HOUSTON -- For the Alley Theatre's current revival of Angel Street, which opened Jan. 14 and continues through Feb. 7 in Houston, you might say that company voice and dialect coach Deborah Kinghorn taught the actors how to speak out of the sides of their mouths.
Written in 1938, Patrick Hamilton's domestic thriller is a period piece, set in the Pimlico district of London, in the Victorian era, with numerous class divisions to give voice to.
"The heroine, who has the most breeding, must speak with the most pronounced British accent," Kinghorn explained. "The heroine's husband, who married above his station, is the next step down," his speech needing a hint of inherent coarseness amid the acquired polish. A private detective whose motives are mysterious for much of the action, talks just like his name: Rough. There should be something enigmatic about him even as he's direct."
And a maid employs an Irish brogue: form following function, since many Irish were employed as servants at the time.
Depending on how given cast members learn, Kinghorn might emphasize vowel changes, consonant shifts, and other senses of stress. Kinghorn might scan lines for the cast like poems. She might provide tapes or movies for them to study. "I also consider energy, rhythm, tone, and nuance. Contrasts too. Not many people understand how closely I have to work with the text, like a dramaturge. My job is to study the text and perceive what is suggested. To help the cast hear and feel what the text is saying, not impose their own reading on it."
In her fifth season with the Alley, Kinghorn is also professor of vocal production at the University of Houston School of Theatre.
Angel Street continues through Feb. 7 at the Alley Theatre in Houston. For tickets, $31-$46, call (713) 228-8421.
-- By Peter Szatmary