How to act: stage stars share their acting tips – The Guardian

Top British thespians use their wealth of experience to conjure some invaluable tips for all you budding actors

Roger Allam

Roger Allam is an English actor, known primarily for his stage career. He most famously played Inspector Javert in the original London production of the stage musical Les Misérables. 

1. Learn your lines so well that you never have to worry about them.

2. Keep a notebook about the play, the character, the period, your moves. It’ll help you remember what you have done so far – especially if you’re having to rehearse in your spare time rather than all day, every day.

3. Never go dead for a second on stage. Even if you are doing nothing, do it actively. Listen.

4. If something goes wrong – say someone drops something – don’t ignore it. Try to deal with it in character.

5. Warm up your voice and body. Get used to the size of the auditorium; if you don’t know it already, go to the worst seats in the house and have conversations with people on the stage so you get to know what kind of energy is needed to be heard.

6. Try not to worry about embarrassing yourself. That’s a lifetime’s task. 


Niamh Cusack 

Niamh Cusack has worked at the RSC, the National and the Old Vic. TV and film include Heartbeat and Hereafter. 

1. Trust your playwright. If he or she is a great one, most of the work will have been done for you.

2. Read the play at least three times out loud before standing it on its feet. A lot of the blocking (the positioning of the actors on stage) will come out of understanding what your characters want, and from whom.

3. Listen to the person who’s talking – unless your character isn’t listening to them.

4. Don’t be afraid to make an eejit of yourself.

5. Change the look in the other person’s eye.

6. Keep it simple.

7. Remember that most characters use words to affect, connect with or change the other person.

8. As [the actor] Ralph Richardson said, before you leave the dressing room, look in the mirror and ask yourself: “Is it human?”

10. It’s only a play!

Miriam Margolyes in Dickens' Women

Miriam Margolyes

Miriam Margolyes has worked at the RSC and in the West End; she has been touring her one-woman show about Charles Dickens and his female characters since 1989. Films include The Age of Innocence and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. 

1. Listen before anything else.

2. Read the text over and over again, and make sure you know the lines.

3. Go and see other performances, and be critical about them: work out whether you’d have smiled in that place, or turned your head at that moment.

4. Never show off. You can sometimes come to a particular point in a show and think, “I’m really good in this bit.” Never, ever think that.

5. Never read reviews. I haven’t read mine since I was in rep.

6. Never know more than your character knows. I’m not talking about research; I mean that when you are performing, you must stay inside the truth of your character. Don’t signpost to an audience what they should be thinking.

7. The most important thing is to breathe. If you stop breathing properly, you get a sore throat. And if you stop breathing, you die.


Julie Graham 

Julie Graham has appeared in Doc Martin, Bonekickers, Survivors, At Home With the Braithwaites and The Sarah Jane Adventures. 

1. Read as many plays as possible, especially by classical writers such as Ibsen, Chekhov and Shakespeare.

2. Watch performances on YouTube. There are so many amazing theatrical snippets on there now. It’s just as useful to watch bad performances as it is to watch good ones. You need to be able to differentiate.

3. Go to the theatre as often as you can.

4. Turn up on time. If you’re going to commit to something, you should see it through with good grace.

5. Don’t be a twat. There’s always one: make sure it’s not you.

6. People-watch: it’s the best way to develop a character. When you’re walking down the street, or sitting on a bus, in a cafe or doctor’s surgery – don’t close yourself off.

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