Saturday, July 15, 2017

Voice Crush

A man's voice has always been one of those things I find deeply attractive. Many people these days go for Benedict Cumberbatch, and I will say, I understand how he's become the thinking person's crumpet. But when he speaks, frankly, I just hear a smoker's voice. It's got more fry than a man his age perhaps ought to have, and is so dry there are times I wonder about the quality of his breath.

For my idea of a classic Englishman's voice: Tim Curry. Much more velvet there. And who ever had a finer sneer? American? Frank Langella, of course. He doesn't even bother sneering.

But the voice I love most is Peter Egan. Perhaps not so well known by many Americans, I first "met" this actor in the BBC historicals I grew up with (introduced by Alistair Cooke). The first one was "Lillie" - and his performance here still all but makes me cry (minute 41). Yes, it's a claustrophobic costume showcase, yes it's basically only the story of a popular girl getting by on her looks. (Francesca Annis, though, is splendid in it.) But Egan's turn as Oscar Wilde is THE best Wilde I have ever seen - and, indeed, I do include Stephen Fry's go at the role.

There is something about Peter Egan's use of his breath that creates some sort of sympathetic response, and I find myself squeezing at oxygen when he plays intense emotion, precisely because he does it so quietly ... but his breath is attenuated and silent and desperate, and it brings me to the place he is portraying. No bombast, no effort. He just has that Thing.

And that Thing, he emanates in his breath. His voice.



Watching him read aloud, I suddenly recognize something else - something itself pretty resonant with me.

Without resembling him, without sounding like him really at all - Peter Egan's cadence, even the way he moves, looking at the book and looking up, making some small gesture - reminds me powerfully of my dad.

Dad was a teacher. As much as any actor in the world, the great job of a teacher is to communicate. To build the sympathy of *understanding*.

Without, perhaps, admitting I have for decades been a bit in love with Peter Egan: I would say, at least, that he is a consummate builder of sympathy.

And seriously: that voice. You could NUZZLE with that voice.

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