"There needs to be a precision of verse, a precision of prose, diction, clarity, but most of all: clarity of intention." In a special phone interview from Turkey, Joseph talks about the challenges that can arise when performing Shakespeare abroad.
Time: 7 minutes 27 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
This week, we conducted a phone interview with Joseph Marcell while he is on tour with the cast of King Lear in Turkey.
My first question for you is: what happens in tech week?
After six weeks in one room, you have an affinity with the room. It becomes safe. To leave that all behind and go to a new venue, in fact a foreign venue, and to try to recapture all those comfortable moments you had in the rehearsal room is quite difficult. By the end of the first day we really had it down. It was fun and it was an excellent theatre. The audience was so within our reach you could see their faces. It was challenging, it wasn’t a piece of cake; we didn’t just go in and do the play. To mount the production in that theatre, it required a lot of fine tuning by Wills [Technical Manager] and Dave [McAvoy, Production Manager] and the whole team. It was quite a successful night.
What have been some of the challenges in the putting the production finally all together?
The challenges are myriads, really. You have, not least, actors; you have the problems of costumes; you have very basic problems like entrances and exits. When you’re working in a room you kind of know everything. From one point of view in the rehearsal room you may be looking from left to right, so the front of the stage is on the right hand side. And when you get in the theatre you’re looking from right to left and the front of the stage is on the left. So you have to make all these adjustments. And, of course, the adjustments with the set that have to be made. Not only for us not tripping over and knocking over the furniture, but also to make an acceptable picture to the people watching the play. Our costumes, quick changes, slower changes, I’m getting used to those things and trying to understand them. Not only making them slick but integrating them into the play itself, as we do everything. We play the music, we do the sound effects, we do the changes. We also have people like Jess [Hughes, Tour Wardrobe Manager] and Nicola [Candlish, Tour Stage Manager] and Danyal [Shafiq, Tour Stage Manager] who are quite exceptional professionals and they’ve been helping us.
What’s your costume like, and how does wearing it help with your character?
My costume is very straight-laced. He’s a hands-on King. He’s a King who knows how to do everything, he leads from the front, he’s not one of those rear guard kings who stands on the top of the hill and watches the army being decimated. He’s right in there bleeding with his soldiers. His costume is a brown-grey tweed suit and a burnished golden crown. He has a riding crop, he wears what might be called hobnail boots, a real working monarch but sharp as a whip.
What is still proving difficult to unlock?
The difficulty with him is his quickness of mind, and those don’t happen in very long speeches. He doesn’t have soliloquies where he can share with the audience and go from one idea to another. These changes, they’re not really aberrations, but these changes of thought that return to the main point sometimes can be difficult to do, because what one usually does with those things is try to make them bigger than they really are. It’s like electricity, it comes at you in all different directions in the space of a second and that was really hard to get hold of. But I think I’ve captured that now.
You were at Theatre Royal in Margate, and now you’re in Turkey, so what is it like playing Shakespeare in those areas, especially going from Margate to Istanbul?
It’s interesting that although Margate was our first performances, they were, for all intensive purposes, previews. However, we have a special affinity to Margate, because Margate saw us warts and all and our really first, slick Globe-type performances happened in Istanbul. So whereas Margate was – not a work-in-progress – but a work almost completed, Istanbul is definitive: the work is perfect. The director’s happy, the producers are happy, the actors are happier, you know that kind of stuff. So it’s like we have started the tour but we’ve also started the production of King Lear (the touring production of King Lear) in Istanbul. It’s very interesting. Also, to add to that, there are those – what do you call them? – supertitles. So, we have those things happening as well. And we’re in this domed church with the set on where the altar might have been. And just above the set is this huge painted cross and the music reverberates in that space and, of course, the voices don’t because those places were built for singing the praises of God, not talking the words of Shakespeare. And we somehow, in the end, adapted to it and understood it. And we had standing ovations the first night and our second performance. It was rapturous. I assumed there were about three or four hundred – I can’t be precise about how many – people stood up. It was magnificent.
Speaking of the audiences, what types of audiences have you encountered thus far?
My personal experiences of them range from fine arts students to mothers and fathers and businessmen and professors and ordinary people. They represented the population of Istanbul. There weren’t particularly culture vultures and they weren’t particularly people that you could patronize. I mean, they simply were a cross-section of that population. And they loved it, they absolutely lapped it up. It was magnificent. I was questioned by some students (some fine arts students) who asked me “what is the point?” And I said, well, the Globe is about chinking the play to the audience, not the audience sitting back and enjoying the play, it’s a shared experience. And they quite understood that and said “yeah, that’s exactly what it was: it was a shared experience.” And it makes you really proud to be part of that Globe idea. It’s wonderful.
My last question for you is: how are you personally responding to the environment you’re in? How has it impacted your performance?
You can’t presume, can’t assume that everything you say is being heard and everything you say is being understood. It’s like if you were speaking English to say a French person and speaking English to a person to whom English is their first language, there are a lot of givens; there are a lot of things that are understood that don’t need to be spoken. But playing King Lear to, say, a Turkish audience, there needs to be a precision of verse, a precision of prose, diction, clarity, but most of all: clarity of intention. And when we hit that, it’s perfection. That has its difficulty to get hold of, but we’ve captured that.