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Radio review: The Essay, Adrian Chiles, and The Forum

12 February 2021


In The Essay (Radio 3, weekdays), Geoffrey Colman gave an account of a day in the life of an acting coach

In The Essay (Radio 3, weekdays), Geoffrey Colman gave an account of a day in the life of an acting coach

“THE most important thing in life is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you can do anything.” It’s one of those quotations with multiple attributions, but it might as well have been from the distinguished acting coach Geoffrey Colman, whose contributions to The Essay (Radio 3, weekdays) last week gave a fascinating insight into the art of faking it.

Gone are the days when classical actors threw about their arms and voices in histrionic display. Now it’s all about acting to an imagined camera, and trying to look real on a 20-inch screen in the corner of somebody’s sitting-room. Colman noticed the change as he auditioned drama-student applicants in the late 1990s. Voices and gestures became calibrated to the sound boom, not the 1000-seater auditorium. Reality television now frames our perception of authenticity, Colman says.

In his own carefully crafted account of a day in the life of a successful acting coach, Colman lists a range of tasks that he is expected to perform, from helping an established actor deal with a difficult line to advising a famous singer on how to give a convincing first impression on film. And then there is the encounter with a former actor, out of work and losing his way. It is never a good idea to ask actors how busy they are, unless you know for sure that they have jobs lined up.

The daily routines of Kate Watson and Mohammed Zubair Butt, as heard on the Adrian Chiles show (Radio 5 Live, Thursday of last week), were somewhat less glamorous. As hospital chaplains in Newcastle and Leeds, Kate and Mohammed have seen the very best and worst that the pandemic has to offer, and, while the workload is varied, this is not the kind of variety you would always welcome.

The interesting part of this encounter, however, came later. Chiles is not everyone’s cup of morning coffee; if you are a fan, as I am, the gaucheness is disarming, and there is a hidden wisdom to his blokeish charm. He was, for instance, not afraid to ask his two guests what they say when they encounter patients and families who, in their despair, rail against God; nor was he afraid to push them when they gave him vague answers about creating “sacred spaces” for the patients to talk or to rant. It was a curious reversal of roles to find the BBC presenter keen to talk religion, and the faith workers equally keen to avoid it.

If you are a devotee of In Our Time, then the BBC Sounds algorithm should surely by now have pushed under your nose the World Service equivalent: The Forum (Thursdays), hosted by Bridget Kendall in a somewhat less hectoring manner than her Radio 4 counterpart.

Last week’s discussion of mermaids also showcased the international reach of her guests: scholars joined the conversation from Hawaii and the Orkneys to discuss a subject with vast geographical as well as chronological significance. The important take-home message is that mermaids are not to be messed with. Forget Disney and Hans Christian Andersen: meet instead Mami Wata, and (men) be very afraid.

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