Shakespeare's Globe

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"The real journey is Lear finding his own humanity, him becoming a reasonable human being sadly too late for his daughter and too late for himself, which is then the true tragedy of the play. You know, we think of people that we don't like in this world: will they ever find humanity? Will truly nasty people ever find humanity? Probably not. But Lear does, which makes us ultimately care for him, I think..."

With just a few more performances to go, Kevin answers questions from our listeners, reveals some behind the scenes secrets, and gets a little surprise...

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Time: 7 minutes 50 seconds

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Transcript of Podcast

Rona Kelly: We'll move on to some questions we've had from our followers on Twitter.

Kevin McNally: Okay.

RK: Someone has asked: 'Do you have any pre-show warm-ups or anything you do in particular before every show starts?'

KM: Yes, we all do a warm-up. Mine is a mixture of yoga going into a voice warm-up. So I try to warm the body, warm the diaphragm, warm the mouth, warm the brain. And I wouldn't dare step on this stage without having done quite an extensive warm-up. Then we have a group warm-up: in matinees we do the Prologue, and in evening shows we do the pavane at the end. And I'm not in any of the fights, but then we have fight warm-ups so that people don't go on cold and start hitting each other. We're very meticulous about warming up.

RK: And we've also had someone else ask: 'What is your favourite spot backstage at the Globe?' A little behind the scenes insight there!

KM: I really like being in the Tiring House, the wings at the back of the theatre; it's a nice place to prepare to step onto the stage. What I do between scenes is I go and I look at my script, I just look at the next scene. There's usually something that might have become [different], as I've discovered something about it, maybe the order of words has become a bit vague to me or I think, 'Maybe that doesn't sound right...am I stressing it in the right way?' So I'll go through each scene before I go on. So it's sitting there, usually eating a bag of easy peel oranges that Burt Caesar [Gloucester] and I share.

RK: Someone else has asked: 'How do you relate to your character King Lear?' Do you relate to your character?

KM: Well, if you mean relate in the sense of understanding him, yes I think I do. If I'm anything like him, then no. It's a big leap for me, because the things that define him at the beginning of the play which is...well, I mean I think he's quite a warm, affable person...but he's very narcissistic and he's very powerful and he's very full of pride and is quick to temper. And I don't have any of those things, so it's been interesting discovering them.

RK: I think when we did the Q&A a couple of weeks ago, someone asked a question about, 'At what point in the play does Lear go mad?' It might be interesting for you to share that now, what you feel about the journey of Lear and madness throughout the play?

KM: Yes. I'd heard [John] Gielgud talking about the various gradations of madness during the course of the play. But I don't think that's the case anymore. I think he suffers from a little bit of dementia at the beginning of the play, and I think instantly regrets all of the rash things he does. But [he] is so prideful and such a believer that a strong leader should never change their mind, that he can't go back on what he does.

But I don't think he genuinely goes mad. He says, 'My wits begin to turn', I think he's driven crazy by what his daughters do. But he doesn't genuinely go mad until Cordelia offers to speak to him and Kent says, 'He won't come, he's so embarrassed about what's happened'. And I think when it finally lands on him, what he did to what turns out to be his good, really loyal daughter, I think that's what tips him over the edge.

And in fact, me and the Director Nancy Meckler chose not to do the famous trial scene from the Quarto in Act 3, because it pre-empts the hallucination and madness from the mad scene. And I don't think he goes mad until he turns up on stage in his underwear, with flowers in his hat, and people go, 'Oh, he's gone over the edge'. It's become a really defined moment now for me.

RK: And I mean, you have that line, 'I have taken too little care in this'. So that's obviously said with complete square of sense.

KM: Yes. I mean even in the mad scene, his insights into the hypocrisies of power are extraordinarily vivid (alongside some real crazy stuff). But the madness is very interesting in Lear, but it's not ultimately what it's about, because he does recover his wits at the end. It's like he has a temporary bout of...hysteria, I think is a good word for it. The real journey is him finding his own humanity, him becoming a reasonable human being sadly too late for his daughter and too late for himself, which is then the true tragedy of the play. Although, you might say that he finds some humanity before the end of the play is a good thing. You know, we think of people that we don't like in this world: will they ever find humanity? Will truly nasty people ever find humanity? Probably not. But Lear does, which makes us ultimately care for him, I think.

RK: This is a very random thought, and not leading on from that before! But I remember talking to Emily [Bruni, Goneril] and we were talking about the 'sexy cage'.

KM: Oh, yes!

RK: And I think before, you were supposed to be using the cage a lot, weren't you?

KM: Nancy wanted to bring me on in the 'sexy cage' for my meeting with Cordelia (I wanted to be in a wheelchair). And because it's a big supermarket trolley, a storage trolley, I said to Faz [Singhateh, Cornwall], 'When you bring me on in this trolley, if there's anything you can do to destroy this idea, it would be great!' So he brought me on in the supermarket, storage trolley and he went, 'Bing bong! More Lears needed for aisle sixteen, more Lears needed for aisle sixteen!' And Nancy finally said, 'You really don't want to come on in that, do you?' I said, 'No, I want my wheelchair, please'. So that was one of the battles I won.

You know, I think the trolley is great for symbolic moments. But I don't think there's anything symbolic about him coming and meeting [Cordelia], it's a very literal scene. So I didn't feel there was a need to use the thing that had become a little symbolic. You know, it symbolises the two affairs that Edmunds having, it symbolises incarceration...

[Phone starts ringing.] Oh, that's my wife! Hence the theme for Downton Abbey!

RK: I was about to say!

And we'll end on two things: finally, have you got any behind the scenes secrets from the Globe which you can share with our listeners?

KM: Yes: they don't let you take drinks on to the stage! It's infuriating!

RK: They do not!

KM: They do not let you take drinks onto the stage.

RK: At Q&As, yes! Onto the stage, no!

KM: Yes, I always enjoy my glass of wine at a Q&A!

RK: And finally, finally: what's been a favourite moment from the whole run?

KM: A favourite moment was three nights ago, when Joshua James [Edgar] threw his blanket in the air and (like a Harlem Globetrotter) sent it back down into the whole in the ground, never more to be retrieved! And I'm afraid myself and Saskia Reeves [Kent] laughed openly! And so did the audience! That was my favourite moment. I hope he does it again sometime!

RK: That's lovely and well, you have got a week left, one week to go! 

Thank you so much for joining us.

KM: You're welcome.

RK: As a little thank you, we like to give each of our Adopt An Actors a little present.

KM: Oh, lovely!

RK: So in the first interview we spoke [to you], you said that the reason you got into acting was because you remember sitting in a classroom, reading that script off the board...

KM: Yes.

RK: And your Mum gave you...

KM: A Beano and a chocolate bar.

RK: Well...

KM: Ha, you bought me a Beano! Oh fantastic! Brilliant!

RK: Of course, we got you a Beano from 1979 (so not quite as far back!) And you get a Shakespeare chocolate bar as well, we couldn't find a Mars Bar.

KM: Thank you so much! Well, this is wonderful! '79...no, I was already up and running as an actor by then. That's very kind of you, thank you. I appreciate it.

RK: Don't worry, thank you so much for joining us.

KM: You're welcome.

RK: Thanks!

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