“The great challenge with a lot of female parts in Shakespeare is why they don’t speak. Why, in this extreme situation, would this woman choose not to speak.”
In her first interview, Emma discusses the language of her character Beatrice, her thoughts on the play and her previous Shakespearean roles.
Time: 6 minutes 47 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Phil Brooks: Welcome to the Adopt an Actor podcast series. This is the first interview with Emma Pallant who is playing Beatrice in the upcoming Much Ado About Nothing tour.
So how familiar were you with the play?
Emma Pallant: My familiarity with the play Much Ado has a long history. I was in the play a long time ago, when I was in my early 20s I think. And I played Hero in a very edited, not very edited down but very truncated script and cast, not dissimilar to this in a lot of ways. But it was a site specific production which went on tour and so I remembered it quite clearly from that. I also had seen the film and read it and I auditioned for it several times before, so I was familiar with it in lots of different ways. As an observer, as a scholar, such as it is! And as an actor.
PB: Do you find its one of those plays you keep getting drawn to then?
EP: Yeah absolutely it sort of feels like it keeps turning up in my life. But I think that must be true of a lot of factors because its so popular. And its such a wonderful, wonderful play, a wonderful play. I also saw the Globe production with Eve Best which was absolutely fantastic and slightly too well emboned on my brain because, well it was quite recent. It was wonderful, such a brilliant festival production, in the sense that it had that real spirit of play and the sun, you sort of felt the sunshine of that town very strongly on them. It was a beautiful production, so yeah.
PB: This time round you’re playing Beatrice, how do you think that’s going to compare to Hero? Do you have any thoughts about her so far?
EP: Yeah it’s very interesting actually, because I remember working on Hero way back when and the great challenge with that part, with a lot of female parts in Shakespeare is why they don’t speak. For our modern sensibility, why in this extreme situation would this woman choose not to speak? And I think that’s the key, is asking yourself why that person is choosing not to speak. And it may be because of the pressures of society, but it’s still a choice, she still has the power of speech. And it may be embarrassment; it may be shame or public pressure or whatever. But I think there’s definitely, it’s always a choice not to speak. So I think that was very interesting and in this case with Beatrice, who seems to have something in certain situations anyway, seems to have a certain verbal diarrhea. It’s what that speech is about, why is she choosing to speak, what is she showing and who is she showing it to. Because in the church scene, neither she nor Hero speaks really at all. It’s very quiet. So it’s about the pressure of speech I think, for both of them. But in very very very different ways.
PB: Have you started looking at the text and language of her and how she might actually speak and move?
EP: We’ve been around the table so far for a week, and we’ve been up on our feet doing practical exercises, and doing some dancing and learning some music. With these tours you have to sort of just learn all of it straight away because it’s such a huge interwoven project where you have to have all your skills about you all the time. But so far yeah so far we’ve been around a table and we’ve been looking at the language of the piece. So looking at what exactly it is we are saying to whom, and not necessarily to whom but why. And what the language, I mean it’s very very bare bones; what does it mean? What are you saying? Because very often things can be interpreted in two, three maybe even more ways, and it’s very important we all have a shared understanding together of what’s being said. So mostly so far it’s been the study of her in terms of character has been about the language. She talks about men a lot, and a lot about swearing. Again about language, and language as opposed to action. But we haven’t really started looking at how she might move or what the space means to her –it’s her home in a lot of ways so there is a kind of freedom in that. Men are invited into the home she lives in – not her home it’s her uncles home, but she is familiar with that space, she’s not out of her comfort zone. So that will be interesting, to see her somewhere uncomfortable.
PB: You’re familiar with the play – did you do much preparation before this role began?
EP: Yeah I read it again. I read it lots of times, I read a lot of the play editions you get, the notes at the beginning and throughout the text are useful, mostly so I can crinkle up my nose and go I don’t agree with that. But they’re sometimes interesting to help you form what your idea is – either there’s an idea you hook onto or there’s an idea you dismiss. But whichever way I think it helps you refine your thoughts about the play or the character or what the production should be doing or what the play is really about. ‘Cause everyone’s got an opinion and everyone’s is sort of as valid as everyone else’s really when it comes down to it. So mostly that. I didn’t watch any films, I didn’t… I went to see the Ellen Terry in the Sam Wanamaker playhouse and that was wonderful to see Eileen Atkins giving her Ellen Terry giving her Beatrice. Just as a sort of wake up to all those nerves, it was a lovely evening to do that. But obviously I can’t do that so just gonna do this instead!
PB: This is usually the point where I would ask have you performed Shakespeare before, but of course you have performed here in many plays and you have Adopted an Actor before aswell.
EP: I have!
PB: Are there any standout roles that you have done previously that are really alive in your memory?
EP: I suppose because I’m working with the Globe those productions are quite alive in my memory. There’s always a little bit of shadow at the back of my head of what it will be like when we come back to the Globe. Obviously we are on the road with this production and we’ll be going to castles and fields and other theatres around the country so our backdrop will be changing quite a lot. It’s quite hard to hold all of those in your head but it’s very easy to hold the Globe in your head because it’s quite a specific experience to perform at the Globe. So I suppose those roles are very alive in my memory. I had a wonderful time working on Lady Macbeth for the Deutsche Bank Shakespeare at the Globe, which was my first time performing at the Globe properly. I had a wonderful time doing that. But Jacques is my, this is kind of my, this so far anyway I think my favourite Shakespeare role I’ve played, again for the Globe tour. Just because it was such a different take on a well-known character and I got to really make it my own along with that company and the director of that play. We all kind of made that character something new together, so that was really special for me.
PB: Fantastic, thank you very much.
EP: Thank you.