Anecdotal speculation on Iris Warren’s pedagogical history: Kristin Linklater’s personal reverie

There’s a blank space behind Iris Warren where there should be an identifiable lineage of influence and a pedagogical track record. Yes  - we know that before LAMDA she had her own private studio and taught at the London Theatre Studio and at the Old Vic Theatre School with Michel St Denis in the late 1940s early ‘50s. Am I right in thinking that her name appears in the Central School archives showing that she trained under Fogerty and/or Thurburn? But where did she encounter the idea that the voice was a human instrument rooted in the emotions, not just a musical instrument to be tuned and played? After all, this was long before the words psychology, psychotherapy and psycho-physical were part of our everyday language.

I don’t know how the apocryphal story about Iris having had an affair with a Freudian psychoanalyst in the 1930s arose but it is one I have repeated with variations in order to have some sort of backstory for the quite remarkable transformation she effected from voice training as a technical skill to its connection with the creative art of acting. She was not an actor, she seemed very down-to-earth and practical and when she was not teaching she was gardening. A fervent gardener, many of her teaching images were horticultural. She said that teaching was like gardening  - clearing the weeds, digging fresh beds for planting. I don’t recall her talking about emotions or psychology but I’m sure she spoke about “truth” and the word “centre” was certainly part of her vocabulary. If someone cried in her class she considered it a problem with her teaching  - she’d gone too far too soon. Where did she learn that voice comes from the inside out? Who was her guide?

When the movie The King’s Speech came out in 2010 many Linklater teachers were delighted to see a speech tutor teaching the then Duke of York how to loosen his jaw by clenching his hands together in front of his body and shaking them vigorously thus releasing the jaw muscles. The tutor was Australian and his name was Lionel Logue. He was played by the Australian actor Geoffrey Rush. We were pleased because we claim that loosening device as ours. Looking for 6 degrees of separation from Rush and thereby magically from Logue (magic dust for those extra degrees) I thought that perhaps Rush had suggested a technique he had learned from his own voice training as an actor. At that time one of NIDA’s voice teachers was Bill Pepper who had brought some of our voice work to NIDA from an early workshop at Shakespeare & Company at which Fran Bennett and I were teaching. But Rush did not train at NIDA. Dead end to those degrees of separation. Mind you, he played Waiting for Godot with Mel Gibson  -  Mel Gibson trained at NIDA. Backstage one evening  -  warming-up?

I loved the idea that Lionel and Iris might have shared jaw-loosening procedures. But of course this was a movie made in the 21st century with Geoffrey Rush suggesting how Colin Firth might shake the tension out of his jaw. And the clasped-hands jaw-shake came in in the 1960s with Fran Bennett (3rdgeneration Iris…)

Fran Bennett tells me:  I discovered the jaw-hand-shake decades ago while at the Guthrie.  I was shaking some fiber in a quart jar and discovered my jaw was also shaking as I was shaking the jar.  I taught it to people at Shake & Co and any otherplace or people I have worked with.  It is an advanced jaw shake, as most people use too much arm muscle when doing it. 

Well  - imagination can run riot…fact and fiction can result in fable.

Fact: Logue was teaching in London at much the same time as Iris.

I think it was the jaw-shake that prompted me to look further.

I wanted to know more about Lionel Logue - an Australian “elocution” teacher born in Adelaide. And once I found out about Logue’s life and the seminal influences on his work I thought Logue was a more likely influence on Iris than a mythical Freudian analyst. He was born in 1880 and died in 1953 ten years before Iris’s death in 1963. He was 73 years old when he died, Iris was 63. There were twenty years between their ages but they were contemporaneous.

A book written by Lionel’s grandson, Mark Logue, was published soon after the film came out which contained the following interesting information: 

Settling in Perth, Logue taught elocution, public speaking and acting. He staged plays, recited Shakespeare and Dickens at concerts, and founded a public-speaking club. He also taught part time at the Young Men's Christian Association, at Scotch College and, from 1910, at Perth Technical School. In the following year he toured the world. A Christian Scientist, Logue was dedicated to healing. In World War I he treated returned soldiers afflicted with speech impediments caused by shell-shock. Using humour, patience and 'superhuman sympathy', he taught them exercises for the lungs and diaphragm, and to breathe sufficiently deeply to complete a sentence fluently.

Mark Logue’s book offers a lead to a connection with Iris. Quoting a journaIist called Michael Thornton he says that the initial connection between the Duke of York and Lionel Logue was made by Evelyn Laye. She was a major West End musical theatre star and a renowned beauty and the Duke of York was infatuated with her:

Evelyn Laye became the Duke of York's 's favorite actress when he saw her perform in a West-End production of "The Shop Girl."  At the time, Laye (whose nickname was "Boo") was nineteen years old.  She went on to become one of Britain's most acclaimed actresses.

When Laye encountered problems with her singing, she sought the help of Lionel Logue.  Mark Logue provides the background in his book, The King's Speech:

According to Michael Thornton, a writer and long-term friend of Laye, the singer sought the advice of Logue, who diagnosed incorrect voice production and prescribed some deep breathing exercises relating to the diaphragm - which quickly relieved her problems.  Laye was deeply impressed.  (Logue, The King's Speech, page 63.)

Boo Laye may also have been the person who first suggested that the Duke seek help from Logue: the summer of 1926, when she met the Duchess of York and their conversation turned to the forthcoming trip to Australia and all the speeches that the Duke would have to make there, Laye recommended Logue.

"The Duchess listened with great interest and asked if she would let them have Mr. Logue's details," recalls Thornton.  "The Duchess appeared to consider it a point of great importance that Lionel Logue was an Australian and that she and the Duke were going to Australia."  Soon afterwards, Laye called Patrick Hodgson, the Duke's private secretary, and gave him Logue's telephone number.  (Logue, The King's Speech, page 63.)

In Michael Thornton’s article (Daily Mail 2009) it is Evelyn Laye who guided the king (originally Prince Albert, he was known as Bertie to friends and family) to Lionel Logue and indeed coached him herself. I leave it to others to speculate about the ‘West End rehearsal studio’ -  (see below)….might Iris have lent a hand?

Evelyn Laye, seeing how much Bertie dreaded public speaking, recommended to his private secretary, Patrick Hodgson, the services of the London-based Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue. 

Later, in the utmost secrecy, Laye herself took a hand in trying to cure the Duke of York's stammer. She would invite him, incognito, to a West End rehearsal studio where she would give him deep breathing exercises, after which they would both sing his favourite Evelyn Laye songs, including I'll See You Again and Love is A Song (But Two Must Sing It). 

Of course, the official version is as follows:

 Resolved to find some way to manage his stammer, the Duke engaged Logue in 1926[12][13] after being introduced to Logue by Lord Stamfordham.[  :(see Lionel Logue  - Wikipedia)

I wish I knew when Evelyn Laye began working with Iris but she was a client for decades and continued her sessions probably till Iris’s death. I remember Iris speaking affectionately and with pride about her. Iris had a beautiful studio in the Wigmore Hall building and she gave private lessons to many leading West End actors  - (including Vivien Leigh.) 

Isn’t it obvious that Laye would speak to Iris about Logue? 

Now  - let’s jump forward to January 2019. We are well into week three of Teacher Training Part One in Orkney. Attending Designated Linklater Teachers are Mary Irwin, Alexandra Whitham, John Wild and the redoubtable Fran Bennett. Fran, as you know, was in my first teacher-training group in 1965 in the US. Having completed her training with me Fran came to London in the 1970s to train with the legendary movement teacher, Litz Pisk. Fran taught at LAMDA while she was in London and word went out that she was teaching Iris Warren’s work and she took on some private clients. 

The four DLTs and I went out to dinner one night at The Ferry Inn in Stromness and stories were told, discussions were discussed -  including my speculation about Lionel Logue possibly being Iris’s inspiration. I mentioned Evelyn Laye. I knew that Evelyn Laye had been one of those who had eagerly signed on for private lessons with Fran when she was in London. I said what a pity it was that we hadn’t asked about Iris and Lionel while she was alive. She was then in her 70s (she died in 1996). Fran suddenly sat up straight and a faraway look came into her eyes.  “Wait…” she said “I can see her grand piano in the suite at the Dorchester where she lived and where I went to give her lessons. It was covered in framed photographs. I can see so clearly a photograph of a man in a suit and tie  -  and its signature: Lionel Logue. And so many photographs of the royal family…”

As I said “andecdotal  -  speculative” but….of course!!! They had tea for three at the Dorchester and discussed breathing….and Life…and Emotion. Evelyn and Iris and Lionel.

There’s something deeply poignant about the fact that Lionel Logue worked with ‘superhuman sympathy’ to help shell-shocked soldiers returning home from World War I, and that Alfred Wolfsohn, Roy Hart’s teacher, was a German stretcher-bearer in the same war, and that their experience of the extremity of human expression became a vital ingredient in the art of voice. Roy Hart steered Wolfsohn’s work towards music and acting. Both Logue and Wolfsohn were alchemists – they guided the transmutation of suffering into healing art.

I would love to think we are part of that heritage.