Last week our article on ‘Parts and Cues’ stimulated quite a bit of interest. We had more ‘likes’ than usual on Facebook, and quite a few comments. A couple of people whose opinions I respect, recommended that I looked at a book by Patrick Tucker called Secrets of Acting Shakespeare – The Original Approach (available from Amazon.co.uk for £25 – £45, and from Amazon.com for $25 – $140 – this pricing is weird).
So I’ve bought a copy and reading it has excited me even more about Parts and Cues. This book is now up there with John Barton’s Playing Shakespeare book and TV series as my personal favourites on performing Shakespeare. Incidentally, Patrick Tucker had worked with John Barton at the RSC.
Let’s start with Elizabethan / Jacobean stage practice. Each player was given his part (not the whole play) as a set of speeches, and the cues for those speeches. He learnt those speeches and cues, and then performed the play with his colleagues who also had their Parts and Cues. Note – no rehearsals (well maybe a couple of hours to cover fight scenes, or other complicated scenes, but no seven weeks of rehearsal and no director). They did have one other thing – a “Platt” (or plot summary) hung back stage which summarised the entrances, exits, and other significant stage directions. This is rather like commedia dell’arte practice – at least according to Dario Fo.
Platt of The Seven Deadly Sins
Frankly, this sounds terrifying. So I was filled with admiration to find that Patrick Tucker had spent the 90s putting on performances based on this methodology with The Original Shakespeare Company, including three productions at The Globe and other productions around the world.
The book documents the history of this experiment covering: what we know of Elizabethan / Jacobean theatre practice; the performances by The Original Shakespeare Company; how Actors responded to playing this way; and then, of particular interest to me: the lessons learned about how to play Shakespeare; the use of the First Folio as the performance script and the playing clues embedded in it. Finally, there’s a check-list that the Original Shakespeare Company used when preparing for a production. A lot of this is good, practical stuff, which would be helpful for any group putting on a Shakespeare play – even if they had a director and rehearsals.
The book could be summarised, as could John Barton’s teachings, as’ “There is nothing but the text – read it with attention and it will tell you how to play it.”
Although the book is very exciting, and filled with stimulating insights into Shakespeare’s plays and methodology, I’m not going to rush off to found a company performing plays in this manner. You can call it a failure of courage, but I prefer to think of it as rather impractical in the modern age. In Elizabethan times theatres were putting on 26 performances of 16 plays in 1 month (The Rose Theatre, September, 1595), and The Lord Chancellor’s Men were a tightly-bound group of actors working with Shakespeare for nigh-on 15 years (1594 – 1608). Perhaps the nearest thing to this in the modern day, as Tucker points out, is the TV soap drama.
However, the book does encourage me in our use of ‘Parts and Cues’ for play-readings. The idea of giving each play-reader a script which only contains their speeches and their cues, and bring those play-readers together to explore the play through the interactions of their parts should be exciting. Indeed, the play reading of The Tempest which we ran using Parts and Cues (see Playreading Report of The Tempest) excited the group more than most play-readings.
Even in a play-reading, however, I think there will be some readers who prefer to have the whole script to read from, or even, (as many rehearsing actors have), a complete script with their part(s) highlit in a different colour.
With our new MFFE Version 5 you can choose whether you see the whole script; the whole script with your lines highlit; or Parts and Cues – and now we’re busily working away to add ‘Platts’ to the tools you have for a play-reading or production.
Incidentally, I’ve just finished editing Othello for MFFE Version 5, so that’s two plays done now (The Tempest and Othello) and in August I plan to edit Romeo and Juliet, so it’s looking hopeful for our launch of MFFE Version 5 and Parts and Cues, in 4Q15, though we better stop coming up with new ideas to add to the edition (e.g. Platts).
Watch this space.
Find out what’s new at Players-Shakespeare.com at our home page.
Secrets of Acting Shakespeare – The Original Approach is available from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com