Book Review: The Voice Exercise Book  

by Jeannette Nelson

Published by National Theatre

Voice is to an actor what legs are to an Olympic runner – an essential, indispensable work tool. So if you use your voice to earn your living as actors do then you need to look after it and this book coaches the reader through how to do that. Not that voice is, of course, exclusive to actors. Many teachers, more likely than most to succumb to voice strain, would benefit from this and that is part of Jeannette Nelson’s message. She wants to share her technique with “Actors, teachers and anyone else who uses their voice professionally. That might be all day, or just at meetings and presentations or in the theatre”.

Nelson, National Theatre’s Head of Voice since 2007 (and employed there since 1992) takes the reader very practically through how to find and use the voice in careful stages. She’s especially interesting on accents, anyone of which can be clear and how to hang on to disappearing consonants. And she’s good on working with young people stating unequivocally that “Good articulation is essential for young people who are trying to achieve clear speech when performing” before taking teachers, youth leaders and so forth through some practical strategies for developing it.

It’s an attractive, unfussy book with very clear instructions, simple pencil drawings and accessible page designs; Nelson’s own voice is friendly but authoritative. Derren Brown describes her on the cover as “the best in the business” and comments that her “knowledge is astonishing and her approach gentle and effective.” Definitely a book which could help teachers to manage both their own voices and voice development work with young people.

Review by Susan Elkin