The Actor’s Toolkit

We’re excited to announce the launch of The Actor’s Toolkit today, which gathers together its definitive range of titles for working actors and actors in training. Written by some of the finest practitioners in their fields, these books are designed to equip actors with everything they need to learn, develop and thrive.

As the UK’s foremost publisher of plays and books on theatre, Oberon is also the go-to publisher for those who teach the craft of acting and their students. The Actor’s Toolkit comprises eleven titles in all, based around the categories of Movement, Voice, Text, Auditions and Career.

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The launch is supported by a social media campaign, advertising in trade press and a discount offer on the Oberon website. Anyone interested should head to www.actorstoolkit.co.uk to learn more and get 3 for 2 on any of the eleven core books in the series until 31st January 2017 with the discount code TOOLKIT342.

Books in the Series

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Christmas Gift Ideas from Oberon!

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It’s officially December and we can finally stop holding it in and get excited about CHRISTMAS TIME!

There are no Scrooges or “Bah Humbug”s allowed in Oberon HQ and, with only about 2 weeks left until last orders in time for Christmas, we’re here to make gifting easy, with two amazing ‘Buy One Get One Half Price’ offers on our website, a reduction on Carlos Acosta at the Royal Ballet and a very sparkly newsletter indeed, complete with good book ideas for everyone including kids, poets, actors, historians, writers, readers and Shakespeare buffs!

Head over to OberonBooks.com and check out the banners at the top of the page for our latest special offers and new publications.
Or follow this link for our specially selected (and discounted!) Chrsitmas gift ideas for all the bookworms in your life. Happy reading!!

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Characters for our times – The gender bending of Rosalind and Henry V

In this guest post, writer, biographer and author of Rosalind: A Biography of Shakespeare’s Immortal Heroine, Angela Thirlwell marvels at the actress Michelle Terry’s ability to capture the nuance and essence of a character regardless of their gender, and Shakespeare’s ability to write such rich a diverse roles, which are still being reimagined and recontextualised today. 

On a rare day of sunshine in this unreliable English summer I saw Shakespeare’s Henry V at the Open Air Theatre in London’s Regent’s Park. In a daring piece of cross-gender casting by director Robert Hastie, mesmerising Michelle Terry played the King. Only a year ago, at Shakespeare’s Globe on Bankside, she was a triumphant, exuberant and intelligent Rosalind, the heroine who finds her true self in drag as Ganymede. Here’s the first thing: As You Like It and Henry V were both written during the same season around 1599.

Michelle Terry as Henry V

Michelle Terry as Henry V

In both gender-fluid roles, Michelle Terry inhabits the dynamics of growing up, anatomised so powerfully by Shakespeare. As Ganymede, Rosalind makes on the face of it, ‘a pretty youth’. As Henry V, the boy-king too is ‘in the very May-morn of his youth.’ But both these apparently different characters mature, catapulted into roles of leadership. What unites them is their increasing self-knowledge.

During Wimbledon fortnight while I playfully wondered whether Rosalind played tennis, I noticed that real tennis balls actually feature in Henry V. They are symbolic of Henry’s new grasp on foreign policy. The French Dauphin sends Henry what appears to be a ton of treasure. When the chest is opened, the Duke of Exeter peers in to see only ‘tennis balls, my liege.’ It’s a diplomatic snub of breath-taking insolence which Henry instantly clocks. His witty riposte uses the technical terms of real – or royal – tennis as it then was (and is still played today at a few courts) the forerunner of modern tennis:

When we have matched our rackets to these balls
We will in France, by God’s grace, play a set
Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard.
Tell him he hath made a match with such a wrangler
That all the courts of France will be disturbed
With chases.

Michelle Terry as Rosalind (as Ganymede)

Michelle Terry as Rosalind (as Ganymede)

The Dauphin’s mockery ‘turned his balls to gun-stones’ and to the horrors of the battle of Agincourt. I found it heart-breakingly poignant to see this battle choreographed onstage on the 100th anniversary of World War One’s Battle of the Somme. The actors stepped through water channels that were instant reminders of the mud of the trenches. My grandfather Joe Goldman joined the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, later the Machine Gun Corps, and was wounded at the battle of Passchendaele in 1917, another bloody battle a year after the battle of the Somme.

Angela Thirlwell's grandfather in the trenches in Flanders in 1917 holding a bomb.

Angela Thirlwell’s grandfather in the trenches in Flanders in 1917 holding a bomb

In this production of Henry V it isn’t only the king who is played by a woman. Some of the ordinary troops are also played by female actors, as is the wonderful Chorus of Charlotte Cornwell. Her authorial role threads through the play from beginning to end, putting a friendly arm round the shoulders of the audience and encouraging our imaginations to work. ‘Think when we talk of horses, that you see them.’ Today women are prominent in diplomacy, in government and in the armed forces so this cross-gender casting makes sense and makes for universality.

Regent's Park Theatre

Regent’s Park Theatre

As part of the peace settlement after Agincourt, Henry gets Katherine, Princess of France as his Queen. A male actor (Ben Wiggins) plays Katherine exactly as the role would have been taken in 1599. Their courtship scene – Ben playing Katherine, Michelle playing Henry – so often one of sheer comic relief, has a new, meaningful, dual-gendered gravity. I heard Henry unpick the old cliché about love, ‘to say to thee that I shall die is true, but for thy love, by the Lord, no,’ with exactly the same wry precision that Rosalind rebukes Orlando: ‘Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.’ Inspirational Michelle Terry makes both Henry V and Rosalind characters of our time.

Angela Thirlwell has written Rosalind: A Biography of Shakespeare’s Immortal Heroine, which is published by Oberon Books

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Into the spotlight steps Rosalind, the actor-manager of As You Like It.
She’s alive. She’s modern. She’s also a fiction.
Played by a boy actor in 1599, she’s a girl who gets into men’s clothes to investigate the truth about love.
Both male and female, imaginary and real, her intriguing duality gives her a special role.
What is a man? What is a woman?
We are all Rosalind now.

Rosalind’s Daughters: from Joan Hunter Dunn to Serena Williams

Angela Thirlwell is an experienced and highly regarded biographer. For her latest book, however, in very creative approach to biography, she’s chosen Shakespeare’s Rosalind as her subject. The result is a playful, insightful, and impeccably researched glimpse of the real Rosalind… even if how ‘real’ she can ever be is still a matter for debate.
In this guest blog post, Angela’s excitement about Wimbledon prompts new ideas about Rosalind’s legacy.

It’s Wimbledon fortnight and my daughter and I are lucky enough to have won two tickets through the public ballot for seats high up on No. 1 Court. The combination of guile and aggression in the modern women’s game made me suddenly ask myself if Shakespeare’s Rosalind would have played tennis? Of course, on one level, she couldn’t have played lawn tennis as played at Wimbledon today. The game as we know it hadn’t been invented. Tudor men like Henry VIII played real tennis, a breathless version of the game with small-headed wooden rackets and hard balls ricocheting off indoor walls and roof – rather like to squash.  Women didn’t play lawn tennis at Wimbledon until 1884 about 20 years after the new game of lawn had become popular with men.

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One of the chapters I found so much fun in writing for my book about Rosalind, the heroine of As You Like It, was my very personal take on her ‘Afterlife – A woman for all time – Rosalind’s daughters’. I realised that so many of Rosalind’s descendants had been part of my reading landscape since I was a child, from Jo March in Little Women to Lizzie Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Neither actually cross-dressed as a boy called Ganymede like Rosalind but Jo sheared off her hair and sold it to pay the family bills, and Lizzie tramped the fields six inches deep in mud, vaulting stiles and charging through puddles with scant concern for her delicate Regency petticoats. Like Rosalind, both Jo and Lizzie both took command and found themselves liberated by claiming the rights of their boyfriends or brothers.

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Wimbledon fortnight makes me remember one tennis-playing daughter of Rosalind I left out of my chapter on her Afterlife. She’s John Betjeman’s wartime beauty, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, with her ‘strongly adorable tennis-girl’s hand!’ The young subaltern – or Betjeman himself – who worships her reminds me of Rosalind’s Orlando who played love games in the Forest of Arden and impaled his sonnets in her praise on its branches. Shakespeare’s love story unfolds through a series of duelling conversations – like the erotic geometry of tennis:

Miss J. Hunter Dunn, Miss J. Hunter Dunn,
Furnish’d and burnish’d by Aldershot sun,
What strenuous singles we played after tea,
We in the tournament – you against me!

Joan Hunter Dunn

Joan Hunter Dunn

Darting about the court in her daring culottes or shorts, Joan’s appeal is as homoerotic as Rosalind’s.  Betjeman’s subaltern almost swoons at the effect:

Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy.

In the year of Shakespeare400, who are the strong Rosalinds of the 2016 Wimbledon Championships? Serena Williams, Garbine Muguruza, Johanna Konta. You can make your own list!

Angela Thirlwell - https://angelathirlwell.co.uk/

Angela Thirlwell – https://angelathirlwell.co.uk/

Learn more about Rosalind: A Biography of Shakespeare’s Immortal Heroine HERE
Learn more about Angela Thirlwell HERE
Learn more about Joan Hunter Dunn HERE

The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre

Unique in style and content, The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre by Aleks Sierz and Lia Ghilardi is a lively guided tour through the history of theatre in Britain. An easily-digestible insight into 400 years of politics, fashion, arts, religion and royalty, this volume is a delightful and light-hearted way to learn something new – as if you were really there! To take a sneak peek inside, click here.
We’ve pulled together a small selection of the famous faces you’ll meet in the book, as well as some key information about their lives and work. It’s a very quick and easy who’s-who of some British theatre heroes from the past, beginning in 1564 with Christopher Marlowe…

Marlowe

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Christopher Marlowe (Illustrated by James Illman)

Shakespeare

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William Shakespeare

WW

WW

William Wycherley

RBS

RBS

Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Wilde

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

Shaw

George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw (Illustrated by James Illman)

The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre is available now, and is a wonderful asset to any student or teacher of history, drama or theatre. 

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‘An immensely entertaining, informative guide to 400 years of British theatre that wears its considerable learning lightly.’ Michael Billington (Guardian)

‘This book is the perfect introduction to British theatre … even those who know a great deal about the subject will be entertained and learn a great deal as they enjoy this page turner.’ British Theatre Guide

‘It combines the latest insights of today with the story of yesterday. It reads like a fast-moving ride on a theatre-go-round — only much more informative. The gossip is fun, too.’ Sir Christopher Frayling

‘I am bowled over by The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre… I’ve read many histories of theatre in my time, some very dry and academic and others rather more basic and banal for young readers… But never before have I chortled and marvelled my way through anything quite so informative and entertaining.’ The Stage

World Shakespeare Day Celebration

Today is ‘World Shakespeare Day’ and, while the Oberon team can’t seem to agree on whether it marks his birth or his death, we’re celebrating his life all the same! For this very special blog post, we’ve created a round-up of some of our favourite Shakespeare-themed books – all of which you can now have a snoop inside by clicking on the images below. Plays, memoirs and acting handbooks, all inspired by the man himself.
Not only that, but we’re offering 1/3 off on all of our Shakespeare-related titles with the discount code ONBIRTHDAY at the checkout on our website. I suppose that means it’s his birthday then, does it?  

‘Andy Hinds offers a rich and detailed 9781783190089path towards a precise contact with the challenge of speaking and inhabiting Shakespeare’s language. This book is an immensely useful resource for anyone teaching, speaking and acting Shakespeare.’ Ralph Fiennes

‘It is to this book’s enormous credit that it focuses in depth on the nuts and bolts of getting lips and heads around the intricacies of verse-speaking without either shirking the difficulties or becoming stilted and dull… I wish I’d had this book when I was acting – I’m delighted to have encountered it as a teacher.’ Teaching Drama


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‘Acting students and young professionals will flock to learn from him….passionate, entertaining… Indisputably wise and true… Wonderfully illuminating’  Telegraph

‘This is the most fabulously hybrid book – part actor’s handbook, part memoir – what is most inspiring is Hall’s conviction that form can be as exciting as feeling/ Acting in this way is more than just listening to Shakespeare – it is responding to Shakespeare’s linear needs’ Observer

‘As fascinating to readers as it is to actors.’  Independent


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A mixture of theatrical history, opinionated views and personal reminiscences. Sharp insights, anecdotes and vibrant character sketches pour from [Weston’s] pen, as do dismissive put-downs… His book should be compulsory reading for any aspiring actor still labouring under the delusion that the profession is in any way glamourous… Weston may never have played Hamlet during his long career, but he has achieved something possibly more valuable. He has become, in Hamlet’s phrase, one of the abstract and brief chroniclers of the time.’ Mail on Sunday

 


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‘A blend of travelogue, actor’s memoir and historical meditation… Asbury observes how the rival colours, the red rose for Lancaster and the white rose of York, define an insuturable cut that persists in Britain today… the bonds of history assert themselves in the midst of precincts and skateboarders.’ Times Literary Supplement

‘An enjoyable and sincere grand tour… fortified with pork pies and pinot grigio, accompanied on occasion by fellow Royal Shakespeare Company actors, and alternating between a campervan named Bongo and an open-topped MG, Asbury combines theatrical reminiscence and historical narrative.’ The Times


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‘This is a remarkable, challenging and bravely original work.’ Guardian

‘Toni Morrison’s language is superbly poetic – she’s admirable in her reckless unconcern that she will be compared to the Bard and come off the loser.… There are tremendous passages of writing, of music and some sterling performances… thought-provoking, with many magical moments.’ The Arts Desk

‘A rare and delicate show that shines a new light on Shakespeare’s tragedy.’ La Croix

 


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‘A witty and fiercely anti-colonialist revision of Shakespeare’s island fling… the play, in Philip Crispin’s admirable translation, lends Shakespeare’s myth all kinds of extra resonances.’ Michael Billington, Guardian

‘Toni Morrison’s language is superbly poetic – she’s admirable in her reckless unconcern that she will be compared to the Bard and come off the loser.’ Arts Desk

‘Not simply a new reading of Shakespeare but an original play of astonishing power… Philip Crispin’s admirable translation of the play provides the whole production with a secure textual basis… a remarkable theatrical event.’ Malcolm Bowie, TLS


Visit Oberonbooks.com for these and all our other titles.
Or search through all of our Shakespeare titles. Don’t forget the code ONBIRTHDAY.

Andy Hinds on ‘opinion productions’ of Shakespeare

Derry-born Andy Hinds has been a theatre director, playwright and acting teacher for thirty years. For many years he taught ‘Acting Shakespeare’ at RADA, Shakespeare’s Globe, Trinity College, The Gaiety School of Acting, University College, Dublin, and in his own acting studio. In this blog, adapted from his new book, Acting Shakespeare’s Language, Andy elaborates on one particular issue to consider when directing, performing or producing a Shakespeare play that didn’t quite make it into the main body of the book – so no spoilers here! 

Most of what I speak about in Acting Shakespeare’s Language, I learnt through my work with students and actors over the years. In the course of the slow, difficult, but ultimately rewarding, process of then organising this knowledge into the subsequent chap­ters and sub-sections etc., I have, however, learnt a great deal more. I have become more fully convinced about certain ideas, have refined or rejected others, and have come to realise that there are areas about which I remain undecided, and which I need to look into more deeply.

‘This book is an immensely useful resource for anyone teaching, speaking and acting Shakespeare.’ Ralph Fiennes

‘This book is an immensely useful resource for anyone teaching, speaking and acting Shakespeare.’ – Ralph Fiennes

I would like to say a few words about one other matter which did not find a natural place in Acting Shakespeare’s Language.  This is a particular circumstance which often results in the language of a classic play (Shakespearean, Greek, Jacobean etc.) being less than well-served.

As well as encountering the many ‘opinion plays’, one regularly comes across stagings of classic plays which I would regard as ‘opinion productions’. These are ‘interpretations’ which can neuter the truth of a play by subjugating it to some opinion, or ideology, of the director; where a play is used as a wall on which to scratch slogans. In such cases, the staging often represents no more than a labour-intensive, often expensive, form of foot-stamping about some contemporary (and, in the great scheme of things, usually temporary) ‘issue’. Staging the play becomes an act of attempted control (‘I want to make you think this about that’); as opposed to its being an act of service; an act where one’s intention is to honour the text in such a way as to deepen the felt contact between the audience and their own souls; between the audience and their universe. ‘Issue’ productions direct the spectators to disapprove of, or even hate, something which the director disapproves of, or hates; this is divisive and less than wholly human. In the face of such enterprises, it can feel as if one is being told, ‘No need to attend to the specifics of the play’s language; more important is that you notice all the ways I, the director, have found to use the play, in order to impose judgement on certain sections of humanity. Please leave the theatre feeling righteous and condemning these people.’ Not a good thing.

I believe the challenge of artists and interpreters is to delve deep into our own consciousness, deep enough to reach a level beneath our individual ‘beliefs and convictions’; ‘beliefs and convictions’ we may cling to so dearly as to imagine they define ‘who we are’; ‘beliefs and convictions’ which, on the surface, may convince as being ‘only right and just’, but which ultimately serve to separate us from an awareness of what unites us as humans. Our endeavour must be to tap down into the clear waters of the more universal truths which run somewhere deep in all of us, which flow somewhere below the personal ranklings and dysfunctions which we all have, and which can so blind us to the greater realities of existence; realities which while being physically invisible, can be viscerally felt, and which are so much more meaningful, unifying, and nourishing to our souls than our ‘beliefs and convictions’.

Andy Hinds

Andy Hinds

Shakespeare was an artist who, with apparent effortlessness, tapped deeply into these rich waters; over and over again. He does not use his writing to wag the finger from a position of superiority to his characters or his audience. Nor need we use his words to do this. To make manifest to an audience the humanising truths on which Shakespeare’s plays draw, the task of the actor is to identify and serve, selflessly, and moment to moment, the structures and purposes of his language.

My final wish is that what I have striven to share within the pages of my book may, in some way, assist you towards that end.

Acting Shakespeare’s Language is available to buy alongside other titles by Andy Hinds from the Oberon Books website.