"[It's] a real actor’s play because it is about relationships with actors, with theatre, with performing, with the audience – there are all of those thrilling things for an actor – you are not closed off in the world of the play."
In his first interview, Dickon discusses trying to recreate the playhouse in the rehearsal room and playing two parts: performing as an actor, and performing as an actor acting.
Time: 10 minutes 1 second
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Transcript of Podcast
Paul Shuter: I’m talking with Dickon Tyrrell who plays Humphrey in the forthcoming production of Knight of the Burning Pestle.
Dickon, how familiar were you with the play before rehearsals started?
Dickon Tyrrell: I didn’t know the play at all – which is great – because it is like starting a new play. So it was a thrill to read it. A real event, it’s a really exciting piece of work.
PS: When you knew that you had been cast, did you do any work before rehearsals started?
DT: I just read the play, just kept reading the play. I’ve got three or four books for research on Jacobean plays, so just research on the period.
PS: What sort of research is useful for you, as an actor, from the work of the scholars?
DT: It’s a great question. I think, just to be more informed about the history, and also it focuses you into the world of the play. Not all of the research is useful, but anything that focuses you into the world of the play is essential. I’m reading Jacobean City Comedy by Brian Gibbons and the Century of Revolution by Christopher Hill, which is 1603 to 1714, so the first bit of the book is useful for me. It helps with ownership of the text and understanding the world that it is for.
PS: What were your initial impressions of the play?
DT: It’s like a Carry On film, it’s the first Carry On. It’s very funny, very silly and very energetic and rude. A real actor’s play because it is about relationships with actors, with theatre, with performing, with the audience – there are all of those thrilling things for an actor – you are not closed off in the world of the play. You are very present with the space and the audience.
PS: It feels very modern in that way, doesn’t it?
DT: Absolutely, exactly that. When I first read it that was a great thrill; it felt you were reading a play for 2014, not a play for 1607. That is very exciting.
PS: If we come to the character. When we look in the programme we will see that you are playing Humphrey, but really you are playing two characters.
DT: Absolutely. So there is this idea of being an actor in The London Merchant, which is the play that we are there to perform, which is interrupted, but there is also my character who is this actor. The Director’s idea is that the actor is a fading youth – he is no longer playing the youthful parts, but he has still got the enormous ego, so very in love with the audience being in love with him. That is what is driving this actor, which means he has quite a difficult relationship with the actor playing Jasper, who is the young male lead, and he has still got aspirations to be thought of in that way. And then you have Humphrey, who is not a fop, but who is the beginning of that type of character I think, who is a hapless, hapless, lover, but who has no idea how hapless he is. I think he thinks he is rather efficient, he’s rather romantic. But he is not. He is very inefficient, and he is rather lascivious. That marries in with my actor character, who is (well I am) 47, but who would still go after the 22 year old girl in the company. So there is a little bit of a marriage there. That means you are very alive all of the time. So even backstage there are moments where, hopefully, we’ll be able to see the actor talking to the other actor – and it’s not Humphrey. So the play is working on lots of different levels.
PS: Is that a technical challenge? Because one of the things you have to be, as a modern actor playing these two parts, is somebody acting the actor, and then somebody acting the actor acting.
DT: Indeed. Which is essential, because when the play is interrupted, and we have just been rehearsing a scene where the play is interrupted, that actor character kicks in. That is when you need that there, so it is not just Dickon, he is somewhere else. So when the play is interrupted you fall into your actor character, and then when the citizens sit down, then you are back into your role as Humphrey. So it is very clear where you are flipping, and it also makes it clear for the audience, that the rhythm of The London Merchant is broken. They see us stop, and become that character, the actor, and then go back into the principal character (Humphrey).
PS: Are you developing slightly different tones of voice, or body language, as you move between the two?
DT: Yes. The idea being that my actor playing Humphrey is quite histrionic, very broad, everything is big – he is showing off all of the time. Then as the actor there will be less of that – hopefully you will register a change in body language. And then they will go back into the broader style of doing The London Merchant. So hopefully we will be able to tell the story like that.
PS: This is one of those moments when I wish that this podcast was a video cast, so that people could see the way your body was changing shape as you said that.
What Jacobean plays, other than Shakespeare, have you worked on before?
DT: I did The Devil Is an Ass at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1996, which hasn’t been revived since. I’m amazed, because it is a fantastic city comedy, full of energy and fantastic characters. What I love about these Jacobean plays is that is a different world to Shakespeare. It is faster, reflecting the speed of the city. You really feel that within the text, it really motors along. David Troughton was Fitzdottrel and I had a wonderful part. I was playing a chap called Eustace Manly. A very unworldly character who ends up in a brothel, being groped by the woman who is running the brothel. It is an extraordinary world.
PS: And The Duchess of Malfi of course
DT: Yes, performing that in the evenings while we rehearse during the day.
PS: This means you are working in this new and extraordinary space, which is the Sam Wanamaker playhouse. How do you try to recreate that in the rehearsal room?
DT: Visually, you see, you are there. Of any character in the play, my relationship with the audience is the closest. When I’m acting in there I’m really looking out and seeing the balconies, and the boxes – all the seats and the audience and the faces. And then having the advantage of knowing how this stage works, and knowing the best place to stand, because he wants all of the audience to see him. So there is this golden section on the indoor stage, it is the middle third is you like, where you are seen by the whole of the house. And it is just being aware – for me as Humphrey, and that ego actor, just keeping on that, in that golden section there.
PS: So in the seventeenth century Jacobean indoor theatre, you wouldn’t upstage an actor, you would downstage an actor.
DT: Exactly that, and you keep away from the sides, because you lose people up in the gallery; so keeping centre.
PS: And in the rehearsal room itself, what have you done, because some of the cast have the advantage of playing in Malfi, but not everyone, so what have you done to help everybody else get used to that very small stage and the cramped entrances.
DT: What have got a mark up [on the floor] and we have the back wall, the frons, is in there as well, and we have got steps and ladders to go up the back so you can get up to the balconies and the musicians gallery, so we are playing with the different levels. We are very fortunate too to have some rehearsal time in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, because the citizens are going to sit in the pit, and there is action that goes round the back in the theatre, people running up to the musicians’ gallery, so being able to rehearse in there is a real luxury.
PS: What has been the highlight of the rehearsal period so far?
DT: The highlight... well, on Sunday morning, doing my first scene, and people laughing, because it is a comedy, and you hope people will find it funny, and they did. That for me we, ‘OK, I’m on the right tracks here.’ It works very well in that space – the staging of it, and connecting with the audience. So that was a real highlight, and that was with the book. As the rehearsal process goes on, then we lose the book, and find even more nuance, playing with it in that space. It will be interesting to see how it develops and builds.
- Liz Karley, Hampshire
Dickon's comments also fascinating. I shall be following both Phil and Dickon's podcasts. Thank you for providing this facility!
- Liz Karley, Hampshire
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