Giving up the Ghost: The Actor’s Body as Haunted House

Mary E Luckhurst

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


‘Theatre is where ghosts make their best appearances,’ argues Alice Rayner in her intriguing work, because it is ‘a specific site where appearance and disappearance reproduce the relations between the living and the dead.’1 The actor’s body is also a site but, unlike actors themselves, Western theorists of acting rarely explicitly refer to it as the locus where the living commune with the dead, or a site where ghosts are conjured or seem to visit of their own accord. Billie Whitelaw, for instance, immediately understood Samuel Beckett’s direction regarding her character in Footfalls as ‘not quite there,’ as neither alive nor dead, just as she knew exactly how to respond to Beckett’s instruction to ‘make it ghostly.’2 ‘Like most people, particularly actors, I am made up of many selves,’ Whitelaw said by way of explanation, though Martin Esslin was always haunted by how Whitelaw had created the image of ‘a tangle of grey tatters, gradually vanishing.’3 Expressing herself in a similar vein to Whitelaw, the great actress Eileen Atkins once observed: ‘I seem to have an awful lot of people inside me’ which prompted Simon Callow to reflect that she made herself sound like an ‘unscrupulous landlord’ tolerating hordes of squatters.4 Atkins’s uncanny disconnect between the agency of her own technical prowess and a sense that her body is a haunted house inhabited by others, is an experience familiar to many performers.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTheatre and Ghosts
Subtitle of host publicationMateriality, Performance and Modernity
EditorsMary Luckhurst, Emilie Morin
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-137-34507-3
ISBN (Print)978-1-349-46631-3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Actor Training,Physical Machine, Live Performance, Stage Fright, Western Theorist


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