"The boat is like a beautiful pleasure boat full of joy, full of love. And all that joy is stopped in its tracks before the play starts...My aim is that we fall in love with the world that is then immediately destroyed, so that actually the theatre is in a state of loss. You start watching HMS Pinafore and then suddenly you're in Hedda Gabler..."
As rehearsals continue, Emma reveals the world of her Twelfth Night, including the setting, costumes, and music.
Time: 8 minutes 49 seconds
Download (8.1MB, mp3 format)
To download, right click on the link and select 'Save link as'.
Transcript of Podcast
Paul Shuter: Welcome to podcast number two of this series, where Emma Rice is talking about her production of Twelfth Night. Emma, what's the world you've set it in?
Emma Rice: Well, I've set it very loosely, because these are plays that need to be imaginative. So there's no hard and fast line here, but I've set it in 1979. There's reasons for this. I suffered a major bereavement myself in '79 as a child, and I feel that that's where I lost my other half. So it's a very personal reason. And I think it's a very key bit of childhood for me. I was twelve, so I remember the colours and the textures very, very well. It was also when Margaret Thatcher got in, it was at the tipping point of the world that we as know it now, the old was turning into the new. A lot of personal lines were drawn in the sand in 1979. Musically, it's pre-electronic, it's still analogue. So it's quite a nice teetering point musically to sit in. So I wanted to set it then.
For a long time I thought I was going to set it in the Falklands War, because I've long been obsessed by the Falklands War (again because of my age). And I thought about an island and also a ship sinking that was very relevant to me. So I was exploring this and Margaret Thatcher and of course it's a terrible idea! Because what you don't want is a lot of sad people washing ashore onto on island that's also sad! There isn't any chemistry there. So it took me a while to realise that there was something in this, but it wasn't the right idea. What I needed was something joyful to wash ashore to a sad island, because Illyria is sad. Olivia is so sad, Orsino is so lost, Sir Toby is desperate, everybody is desperate on this island. Following the lovely 1970's theme, the boat is more like the Costa Concordia, it's a beautiful pleasure boat full of joy, full of love, it's quite camp. And, of course, all that joy is stopped in its tracks before the play starts. So that's the world: what happens is a group of people whose life was bright washed up on the shore of a very sad island, thinking that they'd lost everything. That's the world we're in.
PS: And are you going to show us anything of those people before they washed up on the shore?
ER: Yes, I am! Yes, I am. Because it would be rude not to, wouldn't it? At the moment, it's ten minutes before the text starts.
PS: And that might change?
ER: Oh, yes!
PS: It might be twelve or eight [minutes].
ER: Yes. I would hope it goes down, because you can't waste too much time in these big plays.
PS: No, I suppose there's quite a bit of text in that.
ER: No, there's quite a little bit of plot to go through!
PS: Okay, so we're going to understand the world. And they're going to be costumed for the late 70's?
ER: Yes...again, very lightly but yes.
PS: I'm just trying to remember what I was wearing!
ER: I'm hoping it was a halterneck pantsuit with flares! Just saying!
PS: I was a teacher! Probably not to work, certainly!
ER: I also wanted the glamour. My Sebastian and Viola are both glamorous, beautiful. I wanted to feel that they were not soldiers; I wanted to feel like they were the prince and princess of the story, whose lives get turned upside down. So I was very keen that they looked dazzling!
My aim is that we fall in love with the world that is then immediately destroyed, so that actually the theatre is in a state of loss. You start watching HMS Pinafore and then suddenly you're in Hedda Gabler, that actually as an audience you're like, 'When did that happen? We were led to believe we were going to have some sort of experience'. And that is what tragedy does, what loss does, and what disaster does.
PS: It just brings you up completely short, doesn't it?
ER: Yes. And to be critical of Shakespeare, he doesn't give us any of that. We find out in the play that there's been a shipwreck. Now to my theatre mind, you can't do that! So I'm filling in a few of the narrative holes.
PS: Are you going to swap the first two scenes round?
PS: People often do that. So we start with...
ER: 'What country, friends, is this?'
PS: The new material and then the shipwreck.
PS: Your first week of rehearsals also included the Easter Holiday. Did you work through or did you take the bank holidays?
ER: We swapped Saturday for Friday, so we worked until Friday but then took Saturday, Sunday, Monday off.
PS: So you've not quite had a full week yet?
ER: No, but we did long hours. So in terms of hours, we did a full week.
PS: So what has been the highlight so far?
ER: Oh, lots of highlights! First weeks are genuinely the best times of my life, because it's a play I've chosen to do, it's a group of people I've chosen to work with, and nothing's gone wrong yet! That's what I always say! 'Talk to me in six weeks' time...' But week one, there's nothing but possibilities. So I'm very, very happy and indeed was very happy last week. It's a very talented, very generous group of people that I've put together, many that I know before and some new ones. But it was thrilling.
We did lots of dancing and singing. My composer who I've been working with for many years, almost ten years, but he's never worked with me as a composer, he's worked as a musician. This is the first time he's composed and is thrilling me with his genius. And all I'm doing is kicking myself that I waited so many years to give him this job! Ian 'Fluff' Ross is delighting me.
PS: And he's in the room with you?
ER: Yes, he is. But my favourite moment was...I think because we found the emotion, [it] was the first time we met Olivia in dumb-show. And I had Fabian, Maria and Malvolio helping her sort out her dead father's clothes, packing them up, and her smelling his dressing gown and collapsing in grief. And then her leaving while Malvolio put everything into a bin liner. And it felt like we'd encapsulated her emotional state, again, with no words. But it means when she starts talking, we're in there; we know exactly what emotional state she is in. That was a highlight.
PS: Do you have an aim for this week?
ER: This is where I have to start doing the play! I'm laughing, but it's true! What I do is I build up, for anybody who knows my work, it's very multilayered. There's a lot of music, there's a lot of movement, there's a lot of physical language and a visual world. Now if you leave that until the end, it'll never happen. So what I do is I front load all of the skills based work, and that has several results. So one is...these aren't professional dancers, but it means they're learning from week one so that when they do dance in week six, it's in their bones, it's in the DNA. But it also is a great leveller. Rather than going in [and saying], 'Who's got the big part? Who's got a bit part? Who's an understudy?' Everybody is the same for this first week, everybody's singing, everybody's moving. So it's very democratic, it makes the room very equal. And we've achieved that now. So now I can start bubbling: letting people float to the top in their scenes, starting to talk about character. But, of course, they're already confident so the conversations are much easier than they would have been if we'd had them in week one. So we're quite easily talking about character and through line and journeys through.
And I also keep everybody in the room, I think I said that last week. So everybody's still in the room, still feeling that they have a voice, so we're keeping things quite flexible. And the only thing I do is I don't dwell. If there's a problem, I say, 'Let's leave it, and we'll come back to it'. Because I think it's like combing tangled hair. If you dig in at a knot, you can't get rid of it. But if you just go through from the bottom, then it vanishes, if you take it slowly. So I never get stuck on a knot, because I think, 'Gosh, we've got a long haul to go through!' So I try to keep the room as a room that solves, not a room that finds problems, which can be very annoying sometimes. Actors want to say, 'But we haven't sorted that out!' And I'm going, 'I know, it's fine!' But the chances are it won't be a problem in three weeks' time. Somebody will go, 'Oh, I've got it if we do this'. Or I will.
PS: You'll have found a way through.
PS: Lovely. Is there anything else you want to share with us at the moment?
ER: No....I'm about to go in and do some salsa, which I'm very much looking forward to! And I was walking in and I thought [that] I want to make it feel like a children's party. So they don't know it, but I think I'm going to do some musical chairs!
PS: Thank you very much.
ER: Thank you, Paul!