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Playing Lear Paperback – 31 Jan 2003

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Nick Hern Books (31 Jan. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1854596985
  • ISBN-13: 978-1854596987
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 1.8 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,145,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

"From Michael Billington's Guardian review of the production: 'A highly intelligent actor..., Oliver Ford Davies has a commanding presence, a resonant voice and is every inch the patriarchal bully confronting his own moral blindness...'

About the Author

Oliver Ford Davies was a university lecturer, and then a regional drama critic for the Guardian, before turning to acting. In a long career, he has played major roles for the RSC and the National, scoring a particular hit in David Hare's Racing Demons at the National Theatre. His Lear for the Almeida in early 2002 marked his debut in the role.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER on 2 Oct. 2004
Format: Paperback
This marvellous book should be on the reading list of every student of this play. The first two chapters especially are studded with question marks because, in preparing himself to play the role of King Lear at the Almeida Theatre in 2002, Oliver Ford Davies explored a large range of alternative interpretations of the lines and characters in Shakespeare's play: which seemed most convincing to him? At each question the reader might pause to think out an answer for him or herself before reading on to discover how Davies resolved it for himself. Individual words and phrases, some of which might easily be overlooked, are carefully examined for what light they shed on the play; so our own understanding of it is greatly enriched. In the course of presenting these questions we also get a history of what other great commentators have written (just as, in the third chapter, we learn how other great actors have played the part.) Then there are four chapters about this particular production, three of them a rehearsal diary, in which further questions arise and are hammered out; and it is thrilling to see the production take shape.

Davies writes very well. He is modest about himself and generous about all with whom he worked, from the Director (Jonathan Kent) to whose own view of the play he devotes a separate chapter, to his fellow actors, to the Stage and Lighting Directors, and to the tailor who made the costumes. Before Lear, Davies usually played rather benign parts, and that this benignity is part of his character can be seen in the fact that there is none of the tension or bitchiness that one sometimes finds in accounts of other productions.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A great interpretation of the play. 2 Oct. 2004
By Ralph Blumenau - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This marvellous book should be on the reading list of every student of this play. The first two chapters especially are studded with question marks because, in preparing himself to play the role of King Lear at London's Almeida Theatre in 2002, Oliver Ford Davies explored a large range of alternative interpretations of the lines and characters in Shakespeare's play: which seemed most convincing to him? At each question the reader might pause to think out an answer for him or herself before reading on to discover how Davies resolved it for himself. Individual words and phrases, some of which might easily be overlooked, are carefully examined for what light they shed on the play; so our own understanding of it is greatly enriched. In the course of presenting these questions, we also get a history of what other great commentators have written (just as, in the third chapter, we learn how other great actors have played the part.) There are then four chapters about this particular production, three of them a rehearsal diary, in which further questions arise and are hammered out, and it is thrilling to see the production take shape.

Davies writes very well. He is modest about himself and generous about all with whom he worked, from the Director (Jonathan Kent) to whose own view of the play he devotes a separate chapter, to his fellow actors, to the Stage and Lighting Directors and to the tailor who made the costumes. Before Lear, Davies usually played rather benign roles, and that this benignity is part of his own character can be seen in the fact there there is none of the tension or bitchiness that one sometimes finds in accounts of other productions.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
AN INDISPENSABLE BOOK ON AN ENIGMATIC TOPIC 3 Aug. 2009
By David Keymer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I suspect that at least half of the readers of this book will have picked it up either because they're acting in Lear or directing Lear. I'm scheduled to be in the former category next February.

No actor worth his salt turns down the role of Lear. But almost as soon as you accept it, you realize what a daunting challenge it poses. Thirty-three lines into the first scene (Act One, Scene One), Lear strides on stage, and in twenty lines, announces that he plans to abdicate, to divide his kingdom into thirds and hand it over to his three daughters (and their two husbands and, in anticipation, one of two suitors of the third daughter), and he challenges his daughters, without prior notice, to tell him who loves him most, all this in front of the entire court. The eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, meet the challenge. They tell Lear what he wants to hear. He visibly preens himself as they speak. His favorite daughter, the youngest, Cordelia, refuses the challenge. She loves him but won't tell him so: she certainly won't tell him she'll love him to the exclusion of her future husband.

Lear explodes and his rage fuels the rest of the play. How you play Lear in the first scene determines how you play him for the rest of the play --through rage, madness, recovery, eventual reconciliation with Cordelia, and on to Cordelia's and Lear's deaths. Play it too low, treat Lear as in any way sweet or lovable, and the play loses its bite and its message. (If it has a message! This is arguably Shakespeare's most anarchic and bleak play.) Play it at too high a peak and the play becomes monotonic, a Johnny One Note play.

Before he became an actor full time, Oliver Ford Davies served a long apprenticeship as a drama critic and it shows in this intelligent, highly insightful look at what it entails to play Shakespeare's most enigmatic and most difficult role. For the actor, it is immensely helpful following along as Davies describes preparing for, rehearsing and then performing the play. I took notes as I read the book --keyboarded them onto a Word document-- and have already, six months ahead of time, found them helpful. How demented should Lear appear at the beginning of the play? When should he begin to unravel? How does the actor accommodate the vigor of Lear at the beginning of the play (Lear still king) and his progressive deterioration later on (on the heath, the reconciliation with his daughter, etc.)? How alienated is Lear from the very start from his daughters? The questions keep multiplying. (I know that one reason I admire this book is that Davies's answers to these questions resonate with my own answers. At least so far. But there's time yet for things to change.)

I don't know the answer to all, or even many of the questions I have about Lear, both the play and the character of Lear, but I suspect I will read and reread Davies many times over the coming months.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Insights into acting Shakespeare 21 July 2009
By J. Parrish - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"Playing Lear" is an extremely well written and entertaining book. Anyone who loves this play will enjoy learning about it from the point of view of an actor who has played the part. His comments are insightful and interesting and also very useful to anyone interested in acting in any of Shakesepare's plays, not just Lear. I plan on reading it several more times.
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