LSW Session with Philip Voss
Sunday, 16th April 2000
BIOGRAPHY: One of Britain's pre-eminent performers of the Bard, Philip Voss vast range with the nation's flagship company, the RSC, has encompassed everything from Worcester and Lord Chief Justice in Henry IV, Pts 1 & 2 to Epicure Mammon in The Alchemist; from a much hailed Menenius to Toby Stephens celebrated Coriolanus w/Toby Stephens to Peter Quince in The Dream and Ulysses in Troilus & Cressida; from Malvolio in Adrian Nobles Twelfth Night alongside LSW guest Stephen Boxers Feste to a truly olympian Shylock in Greg Dorans production of The Merchant of Venice. At the RNT he has appeared in everything from Rodin in The Wandering Jew to the Troll King in Peer Gynt and Scherbuk in Piano. Mr. Vosss excellent work with the imaginative Shared Experience Company include performances as Dr. Dorn in The Seagull and Chebutykin in Three Sisters. Most recently seen in the West End as Serebryakov in Chekovs The Wood Deamon and having appeared in many films inclusive of the now perennial Four Weddings and a Funeral, Mr. Voss is currently filming the role of Ivan Vishnevski in Fish for the BBC, after having completed filming on several other television projects playing the Court Physician in Let Them East Cake and Gerald Webster in Where the Heart Is. We were indeed privileged to once again be able to welcome this Great Actor within LSWs midst.
Mr. Voss thrilled all with doing work for commentary and taking questions. For the specific actors performing, headshots and text worked on, please strike here . It is wonderfully refreshing and, indeed, rare that one is able is watch an actor work who is so very clear and articulately concise in his artistic criteria. The framework inspired a series of thrilling beginnings which can only be enriched and expanded through concentrated future employment. Our keen thanks to Mr. Voss for his genius. One of those who took active part in the session, Suzy Watson, has written a diary entry on the session from her own personal perspective.
Diary Entry from LSW Member, Suzy Marston:-
Lots of fresh faces at this week's session meant that the name game
and insults pile-up were particularly tense and exciting. It was a triumphant day for me,
because I won, as Pisanio from Taming of the Shrew. I have since realised that I got a bit
muddled up, and that there is no Pisanio in The Taming of the Shrew, it was the Merchant
of Venice that I had confused somehow, but I trust this will not diminish my success at
this stressful quick off the mark practice, as the experience was such that I don't think
I will be able to cope with the heat of the challenge again, rifles at dawn et al.
But things really began to set alight, and flames made more smoke, when the company where asked to perform their own poetry. The blank verse wonders of this week were compelling, with the theme of deception giving them an extra cruel bite. Motivated by the elastic motion of Rachel, the ensemble grew into an orgy of unfamiliar words and bodies, crawling and dancing over one another as the metre pounded us on, like a pack of hungry tiger cubs, gnawing on each other's paws. It was great fun, but I think Bruce was slightly concerned as to where the exercise was taking its performers, it being an empty space, and the holy day etc. Things had to be contained - we are not living in the 1960s after all - and especially as it was I think at this point that Mr Phillip Voss himself entered the building. Certainly not cricket.
Anyway, when clumps then drew everyone's attention back to the Text itself - some magic was produced once more, the circle moved freely and furtively and new exchanges were exposed. For me, however, the masterclass itself was looming, so I was a bit nerved up and unfocussed, consequently forgetting Juliet's lines. Fortunate enough that everyone knew the speech, anyway, so ample scope for choral shapes and rises.
The first piece Mr Voss looked at was Michael's. I thought he was beautiful, as ever, but I think there was some conflict between the actor and the teacher, in terms of the interpretation and the context of the speech in Coriolanus. Nonetheless, Mr Voss did much to bring out a vitality in Michael's performance, and by the end there was a definite sense of urgency and taut electricity in his very eyes that made its quality in every way finer. So even though there was disagreement, the short interaction was successful; you must never exclude an 'O' in a line of verse: it is the infinite hole in which all passion lies waiting to come out of the dark though our vocal channels. Let it cascade, like the sound of music.
I then got up and did Hermione, and Mr Voss was really nice about it, and then made me consider the way I might reach the performance of the speech in another way. We discussed the super objective of the character, and that mingling in the text was a wailing grief, kept silent by a serene dignity, and it was a question of making the formers absence, present, so to speak. I got a bit confused, because lots of people were talking and the atmosphere became far less conducive to concentrated emotion, so the work I went on to do was somewhat fragmented and failing. But what I really liked was the idea of Beats Mr Voss got me to experiment with, that distinguish one thought from another in the text. You say "beat" or "bit" every time a new thought is engaged, like a change of direction, but perhaps not that violent, I don't know. I would like to do more with this exercise to understand it properly. But I loved working with him, and you couldn't help but feel his heavy, omniscient presence in the room, just by the rich majestic tones of his voice. He carries that intensity with him, quietly absorbing all, and earnestly desiring everything there is to give. I wished I could have given him more, but time was short and I couldn't reach down into myself quick enough.
Then Adrian did his Richard II piece and the colour was altered somewhat as he worked with Mr Voss. The irony was expelled, and his performance, much more subtle in its humour by the end. This was a great transformation, though I think the first way Adrian did it was perfectly valid and enticing.
Mr Voss in his short time generally expressed the importance of our decisions in approaching a role, as an actor. He said that when he approached a part, he made lists of the facts he knew about the character, all the things they say, all the things said about them, and only then can one begin to become alive to the choices one is open to explore. This is all better explained by him of course, and in Stanislavski's texts: I can only give you a quick picture, and say how much I enjoyed the afternoon, with all its deviant risks and fraut moments.
Bruce ended it with thanking Mr Voss, and my spirit went away from LSW once again, and perhaps more than ever before, buzzing and jumping like bees making honey, with the sound of sonnets freshly falling from my lips, on to the poetry of Camden streets...Lord, we know what we are, but not what we may be...
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