On My Hobby Horse!

On Thursday last I went to see Under Milk Wood at the Liverpool Playhouse. It is a touring production directed by Terry Hands and has had rave revues; but to be honest I was disappointed. The words were gabbled, especially by the women, and so lost both the beauty of the poetry and the humour. I often make the same criticism of productions of Shakespeare. There seems to be a prevailing theory among directors that unless the words are spoken very fast and very loudly, with lots of movement at the same time, the audience will get bored. It doesn’t work like that! Harold Pinter knew the power of the silent pause. Television has learnt that silence and stillness can speak louder than words, as anyone who has been watching Hinterland can testify. Shakespeare himself was very much aware of the tendency of actors to gabble and flail about. He set out exactly how he wanted his poetry treated in his advice to the players in Hamlet. ‘Speak the speech, I pray you, as pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth it as many of your players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines….. suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature.’ Why have our theatre directors forgotten this?