Watching the Diving finals of the Olympics I was intrigued to learn that divers lose points for making a big splash when they enter the water. The aim is ideally to hit the water without any disturbance whatsoever.

Actors should be like that with the air around them on stage. As you move from A to B, do you disturb the air with ‘big splashes’ or are you more lithe, creating almost no trace? Great dancers have that quality. So do martial artists. They have to find the simplest path from one point to another.

Of course there are moments on stage when you need to create a positive storm around yourself – Stanley Kowalski flying into a rage, Lear defying the weather, Romeo avenging the death of Mercutio – but these moments of air turbulence are only effective when they are surrounded by economy and grace. Otherwise the audience would be exhausted.

And how do you get from one to the other? Play the transition well and you can have your audience mesmerized to watch that jagged storm gradually subside back into grace. Edmund Kean was famed as a master of the subsiding emotion. As one contemporary critic (G.H.Lewes) wrote, “His instinct taught him what few actors are taught –that a strong emotion, after discharging itself in one massive current, continues for a time expressing itself in feebler currents. The waves are not stilled when the storm has passed away. There remains the ground-swell troubling the depths. In watching Kean’s quivering muscles and altered tones you felt the subsidence of passion. The voice was calm but there was a tremor in it; the face might be quiet, but there were vanishing traces of the recent agitation.”

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