"I want the movement to be fairly amorphous and shifting." James talks about how his interpretation of Caliban's physicality might be influenced by his costume. He also discusses the vital role that every character plays in Caliban's life.
Time: 6 minutes 29 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
My name is Rachel Ely and this is the second interview with James Garnon, who is playing Caliban in the upcoming Globe production of The Tempest.
So my question is: what have you been doing in rehearsals so far?
Rehearsing! We are just working through the play. As far as the scenes I’m involved in, because Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano have a lot of comic business – there’s the monster that they turn into with the gabardine, then there’s a whole drunk scene – and, of course, they are the comedic scenes of the play. Well, the more comedic scenes of the play. So, I suppose, at the moment, we are more worrying about the technical difficulties of getting the monster to work and the kind of practicalities of working out business as and where there might be business. That seems to be more or less what’s happening more than anything else. And trying to make it as fluid and as fleet as it should be, which is another way of saying other forms of blocking, as well. We did spend a lot of time early on in rehearsal working on textual things and trying to work out what was going on, and now we’re spending more time working on the actual physical shape of the thing and presumably that will then iron out in the next phase.
Which relationships in the play do you think are important to your character and why?
All of them! Caliban’s relationship to Prospero and Miranda is incredibly important because they discovered him; they are his surrogate parents – she is his surrogate sister, he has attempted to rape her, there is an enormous amount of conflicting problems there. Having said which, having been rejected by them and now being full of unending loathing for them both and a determination to destroy them which seems to be there, which is an adolescent flip-side of love. He also now has a very, very much more active relationship with all the other spirits on the island who torture him. He spends more time talking about them almost than talking about Miranda and Prospero, and how much he’s tortured and hurt by them on the island. But then his relationship with Stefano and Trinculo is vital. His relationship with Stefano is important, as Stefano becomes his god and his means of escape, depending on how far that relationship goes. But in any event that’s very important and the most important relationship when we are seeing him, apart from the first scene. But then his relationship with Trinculo – because Trinculo is the person that’s standing in his way, so that’s very important too!
Is there any scene or moment that is particularly significant to the interpretation of your character?
Not really. I mean there are secretly in my mind various things that I think are interesting. For example: at the moment, it’s very interesting that Stefano keeps asking Caliban to lick his feet. Now that’s a very interesting thing that he’s kept asking to do it. Now you could go many different ways with that: either you could constantly lick his feet and be subservient or you could choose not to lick his feet and it could be him trying to get him to do something that he doesn’t do. It then begs the question: why does Caliban keep offering it as a thing and what does that mean about Caliban’s relationship with Prospero? If he’s only ever been educated by Prospero does that mean Prospero has had Caliban licking his feet all the time they’ve been on an island? That creates a very interesting dynamic. So, these decisions inform [the interpretation], and that’s something that’s not even a speech. That’s a moment that is not there on the page. One can skim by this. But the action of doing it (or not doing it) or the action of doing it (or not doing it) to Propero and the action, at the end, of maybe not doing it again, that could inform it, enormously (your relationships throughout the entire play). And it’s not about something that we have to settle on now as a piece of business or blocking, as to whether or not you’re going to use that. But, it may not be important later on. We may do something very conventional – it might not be interesting. At the moment, it does interest me. Precisely, [in the feet licking scene] Stephano keeps telling Caliban to kneel and I think he repeats it. And then he sort of stage manages where they’re all going to be. These things are interesting because that’s where we are in the process at the moment: exactly how compliant one is being with these different things. So, that’s an interest at the moment, but it may not be interesting later. And it has knock-on consequences throughout: Caliban constantly says, “Thy foot-licker and I will kiss thy foot,” so it’s clearly something that he does. And it’s a question of whether or not Prospero made him do it.
And have you done any specific character work? Looking at voice or movement for Caliban?
Well, I’m very restricted by the design. And I use “restricted” with inverted commas, as I’m also empowered by a lot of design because I’ve got a very specific costume, which has very specific consequences. I have a head mask that’s going to limit the amount of physical facial things I can do and will make quite a strong visual thing. So, it has a knock-on effect as to how you use your voice because, if you have a reduced amount of facial expression, you want to use the expression that you have available in your voice by using high tones and deep tones and that sort of stuff. And then physically, because we’re led by costume, we’re [Caliban is] not a very specific beast. We’re not a fish or a monkey or a whatever. We’re much more like a kind of marble man. And much closer to being something more like a devil-type thing. So, I want the movement to be fairly amorphous and shifting and non-specific: at moments like a servile dog but at moments otherwise like a king or Caliban’s concept of that. I wanted to shift very rapidly, as he does in his speech between how he relates to different characters. He’s either defying or placating or making himself weak in front of the stronger characters. So, he shifts around a lot and I want that to be shifty and I’m playing with that. Specificall, playing with not necessarily kneeling but making as-good-a-passing-show of kneeling as one can make without really doing it. So, all these sorts of ambiguities.
So, my last question is: what have been the highs and the lows of the rehearsal process?
The low was coming in early and discovering that a very, very strong decision had been taken already as to what Caliban was going to look like and be. And then the high has been discovering that, actually, I completely buy it. And I think it’s an absolutely fantastic opportunity to go somewhere with it that I think is, actually, truer to the original intention.