"I gave some of Feste's stuff to Fabian as well which makes Fabian make more sense...So by solving what I think is a problem in the play and floating Feste out of the literal and into the metaphoric, I felt I managed to retain the poetry and the narrative and actually liberate some of the comedy as well..."
As the actors take their final bows, Emma takes us through some of the character choices started in the rehearsal room and brought to life on stage.
Time: 10 minutes 58 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Paul Shuter: Press Night's happened. How often now do you see the show? What is your job? And I suppose, am I asking the Director or am I asking the Artistic Director (if there's a different answer for the two jobs)?
Emma Rice: Yes. The answer is probably the same, but being Artistic Director actually means that I can pop in. If you're a Director of a show on tour, you don't; you get on a train to Swindon, and you watch the show in Swindon!
PS: So you're either there or you're not.
ER: Or you're not. Today I did. I knew that the actors wanted to do something a little bit different in the prologue. So I whip out and I can watch, and it's quite nice. So that's the absolute joy of it and it means that I can take a temperature [of the show]. And actually, if an actor says they're worried about a scene, I can just go and watch that scene. I have an assistant and that is their job, to maintain a show. Because certainly with other directors who aren't the Artistic Director, they might come back once in a run or twice in a run. But rarely more than that, because they're not paid to and they have other jobs.
PS: They're working somewhere else.
ER: So we have assistants and what they do is they check the running times. I get show reports every day, which is something lots of people don't know. Every day, I get a report of Front of House telling me about the audience, and from Stage Management telling me about the show. So as a Director, you start to look and see if the timings are creeping up or getting shorter. Because actually with Shakespeare, people tend to start talking quicker and quicker. And that's often what I say, 'Don't rush! Be in the emotion'. That's my most common note, to keep the cues tight but keep the text embedded so that you don't skim over that wonderful language.
So I get a lot of information every day and if I have any worries, I pop in. I'm quite informal, I go and see the actors in the Jig Call which is an hour before the show every day, quite often just go and [see that]. And I also wander through the Green Room, because 90% of problems an actor will tell me in some shape and form, 'I'm a bit worried about this', or 'I've lost a laugh'. That often happens, laughs just vanish. I love that about theatre! You think you've nailed it, you've got something that will never fail.
PS: Laughs every day for two or three weeks, and then it's not there.
ER: Yes, and then it's gone! And that's interesting, because sometimes a laugh just dies; something is lost that none of us will ever understand. But sometimes, it's because the Stage Manager is coming on three seconds earlier to set a prop, and the audience for that second looks away. So it's something that you can just tweak. So that's what I do, I probably will have watched it four times sitting all the way through. And I often do that with friends and family, rather than me sat there and feeling like it's a job, I go and just enjoy it. And obviously, I'll be in on the last night as well. But lots of popping in and out, because it's such a pleasure as well.
PS: I've been in quite a bit when I've been doing the Actor Q&As. And it's just wonderful to be with 1,500 people that are enjoying themselves.
ER: I know!
PS: It transmits, it really does. A couple of questions from people who've listened to the earlier podcasts.
PS: One is could you unpack the decision about Feste, which you made? Which for people who haven't seen the show, Feste is...is it fair to say a continuation of a character from the prologue, the pre-show?
PS: They're less involved with the other characters than Festes usually are.
ER: Yes. I mean Feste was the biggest question mark for me in the whole process. And we've found an answer that we're all at peace. But it isn't something that you can still nail down fully. The very basic narrative that I think we've got now is that Feste was God of Misrule. And it was clear that the actor that played this in Shakespeare's time was a celebrity and had shtick, that's what I would call this. You can tell this, it's written in a different voice, in a different rhythm. And I found it very, very hard to find much content in Feste...but I couldn't. I tried very, very hard.
PS: What do you mean by 'content'?
ER: He doesn't move scenes on, talks a lot of what I would call nonsense. Or if it wasn't nonsense at the time, it is now, because it's very hard to work out what it is. So there's quite a lot of wordplay. And what I can only imagine is that was very funny at the time, a bit like The Fast Show: there's characters that come on and you like what they do.
But what you're looking at what is the story and what's happening, he was also a character that (as a Fool) went between several households. So it was very hard when updating it to another time to work out who that might be. So I did toy with him being a drug dealer for a while! I thought, 'Who serves lots of households?' I thought Olivia might be...I don't know...
PS: Some sort of prescription drug?
ER: Some sort of prescription drug. And Orsino would clearly have been on the weed! But I thought it's too much and it's too imposed. And I actually thought that I wanted to make Feste somebody that wasn't seen, somebody that came into contact with people at times of extreme grief really.
So what he was, he was the God of Revelry on the boat. And I think he drowned, that's what I think. And whilst the sailors drowned, he is in...I don't want to call it Purgatory, because it isn't as upsetting as that. But he's in a mid-ground, he hasn't quite passed into the other life, he isn't gone. But at the end, he does leave with Malvolio after Malvolio puts stones in his pockets; they both go back into the sea, which is the groundlings. So really he's empathetic to Olivia, so I've managed to keep the relationship with Olivia. And I've retained some of the lovely text that Feste has. We set a lot of it to music, because through song, a lot of that stuff which is not very useful for narrative is very poetic. So I feel we salvaged every jewel in Feste's text, but took it out of the situation and put it into a slightly more God-like [one].
And by Feste doing the turn as Sister Topas, I think that's very, very original practise. This guy clearly came on and did turns.
PS: We do know who it was written for: Robert Armin, who was a singer. Who was more musical than the previous fool in Shakespeare's company.
ER: So by using [Le] Gateau Chocolat, who is also a clown and is a sort of celebrity, by really trying to use that, I think what we've got is very unusual but it feels like it's got roots in how it was probably originally made.
PS: I'm one of those people (in the way that you were talking about before), I've seen lots of Twelfth Nights. And sometimes I see a Twelfth Night and I wonder whether Feste and Fabian were originally the same character. And it's just one of those things where Shakespeare was a bit careless writing the speech prefix. And logically, I think it probably can't work out. But I didn't lose anything because Feste wasn't where he often is.
ER: Good. Well, I gave some of Feste's stuff to Fabian as well which makes Fabian make more sense. I'm of the opinion that there wasn't going to be a Fabian, and I think the actor refused to do some of the most cruel scenes. I think that's what happened and thye invented Fabian to keep the plot, to solve a problem. That's my personal belief.
PS: Which is the belief of somebody working on the play in the theatre.
ER: Yes. So by solving what I think is a problem in the play, which is these two characters who sort of don't have an organic function, by feeding some of that all the way through Fabian and making Fabian a much more satisfactory character, and floating Feste out of the literal and into the metaphoric, I felt I managed to retain the poetry and the narrative and actually liberate some of the comedy as well.
PS: I'm glad I asked that question, because that was a really interesting answer!
ER: I know. It's the toughest question, because it was the toughest knot of the production, without a doubt.
PS: The other one that we've had emailed in in a couple of different forms is [this]: why did you decide not to switch Malvolio's gender, since Malvolio was being played by a woman? Did you ever consider it?
ER: I didn’t actually which is interesting, isn't it? I feel that Malvolio is a small man. And Katy [Owen], she's my friend and muse, and on stage she doesn't need to be particularly defined by gender. But I think it was quite important that this man felt he could marry Olivia, I think that's the most tragic [moment]. It's the moment when he says, 'Yes, I could. I can imagine myself being the big man'. I didn't want to mess that up actually. I feel that it is brilliant in the play, what happens when a man thinks he could get the princess, and that's what's heart-breaking about it.
PS: And why did the two of you make him Welsh?
ER: Well Katy is Welsh.
PS: Oh, so that was just a natural accent for her?
ER: It was a natural accent. You know, Katy is amazing. We did an early improvisation and she just went, 'Well, he's Welsh!' And I never questioned it. That was an actor saying it, as [Malvolio] emerged from her, he was Welsh.
PS: Yes, and a lot of Shakespeare's comic characters are Welsh.
ER: Yes...oh really?
ER: I just said 'yes' then, as if I knew that! I didn't know that. Accents really work well with Shakespeare, things I have learned fantastically. The West Indian accent of the priests works, I thought [like] the Irish accent in [The Taming of the] Shrew, suddenly a lot of the rhythm hits those accents. And the Welsh accent works very well with Malvolio. And I think Katy tapped into men she's known in her childhood as well, and probably in her adulthood.
PS: And she has the most extraordinary ability to transform. Having last summer seen her be an utterly convincing nine, ten, eleven year old girl on that stage [in 946], and have the body language so much so that you could be standing next to people arguing about whether that was a nine year old girl or not. And now just be, as you say, a small, Welsh man, bristling with self-importance. It's astonishing. It is, it really is.
ER: She's amazing.