"'Howl, howl, howl, howl!' Some people say that's him howling, or it might be encouraging other people to howl. And I was coming on very upset, but I realised it takes a while for grief to set in. I've started to realise he's coming on stage now with his dead daughter in a state of shock, and he's saying to the people around him, 'Will you please howl at how horrible this is?'"
Kevin takes us through what he's discovered about the show, his character and the audience, with the performances underway.
Time: 3 minutes 47 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Rona Kelly: Did bringing it on stage really unlock any of the scenes, or anything [else] for you?
Kevin McNally: Yes, I mean to an extent I think rehearsals and Tech Week are ground work. I think the play really starts to blossom only when it's put in front of an audience, and it continues to do so [in performances]. I'm finding things all the time. In particular, I've been working a lot on the last scene of the play, trying to make sense of that. I'm doing that very differently from the way I did it a week ago. I think theatre would be very boring if you felt that you polished it and then put it in front of an audience, and it stayed that way for the rest of the run. I think everybody who comes to see a play (particularly a great play like King Lear) deserves to have the cast rediscover it fresh for them every time, and there's certainly a lot to discover in this play.
RK: You mentioned the final scene there. Can you take us through maybe what you've noticed this week about it, or where you're currently at [with that scene]?
KM: Well interestingly enough, that scene starts with, 'Howl, howl, howl, howl!' And some people say that's him howling, or it might be encouraging other people to howl. And I was coming on very upset, but I realised it takes a while for grief to set in. I've started to realise he's coming on stage now with his dead daughter in a state of shock, and he's saying to the people around him, 'Will you please howl at how horrible this is?' 'If I had your tongues and eyes, I would scream so that heaven's vault should crack', which made me realise he is in a state of shock. He would love to be able to grieve. But I think then during the scene he does realise somewhat, particularly around 'Cordelia, Cordelia, stay a little' and 'She's gone. She'll come no more. Thou'll no more. Never, never, never, never, never'. So already, I'm finding more gradation in the scenes than [before].
And that often happens, you know? I've got eleven scenes in the play and each of them is a very different part, a different aspect of King Lear, and I made sure when I started that they were very, very clear [and] different scenes. As time goes on, you find out that those scenes break down and there's different aspects to each of those scenes. So it's like painting: you're just getting more and more detail from the broad strokes to the real curlicues and the little moments that you discover. It's a great voyage.
RK: Lovely. And we, the audience, go on that journey with you. Have you had any audience reactions which have surprised you, or which have really stuck with you?
KM: Yes. I've had a couple this week actually, I don't know why this week they seem to have become more vocal! At one point I shout, 'Does any here know who I am?' And some helpful chap in the audience shouted out that I was King Lear, which I thought was quite interesting!
Also, at one point I pick out somebody in the audience and say, 'What was your cause?' (I'm talking about somebody that's committed a crime in the audience). And usually, nobody has the guts to say anything. And I say, 'Oh, adultery', as if they said they were adulterers. And last night, the chap I chose said, 'Treason?' And I went, 'No. Adultery!' Which his partner found very amusing for a while, and then I think a bit disturbing. So that's very enjoyable stuff that's bubbling along there.
RK: Lovely! Because it can be such a vocal audience, if they feel like they can be let in like that.
KM: Yes. And you are tempting the devil by doing that, but it's certainly never got out of control. I think such is the power of the play: people, even if they do get vocally involved, quickly want to get back to listening to it again.