May 15, 2013, 6:25 am
The Queen’s English, Oxford English, BBC English, Heightened, Advanced or Marked RP, or just plain ‘Posh’?
In every Drama School, in every English speaking country, students from all over the world have to learn some form of neutral Standard English accent and voice and drama tutors have to teach it. The accent traditionally taught is called RP. But what exactly is it? How many varieties are there? Which one should we use when? And is the old form of RP still relevant for a 21st C actor looking for a modern, neutral Standard English accent?
Received Pronunciation, came to prominence in the 1920’s: the word ‘received’ being an old-fashioned word meaning ‘accepted’. Taught by most drama schools, it was commonplace in theatres throughout the English speaking world for generations.
RP differs crucially from other accents. Most have regional associations, but RP didn’t come from a place, so much as from a type of people. Originally based on upper and upper-middle class speech patterns of Middle and South Eastern English it included only persons who had been educated at schools such as Eton, Harrow, Winchester and Rugby. Yet for more than 120 years, it was deemed the ‘neutral’ accent that all actors should learn.
But no accent stands still, and the perception of neutral has changed. Voices we associate with early BBC broadcasts for instance, now sound old-fashioned. Old ‘RP’ has strongresonances of authority, social status and economic power. Today, varieties of this accent are confined to an extremely small section of the older upper and
upper-middle classes, and older actors and broadcasters. When we hear a Traditional RP speaker in the theatre, we automatically hear history and social standing. It is a useful accent, as it belongs to a vast array of characters, hundreds of plays and is the voice of many a playwright, from Noel Coward’s Present Laughter and Terrence Rattigan's After the Dance through to Laura Wade's Posh. So, unquestionably, it should still be taught alongside many other accents as part of an actor’s repertoire but is it really an accent we can still hear teach as ‘neutral’?
As accent and dialect coaches working since the early 1990's, we've seen many exciting accent changes, such as the blending of old Cockney with new Multi Cultural London accents. We have also dealt with a new set of requirements and requests from directors, casting directors and agents. The commonest is, ' Can you please coach actors, especially younger ones, to neutralise their RP, making it ‘less posh’, but ‘not too estuary’?' The industry may not have named this 'New Neutral’, or ‘New RP’, but wants us to coach it. It exists, and there is a clear need for actors to learn it.
In our book, ‘How To Do Standard English Accents’, we describe this new ‘neutral’ accent and called it 'Neutral Standard English Accent'. It is only a convention of course. Nothing can ever be entirely ‘neutral’ but we know it is the sound audiences and directors respond to. Although it is still a southern English accent, it lacks strong local accent features, and has the advantage of being non gender, age, class or region specific. It is English, as opposed to Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish, all of which we would contend, have their own neutral standard accents. And although the distant roots of the neutral accent are upper class, it is in fact quite different from the actual accents of the upper and upper-middle classes.
Meanwhile it remains important for actors and coaches to identify the differences between the neutral accent and Traditional RP. But it doesn’t stop there. RP has many subtle varieties.
In the 21st C, the actor needs a wide range of RP. Perhaps most importantly this new understanding will release actors and their teachers from the pressure and conflict of sounding ‘posh’ while freeing them to discover a truly open, free and conventionally neutral sound.
After all, Hugh Grant ‘s RP may well sound ‘posh’, but it just wouldn’t be right for Hamlet. Or if it were, it would be a contemporary Hamlet who attended an English Public School. And there’s the rub.
March 22, 2013, 3:50 pm
If you want a job with variety, look no further than being a Voice and Dialect Coach! Jan has recently returned from Bulgaria, working on an exciting new film, and is currently looking forward to her work on Game Of Thrones season 3 airing at the end of March (http://youtu.be/R4XSeW4B5Rg) Meanwhile, Edda's work with Ant and Dec can be seen in their Under Cover Hits on Saturday night, while she is in Canada coaching at The Shaw Festival Theatre (www.shawfest.com). But the real news is....We have joined Twitter! It has been challenging our elderly brains to get more 'online media' savvie, but we are getting there, and we know how much our clients, old and new, appreciate it.
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