This is Sally's first blog post. This week she discusses how she became and actor, her first impressions of Goneril and Lear's other daughters, and the first week of rehearsals.
Transcript of Podcast
I started acting at a very young age, my first role was as the Farmer’s wife in The Enormous Turnip at primary school. I was only seven but I loved it! We had a very enthusiastic drama teacher and we were always going to poetry reading competitions and performing plays, she really got me into drama and I knew I wanted to be an actress. At secondary school drama wasn’t taken seriously as a subject, which I found very frustrating and so I dropped it. After school finished I spent a year doing various jobs and then I decided to go to the Central School of Speech and Drama. I graduated in 1999. My first jobs after Central were in TV comedy, I did Harry Enfield, and then The Office in 2000. Theatre-wise the first role I had was actually in a play directed by Dominic, called Hayfever. And until now the only Shakespeare I’ve done is one scene from Henry V performed especially for the Queen! I have acted at the Globe before though, as Heloise in In Extremis, but King Lear is my first big Shakespeare show.
My initial impressions of Goneril are that everything is against her. She’s been brought up in a family that encourages sibling rivalry, her father’s a bully, and she’s in a loveless marriage. I noticed a difference in the way Lear treats her from her sisters, he refers to her as ‘Goneril our eldest’, whereas he calls Regan and Cordelia ‘dearest’ and ‘our joy’, and this made me wonder whether she feels that the fact she wasn’t a boy is a disappointment to her father. I thought that if she had been bullied growing up then she would treat people in the same way. This was how I pitched it when I came for the audition, but Dominic wants to steer it in a completely different direction. Instead he wants us to be a family that basically gets on, that although we know our father can be difficult we can handle him, and we’re all caught up in the excitement of the thought of what we’ll be receiving as he divides up the kingdom. The transformation of Goneril happens only when it becomes clear that Lear is not going to support her new public role, and is trying to keep things as they were before. I think she is quite terrified about approaching him, as he is such a difficult man to speak plainly with, and the way he turns on her and puts the most terrible curses on her after she confronts him flicks a switch inside her. She’s seen how her father’s ruled before her, and she follows his example and it all gets out of control. Dominic really wants us to show that there is a definite transition into tragedy, and I think it does make it more interesting to try and see how this happens.
For my role in In Extremis I did loads of preparation, as the play was a based on a true story and I wanted to read as much as possible about the real Heloise . But with King Lear I didn’t do that much in preparation because I wanted to know what we were going to go with it before I started developing my character. Even the small amount I did do was very different from the way Dominic wanted her to be played.
In Dominic’s take on the play the sisters are all friends in the beginning. Dominic has suggested that Goneril can be seen as taking on the role of an advice-giving elder sister, as I’m the oldest in my family I know we can be a bit smug and bossy sometimes, which would help to explain some of her harsher lines in the early scenes. At the moment we’re developing this friendlier relationship between the sisters, and we’re getting there, but it‘s still tough to square this kinder version of Goneril with her behavior later on in the play. If we are starting from that position, if there is no unease in the family at the beginning, the transition to the Goneril who kills her sister and herself if much more of a challenge. The physical appearance of the sisters is different from the conventional castings too, Goneril and Regan are usually a lot older than Cordelia. In our production you are struck more by the similarities than the differences between the sisters at the start.
The first day of rehearsals started with a ‘Meet and Greet’ for everyone involved in the production, and then the cast did a read through of the play. On the first day of rehearsals Dominic asked us to go away and think about the play as it would appear only from the perspective of your character, and then we had to tell everyone the next day what the journey of your character was throughout the play. It’s a really interesting exercise, and it helps you to make your character the centre of the play right from the very beginning of the rehearsals. For the rest of the week we sat round a table and went through each scene line by line, making sure that everyone in the scene knew exactly what every character was saying, not just their own. It was quite an academic exercise, we didn’t speculate about the motivations of the characters, we just wanted establish exactly what was going on. This week, we’ve been getting it up into action, and Dominic has been asking us to commit totally to our interpretations, to play it all in bold colours for now, and then we’ll stitch in the detail at a later date.
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.