" I hadn’t done any Shakespeare for about twenty years, so at times I feared the challenge of that but I’ve mainly really relished it. I’ve learnt and am learning a lot. And like in any long run and the pressure of the elements as well, all those things that can weary you, [it] actually forces the economy that you need to use in a long run. That can force new things to appear, to emerge from everyone’s performances..."
With only a few more weeks of performances to go, Emily takes us through her development on stage with the character of Goneril, and her development off stage as an actress.
Time: 8 minutes 16 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Rona Kelly: Shall we talk a bit about how your character development has continued since you brought it onto the stage?
Emily Bruni: Yes!
RK:Has your Goneril changed since maybe from rehearsal room onto the stage?
EB: I very, very much hope so. I think there are things that should happen anyway in any process. So those are all the details that bubble up just by listening to the other actors on stage, by making the things that happen in the moment on stage just by listening. And hopefully, on a good day, being alive to what is happening around you. There are other days where, you know...the gods aren’t with us so much! And in those moments, you have to do what you rehearse in a disciplined way and I hope that’s valid too. But on the days where there’s more inspiration in the air, new things bubble up and hopefully you just start to connect more deeply with the material, and find a deeper connection emotionally to the material and find more detail in what you’re doing. So I think, I very much hope that’s happened. I feel it has, but I’m on the inside. I don’t have the outside eye, so who knows?
But I think there was a big shift for me in the first half. We talked so much about not signalling that these women were wicked at the beginning. Really trying to map in various elements like their fear of Lear, like the fact they have very little control over their own destiny until they’re given the land, like there’s no mother, that that is the father they have. In Goneril’s case, she’s been married to a man she feels no attraction to (possibly no love), [a man] who doesn’t recognise Lear’s darker sides. He [has] a very black and white view of Lear’s behaviour. So I think in my effort to map all that in, I was possibly playing (certainly in the first few performances, the first week) a lot of subtext. And I think now that’s become much more buried, though her vulnerability and fear bubble up in key moments. And the rest of the time I hope that what you’re seeing is a character with much more appetite, who’s vigorously driving her wants forwards and with some cracks that show how fragile she is.
RK: Can you maybe take us through the relationship you mentioned there between Goneril and her husband, and then maybe contrast that with Goneril and Edmund and the 'sexy cage'?
EB: Yes,well...I don’t know. Again, it’s just stuff that I saw in the play and that interested me. There’s that little exchange after Goneril has confronted Lear about his hundred knights in Act 1, Scene 4. And then there’s the exchange with Albany [in] which he just doesn’t get it. She says, 'I know his heart', (she’s talking about Lear). And he’s just trying to calm the waters all the time. He’s not actually hearing that she’s saying this is dangerous, that he has 'at point' ('at point' meaning with sword) a hundred knights and on any buzz, fancy, he could hold our lives in mercy. For better or worse, she believes or that's how I’m playing it...I guess you could play it differently, you could play that she’s manipulating Albany and that she doesn’t believe that Lear could hold her life in mercy. But the way I’ve decided to play it is that she does feel that. She feels that her life is in danger and Albany doesn’t take that seriously.
And later on in the second half of the play, once she’s had the affair with Edmund, you’ve got, 'A fool usurps my bed'. She has the letter that she writes to Edmund asking him to kill Albany in which she says, 'If he return the conqueror, his bed is my jail'. This is quite serious when you really look at it, [when] you really look at what it would be like to be married and to endure. It’s essentially rape within marriage. You can take it that far emotionally. She’s enduring sex with a man she doesn’t want to go to bed with.
RK: And that threat of violence is constantly there, like you say with Albany in that respect, but also as you said again with Lear. Even his verbal violence of cursing your womb. When you think about it you really are surrounded by violence in the play.
EB: I don’t see (certainly not in the way we’re doing it) that she’s frightened of Albany. In fact, he says in the second half of the play that he would like to tear her apart if she weren’t a woman. And I think she calls him, 'Milk-liver’d man', and a coward and that he won’t commit to action. So I think there’s a part of her…a sort of dichotomy. So she’s been raised with violence, certainly with violent language and possibly violent actions. So although she fears it, I think there’s a part of her that doesn’t respect the lack of violence in Albany. It’s one of those strange, very messed up things that can happen and that’s what we’re going for.
RK: And I guess we’ll wind down now.
RK: What’s been a favourite line or a favourite scene from the play for you in particular? One which really stands out?
EB: I think I most enjoy, actually, the scenes with Albany. I’ve found those really interesting to play. Just the depiction of a marriage in which these people, they just miss each other. They’re not right for each other. It’s very subtle, what Shakespeare’s written. There are parts of some of the conversations that sound so conversational, alarmingly conversational.
RK: And then finally what’s been your favourite moment? What’s been your favourite thing about performing here?
EB: I don’t have one favourite thing. I mean the particular demands of the space, the magic of the space, that’s been very exciting. The part’s very visceral and exciting to play. Nancy’s [Meckler, Director] chosen very, very willing people so it’s a very willing company with absolutely no difficult personalities in there...you know, unless I’m the difficult one! So that’s been really pleasurable.
And I hadn’t done any Shakespeare for about twenty years, so at times I feared the challenge of that but I’ve mainly really relished it. I’ve learnt and am learning a lot. And like in any long run, and in this case you sometimes get the pressure of the elements as well so you get the pressure of the cold or the rain and all those things that can weary you, [it] actually forces the economy that you need to use in a long run, because your energy starts to go. [That] can force new things to appear, to emerge from everyone’s performances. And they say that sometimes people do their best work when they’re ill...I haven’t! That’s always a really interesting aspect of getting to do something for a while.
RK: Lovely. Well hopefully you’ll revisit Shakespeare again soon, since it’s been too long since the last one. So not another twenty years until the next one!
EB: No, no!
RK: Thank you so much for joining us during this series.
EB: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Thanks to Sarah for the transcription of this interview.