In this blog post Patrick discusses Flavius, his relationship with Timon, rehearsals and the production design.
Transcript of Podcast
The role of Flavius
Flavius is a steward and, in an Elizabethan household, the steward would really be quite senior – the most senior servant. Malvolio is an obvious example in Twelfth Night. This steward has to supervise an estate which is diminishing rapidly, because Timon is such a generous spendthrift. And try as he may, he finds it impossible to make any contact with Timon to make him understand what is going on. He tries over and over again and bills keep piling up, debts keep piling up, land is mortgaged and, by the time the play starts, his estate has dwindled and he is on the edge of bankruptcy – though he refuses to acknowledge it.
I have discovered that he is a very emotional character. He actually says that when he has looked at the books, he has shaken his head and wept:
O my good lord,
At many times I brought in my accounts,
Laid them before you: you would throw them off.
And say you found them in mine honesty.
When for some trifling present you have bid me
Return so much, I have shook my head, and wept. (2.2.132-137)
Or after a particularly riotous party, he has gone to his little bedroom and wept.
When all our offices have been oppressed
With riotous feeders, when our vaults have wept
With drunken spilth of wine, when every room
Hath blazed with lights and brayed with minstrelsy,
I have retired me to a wasteful cock,
And set mine eyes at flow. (2.2.160-165)
The gods are witness,
Ne'er did poor steward wear a truer grief
For his undone lord than mine eyes for you. (4.3.484-486)
So tears are very close to the surface. He is an interesting character to play, because as well as the emotion you have got someone who has got great authority – he can order other servants around. And fascinatingly, by the end of the first half, after the second banquet when Timon, having finally woken up to the facts, gives a banquet of stones and water to his erstwhile friends, it is Flavius who is sharing some of his money with the other servants (4.2).
The relationship with Timon
Flavius’ relationship with Timon is fascinating because he does have this authority, and yet at the same time, he is really quite timid and he has probably been putting off the moment when he confronts his master. Now, as I am quite elderly, I’m playing Flavius as being someone who has been with the household practically all his life. Let’s say he arrived when he was about nine – as a boot boy or kitchen boy – and has worked his way up via Timon’s father, and so he can remember when the estate was really well run, and that there were no problems. Timon’s dad was an absolutely brilliant businessman and built up vast landholdings. He says
To Lacedaemon does my name extend. (2.2.152)
and Lacedaemon is another name for Sparta, and if you look at the map, Athens is a long way from Sparta. You have got to go on to the Peloponnese and Sparta is way over to the east. So he inherited an immense amount of land. I would imagine that happening when Timon was about nineteen. Probably feeling guilty about having all this unearned wealth – although it is quite natural, this happened in Elizabethan society too – he wants to be generous with it, and the generosity just gets completely out of control.
When the play starts Timon is in his mid thirties. He has been doing this generosity for a long time – fifteen years of giving things away, holding huge parties, entertaining anybody who comes along – and Flavius the steward has been watching this happening, and every now and then trying to stop it, but with no success. Also at the same time, in spite of the way that he goes on at Timon about his worries, he is also intensely loyal, and he puts all the blame for the financial situation on the friends, and not so much on Timon. This is a flaw in his character which is worth investigating. His loyalty is such that he can’t see a problem in the family. He is like a father figure, and he describes Timon as,
My lovéd lord (2.2.142)
my most worthy master (4.3.506)
your unmatched mind (4.3.511)
It is all in the text – his attitude is all there – which is where you find out character in Shakespeare. Shakespeare does it for you.
Rehearsals and design
The rehearsal process is actually very fascinating. We have just done a very detailed rehearsal of what Lucy [Bailey, the director] calls ‘the creditor’s attack’, when they finally come round with their bills, demanding debts be repaid (2.2). What is difficult, of course (and inevitable), is that the stage configuration of the Globe is impossible to replicate in the rehearsal room, so you have to imagine coming up steps in the middle of the stage, and sitting on the edge of the stage downstage, and so on.
In the banquet scenes, the whole stage becomes the banquet table, with a further high table upstage, and so a lot of what happens, actually happens on the table itself. Added to this, is the sinister image from Hitchcock’s film The Birds – where suddenly there are two birds, and then a whole flock of them within moments – which Lucy wants to use. There is lots of talk about the image of vultures; we saw a film from India about vultures gathering to feast on a dead bullock, and, as this is happening, you see a farmer ploughing the field, completely unmoved by the feast – life and death going on at the same time, and there is an acceptance of both.
There will be lots of aerial work – but not me, thank goodness! I’m an earthbound character. There are plans for a great net that goes over the top of the Globe and bungee-ing down onto the stage. It should be very exciting.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as she goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.