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The Actor and the Space

“A hand grenade of a book. It contains all the humility and chutzpah you need to work in the theatre.”

Cate Blanchett

We are very excited to announce that our Artistic Director Declan Donnellan has written a new book: The Actor and the Space.

In 2005, Declan’s best-selling book The Actor and the Target laid out a fresh and radical approach to acting that went on to inspire actors and directors around the world. Now, in The Actor and the Space, he develops and extends those ideas, exploring the most profound source of vitality in life as well as performance: the space around us.

Equipped with a universal set of keys, and through line-by-line analysis of scenes from Macbeth, Declan tackles fundamental questions that face any actor: what makes performance better? How do I create a space for my character to live in? How do I tap into that space, and draw energy from it?

Full of insightful precepts, acute psychology and practical, hands‑on advice, The Actor and the Space presents a bold new way of thinking about acting that is essential reading for any actor or theatre director, as well as a fascinating distillation of the work of a world‑leading director.

Published on 14 March 2024 and available to buy from Nick Hern Books.

The Actor and the Space by Declan Donnellan (book cover)

“A wonderful book. Few directors think as deeply or perceptively about the art of acting as Declan Donnellan. This is an essential text for the actor, supremely useful, practical, elegant and profound.”

Matthew Macfadyen

“Beautifully clear. This generous vision takes a very complex art form and makes it all seem so simple. The whole book is a key. Unlocking the problems actors face as they try to accept another reality long enough to let the audience get a glimpse of the best our art can offer – a glimpse into themselves.”

Adrian Lester

A hand grenade of a book. It contains all the humility and chutzpah you need to work in the theatre.

I remember I was (in a rehearsal room) stumped, blocked and unable to progress – over-psychologising, desperate to get back to basics in order to reconnect and anchor myself through the other actors to the work so it could all start to flow. I had a conversation … I cannot even recall the problem … The conundrum is that once

the flow has begun again it is the most natural state in the world – so natural that you soon forget there ever was a problem … that stumbling block has gone and been forgotten.

Two more acute listeners you could never hope to meet; to speak with Declan and Nick is deliciously heartfelt, often hilarious and always provocative. Their conversation may be full of laughter but it is never trivial, it is always honest, always questing. You leave the space and the time spent with them altered somehow, experiencing and, perhaps more importantly, interacting with the world around you more engaged, more alive.

Hidden in plain sight though, the same problem returns in different guises and more importantly brings with it that juddering halt to creative flow. And it always appears to you as if for the first time and it always seems impossible to solve.

This is where Declan steps in …

The Keys he offers as a director, as a friend, are simply here in this book, they contain possibility with the security that the questions are always more important than the answers.

Cate Blanchett

“Declan Donnellan’s profound insight and point of departure is that great theatre, like a child’s sandcastle, inhabits a vulnerable and ever-changing space between the safe and the dangerous. There is a whole lot of wisdom in this book – about tragedy, human psychology, words, dread and about how great acting really works – conveyed with remarkable clarity and simplicity. It’s worth sharing with non-actor friends for its insights into Macbeth alone. Most of all, it’s a distillation of hard-won lessons learned from decades of immersion in the mysteries of theatre by one of the great directors of our day.”

James Shapiro, Shakespeare scholar and author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare