"The fact that this is very much a play about tears and laughter and joy fits my aesthetic very, very well. And it's got the sea in it as well and as somebody who lived in Cornwall for so long, I think a lot about looking out to sea and how that releases the emotions. So I've always loved it..."
In this Adopt A Director series, Emma Rice gives us a behind the scenes look into her rehearsal room of Twelfth Night. In our first instalment, Emma discusses why she is staging this play, and how it resonates with both her and audiences today.
Time: 9 minutes 7 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Paul Shuter: Welcome to this first of the podcasts with Emma Rice, who is not only the Artistic Director of Shakespeare's Globe, but is directing this year's production of Twelfth Night. Emma, what made you choose Twelfth Night?
Emma Rice: I've always loved Twelfth Night, I think it's got the elements that I return to over and over again. So it's love, I always like a love story. I think I'm deeply romantic so I'm drawn to the big love knots, and this is a brilliant love knot! It's full of grief and I have my own griefs (as we all do), and I think I'm also drawn to that. So the fact that this is very much a play about tears and laughter and joy fits my aesthetic very, very well. And it's got the sea in it as well...I think almost everything chimes to me in Twelfth Night. As somebody who lived in Cornwall for so long, I think a lot about looking out to sea and how that releases the emotions. So I've always loved it. I also think it's got a sense of having lost another half and looking for another half. And that has some very personal resonances for me.
PS: So a mixture of lots of different things.Were you surprised how many Twelfth Night [productions] are on this year?
ER: Well it always seems to happen! I never take too much notice, because it would drive you mad if you took too much notice of other people. I mean it's zeitgeist: I think things do come round. There's also only 37 of Shakespeare's plays, so I think they do come into cultural focus at different times.
PS: One of the things that you said last year and which has happened all through your season so far is that you've looked at the gender balance in the plays, and you've adjusted it a bit. Can you talk us through how you looked at it for this play and the tweaks that you made?
ER: Yes. I mean I never see things as a rule; I always see them as a challenge. And it was very easy in Twelfth Night. It's very clear that you need some genders to be as they are, certainly to do a fairly traditional telling. So I needed my Olivia and my Orsino to be man and woman, I wanted the twins to be man and woman. So you start looking outside of that. There's no reason why Fabian can't be a woman, so she is. I've cast Malvolio as a woman, now it's Katy Mary Owen who's my muse really! She was my Puck, she's been in 946, she was in Rebecca with me, so I love working with her. She's a really unique performer who really goes beyond gender in many ways and she's my Malvolio.
Now, she's not playing Malvolio as a woman. She is playing Malvolio as a man. But we won't talk too much about it, I just see that as great casting. She's going to bring something very particular and beyond gender to that. And I think that did it, I'm trying to think through...we're 50/50 and it's very easy. With some simple tweak, that falls into your lap very neatly. But again, we feel very hung up on gender which is already old fashioned, because gender is changing and our attitude to gender. But Shakespeare's attitude was very, very flexible. So I think the modern understanding of gender matches these plays brilliantly, and actually we don't need to worry about it too much. It feels like there's a lot of conversation about the 'Why?' But when you see it, these plays are so flexible and so robust that they just accept decisions and people accept them back very quickly.
PS: Yes, I mean we should always remember it was a play written for a single sex cast. Maybe not because they wanted to write for single sex cast, but because that's what they could do or what they felt they could do. And to have so much fun with the boy pretending to be a girl pretending to be a boy...
ER: I know, the mind starts boggling, doesn't it? Very modern!
PS: Yes, it does! Today's the first day of rehearsals and thank you very much for making some time in what's probably quite a busy and hectic day. And here we are sitting in the rehearsal room: somebody's tuning a guitar, people are just coming back from lunch. Can you just talk us through what are the different things you will try and do today?
ER: Well, I started my career as an actor and I remember it every day of my life and how terrifying it is. We expect actors to come into a room of strangers and reveal themselves, and also then reveal themselves to an audience and be brilliant, which is unbelievable pressure! So my first day when I first get a group together, I do lots of things to take the pressure away. The first thing we always do is play ball. The great thing about ball games is everybody's rubbish, everybody's equal, everybody gets involved. Simon McBurney once said, 'Games get your emotions out. If you're competitive, you can get that out. If you're nervous, you can hit a ball at some point and feel better!' And I often feel that the show becomes the ball: if you can keep the ball in the air, you stop thinking about yourself. So it's a great way to take the ego and the fear out of the room.
And then we did movement and we've worked quite hard on that. We did a workshop, we did a warm up. Again, everybody's treated the same; nobody has to worry about standing out or being brilliant. And we learned some funny but quite tricky steps, again it was very good. You have to focus on your physicality rather than your mind. And then we sang a song, so again quite emotional things. And all ensemble things, so nobody's been pulled out, nobody's had to read text or indeed display that they understand the text. Nobody's been put under pressure. And we've talked about the design. So that's been the first morning: playing, moving, singing and beginning to think about the world.
PS: And this afternoon?
ER: We're going to work physically again this afternoon and we're going to work on beginning to create a movement landscape which is to do with loss. I'm dropping my voice, because the actors don't know this! We're going to do an exercise where I'll put people into couples and they'll create a movement sequence as a couple. And then I'll ask them to separate and do that in isolation, to feel what it's like to create the physical loss. So that's what we'll do this afternoon, and you'll notice that we haven't even looked at the play yet.
PS: There's time enough for that.
ER: There's plenty of time for that.
PS: In fact, I can see the pile of scripts on the table.
ER: Indeed! And everybody keeps saying, 'Will you be doing a read through?' I won't be doing a read through! I feel plays are not democratic: some people have huge parts, and some people have almost nothing to do. And the minute you sit down around a table, you end up with an immediate class structure in a bad way. And I refuse to have that in my rehearsal room. We always work on a democratic, ensemble basis and that means I have to build that into the room. That involves also teaching people to be active observers. So if you're not in a scene, you don't sit out and read the paper and wait to be called; you're devising from the sidelines as well as when you're in the centre. And that's what I'll be doing a lot of this week, sometimes bringing people into focus and sometimes saying, 'What do you see? What do you want to see?' So teaching the room to be a very creative room.
PS: And how many of the cast have you worked with before?
ER: Oh, good question...
PS: Pause, while Emma looks around!
ER: Pause, while I've just had a look around! So I've got some real, dear, close collaborators in the room: Katy Owen, Nandi Bhebhe (who was also in A Midsummer Night's Dream). I've got Annette McLaughlin that I've worked with many times before. Peter Lawman who's a GEP [Globe Education Practitioner] at Shakespeare's Globe, but we worked together on Rapunzel and Tristan and Yseult, so that's been lovely to bring him back into my creative room. Tony Jayawardena who I worked with on two shows before. Then I've got some new performers, but because we did a workshop week, I've actually had everybody in the room with me before today. But not all at the same time. And of course we've got Le Gateau Chocolat and it's the first time I've worked with him.
PS: And that mix is useful, a mix of old and new?
ER: Always. I always describe it like yogurt! You need to keep your culture, you have to keep a bit of something in there so that it grows. But you have to put in new things, catalysts. So it's vital to me that I have a lovely, core base of people that know me and understand me and I celebrate and enjoy them, but also new people to add some spice, some surprise into the mix.
PS: Lovely, thank you ever so much. And I'll let you get back to the day.
ER: Thank you!