Royal Court Theatre actors using autocue to help with their lines, production company admits

Al Pacino. The actor is said to be among those to have used an earpiece on stage.
Al Pacino. The actor is said to be among those to have used an earpiece on stage.

“Know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture”, were the two pieces of advice given to a young Katharine Hepburn by acting veteran Spencer Tracy.

Now, however, it seems only the second remains necessary, after it it was discovered actors at London’s Royal Court Theatre have been using an autocue.

Hepburn - Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in 1945's 'Without Love' Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Audiences had long suspected that certain players were reading, rather than reciting their lines from memory, but it may come as a shock to learn that the practice is becoming increasingly common.

The fact was confirmed after production company Complicite put out a statement admitting it had used the electronic devices to help actors reaching for the right words in at least two of its recent plays.

They include The Kid Stays in the Picture, a play based on the life of colourful film producer Robert Evans, which is currently playing at the Royal Court, and The Encounter, which ran at the Barbican last year.

Robert Evans - Credit: Channel 4
Robert Evans and Ali McGraw, in a still from the film version of The Kid Stays in the Picture Credit: Channel 4

Complicite said they use the technology as a “fallback”, and added:  “It's just the way the company works. Everything is always devised in the rehearsal room. We're always changing things."  

Yet perhaps the correct response is not surprise, but a yawn.

As one artistic director at a large theatre company told The Sunday Times: "People have always used whatever available technology as an aide-memoire in theatre.

"If Shakespeare suddenly rewrote King Lear, they probably would have gone on with some of it written on their sleeve."

Jack Nicholson - Credit: Everett Collection / Rex Features
Jack Nicholson in Chinatown, which Evans produced Credit: Everett Collection / Rex Features

The ‘problem’ is also much more serious on the silver screen Dominic Dromgoole, former head of Shakespeare's Globe, told the paper that help with lines was "happening more and more in film now".

He added: "Certain actors don't want to learn their lines. They have it fed in their ear while they're performing.

“A lot of people say 'oh, this is immoral,' and then you think, acting is about pretending. You can't say there's some high morality about pretending."

Actors who are said to have used earpieces on stage include the Hollywood veterans Bruce Willis, Al Pacino and Richard Dreyfuss.