In his third blog post Danny discusses the experience of the technical rehearsals, performing to tour groups and wearing his costume and shoes on stage.
Transcript of Podcast
The fool and other characters
I think Kent, Edgar and the Fool, all of Lear’s ‘merry band of brothers’, have this really interesting duality, this duality of the true self and the disguised self. It’s a really fascinating stance to play because, for the Fool in particular, there’s the performance level, and then there’s him personally. And ‘him’ is only presented to the audience when it’s just the fool and Lear, or when it’s him, Lear and Poor Tom. Poor Tom is threatening the fool’s position, making him redundant, which is why ultimately the fool disappears, because he has no function. I think it’s a joy to play the performance side of the fool, for example, when he first enters with the boys – the knights, and Lear – and they’re putting down Kent, angering Goneril; all of that’s fun at a level of play. I suppose the vulnerability, when you read the text, kicks in as soon as they’re on the heath. I don’t think he can stand it physically or mentally, so he tries to continually impart his wisdom in rhyming couplets and elaborate witty sayings and they soon sink, and as soon as they sink, and he lets go. By Act 3 Scene 4, which is the arrival of Poor Tom, he’s dropped everything in term of pretence or act and just all he wants is access to this man Lear and to bring him back to the person that he thought he was, to get love from him. It’s really sad.
I was incredibly lucky to have worked with Maggie Smith a year and a half ago, and one of the biggest pet hates for her, for myself, and for most people, is going to the theatre and not being able to hear what is being said. Voice had always been important to me at drama school, but it wasn’t until I heard it from the mouth of someone who I respect that alarm bells went off in my head. I worked with Jan [Haydn Rowles, the voice expert], but no more and no less than anyone else did. Jan was incredibly useful, a brilliant resource that the Globe is really fortunate to have. She’s not interested in saying something is wrong or right, but is interested in making you comfortable in your voice, and, more importantly, making the audience comfortable listening to your voice. Sometimes in acting you’re not always confident and comfortable with your voice, but Jan is great as she makes you alert to giving the audience the best and the most of what you’ve got. My voice is a bit of a mish-mash of accents; I’ve got an Italian mother and a Jamaican father and my family is from the East End of London and they all have very distinctive speaking voices. My voice unconsciously changed when I went to university. I’ve always been said to have been softly spoken, but it’s not something I’d ever stopped to think about until I went to drama school. A brilliant director there, called Steve Jameson, said to me after a run through of a work shop we were doing, ‘That’s great Danny, so truthful. Only one problem: no one can hear it’. I think that’s completely and utterly true, and this place reminds you that you’re doing it for someone else. My speaking voice and my stage voice are two different things. The fool’s voice is penetrating, it pings, and can be quite clipped, and I’d love to have said that I worked on that but it’s not true – I just came to it. I get an instinct for things and I grab onto it if it’s working; if not, then I don’t. When I read for Dominic originally, I said that I’d got two ideas about how the fool could be in my mind: one was very still, very precise, very clear and quite measured; and the other was a high-octane energy, Kenneth Williams-type. And he suggested I find somewhere in the middle, and I think ultimately that’s what I’ve done … though I don’t want to think about it too much.
Tech week arrived and I found it rather glorious actually, because I think my character is there as much for the audience as for the play. As soon as we got in the theatre, I was really able to play around with what I was delivering to the other characters on the stage, with what I was delivering to the audience, and with what I was delivering to myself as an afterthought; the different asides would then be placed in the auditorium. Tech week was great fun in that sense. I actually really preferred being in the theatre, teching it, as opposed to working in the rehearsal room, even though lots of things go wrong in the tech. At the end of tech week, we had to go back to rework a couple of scenes in the rehearsal room as the stage wasn’t free, and that was very difficult. Even within those three or four days on the Globe stage, I’d become so into opening my performance out to that space, that suddenly being back in an office-like rehearsal room with a low ceiling meant I felt huge. But I loved tech week, especially as one of the things that the whole company felt was a sense of remembering who they’re doing the play for, and that we’re not doing the play for ourselves. Because you can be up there having the time of your life, but if it’s not for the audience, then what’s the point?
The impact of tour groups
I think a few people were thrown by members of the public coming into the space at first, because you’ll be in the middle of a scene on the heath or you’ll be in the middle of having your eyes gauged out and suddenly there’s forty people being ferried in to stand in the corner of the auditorium. But I found tech week absolutely imperative to building my performance, and I’m so thankful we had the tours coming in and out because I could play it to them and see what was right, and see what wasn’t. They were very kind and encouraging, because I was finding my feet – in fact I’m still finding my feet – and even laughed when I was doing things that were dire. They were really so supportive and I found it extremely useful throwing stuff out, seeing what works and didn’t work and chopping and changing things.
Getting the full costume changed things as well. The shoes were very important. I think a couple of the other actors were wearing their shoes in the rehearsal room that they would be wearing in performance. I didn’t do that, but as soon as I got on stage, I always had to wear my character’s shoes, even if we were only roughly running through something. I think they’re quite a good example of the character. They’re elf-like with pointy toes – they look like something a character from Narnia would wear – and I found them very useful to have on my feet as I was walking around the space. I had a few technical difficulties with the costume in tech week (which is what tech week’s for) but even up to the opening night, I had problems with it. What I have found in the character is so physical, and giving the performance I’ve giving, I need to roam and move about but buttons kept popping off the costume, my tunic kept flapping open, my stockings kept falling down and nothing would hold them up. In the end, we had to get a suspender belt to hold them up which looks quite comical on stage. I’ve been threatening Dominic [Dromgoole, Artistic Director of the Globe] that one day I’ll come onstage in just the suspender belt and a coxcomb! So tech week was quite tricksy with my costume and I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with the whole costume until towards the end of previews. It was very difficult for the costume department to actually rectify things that were going wrong with my costume; they could mend the garment as much as I asked them to, but every time I’m doing something ridiculous on stage, something else would go wrong. Everything’s now in place, but I think the costume is an ongoing battle.
The physicality of the fool
The fool is very energetic and I’m quite low energy, so it’s brilliant getting everything out of my system in the show: frustrations from the day, things that I wish I’d said, all the constraints that we experience in society or within ourselves that stop you from jumping around to your favourite song in the pub. One of the great releases is being an actor and dealing in make believe, so when you go on a stage, and at the Globe in particular, all of it comes out for me; it comes out in the character. The fool has the verbal dexterity that I wish I could have, so it’s good to be like that for a couple of hours everyday. There are lots of things you can’t do in a rehearsal room, like the aerial stuff with the ladders, which was completely left until the last minute because the ladder couldn’t be fixed until the last minute. It was going to be scrapped at one point, as I think Dominic was quite concerned about whether or not I was going to be able to do it every night without hurting myself, but so far so good. I think it’s a lovely entrance. I really didn’t want to scrap it, and just come on from the back door or the side door. When he enters the space, everyone knows that he’s entered the space. You know that with his character, if someone’s going to jump, he’ll jump higher, and I think the balcony is a perfect framing and setting for him to arrive on.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.