Miriam Margolyes

‘It was at my birth that I decided to be an actor. I auditioned as I exited the womb. I was auditioning for life.’

Miriam Margolyes was exceptional at the recent Masterclass. She had the audience hooting with laughter whilst also putting across important points about approaching the dramatic text. Miriam had no prior knowledge as to what the chosen text would be (The Importance of Being Earnest) so it was wonderful to see her tackling the text alongside the participants without any preparation on the text itself. Her advice, although unplanned, showed her extensive knowledge of the rhythms and musical quality of Wilde’s prose but also the impression that she would be able to approach any text with sensitivity and an ear for the writer’s intended pace and rhythms.
Her advice was universal to all scripts.

Finding the truth of the character to Miriam was of the upmost importance, ‘the only thing we have to do as actors is to present the truth as we see it.’ The truth brings the audience into the story, it is a fine thread of gold that runs between the actor and the audience, ‘it’s a tightrope, a bond of love, and if you tear it with lies you tarnish it and it dies.’ Whilst on the Masterclass stage Miriam promised to only tell us the truth as she saw it.

Miriam was very encouraging for those in the audience who hadn’t been to drama school although she did go to Cambridge University where she read English. Drama school was a continuation of being a student and this didn’t appeal to her. What she did feel held her back about not going to drama school was learning technique, of which she believes herself to have none, saying, ‘I know that you have to breathe, that’s the first thing you have to do, both, as a human being and as an actor.’ For Miriam it is the, ‘joy of words,’ that has been the greatest inspiration to her as an actor and it is her facility with words that has helped her into the position that she is in today, ‘anybody can give me any script and I will be able to read it fluently and without mistakes […] You have to make yourself able to deal with words because they are not only the currency of thought but words are what we use to show who we are.’

TIP 1: Vowels carry the emotion in a word and consonants carry the sense. It is very important to hear the end of the word and the end of the sentence.

Radio was Miriam’s way into theatre and landing herself an agent. This was made possible by John Bridges, a director, who came to see a Footlights performance at Cambridge and said afterwards that he had liked her performance. On leaving Cambridge she wrote to him asking if he would help her get an audition at the BBC Radio Drama Company (RDC). He managed to get her an audition and instead of performing a standard piece she created her own monolgue, set on a train and playing a multitude of different characters to show how versatile she was in terms of the flexibility of her voice.

TIP 2: Although it is difficult to get an audition with the RDC it is a wonderful way to start your career.

Miriam felt that age has been a significant factor in her recent work and has allowed her to experience the fragility of life which can now inform her work. ‘Don’t be afraid to let the things that have happened to you in your life show BUT never use theatre as therapy.’ Miriam suggested that, for her, the best way of doing this is to read and re-read the script making notes about the similarities in the characteristics of the person she is playing and herself and then read and re-read it trying to find the characteristics that she has no connection with at all, so that she see’s the journey that she has to make from one to the other.

TIP 3: Everything is about sex. Act with your groin!

Having talked about the beginnings of her career in theatre, Miriam then introduced the two participants to the stage and they performed the famous handbag scene from ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ Instead of her comments being taken as criticism she wanted to open up a discourse between herself and the actors, presenting them with a new way of approaching the text. Confidence was her first and main point for the actors. This is followed by the need to follow Wilde’s grammar to gain the comedic pace that this scene requires. Balance is also of particular importance, when it comes to the weighting of the words as it Wilde clearly had an ear for music in speech and the rhythm and pace that the scene should run at.

‘To lose ONE parent Mr Worthing may be regarded as misFORTUNE, to lose BOTH looks like CARElessness.’

It was brilliant watching her with the two actors Michael and Olivia as they really seemed to be encouraged by her advice and both by the end had felt that they, as characters in the scene, and the scene itself had greatly improved. A more coherent understanding of the meaning behind the lines and the use of the rhythm within the text also enhanced the comedy of the scene. Both of the actors were great and responded well and it was hugely enjoyable and valuable experience.

TIP 4: Nesting. (When you don’t start with the actual word of the speech.e.g ‘Ahhh’ or ‘well.’) You mustn’t do it. You must start with the word in the text. ‘Let that be your shovel in to the line.’

At the end of the session Miriam answered several questions. One question asked was advice that she could give on ‘getting in’ to the acting industry. At first she joked saying that if she knew the she would be permanently employed, ‘in show biz there are no rules, if there were rules then everybody would be doing it.’

Miriam left us with her final words of wisdom on the acting profession.

‘It is a ceaseless search but you have to keep going, keep trying, keep nourishing your talent, keep going to the theatre, there is no answer. I promised to tell you the truth. That is the truth.’

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