restricted access Shakespeare and the Lecoq Tradition
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Shakespeare and the Lecoq Tradition

This essay describes how an actor trained in what I call 'the Lecoq tradition' may approach Shakespearean performance. After giving a brief context for Lecoq's influence, I indicate some ways in which the actor uses his or her body in a playful and rhythmically precise manner to construct and perform meanings in the theatre. I show how a conception of theatre as 'game' can be transposed into the dramatic dimension. The primary impulse behind Lecoq-influenced work is a search for form, and I discuss how this can reveal itself through an eclectic approach to style and genre that sometimes leads to accusations of 'intercultural tourism'. Examples of Lecoq-inflected practice are drawn from Shakespearean productions by Ariane Mnouchkine (Richard II) and Complicite (The Winter's Tale, Measure for Measure) as well as my own work for the University of Central Lancashire in Preston (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth). At the close, I reflect upon some of the issues at stake in the agendas and practices of the Lecoq tradition.   


William Shakespeare, Jacques Lecoq, Ariane Mnouchkine, Complicite, Form, Rhythm, Le jeu, Gesture, Neutral mask, Ensemble

This essay will try to show how an actor who has been trained in what I will call “the Lecoq tradition” may approach the rehearsal of Shakespeare’s text. I propose that the “Lecoq actor,” as I will call her, learns during her training how to use her body, in a playful and rhythmically precise manner, as the primary means of constructing and performing meanings in the theatre. I will indicate the ways in which a conception of theatre as game can be “transposed,”, to use Lecoq’s own word (The Moving Body 45); that is to say, I want to show how the game can be “reinserted into the dramatic dimension” (ibid). No one can legitimately claim to make statements that are true in all contexts for all actors who have come into contact with Lecoq’s work. Furthermore, there is little point in arguing for a systematic procedure of work: such a procedure does not exist in the Lecoq tradition. It is possible, however, to argue for patterns of agenda, vocabulary and approach, and in trying to do so I will draw largely upon Ariane Mnouchkine’s production of Richard II (1981) for her company Théȃtre du Soleil. In addition, I will refer to two productions of Shakespeare I directed for which my approach was influenced by Lecoq’s ideas: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2009) and Macbeth (2011), both at St Peter’s Arts Centre, Preston in the UK. I will also mention in passing three productions of Shakespeare plays by Theatre de Complicite for elements of supporting evidence.

In talking of a Lecoq tradition I am referring to a repertoire of practices and ideas inherited from the influential French acting teacher Jacques Lecoq (1921–1999). Lecoq’s own ideas in turn are a reformulation of the practices of a handful of key influences, in particular, the great director Jacques Copeau, via Copeau’s daughter and her husband (The Moving Body 5; see also Gordon 139). The agenda behind this actor-training and directorial repertoire is to situate the actor’s body at the center of [End Page 469] the theatre-making process. As Simon Murray explains, Lecoq “was a central figure in a loose movement of practitioners, teachers and theorists who proposed that it is the actor’s body–rather than simply the spoken text–which is the crucial generator of meaning(s) in theatre” (Murray 3). Lecoq’s repertoire of concepts and exercises has been subjected to continuous revision in the hands of those who trained either at his school, or with other teachers who have absorbed his influence; indeed, Lecoq himself encouraged his pupils to find their own elaborations of his principles: “many former students,” he acknowledges, “have, in their turn, taken up the teaching and developed it according to their own vision” (The Moving Body 172). As Franc Chamberlain has said, “There is no ensemble with whom he is uniquely associated, no performer who is the Lecoq disciple par excellence [ . . . ] there is no pure Lecoq...