The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1798 Friday, 1 October 2004
Date: Thursday, 30 Sep 2004 19:47:16 -0400
Subject: Twilight of the Gods
The following is from Ian Holm's recently-published autobiography,
Acting My Life (2004). In it, Holm talks of playing Mutius, son of
Titus Andronicus, in Peter Brook's legendary 1955 production starring
"[F]or me the most important thing was being able to observe Olivier at
such close quarters. He gave a performance of full-blown greatness,
somehow achieving an extreme, culminating synthesis of technique and
emotion. The verse was spoken with idiosyncratic, masterful
perfection,and when he wasn't actually speaking, he created out of his
silences a sense of hushed expectation and sculpted beauty. It was
spell-binding acting on a grand scale.
The moment that has since stayed with me, and that I felt compelled to
watch from the wings every night, more often than not with tears in my
eyes, was when Marcus asks his brother why he is laughing after a
mountain of misfortune had been heaped on him (loss of all but two sons
in battle, mutilation and rape of his daughter). Olivier's Titus seemed
to take an age to reply. He found a place on the stage directly beneath
the most powerful spotlight and looked up straight into it. His harshly
illuminated and magnified features betrayed resignation and extreme
suffering, and he blinked several times into the intensity of the light
as if about to weep. Once he had the audience expectant and thrilled,
he began to speak, almost whispering the lines, but whispering them in a
defiantly hoarse manner, each syllable of every word accorded its
fullest expression and weight. He trusted the text and he trusted the
production, but most of all he believed that he had the authority to
deliver the electrifying response which Marcus's question demanded of him.
Why? I have not another tear to shed.
Besides, this sorrow is an enemy,
And would usurp upon my watery eyes
And make them blind with tributary tears.
As the speech went on, Olivier wrung out of it every ounce of emotion,
sounding every hard consonant, end-stopping every word. ('Why? I. Have.
NoT. Another. Tear. To. SheD.') He had the audience, the rest of the
cast and the crew hanging on every wretched syllable. 'That,' I
thought, 'is acting. And that's what I want to do.' "
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