The Art of Coarse Acting

Actors at Questors Theatre show you how

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Video Interview with Michael Green


Photos courtesy Peter Gould

Coarse Shakespeare: The Final Folio is being performed at The Questors Theatre Ealing as part of the RSC Open Stages project until March 16th

Performances: 1, 4, 7, 10, 11, 13, 16 March at 7.45pm; 3 March at 2.30pm

There will be a chance to meet the playwright, director and cast after the performance on Tuesday 13 March.



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How difficult can it be to act badly? Surprisingly, it’s not as easy as you think.

Just ask the actors of The Questors Theatre in Ealing. As part of their Big Shakespeare Season, they are currently staging Coarse Shakespeare – The Final Folio.

It requires them to forget years of training in the subtle arts of acting, and turn in the kind of over-the-top, cringe-making performances that have given amateur drama a bad name.

Except that in this case, it’s hysterically funny. And that’s where the skill comes in.
“Portraying coarse acting is extremely difficult, you need to be a very good actor to do it,” says the playwright, Michael Green.

“If you are a genuine coarse actor, you can’t do it. It’s like someone trying to do a take-off of a ballet dancer. You need to be a really good dancer to do it. It’s the same trying to play an incompetent actor. You have to be a very good actor to do it, and the Questors cast are splendid.”

Michael achieved fame in the 1960s with a series of best-selling books, including The Art of Course Acting. As a player of small roles with The Questors, Michael had quietly observed his fellow thespians on stage, and turned the experience into one of the funniest books ever written about amateur drama. It is still in print, almost half a century later. An Ealing resident for fifty years, he now lives in Twickenham.

Over the years, The Questors Theatre has displayed a remarkable degree of forgiveness to Michael by staging a number of his Coarse productions.
In 1972, the World Coarse Acting Championship was held in Ealing, and Questors duly won. The Royal Shakespeare Company finished second.

In 2002, Michael’s three Coarse Shakespeare plays became set books for GCSE students.
You would think that the actors who have inspired Michael’s productions over the years would have been offended by his descriptions of their inept performances. Not a bit of it.

“They never recognise themselves,” he says with a chuckle.

“They think the book is funny, but they always think it was written about someone else. They never think it is about them!”

Michael, who is now 85, is still writing. He has been present at all the rehearsals for his latest production, which features three Shakespeare parodies: Henry The Tenth (Part Seven), Julius and Cleopatra, and All’s Well That Ends As You Like It.

What would Shakespeare have made of it? Is the bard turning in his grave?

“Oh, I think he would have been delighted,” says Michael without hesitation.

“Shakespeare’s comedies are totally unfunny to a modern audience. I think if he’d seen our production, he would have pinched all the best jokes.”


8th March 2012

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