*Nunn's Miking at National Causes OutrageDate: 31 March 1999
Trevor Nunn, artistic director of the Royal National Theatre, found himself at the centre of a theatrical scandal yesterday when it was revealed that he requires actors performing in the National's Olivier Theatre to wear microphones. It is believed to be the first time that microphones have been consistently employed in straight plays at any of the country's major subsidised theatres.
Nunn, who has a history of big-budget West End musicals in which microphones are considered necessary for actor's voices to be heard over the orchestra, first instituted miking at the Olivier in September 1997 for his debut National production of Ibsen's drama, Enemy of the People, starring Sir Ian McKellen. Microphones have also been used in Peter Pan and in the current production of Shakepeare's classic Troilus and Cressida.
The miking revelation has outraged actors, voice coaches and fellow directors who believe it threatens a basic tenet of actors' training - the ability to project one's voice while maintaining clarity of diction, conveying nuance and subtlety and building intimacy with the audience. Many fear that the RNT's practice may be the thin end of the wedge which will see a broader deterioration in the quality of theatrical performances. They see it as going hand in hand with the trend for film stars, who have little practice in projection, to tackle the London stage.
But writing in today's Daily Telegraph newspaper, Nunn defended his position, saying that the move was in response to ongoing public complaints about inaudibility. One of the best kept secrets about the National has been, according to Nunn, the 'immensely problematic acoustics of the largest space', the semi-circular, concrete-panelled, 1100-seat Olivier. 'The shape of the building causes irregular resonances, echoes and delays in the behaviour of the projected sound, the concrete is deadening in some areas and unhelpfully reflective in others, and sound that is directed upstage, or across-stage, disappears almost without a trace.'
Nunn's predecessor, Sir Richard Eyre, tried to remedy the problem by installing a lottery-funded £340,000 acoustic enhancement system two years ago, but complaints continued. Since miking began, says Nunn, complaints have stopped almost entirely. Microphones are hidden in the actors' costumes or hair and attached to a small radio transmitter strapped to their backs. Voices are amplified by approximately 10 percent.
According to Nunn, there is no question of doubting the skills of the actors themselves. 'The attempt is to stay true to the traditions and disciplines of the actors' classical training, while serving the audience by ensuring that great texts are totally audible to everyone in the auditorium,' says Nunn.