“Jacobean plays [have] such wonderful stories, and so brilliantly written and so astute and so lyrical. [The playwrights] were kind of like the Bob Dylan of their ages really.”
In his first interview, Phil discusses his initial thoughts on the play, the start of rehearsals, and performing Jacobean plays.
Time: 7 minutes 59 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Phil Brooks: Welcome to the Adopt an Actor Podcast Series. My name is Phil Brooks, and this is the first interview with Phil Daniels, who is playing the role of Citizen in the Knight of the Burning Pestle.
So how familiar were you with the play?
Phil Daniels: the Knight of the Burning Pestle? I wasn’t familiar with it at all. I’d kinda heard the name before, over the years, but I wasn’t familiar with it, no.
PB: So you didn’t read it before rehearsals started?
PD: No I read it when – you know they asked me to do it – they asked if I would like to be Citizen in it. So I read it then. Then I had to read it again because it’s quite a difficult play to read. It’s quite dense, and it’s… the language is quite – very old English and quite difficult. So I kind of got one of those books with lots of notes in it to see what some of it meant. But its much easier – like all these plays of the period – they’re much easier to act than to read. They’re much easier to understand when you read them.
PB: What were your initial impressions when you started to read through?
PD: That it was funny, it was quite interesting, it was quite – I mean there’s a programme on the tele called Gogglebox, where people are filmed watching the television. I play a character called Citizen with my wife and we sit in the audience of the play – we’re removed from the play that is going on in the theatre and we stop the play and change it to how we want it. We put our apprentice in, who’s a grocer, and make another play. So it’s a bit like Gogglebox, so in many ways kind of quite a modern concept, that the play is stopped and another play ensues.
PB: What about your character, what were your initial impressions of him?
PD: Well he’s a, he’s upwardly mobile. He’s a grocer, and I suppose this is the early 1600’s, and grocers at the time were kind of upwardly mobile. But they were Citizens, they were in unions and guilds – there were guilds in London. And what happens with him is I think he’s one for citizens being treated fairly, and I think the play is about merchants, and that he wants a play about working people and citizens. So he rallies against the play that’s being put on. And grocers were up and coming people really, they had money – he had money. But he’s not gentry.
PB: So he’s quite ambitious?
PD: He’s quite ambitious. I think his ultimate ambition would be to be Lord Mayor.
PB: Sort of work his way up.
PD: Work his way up the ladder to become Lord Mayor, who at the time – it’s not like a Lord Major like Boris Johnson is. He would have to be from one of the 12 guilds.
PB: What have you been doing in rehearsals so far then? You’ve started in the past week or so.
PD: We’ve done a week of rehearsals. We’ve initially, we sat round the table and read through it. Trying to find out what it meant – you know we had an expert there that knew more about the play than we did; an academic. And we talked about every scene, and went through the lines, and tried to agree sometimes what they meant, or what they didn’t mean. Took some out, put some back in, and we tended to do that for about 4 days. We had a slight problem. Is that, we have the cast of the Duchess of Malfi being the players of the play that’s on the stage, that’s called the London Merchant. They’re doing the Duchess of Malfi in the evenings; they’re performing it at the moment. We only get them for 12 hours a week, so a lot of the time in rehearsals is spent rushing through their stuff because we can’t have them for long enough. So it’s been quite fractured our rehearsal period. So for my part that goes right the way through the play, I’m jumping from the end to the beginning to the middle; so it’s quite difficult at the moment we’ll sort of hopefully stick it together a bit more.
PB: Trying to figure out what order all of it is trying to go in?
PD: Yeah all this, and its chaos. It’s a chaos comedy; it really is quite bonkers the whole play. And hopefully it’s very funny; I’m finding it much funnier than I thought it would be so that’s a good sign usually, for me, to be laughing at it in rehearsals.
PB: What sort of preparation do you do before rehearsals start?
PD: Not a lot really. I kind of look up a few things. I mean, I am a Londoner, and I’m playing someone who is a Londoner, so that side of it isn’t hard for me, I didn’t have to look up the history of London because I kind of know a lot about the history of London. And I just found it an interesting play because it’s kind of about the area that we are doing it in; it would have been performed here. And because it is such a lovely new theatre, inside theatre and it’s kind of Elizabethan and it looks like what they might have played it in anyway, I felt it would be nice to do. And I like, it’s been a long time for me. I mean last time I did a Shakespeare was, I dunno, 10 years ago maybe; 8,9,10 years ago I did the Winter’s Tale at the National [Theatre]. But, kind of before that I’d been at the RSC doing Jacobean and Elizabethan plays, so I hadn’t done one for a long time and I really, I kind of remembered that I really enjoyed doing them. I’ve been doing a lot of modern stuff, so it was nice to do something that was old again.
PB: Yeah. What is it you like about doing old Jacobean and Shakespearean theatre?
PD: Well they are just such good plays usually. I mean, they’re so well written. I went to see the Duchess of Malfi the other night, and it’s so clever, so brilliantly written word wise. I mean they do a very good job, the cast, because it’s such, they’re such mouthfuls for them. Such wonderful speeches. And it’s like Shakespeare as well, such wonderful stores and so brilliantly written, and so astute and lyrical. They’re kind of like the Bob Dylan’s of their ages really, these guys. They really could write. And people don’t write like that anymore. I mean there are some brilliant writers about but just that style is so fantastic.
PB: What challenges do you foresee – you’ve been inside the space obviously to see Malfi – what challenges do you see using such a small and intimate theatre?
PD: Well ours is a bit – our challenge is a little bit different, because of the small theatre. But because we’re playing a company of actors that do the play that we’re pretending aren’t very good actors, or … so they’re playing big. They’re playing like they are playing the outdoor theatre, in the indoor theatre a bit. So that’s the challenge. The challenge in there is to get the balance right between ham and funny. It’s a difficult play, what you don’t want it to be is panto or Monty Python; you’ve got to just get somewhere where it’s just funny, but not those two things. And for me and Pauline McLynn whose playing my wife, because we sit in the audience the whole play or sometimes go up on stage, that’s gonna be quite a different sort of feel where we are amongst people, we talk to people, we bring them in. So that’s gonna be quite a challenge, and that’ll be – I mean we won’t know what that’s about until we do the previews, and have [an] audience sitting there. Where they’ll be scared of us, we’ll get them in, and enjoying it.
PB: Brilliant, thank you very much.
- Geoff Browne, London
He's right, it is a difficult play to read, but I've heard such great things about it that I'm getting ready to be amazed!
- Liz Karley, Hampshire
Interesting to hear Phil's experience of the play so far, especially as the play is new to me also. Really looking forward to it!