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Martin Shaw: ‘Younger actors are not trained in the craft of acting’

Poster for The Best Man at the Playhouse Theatre, with Martin Shaw centre Poster for The Best Man at the Playhouse Theatre, with Martin Shaw centre
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Martin Shaw has claimed shorter rehearsals mean younger actors are not being given the chance to develop their skills.

He has also warned that sophisticated microphones used on television shoots makes some actors “lazy” with their articulation, which has resulted in mumbling on screen.

Shaw, star of BBC1’s Inspector George Gently, said economic pressures meant rehearsals were being cut back and that younger actors were not being given time to develop their craft.

“There is a gradual, all-pervading sense of ignorance which comes from the fact all you have to do is learn the lines and say the lines,” he said.

Shaw added: “In 1967 I did six episodes of Coronation Street and we had six weeks to do that, one for each episode. Now they do three or four episodes a day. With Inspector George Gently we shoot a full 90-minute film in 19 days. It’s a lot of pressure and there is a sense in which younger actors, without experience and without the background and years of years of practice, are actually forced into learning the lines and just doing it.”

He claimed that mumbling was the result of new technology, with microphones that can be clipped to a lapel and hidden. He said he had to watch a lot of television with the subtitles on.

“Especially with American programmes, I have to put on the subtitles. And I have tested this with people who have no hearing loss at all and they have to put on subtitles. Because there is a sort of laziness,” he said.

He added that “the craft side of our profession” was disappearing, meaning actors lack “the knowledge and the training to select which parts of the text are vital to be put across and which parts you can elide”.

“You do have good microphones, and can be realistic and economical, but there are bits that need to be put across too,” he said.

Shaw is about to star in the West End production of Gore Vidal’s political drama The Best Man, which opens at the Playhouse Theatre on March 6. The play was written 60 years ago and has never been staged in the West End.

Shaw said The Best Man provided a “vicarious satisfaction” for audiences today, who have been “bombarded with news of America and the election and [shown] incredulity at the antics of politicians”.

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