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Playing Shakespeare (Performance Books)
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
John Barton is an epic figure in Shakespearean acting circles and rightly so. I found this book after watching a masterclass he filmed with Kevin Kline on Sky Arts, and just being bowled over by how much the actors, who were already good, improved under his tutelage.

This book consists of edited transcripts of a series of television programmes Barton made with some incredibly famous actors on how to Play Shakespeare. It does exactly what it says on the tin. It is absolutely fascinating to hear how different actors approach the same role, notably the chapter on Shylock in which David Suchet and Patrick Stewart compare their respective takes on the role.

Barton is eloquent and interesting as are his cast. The work is illuminating and underpins Barton's crucial reliance on what the text is doing, his belief is that Shakespeare uses both the words and the structure of the text to give the actors direction.

I must point out that I am not an actor myself, so how useful this is as a guide to acting I don't know. I am however, studying Shakespeare in production, and for this, this book is perfect. Well worth purchasing. A timeless classic.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This is a wonderful book based on the scripts for the 1982 TV series. It includes a modern follow-up DVD in which Barton interviews Jane Lapotair, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. To appreciate the book you need first to watch the original series. You may also wish to watch the DVDs while following along in the book as the actors bring scenes to life.

Don't miss out as well on Peter Hall's equally good "Shakespeare's Advice to the Players". Hall and Barton co-founded the RSC and think along the same lines (no pun intended) about how best to perform and appreciate Shakespeare.

Simply, most people first read Shakespeare as literature instead of understanding the texts as plays intended for performance. Shakespeare was writing for actors, and his style was intended to assist them in learning how to play their parts. Both Barton and Hall show you how to understand the texts in this way each contributing something that the other omits.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 22 January 2007
One of the best books I've read on Shakespeare's writing - because that is exactly what it concentrates on. John Barton is highly regarded among actors as a practical analyst of Shakespearean verse and prose, giving often simple but penetrating advice. His trademark method is to use verse or sentence structures and lexical choices to decipher some very specific and useful instructions encoded by Shakespeare for the actors. Stands the test of time
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 21 January 2011
I have owned this book for a number of years and have come to rely on it as a common sense guide to how to exploit the language of Shakespeare for maximum theatrical effect.

Yes, it is a bit 'luvvy' in places but at the end of the day, it is a wonderful record of some of the greatest speakers of Shakespeare ever to have graced the modern stage. When I bought my copy, there wasn't a way of seeing the original series - and yet I still managed to draw lots of useful material from the text alone. Now, it is available with or without a DVD of some of the broadcasts (or you can buy the full set on its own) - but for many people, the book will be enough.

Barton has a direct and unfussy approach to language. He acknowledges how things have changed over the centuries and he is not at all precious about it. He leads his actors with wit, warmth and humour - and that shows in the transcripts we have in the book.

It really should be in the collection of anyone who aspires to work with Shakespeare - as actor or director. Even someone who just wants to get to know the plays better would find it an illuminating read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I was directed by John Barton and Peter Hall for two years in the Royal Shakespeare Company and for a year by Trevor Nunn. I was VERY lucky in the '60s. When I read this book I loved it. It taught me a lot about the brilliance of the best playwright ever and is full of anecdotes to fascinate.

Very deep information about the sonnets and a lot of non-obvious stuff that will train you well.
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on 18 March 2013
Bought this as I'm taking part in a performance of As You Like It later in the year. I remember Shakespeare from school and was fortunate enough to go to Stratford years ago, but taking part? Best left to the pros!
What this book does, along with Shakespeare's Advice To The Players (Peter Hall), is unlock the text and debunk many of the myths about the difficulty of the language so that amateurs like me can enjoy it without fear. The book and DVDs of the Masterclasses (available separately) reveal just how rich the plays are, how actor-friendly they are, and give plenty of hints about how to work out what to do with each character. The DVDs are well worth buying too, containing a roll-call of famous British actors and a wonderful spoof from Fry and Laurie pointing out that being TOO serious about Shakespeare is almost the biggest mistake you can make.
There are other ways of looking at Shakespeare and lots of other 'methods' of unlocking a text, I'm sure. I've read Stanislavsky as well, but this makes more sense for Shakespeare and I highly recommend it.
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on 25 December 2011
This book is fantastic, above all if bought with the DVDs set Playing Shakespeare [DVD. I recommend it to whoever loves Shakespeare and wants to understand how to play it better. Personally I bought it 'cause i needed an help for a theatre class I'm attending. I'm so happy I found it! But really, do not buy it alone. The book is based on a tv production that has been transformed in a serie of DVDs. If you cannot afford the both, then go for the DVDs only, not the opposite! I hope this helps!
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 16 July 2006
i am a classicaly trained theatre director. having undergone a good classical training at a school of excellence (at MA level) an awful lot of what we were taught is reflected in this book. mind you - our course leader worked with barton at the RSC. there is a world of difference between reading/studying and playing shakespeare in professional practice - and to ignore verse form and to suppose there is no specific craft to acting it - well do that at your own peril: to do so is to underestimate shkspr. this is, in other words - a book for the professional practitioner. the only drawback with this book is that as a practitioner you'll probably see the sense of it AFTER you've put the text in the air in the way the barton suggests - and having someone outside of the rehearsal or exercise to help you is pretty important. for any actor or director who wants to deepen their understanding of how this stuff works - this is a much less prescriptive and 'thou shalt' book that Sir Peter Halls and gives you a good toolkit for performing shakespeare - if you can, however, watch the videos on which the book is based. for those of you who wish to study shakespeare critically - you may not see the value in this text. however, in this day and age critics are increasingly writing about practice and are beginning to see the value in it - (althoug a lot of their books, while based on practice critisism actually dont do the job) in terms of textual analysis and discovery on the text - this book is a good toolkit if you know how to unlock it.all in all, barton and hall reinvigorated and deepened our understanding of playing shkspr and are our 20th century pioneers for high end modern practice and you'd be hard pushed to match their knowledge and experience. in other words, it's worth more than a nod.
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on 10 January 2014
I saw the original television programme and bought the book soon after. Having the printed word allows the reader to go over passages and try the speech for themselves. I bought this later edition to give to my grand daughter who is preparing to take to the stage professionally.
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This wonderful book should be compulsory reading for all actors. For the layman it will deepen and enrich the enjoyment and understanding of our great bard's plays and poetry.
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