THEATRE: CURTAIN CALLS

"Why don't you just try acting, dear boy?" Laurence Olivier's reputed response to Dustin Hoffman's Method acting in Marathon Man is one of several tart remarks in Other People's Shoes, Harriet Walter's book on acting. Were you to slip your hand into a threshing machine, the number of remaining fingers would equal the number of half-way decent books on the subject. Most of these fall into either the "teach your-self" or autobiographical camps. The former are humourless, usually ancient volumes outlining The Voice or Use of Costumes; the latter, self-aggrandising tales in which actors try to prove their intellectual credentials by analysing their craft after decades of talking about the indefinable mystery of theatre. Thus it is to her inestimable credit that Walter falls into neither trap. Her text may be dotted with autobiographical detail, but the meat of the book is cogent analysis of the processes and choices an actor makes when preparing and performing. It won't teach you "everything you need to know", but certainly shatters misconceptions.

`Other People's Shoes' is published by Viking at pounds 16.99

David Benedict

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