This is Peter's podcast and second blog entry for the 2002 production of Twelfth Night, in which he talks about singing in the production, relationships between characters in the play, and the the Globe audience.
Time: 8 minutes 30 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
On his first impressions of Feste: First thoughts really were that he was a singer and that he seemed to be well read and learned, even though his position within the society is fairly lowly. Or at least weighs within the structure of the society as we see it with regard to the households, he is not a part of that structure. Music was an integral part of who he was and his wit and his perception of other characters, other individuals that he interacts with, I think, were the two things that struck me immediately.
On how he prepared for the role: Well, as a premise I think it's important to (unless indicated otherwise) take the things that are said by the character or that other characters say about your character as literally true. If there is any reason to know that it is not true, then one moves on from there. And in the opening scene for Feste (which is Act I, scene 5), Maria asks him where he's been, Feste avoids giving her an answer, or refuses to give an answer, or simply does not provide an answer. And Maria says she knows where he has been and he says where and she replies, 'In the wars'. So I took that as being possibly literally the case and then sought to find out if there had been any wars immediately prior to 1602 in which he might have been involved, that might have taken him away and that might have been historical interesting for Shakespeare to refer to rather than it being a vague notion of being away somewhere. That in actual fact he was being more precise than that and indeed that was particularly of interest because it was an Original Practises production and when we first did it it was to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the first recorded performance, so it was firmly being set in 1602. And lo and behold, sadly there was a big shipment of soldiers over to Ireland, big war in Ireland and Shakespeare's patron and the dedicatee I think of Venus and Adonis was involved and became I believe was made head of the cavalry over in Ireland. And then there had recently been an attempted coup to overthrow Elizabeth immediately prior to this first recorded performance of Twelfth Night. So all of a sudden that all seemed to be very pertinent, particularly if one sees the play as a balance between Feste and Malvolio. And if Malvolio is some kind of a Puritan and Shakespeare possibly foresaw that there was an age, an era coming which would put the lid on celebration and festivities, and that that was what the era coming forward is represented by Malvolio. Then Feste as having fought alongside Shakespeare's patron in Ireland, it kind of all seemed to fit together a bit.
On Feste's penchant for puns: He plays, he does play with words. At the very start with Olivia, she says: 'Take the fool away', and he says, 'well, you'd better take her away'. I mean that's kind of playing with words, cruxing words, it’s what's the meaning of words. When you use words, words are slippery in their meaning a bit. And he can flip them and play with them a bit to point out other truths. I don't think he's a great corrupter of words because words can mean lots of things. And partly because he loves music, it's not endeavouring to be quite as clear cut as words, it's something that you can't pin down about music: it strikes the resonances in one's emotional soul, rather than the cerebral part of your brain. And perhaps in some ways Feste feels that that's a truer way to be.
On his relationship with Malvolio: I think I've chosen to take the point of view that he wants Malvolio to realise that we're all interdependent, we've all got to exist in relation to each other. And by being shut up in a dark room, in this production he's in a large trunk, [you realise] that you need help from other people. And in that moment, the person that he ends up really needing help from is Feste, who he has despised. And I chose to face that to the foremost of what in an instructive manner one might be trying to teach Malvolio, that we all depend upon each other at different points in time and no one individual is greater than any other on individual. That is arrogance and Feste is not an arrogant individual. It doesn't mean that there can't be people who have authority over others, but that doesn't involve an arrogance. And I think he chooses to try and make Malvolio see that we all come to rely upon others at various points in time, even those that we might most despise.
On music in this production: Well the music at the Globe performs a very different function possibly. Certainly with ideas that are being presented by Claire Van Kampen, who's the Director of Music here. We don't have different lighting states, lighting is atmospheric and is mood changing. Without lights, music suddenly has the ability to transform the mood, the tenor of what you're presenting in a way. And I think Claire's been playing with those ideas really. And in this, the music fulfils a function that is to change the atmosphere or to change the tempo in some way of what's going on. It also changes the focus to a certain extent, so that one isn't establishing a regular, perhaps monotonous by its repetition. Striking a monotonous note the whole of a half of the play, but then you throw in the songs and the music which just changes the way that the play strikes the ear and the eye really, ringing the changes.
On his relationship with the audience: Well still I feel as though I'm learning an enormous amount about that actor/audience relationship. It's fundamental to the Globe, increasingly I feel it's fundamental to theatre. It is what theatre is: theatre is live, which is different from film and television. So that aspect, which is so profoundly felt at this theatre at the Globe is something that is still exploring, ongoing all the time in a very exciting way. That line between where you are playing the character and the way you are just another human being in the space who happens to be telling the story is unique to this space. Though since working here, I've not yet gone back to a conventional proscenium arch theatre or a black box kind of studio theatre, it would be very interesting to then come back to really on how that then feels. I think I will be desperate to see the audience in the same way that they can see me. I feel that's what I will want to do, 'Bring the house lights up a bit, come on!' Let's not pretend that there's not an audience there and we can't see each other when we can, so let's celebrate that fact and work with it, which I think is theatre. So it did change my perceptions at this point in time, of very much what a theatre is.
Feste is the only character in the play that sings regularly, and I’ve been wondering why he does it. I think he believes that the words a person says aren’t necessarily truthful; he tells Cesario that "words are very rascals" (iii.1. 19-20). In Twelfth Night, a play about hidden identities and a lack of obvious truths, words, though entertaining, are uncomfortably malleable. Most of the characters in the play are not truthful with each other, and when they look for truths in each other, they often look in the wrong places. Whereas words are highly cerebral, (hence the wit required for one to become a "corrupter of words" (iii.1. 34), music speaks directly to the heart. Singing is often accompanied, and in this production, I have to play a pipe and tabor at certain points during the play. Although I’ve been practising hard, playing a drum and a pipe with only one hand for each instrument is quite tricky! I thought I was getting somewhere, but then Keith [McGowan, one of the Globe Musicians] came in to give me a lesson, and I realised how much I have left to learn! When a professional musician plays the pipe and tabor, it's something to simply watch and admire. So, I still have some practice to do…
We’ve been working on what I call the drinking scene (ii.3), when Sir Toby brings Aguecheek back to the house. At the beginning of the scene, I think Aguecheek half wants to end the evening and go to bed, but Belch persuades him to continue and when Feste appears, he lifts their spirits, as they feel that they can now have song to entertain them. They then sing a catch, a round, making more and more noise until Maria, then Malvolio, comes down to stop them, interruptions that they treat as great successes.
Feste and Malvolio have a rather curious relationship, as each is in many ways the opposite of the other. Malvolio believes in structure and order, Feste in freedom from such ties. The challenge facing Olivia is to balance these contrasting forces. At the beginning of the play, the stricture of Malvolio suits Olivia in that it corresponds with her mourning duties. By the end of the play however, she is more ready to embrace freedom and truly live her life. Feste is very keen to relieve Olivia's despair, as he loves her. I don’t mean he loves her in a physical sense, but he knows the household; he was probably her father's fool, and later her brother’s. After both Olivia's father and brother died he left the house, as there's no place for a fool in a house of double death. By the time of the play, he's returned to revitalise the household and to restore Olivia's interest in life; although he recognises a need for sorrow and mourning, he doesn’t want the household to be irreversibly distorted by Malvolio's influence. Those close to Olivia are very pleased that he's returned, because they see him as a catalyst that will help to move the household out from the shadow of Malvolio's influence; Maria really wants to intercede with Olivia on Feste's behalf and tell her why he's been away so long.
Feste wants to affect Olivia, to change her outlook on life, but in the same way, I think he also wants to affect Malvolio. Once Feste has finished playing Sir Topaz, Belch remarks that he wishes Malvolio could be "conveniently delivered," but I don’t think Feste agrees. He wants to change Malvolio, to teach him that we must rely on others, and in the end Malvolio is forced to ask him to "help [him] to a candle, and pen, ink and paper" (iv.2.81). I think Feste hopes this might teach him that to despise others is ridiculous, as we’re all the same, but we don’t get a chance to find out whether he learns this lesson. People have argued over whether Malvolio leaves Olivia's household at the end of the play, but I think he does; surely it would be very difficult for him to stay, having admitted to a passionate yet unrequited love for his boss. Like Malvolio, Feste also leaves the household at the end of the play, but I’m not sure what this means yet.
The Globe Audience
I’ve been thinking about how I might communicate with a Globe audience, whether there are any lines I could deliver directly to them. In Middle Temple Hall, we (as a company) tried to directly engage with the audience as much as possible, but it seems to me that Feste doesn’t have that many opportunities to do so. The first time I speak directly to the audience is in Act 1 scene 5, when Feste is musing on the nature of a wise man and says to them "For what says Quinapalus? ‘Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.’" (i. 5. 32-3). He is asking the audience to back him up. In Act 4 scene 2, I think Feste reluctantly dresses up as Sir Topaz, as his reaction to Maria's urging is not exactly enthusiastic; "Well, I’ll put it on…" But he then goes on to wish that he were "the first that ever dissembled in such a gown." (iv.2. 4-6). When I directed this line at individuals watching the show at Middle Temple Hall, the audience as a whole would start to chuckle; the line seemed rather pertinent in the home of London's lawyers. At the Globe, the impact of the line will be less focused, the idea being simply that those who wear uniforms, whether members of the nobility, the church, the legal profession, the army or any other organisation, are capable of dissembling and deceiving others. There are terrible scandals breaking in the news every day, scandals taking place in different organisations worldwide. It's all about appearances and deception: that's what this play's about. Of course, this is slightly ironic, as all actors are dissemblers when they stand on stage pretending to be someone else. Having said that, the Globe space is a very honest space to work in, as unlike most theatres with their "realistic" sets, it's very clear to an audience that the actors on stage are, well, exactly that.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as s/he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his/her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.