Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

THESPIANS all over the world have been deeply traumatised by the suggestion of Mr Trevor Nunn, artistic director at the National Theatre, that they should use radio-mikes to ensure audibility. Ancient Greeks, having to perform in masks, might have welcomed the idea.

Greek audiences put great store by the quality of an actor's voice. Shouting was the mark of bad actors, who were described as `deep-groaning', 'roaring', `roaring about', `oil-flasking', `larynxing', and 'pharynxing'. Ancient evidence suggests that clarity, euphony, beauty of tone and suitability to character were the priorities. Aristotle emphasises the central importance of volume, pitch and rhythm: `Delivery is concerned with the way the voice is used to match each emotion, when loud, soft and middling, and when to use high, low or middling pitch, and what are the most suitable rhythms. Those who know how to use their voices almost always walk away with the prizes.'

Many writers refer to the care actors took to train and look after their voice. Aristotle says they always exercised early, fasting. Cicero says that actors `every day, before their performance on stage, lie down and gradually raise their voice, and later, after playing their parts, take their seats, and bring it back again from the highest treble to the lowest bass, and in a way regain control of it'. …

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