn Monroe): Tell me this, do they have auditions for television?
Addison DeWitt (George Sanders): That’s all television is, my dear, nothing but auditions.

6 Responses to “Hearing voices. Or not. As the case may be.”

  1. mcguffin Says:

    Dear Whingers

    First i must commend you on a great blog the “Othello is about soft furnishings and haberdashery. There is a lot of fuss about handkerchiefs” comment still make me chuckle.

    however i must agree there is a huge difference between veteran actor delivery and the new crop i,m bit deaf so at the next “mumble fest” i attend you may indeed hear “speak up!” as i alway thought it was just me looks like i,m not alone

    thank you

  2. The last time I heard a ‘speak up’ was at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud – it would seem the ladies of Surrey aren’t afraid to make their displeasure known on such matters.

    More recently I heard a lovely exchange at the Theatre Royal Haymarket where, after a stage manager shuffled on stage to apologise for sound problems, an American lady in the front row shouted back, with perfect timing: “Darling, I’m afraid I didn’t hear a word you just said.”

  3. Tom Davis Says:

    I’d prefer the audience have to work a bit harder, than to have the lines shouted at me to be honest. I went to see this years trotting-out of The History Boys, and from the back row of the stalls it felt like I was constantly being shouted at. The people at the front must have needed ear plugs…

  4. Well, there’s a world of difference between good diction and mumbling VERY LOUDLY INDEED – the former can be heard and understood from the back of the Haymarket, the latter is indistinct in the front row of the Cottesloe. On balance, I probably see more shows in small spaces (the Bush, 503, BAC, Shunt, Upstairs at the Court etc.) and grew up with people talking sloppily, so the problem doesn’t impact on me me too greatly. I also have perfectly good hearing.

    I did once see a show at Salisbury on the same night as John Peter of the Sunday Times, though, and whilst I must have been about 10 rows further back from him and heard it all perfectly, and yet he complained of inaudibility in his review.

    I’m told the Church has much the same problem, what with its aging audiences and declining standards, etc. How fortunate that they don’t also have the Arts Council to contend with.

  5. Ah, yes, the Malvern Festival Theatre (to give it its pre-rebranded name). That’s the place to go for irrascible, uninhibited, cranky audiences.

    You won’t be surprised to hear that this was the theatre of Andrew’s youth.

    He even trod the boards there once or twice. It’s now of course something of a Mecca (can one still say that?) for West End Whingers fans.

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