The enigma of accents

Accents are fascinating. Everyone has one and yet no two are exactly the same. Regional accents in Ireland alone span into the hundreds. 

Accents are so individual that they can often be a performer's best tool when creating and shaping a character. Think of Nancy in 'Oliver' - a strong, Cockney woman. That wonderful East End of London accent is an integral part of that character.

This week I re-listened to two of my favourite worst accents on screen of all time - Dick Van Dyke in 'Mary Poppins' and Brad Pitt in 'The Devil's Own'. It is a tough one to call but I think that Ol' Bradders just about clinches the title. Seconds into his 'gritty' performance(!) one's ears are subjected to what is undeniably the absolute worst attempt at an Irish accent imaginable - to the point where it begins to completely undermine and ruin the performance, turning it into farce.

Accents are fun to try but are often greeted with raised eyebrows or subtle winces if they aren't quite right. It is incredible how many of our children have already perfected a decent generic American accent and no doubt this can be attributed to the saturation of American TV programmes and YouTube channels that we have today. When I spent a Summer working in Boston as a student, I came home believing that I could have been mistaken for a true Bwastonian, talking about 'paaking the caa' and 'Maatha's Vinyid'. In reality, it was a ludicrous effort and I was a laughing stock. I cringe to this day.

Almost every professional theatre production and movie of course now has a dedicated 'dialect coach'. Indeed, in the early 1980s, my own father had been lined up as the dialect coach for Daniel Day-Lewis on the set of 'In the Name of the Father' before he decided to take a different career path completely! I always feel quietly relieved that my dad didn't end up taking that position as Daniel Day-Lewis would have ended up sounding like a Fermanagh Man!

It's always great fun to use accents to add colour to a performance. In our August Summer Schools, the children tried a Scottish accent to depict Shrek, an  American accent for Donkey from Shrek, and a French accent when playing the character of Lumière from Beauty and the Beast. The best time to learn accents is in childhood.

The following quotation by a local actor friend has always amused me "If you say 'Beer Can' in a London accent, you are also saying 'Bacon' in a Jamaican accent". Little amuses the innocent.

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