Acting - Classical, MA

Duration: One year, full-time, September start

Award: MA Acting (180 credits)

MA Acting - Classical - "As You Like It".

A creatively, physically and intellectually demanding one-year advanced level conservatoire classical acting programme, designed for students with previous experience and/or training. The course follows the development of the theatre from its earliest ritual roots to the birth of naturalism, and aims to hone individual’s technical acting craft within an ensemble.

About the course

This course draws on the influential theories and techniques of the great French acting teacher Michel Saint-Denis, training the expressive body, voice and imagination. Working with some of the greatest dramatic texts ever written students are asked to consider what they mean now.

Four key periods of innovation and transition in Western theatre are examined:

  • Greek Tragedy, Chorus and the Neutral Mask
  • Clowning and Commedia dell’arte
  • Shakespeare and the English Renaissance
  • Stanislavski, the Method and ‘Realist’ Theatre.

Students are encouraged to understand the demands of both art and craft, as participants in, and practitioners of, these theatrical traditions.

Course Detail

Maintaining Central’s tradition of innovation in actor training, this course is taught over an extended 42 weeks, with up to 35 hours per week of classes, rehearsals, seminars and tutorials.

Indicative course content includes:

In the first four-week intensive (September – October), the ensemble principle is nurtured through practical work on the chorus of ancient Greek tragedy (with examination of several different choric styles), in-depth neutral mask and intensive physical and vocal training. Accompanying seminars address Aristotelian theory of tragedy and the social and political discourses of ancient Greek drama. Regular voice and movement training continues throughout the course.

In the subsequent studio (October – December), practical classes in commedia dell’arte, character mask and clowning examine the oldest unbroken European theatre tradition: comedy. In the second half of the term, students undertake work on scenes from Early Modern plays using approaches derived from clown, animal work and improvisational techniques. Practical assessments, showings and critiques take place at the end of each studio, and individual personal guidance from tutors is available throughout the year. Stage fighting classes also take place in this term, leading to a basic stage combat qualification.

In the second studio (January – March), the course focuses on acting approaches to Shakespeare and his contemporaries: narrative structure and storytelling, textual form, heightened realistic expression, character analysis, gesture and movement psychology, and the actor’s relationship to the audience and to space. Accompanying seminars address the political dynamics of Renaissance drama and ideas of psychological truth and stylisation. Students can choose to work on scenes from Shakespeare, other Early Modern English playwrights and playwrights from the European Renaissance canon, such as Calderón, Lope de Vega, Corneille or Racine. Period dance classes in this term examine a range of historical dances and hone movement and gestural skills.

In the second intensive (March – April), students rehearse and perform a fully-supported production of a Shakespeare, Renaissance or other appropriate play, integrating their work-to-date in chorus, clowning, acting and characterisation, movement and voice.

In the third studio (April – June), the course examines the revolution of the realist and expressionist theatres in the 19th and early 20th centuries and their contemporary legacy. Underpinning classes are the theories on narrative and character of Constantin Stanislavski and his successors. Students can choose to work on scenes from a wide range of realist, expressionist and proto-naturalist plays (such as those by Chekhov, Ibsen, Strindberg, Brecht, Büchner, Williams, O’Neill or Shaw). During this term, students will also perform in an industry showcase at Central, or a professional venue together with students from the Contemporary course.

In the final intensive (July – August), students rehearse and perform a fully-supported production of a play from the Western canon as a final summation of their practical work. Both productions will be chosen and cast to both challenge and best represent the particular character of the cohort and the individual students. Throughout the practical training, students work on a Sustained Independent Project (SIP) of written and/or performance enquiry, part of which may be presented as a solo performance.

After the final intensive (August – September), there is a writing-up period for the final stage of the SIP.


Assessment is through a mixture of practical work, including clown improvisations, scene studies and public production work.

To successfully complete the MA Acting - Classical, students will also submit a Sustained Independent Project which may include elements of solo performance and critical writing.

Download MA Acting Course Specification 2015-2016 (723.97 KB)

Professional Focus

Staff on this course are connected to industry, and well-placed to secure practical development opportunities for students.

All students participate in Central’s MA Acting showcase. Students from Ireland and the USA have also participated in the Drama UK Showcases in Ireland, New York and Los Angeles.

In the past few years, MA Acting - Classical students have also:

  • Participated in a research symposium
  • Worked on the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe
  • Performed at the Brighton Festival with poet Alice Oswald
  • Acted in masterclasses with esteemed directors including Michael Grandage and Ian Rickson
  • Taken part in workshops with Hannah Miller (Head of Casting, Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Attended sessions with Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael Boyd and Declan Donnellan.

Recent Visiting Staff include:

Riz Ahmed, Mark Bell, Rachel Bown-Williams, Ally Cologna, Natasha Fedorova, Michael Grandage CBE, Dr Stephe Harrop, Paul Harris, Anna Healey, Geoffrey Hyland, Greg Hicks, Ian Rickson, Hannah Miller, Anna Morrissey, Thomas Ostermeier, Jeff Perry, Guy Retallack, Professor Colin Teevan, Professor Stanley Wells.

Entry Requirements and Admissions

Applicants will normally have either undertaken conservatoire training, have professional acting experience, or have a degree in the broad field of performance and drama studies. Students from other disciplines may be considered if you have sufficient experience of theatre. An offer will normally only be made after audition and interview, and you may also be required to take part in a short practical workshop and/or submit a short piece of written work.

English Language Requirements

Applicants for whom English is not their first language are required to prove their English language proficiency by gaining an overall score of 7.0 in an IELTS test. We do accept equivalent English language qualifications. Applicants are advised to gain this certification as early as possible.

Auditions in London

If you are selected for an audition for a place on MA Acting we will require you to undertake the following:

  • an audition for which applicants are required to prepare two contrasting speeches of their own choice lasting no more than two minutes each. One of these must be from an Elizabethan or Jacobean play, the other a 20th or 21st century modern piece. One or both of these speeches may be required during the audition. Applicants may be asked to discuss their choice of speeches and should be prepared to work on them as required
  • an interview to discuss your choice of speeches, your skills and experience, and reasons for applying to the MA Acting at Central.

Please wear comfortable, appropriate clothing, as for a movement workshop or a rehearsal. You may be asked to work barefoot.

The process will also give you the opportunity to learn more about the course. On the day all applicants will be allocated their individual audition time slots. Please leave the rest of the day clear of other commitments.

Selected candidates will be invited to attend a recall audition at a later date, and may also be asked to submit a short piece of written work (again at a later date) to demonstrate their aptitude for the course.

All candidates will be informed of the outcome of their audition at a later date.

International Auditions

Each year Central hosts a number of auditions outside of the UK, with a team of tutors from Central traveling to meet applicants. The international auditions are designed to replicate the London-based audition experience in every aspect (other than a tour of our site!). See our Events Finder for listings of upcoming audition locations and dates.

Distance Auditions

We are not able to consider DVD or distance auditions/interviews for this course - all applicants must attend a live group audition and interview.

International Students

Visit the International Students section to view details of English language requirements for Central's courses.


View profiles of the academic staff who teach on this course. Click on each staff member to see their CV.

Martin Wylde, BA, MPhil

Principal Lecturer, Course Leader MA Acting

Ben Naylor, BA

Course Leader, MA Acting - Classical

Sarah Davey-Hull, BA, MA

Course Leader, MA Acting - Contemporary

Beyond Central

Graduate employment and career pathways for MA Acting include:

Actors in leading theatre venues around the world, including national and international tours, in the West End and on Broadway, and for the National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, National Theatre of Scotland, Royal Court Theatre, The Bush Theatre, English National Opera, Shakespeare’s Globe, The Old Vic, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Liverpool Everyman, National Theatre of Norway in Bergen, National Theatre of Greece, Teatro Gayarre de Pamplona, The Shaw Festival Theatre in Ontario, Canada, the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, and Sydney Theatre Company in Australia.

Television: Criminal Justice, HBO; Downton Abbey, ITV; Sons Of Anarchy, FX Network; Camelot, STARZ.

Film: Nightcrawler, The Road To Guantanamo, Shifty, Baby Daddy, The Hour, and Four Lions.

Graduates have also worked as writers, directors, designers, filmmakers, producers, agents, musicians, singers, scholars, comedians, acrobats and dancers.


In only 10 years the MA Acting course has built up an impressive alumni list including:

Riz Ahmed (2006), Film credits include Nightcrawler, Ill Manors, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, The Road To Guantanamo, Shifty and Four Lions. He has been nominated for several British Independent Film Awards and a BAFTA Rising Star Award. AKA Riz MC, he is also an accomplished rapper having performed at the Glastonbury Festival and appeared in Gaddafi: The Living Myth at ENO and worked with Asian Dub Foundation. Together with Heems he founded The Swet Shop Boys.

Zoe Boyle (2006) Television credits include Lavinia Squire in Downton Abbey, Jean Truscott in Breathless and Trinity Ashby in Sons Of Anarchy. Theatre includes productions for the RSC, Royal Court, The Old Vic and West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Jamie Cameron (2013) Immediately on graduating joined the company of Once, The Musical at the Phoenix Theatre in the West End.

Lara Jean Chorostecki (2008) Film credits include Michelle in Antiviral and Sally in Please Kill Mr Know It All. Television credits include Freddie Lounds in Hannibal, Bridget in Camelot , Charlie in Dan For Mayor and Sybil O'Brien in Copper.

Elicia Daly (2007) Theatre credits include Her Naked Skin (National Theatre), and The Beautiful Cosmos Of Ivor Cutler (Vanishing Point & National Theatre of Scotland) for which she received a Best Actress at the Critics Award for Theatre Scotland 2014).

George Kemp (2012) Has appeared in productions at The Hampstead Theatre and The Yoing Vic. On graduating he joined Sydney Theatre Company for their production of Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead with Tim Minchin.

Martino Rivas (2011) Film credits include Los Girasoles Ciegos (nominated for a GOYA for Best New Actor).

Nicholas Thompson (2008) Until recently was the Artistic Director for The Old Red Lion in Islington.

Peter Wilkinson (2007) Actor, writer, Senior Lecturer at Teeside University, and filmmaker. Girl In The Woods his first short film with Blind Crow Pictures was long listed for a BAFTA in 2013.

Current Students

Related Courses


Riz Ahmed

Riz AhmedGraduated 2006, appeared most recently as Rick in Nightcrawler and Naz in HBO’s Criminal Justice.

When I came to Central, I was passionate about acting, but I was yet to understand the necessary rigour and discipline needed to pursue a career in it. Central guided me from a place of blind enthusiasm to one of diligent craft, providing me with the solid foundations I needed over the coming years. It wasn’t always easy to make that transition, at times the process was painful, and I fought against it. But my course leaders showed such belief and patience towards us, and built such trust, that I ultimately followed them into this unknown territory. I grew more in that one year than I could have ever imagined.

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