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There’s nothing ‘magical’ about a great theatrical performance

The actors who appear to be doing nothing are now the ones most revered – but acting is natural, says David Thomson: it’s what we all do all the time

4 March 2023

9:00 AM

4 March 2023

9:00 AM

The English Actor: From Medieval to Modern Peter Ackroyd

Reaktion, pp.412, 20

Acting Naturally: The Magic in Great Performances David Thomson

Knopf, pp.271, 30

‘Make him read the lines the way they’re written!’ Raymond Massey snarled at Elia Kazan during the East of Eden shoot. Classically trained, Massey was infuriated at the way the movie’s star, the Method instinctive James Dean, never played a scene the same way twice. Kazan, who had refereed similar rows between Jessica Tandy and Marlon Brando on the Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire, did what good directors do with warring actors: play them off against each other the better to boost both performances.

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