Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…
Gary Abblett, 38, is a jobbing actor with experience at the National Theatre, RSC, in the West End and on tour
Dicky Benfield is in his 40s and has worked in the West End, at the NT, the Globe, and in theatres around the country
Adam Lovett is a 45-year-old actor who has appeared in film, BAFTA-winning TV, at the RSC, National and West End
John Pepper is 31 and for the past 10 years has worked as an actor in regional theatres, the National and in radio, television and film
Peter Quince is a 72-year-old actor working in theatre
Jenny Talbot is 39 and has nearly 20 years of experience in West End and touring musical theatre with forays into TV, film and plays
Annie Walker is 25. Since graduating from drama school, she has worked predominantly in regional theatres and is also a writer and street performer
Adam No. Next question? It’s class snobbery, nostalgia fetishism and a resistance to change.
Dicky There’s a change in the way that Shakespeare is being spoken, but I wouldn’t call it a crisis.
Annie ‘Classical’ training still involves a fair amount of Shakespeare, I’d say.
Peter Not as much a crisis, rather a gradual decline. Verse speaking requires awareness of the meter, thinking on the line not between the lines, not breaking it up and maintaining the energy to the end of the line.
Adam Shakespeare isn’t a museum piece. We keep it alive for each generation by reinventing the way it’s done.
Jon The thing that got me about the Billington piece was that the headline was: “Can a Shakespeare gym solve the crisis in verse speaking?” No debate about whether there is a crisis, just ‘what are we going to do about it?’. Plus it repeated the old canard that we’re given mics because we can’t project, rather than because there’s a massive, electronically produced soundscape.
Adam All that matters is the sense conveyed to the audience. Does it feel relevant and fresh? Verse speaking is a means to an end.
Dicky I’m currently doing a Shakespeare, and there’s a couple of people who are wonderful at the verse, but I would hesitate to say that it’s at the expense of emotion.
Jenny I used to want to be in a Shakespeare play. I’ve not done one professionally. But also, that ambition has died. I’m not sure why.
Adam It’s got to be something that makes it feel alive. And what people often mean by verse speaking is a deadening of the text. Who decides who is the curator of verse speaking anyway? If we all spoke like the Victorians did when they did Shakespeare it’d be absurd.
Annie It’s down to relaxing with it. The emotion flows with the language. As an actor and audience member, when it comes to Shakespeare, let it wash over you. Everything flows.
Gary This question is asked every generation. No is the answer. Shakespeare is flexible but if it’s inaudible the production will be crap. Just be clear, one way or another. Productions I’ve seen, or been in, that obsess over the verse-speaking have not been better than those with a freer attitude.
Jenny I’ve always thought the best Shakespeare performers are the ones who manage to convey the story to the audience in the most natural way. A lot of ‘Shakespeare voice’ actors sound as though they have lovely speaking voices and are loud and clear, but I rarely follow their meaning or believe in their characters.
Peter I’m not advocating Shakespeare Voice.
John There are more things to worry about in performing Shakespeare than whether the verse is being strictly adhered to.
Annie It’s down to the actor or director when the verse is used strictly and when not… I’ve seen lots of auditionees add huffs and puffs and laughs and ‘inits’ in it… It drives me mad.
Jon For one show I was in, the director designated one of the walls in the rehearsal room the ‘verse wall’ and would sometimes make us stand with our backs to it. When we were there we had to speak the verse pedantically in rhythm: de DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM (beat). I have no idea how it was supposed to help but it didn’t. And not all lines of verse fit that pattern anyway. Don’t make me mention trochees.
Adam This is partly the problem. Everyone means something different when they say “verse speaking”. The series on playing Shakespeare, which was the 1970s gold standard, actively railed against de dum de dum de dum de dum de dum verse speaking.
Annie A lot of people stiffen up and go all RP. Let’s stop that.
Gary Most actors who understand what they’re saying tend to do it ‘correctly’ anyway. It’s not as complicated as some people make out.
Annie People have this common idea that ‘Shakespeare is hard’. That’s the crisis.
Peter Iambic pentameter is actually a very natural rhythm. It doesn’t need to sound false.
John I have found if I am struggling with a line, going back and using some of the ‘rules’ has helped me to find a way into it.
Jon Of course the other big story about Shakespeare recently was Dominic Cavendish saying he’s being destroyed by “woke” productions, and the rebuttal from Greg Doran.
Adam Dominic Cavendish can get in the sea. He wants heritage Shakespeare. Symbol of ye olde England. Traditional. Conservative.
Peter It’s nothing to do with whether it’s done by women or men or people of colour. It’s to do with whether it’s done well.
Jon I’ve not been interested in what Cavendish has to say on diversity since he reviewed the Manchester Royal Exchange’s 2016 production of Streetcar and expressed disbelief at the idea a white woman might have a black sister.
Gary Productions have to reflect today. Of course, Cavendish should be furious because he’s furious about today.
Jon Brilliantly put.
Jenny And that’s what is so brilliant about Shakespeare. His work applies to the now. And some people want to keep it in the then. I don’t think that’s possible.
Dicky Just cast it with the best people. The filling of quotas doesn’t work either.
Peter Making it modern and diverse is important. But I stick to my conviction that awareness of the scansion and speaking through the line makes it easier to understand.
Adam If there is a crisis, it’s more often than not in directorial approach than it is anything
to do with actors.
Jon Dryden Taylor is an actor, writer and editor of The Green Room. If you work in theatre and would like to join in the conversation, email email@example.com