As a playwright I am deeply interested in the power that actors hold over us. To be a star in Hollywood is to be a star all over the world. You would be hard pressed to find someone in this country who does not know the names Tom Cruise, Jude Law, or Johnny Depp. These mere mortals are raised to the height of gods on the podia of smash-hit movies, and I myself find several actors on my list of admirable people.
I think that one of the reasons I am so drawn to writing plays is the thrill of a live performance, and my characters are completely at the mercy of the actors who play them. When I am writing the characters develop their own distinct voices in my mind, and as I spend most of my time writing the dialogue (where a novelist has to fashion whole worlds and images) these voices are my only medium for communicating to an audience. Of course, there will be sets, costumes, lighting, make-up and so on, but once you have established a visual style in the script it is then left in the hands of the directors and designers. To me, a play is the dialogue in it.
And the actors I admire: Alan Rickman, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Bill Nighy, and others, are united in one area: their voices.
A great actor can be recognised solely from one word of dialogue. He can draw in an audience from the simplest line. 'What time do you call this?' is a line that could be said hundreds of ways. It is a simple, commonplace sentence. But in the throat of a fine actor these words can convey a character's history, his attitudes, his state of mind. From Alan Rickman's smooth melismatic drawl to Patrick Stewarts from-the-diaphragm style, each lexeme is a luxurious palace that the actor inhabits, and displays to an awed audience.
And there is something unusual in the way these actors speak, especially in the case of Rickman, that is both strange, intriguing, and fascinating. When Rickman says a line it is with a stress and melody that I could never have imagined. And it gives life to even the dullest line. I opine that Rickman could make even the most uninteresting play spring with new life.
So, in writing my most recent play 'Plato Lays Weeping' (I realise the gramatical error, but it is for the effect of a PUN!) I was dominated by the sounds of the human voice and its sheer possibilities, and when we cast it I will be seeking a voice to raise the hairs on the back of my neck!