The Road to Jerusalem – Finding Rooster’s Voice

JOHNNY: I got pockets full of promises off you chisellers. ‘Lend us a tenner, Rooster.’ ‘I’ll pays you later, Roost.’ ‘Here’s a DVD of Top Gun. Remains of the fucking Day.’ There has to be rules. Two weeks back, your bother Daffy comes round here, tried to buy three grams of whizz with a tortoise.

On our upcoming production of Jerusalem, accents aren’t just the cheap fun we all use to confuse telemarketers. (Bueller? No one else?) 

Dialect Coach - John Nelles

Dialect Coach – John Nelles

Instead they’re key to communicating the specificity of Jez Butterworth’s rural English setting.

And lead actor Kim Coates knows just how important the Wiltshire dialect is for the play’s feeling of authenticity. Since signing on to play Johnny “Rooster” Byron he’s been working with celebrated British voice coach Clare Davidson as well as the production’s renowned dialect coach, John Nelles.

The dialect is native to Wiltshire County, England, near Gloucestershire, “where Shakespeare is from,” says Nelles, who’s worked as an actor, fight director, and dialect coach for over 20 years.

“England is full of different‐sounding accents: Liverpoolian, Cockney, posh. But Wiltshire, being a very esoteric part of England, is kind of different. It’s got an old pirate flare to it. It’s almost got some Irish lilt to it. It’s got some Cockney to it. But even within that circle of Wiltshire, there are twenty different sounds,” says Coates.

What exactly does it sound like? Think Gareth from the BBC’s version of The Office. Or Hagrid from the Harry Potter movies – “He’s a little more Cornwall but he’s pretty close,” says Nelles.

“It’s a very tricky accent for a lot of people because we’re not used to hearing it,” he says.

When most of us think of British accents we think of “RP,” (Received Pronunciation) – also known as The Queen’s English.

“The other accent people learn is cockney or East London. East London is what Jason Statham uses,” says Nelles (before launching into a pitch‐perfect Statham impression). But, he says, “Wiltshire’s one that almost never comes up.”

Director Mitchell Cushman believes that’s central to the play’s magic.

“Jez’s language conjures this rich sense of place. We really believe that Rooster has this mystical connection to ancient England. That’s why working to hone the dialect is so important for us,” he says.

Kim Coates in Pewsey, England

Kim Coates in Pewsey, England

Something Coates knows all too well. Over the past few months he’s been taking research trips to Pewsey, the town that serves as the inspiration for Butterworth’s play.

“I’ve been to Pewsey, Marlborough, Stonehenge and pivotal surrounding areas three times. I was in London and able to study with Clare Davidson over 4 separate occasions since September of 2017. I’m a lucky guy!” says Coates.

And Pewsey’s reaction to Coates’ visits has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. “By the second day, they’re going, ‘Come on, give me an accent!’ And I go, ‘ Hang on a second . Let me work on it,’” jokes Coates.

Want to work on it yourself? Nelles says the first step is learning what he calls “resonance” or “where does this sit in the mouth?” For example, “an Australian or Cockney sits at the back of the throat.”

“North American resonance is sort of right in the middle of your mouth. If you push your cheeks together they meet right in the middle,” he says.

Wiltshire resonance, on the other hand “has the feeling of being a bit further back and up, like you’re about to yawn.”

Give it a shot. Telemarketers won’t know what hit ‘em.

 Jerusalembegins February 13, 2018, at the Streetcar Crowsnest.