The Doctor’s remedies, lotions and cure-alls!

Be it the Stitch,
Or the Itch,
The Grumps, Mumps or Twitch,
The Physician is here,
Proffering cure-alls most queer.

The Doctor has been on the streets of Nailsworth today pedalling his wares and offering potions, lotions and finest remedies for all ailments, aches, shakes and quakes. Together with his (not so) able assistant Zan Pollo, they found a crowd – rather randomly – at #RecordStoreDay2019 @SanctuaryVinyl

Selling cure-alls is merely a secondary ruse to draw his public into the knowledge that he is the keeper of one of life’s greatest secrets: he is on the cusp of galvanising the essential elements into an elixir that can bring the dead back to life . Already hailed as the greatest physician, scientist and self-proclaimed alchemist he will soon be noted globally as the Great Rejuvenator!

The character of the Doctor began to appear in commedia dell’arte in response to the proliferation of charlatan mountebanks who were setting up impromptu stalls in every market place of Renaissance Italy. At this time, many new breakthroughs and discoveries in science and medicine were being made and the public were keen to purchase the newly available remedies for every known ailment. This presented an opportunity for the quack, self-proclaimed ‘physicians’ to profit from the public’s want, luring them in with elaborate spectacle and theatrical demonstrations, using stooges purposefully placed in the crowd. A market place full of fakes, replicas and rip-offs? Times haven’t changed that much.

The Doctor of commedia dell’arte is based on these unscrupulous profiteers, the only difference being that the audience are encouraged to quickly see him for what he is: a pompous buffoon with little credibility. It is through the comic relationships with his servants, through the absurd investigations and riotous operations that we appreciate the Doctor as a primary source of comedy in the scenarios; he is the straight man to the fool; Oliver Hardy to Stan Laurel.

Today was a warm up for our new show: The Breath of True Love. The show will be touring to schools nationwide accompanied by a commedia dell’arte workshop for students. If you would like to know more, click here.

Achieving Stage Presence

Movement expressionism is useful, as a rehearsal tool, no matter what style of acting you work with. Using levels of exaggeration frees the actor to allow expression to pass through their body and, I believe, is the key to presence on stage. This is just one of the techniques we work with at Learning Through Theatre that our students find particularly useful and liberating:

The Levels of Exaggeration

This is inspired by Lecoq’s 7 Levels of Tension. We have developed this to support the study of Expressionism to explore the distorted grotesques that often feature in expressionist plays.

Level 1 – Neutral – an absence of character

Level 2 – Naturalism – everyday, internalised

Level 3 – The Twitch – bursting out, sudden spasms, repeated gestures (on the way down, this happens more naturally as you try to reign the animal in!)

Level 4 – Heightened – highly expressive; farcical; intensified character with animal-like qualities

Level 5 – Exaggerated – strange, absurd, melodramatic; human-animal

Level 6 – Grotesque – shocking; distorted; primal, animalistic, wild

Level 7 – Mie – a freeze frame; snap into position of extreme tension

There is another element that in itself is not a ‘level of tension’ but is an amplification of a tension state: ‘Slo-mo’; a heightened slow motion movement that can be thrown in at any level. The slo-mo must sustain the intensity of tension at that level. A director might call for an actor to ‘snap’ suddenly into a mie following slow-mo and then back to any given level (e.g. level 5… slo-mo … level 4)

Considering what animal a character could be likened to is an ideal starting point. Work up to level 6 where the animal qualities come to the forefront; the character becomes less human, more animal; the voice loses articulation and becomes ‘wild’. Once you have been up through the levels, go back down; the experience of returning to level 2 is greatly intensified; there is a tangible energy and power contained behind the eyes: the actor is utterly present in the moment. Don’t just take our word for it:

Naked Berkoff!

Well, naked of a mask, I should say… it’s becoming increasingly common these days to find me sans masque, delving into the glorious grotesque characterisations that epitomise Berkoff’s style of theatre. I’m warming up right now for another intensive workshop on Expressionist Theatre, as I get ready to travel south in a few weeks to East Sussex to my wonderful hosts @OffTheText. This one is for teachers – a fantastically fun CPD! Fancy joining us? You can find out more and book on our Acting and Professional Development Page.

It is great to be able to push participants to extremes: they are always surprised by the range their voices can cover and the expressionistic abilities of their own bodies. When pushed to explore the outer limits of the expressive potential of their bodies, faces and voices, performers start to reach the essence of what Steven Berkoff’s deliciously grotesque, expressionist theatre is all about. Great fun has been had playing with extracts from Berkoff’s plays looking at how all the techniques come together. Here’s some photos from recent workshops and a short clip of an extract from Berkoff’s ‘Kvetch‘:

New show in the pipeline

My goodness it has been a hectic term. I have been in Henley, London, Warwickshire, Devon, Manchester, Birmingham and Gloucestershire delivering workshops at universities, schools, colleges and of course, two intensive full day masterclasses at The Actors’ Workshop in Bristol, plus I am delighted to also be teaching at Circomedia in Bristol now. Phew! I have to say, I am glad of a Christmas break, but loving the contact with such a variety of students.

I have been testing the water with samples of a new show that is in the offing, in its trial format as a one woman commedia troupe (!) and the feedback so far is very positive.

I am keen to incorporate a performance presentation element (ideally with two performers) into future commedia dell’ arte workshops as I find it helps participants enormously to be able to see the required energy, style and pace of commedia in action; it propels participants of a workshop to a far stronger starting position once they have this knowledge.

“We got to learn how a real practitioner worked in commedia and seeing it performed in front of me was way more understandable than just reading about it academically”

(UCL SELCS student)

“There is really no substitute when teaching commedia dell’arte to seeing it enacted live.”

Dr L. Sampson (Reader in Early Modern Italian Studies, UCL Italian Department)

Deliciously Grotesque Expressionism

What a lovely morning working on #Berkoff #Expressionism with an eager group of yr 12’s @Rednock_School. I do find it quite liberating to strip away the mask as a physical object from time to time to dive ‘naked’ into the #Berkovian-Aesthetic: the grotesque expressionism that our own faces are capable of; the intricate connection between face, breath, body and voice. Again, today, students surprised themselves with the range their voice could cover; the sounds that they could produce; the level of extremity their bodies could reach; the contortions possible with their own face muscles. The Berkoff mask is raw and corporeal. A play like Metamorphosis lends itself so brilliantly to grotesque expressionism and I find it such fun to apply techniques to and through this text to see where your imagination can take you. When we push ourselves to explore the outer limits of the expressive potential of our bodies, faces and voices, we start to reach the essence of what Steven Berkoff’s deliciously grotesque, expressionist theatre is all about. Berkoff explored the use of masks extensively in Commedia dell’Arte, Greek, Noh and Kabuki styles and it is with this understanding of the power and potential of the mask, that Berkoff advocates that we can strip away the mask as a prop because we each are born with a wonderfully versatile mask:



I believe that you don’t need anything more than just utter simplicity and that everything in my art must be created from the body onwards.  The body and the voice.  Everything else is an imposition and is an interference with the art of the actor: if it’s too many lights, too many props.  So the simplicity with me is that I return the art of the actor to the actor; not give it to the sets or give it to the props or give it to the costumes or give it to the lights.  But give it to the performer.

(Interview, Japanese Television; Salomé videotape, British Theatre Museum, cited by Craig Rosen, Ph.D. in his essay Creating the “Berkovian” Aesthetic – an analysis of Steven Berkoff’s Performance Style, Chapter V)

The rest of Rosen’s dissertation on Berkoff’s style is well worth further reading and is available, in full, along with many other useful essays and a host of information, on Iain Fisher’s extensive and informative website: 

Antonio Fava is coming to town!

A great opportunity is coming up, thanks to my friends at #Fourth Monkey who are hosting #CommediaMaestro, #AntonioFava. Fava will lead a four day intensive workshop (29th Oct-1st Nov), as well as perform a run of his new production “Pesteccorna/Pestes Y Cuernos” (Poxes and Horns) in which Fava himself is performing. Fava has taught me so much and is one of my greatest sources of inspiration – surely, you don’t want to miss this rare opportunity to see the great man in action? There’s an early booking offer so check it out this weekend to get the reduced rate on the workshop (book by Oct 2nd). Here’s a link to all the info and booking:

Out with a bang!

What an end to a great, fun show today at #Beaudesertpark. #TroubleInnParadise has been non-stop laughter from beginning to end and even today we were finding new comedy and gags. True improvisational spirit; keeping it fresh; #commediadellarte lives! Huge thanks to Alex and Mark for their graft, passion, energy and commitment, and also to Hannah, who stepped up when we most needed her, and to Caroline, who gave me the drive to make this happen and took breaking a leg a little too literally… Without you, there’d be no Trouble Inn Paradise! Onwards my friends to the next project – it’s already underway! 

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Photos © Domonic White

A final outing Inn Paradise 

Looking forward to an energetic morning at #BeaudesertParkSchool tomorrow. It’s been a journey not free of trouble with ‘Trouble Inn Paradise’ with a broken knee and change of characters, as well as several changes of actors, but laughter has been shared in bucket loads and today we’re rehearsing for our final show in the run. It’s been a blast! What next? Well we’ve already started devising. More news to come soon! 

Cheryl Parmenter on training with Gaulier: The elusive search for presence

You either have it or you don’t. That is what we are led to believe. Certain actors have the innate ability to compel without words, projecting an aura that makes an audience hold its breath.

In training with Philippe Gaulier, very few students ever impressed him. Failure became a daily occurrence. What was he looking for? ‘I will know it when I see it. You must find it. You must have pleasure.’

Playing a bouffon clown in class one day, I waited outside the door for the command to enter. Unsure of what would happen beyond the door, my mind raced: I could burst into song; I could trip over my feet … Each time I thought I had nailed it, I was greeted with ‘You leave!’

Seven times I entered, seven times I was sent back to re-enter: ‘Again! With pleasure!’

By the tenth time, I was frustrated, fuming and feeling utterly vulnerable. My mind was a fog of emotions unable to conjure any ideas. I threw the door open and furiously entered: ‘Alright! This is all I’ve got!’


This is an extract from an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Theatre, Dance and Performance Training on 20/07/17.

To read the rest of this article, view it online here: