The first section on speaking Shakespeare, as opposed to reading the verse, was excellent. I would have liked a longer and more detailed blog on the rehearsal and performance of the plays. Nick Day showed what it is like to BE an actor, with the rigorous discipline of the demands of his profession. The latter portion of the book I found less interesting than the first. A book to reread and think about .
At first glance Nicholas Day's "On Bard Duty" is a bit of a hotchpotch. Split into four parts, two relate to his experiences as a cast member of the RSC's Shipwreck Trilogy 2012 ensemble, and two on the more technical aspects of acting. Day's approach might be termed more on the traditional purist side than is evident in much of what actors are taught in drama schools today, but if anything that makes his input more relevant rather than "old-fashioned". His approach is centred on the rhetoric of the text and he makes clear that there is much to be gained here that many of today's younger actors seem to overlook. In particular, Day's experience with the Original Shakespeare Company, that sought to replicate the practices of Shakespearean actors to the text lends weight to his insight, not least to his emphasis on seeking guidance from the First Folio versions rather than the myriad of modern "improvements" - many of which he notes are made for the benefit of reading and which obscure valuable information to the aspiring actor present in the original text.
The book kicks off with a guide to Stratford that Day wrote for "Out of London". It's a nice introduction to the town and even for those who think they know the town well, there are things it notes to still be discovered by the visitor.
The second part contains advice on performing Shakespeare gleaned from Day's extensive experience both as an actor and recipient of some of the best minds on Shakespeare performing such as Cis Berry and John Barton. It's here that the First Folio input is convincingly argued and illustrated. For aspiring and perspiring actors there is much here that will help them. It's tempting, but wrong, to see this as an old fashioned approach. It provides a essential advice to let the text do the work.
The third, and largest, part is the reproduction of his blog on the RSC website during the Shipwreck Trilogy run. Some blogs tend to work less well when taken out of context and put into a book. Not so with Day though, whose thoughts are always insightful and rounded. Each entry is complete in itself rather than the more gossipy style of some bloggers. Thus it reads more like a diary of thoughts than a blog per se.
The final part is more reference based and consists of the extensive and varied rhetorical devices that can be found in Shakespeare. It's stuff that was probably standard fare to English teachers in a distant age but to most the technical terms are now strangely mysterious. Day's role as an actor though highlights that this is not just academic but practical - and it makes the reader appreciate quite how much goes behind the art of "shouting in the evening".
As a book, it's like two short books - one on the blog and two chapters on technique, combined with a general article, rather than a cohesive book but both elements are insightful and thoughtful. Ardent theatre fans will find much of interest while actors and Shakespeare students alike will find this essential reading.