This is Chu's first blog post. This week he talks about his first impressions of the Globe, his experience of Macbethand Shakespeare, and his initial interpretation of Malcolm.
Transcript of Podcast
First impressions of the Globe
The start of a rehearsal process is always strange, meeting lots of new people can be quite nerve-racking. It doesn’t really matter how nice people are, you’re still recovering on the first day from the night before worrying about what it was going to be like. But actually the good thing about it was the talks we were given from people throughout the Globe organisation. It is good to know that there is a philosophy behind the place; that Sam Wannamaker [founder of the Globe] had a vision and that you’ve got a whole group of people continuing that vision the best way they know how. It was very impressive.
I’d never worked at the Globe before, and in fact I hadn’t been here before except to the exhibition and that was about three or four years ago, It is good to know that the theatre isn’t just about the director, actors and stage management – there's so much more. Even though the Globe is a large organisation it didn’t seem intimidating. I’ve wanted to work at the Globe for a long time - when you want something, your imagination tends to run wild and you imagine what it's going to be like… and if you’re like me, you imagine the worst case scenario!
Previous experience of Macbeth
I’ve been in Macbeth before. I played Lennox at the Bristol Old Vic and then on tour, with Patricia Kerrigan [who's Goneril in King Lear at the Globe this theatre season] playing Lady Macbeth. That was my first job out of drama school, in autumn ’97. As people keep on telling me, I’m still a baby in the theatre business. But that was a really good start, and very interesting. I already know that it was a totally different production to the one this is going to be. In that production the director committed the sacrilege of adding speeches that he had written, which upset a great many people. It was either very brave or very stupid, but I’ll leave that to other people to decide!
I remember studying Macbeth for GCSE, although I can’t actually remember reading it, and I can just about remember going to Stratford upon Avon to see an RSC production. I can remember the actor Jonathan Pryce playing Macbeth, but I can’t remember anything else – it's almost like it's been cut out of my memory. I had no interest in Shakespeare and no interest in acting until I was about twenty-one. I used to go to the cinema all the time, and I loved cinema, but the people who I thought were the best actors always seemed to have a theatrical background. I was a decent all-rounder at school. I was good at sport, but I could never have been a professional at any one given sport. I never enjoyed academic work – I was never a good researcher or reader, (actually as I was getting older I was getting better). But I never had the motivation to succeed – to really push myself or to be good at it – at anything particularly, until I started acting.
Becoming an actor
I went for an audition at the Central School of Speech and Drama, having never done any acting at all. I didn’t tell anyone I was going for the audition. I did a speech from A Midsummer Night's Dream for my audition, I didn’t know what I was saying, I just sort-of sang it, and I was appalling. I only knew I was appalling when I was in there, because I heard other people. I was extremely arrogant, but I got in! I’ve been acting ever since and love it. It's the first thing that I’ve loved doing, apart from sport, which I never really took seriously.
I enjoy Shakespeare more than any other dramatist really. I love the language of his plays, their depth and the character. When I was doing Shakespeare at school I thought it was just incomprehensible, flowery, it didn’t say anything to me, but when I began to act, to take it in, I started to listen and to hear what the characters were saying.
Shakespeare's very good at talking about the human condition, about what drives us, it's this that excites me about Malcolm. He's quite a confusing character. Well, he's not confusing at all, except that there is a large gap between his appearances at the beginning of the play and his return at the end. This type of gap can be difficult for an actor to play, as it is important to maintain a through-line with a character. You have to have a journey, and as far as possible to make that journey clear and believable. Malcolm ‘pops up’ every so often in the early scenes and initially is given significance only because he's made the Prince of Cumberland and the heir to the throne. Malcolm is next seen after his father's murder when he runs away. He's significant because he has status, but why didn’t Shakespeare focus on Donalbain his brother? Why does he focus on Malcolm? Why does Donalbain disappear? It could easily have been Malcolm that did not return. Malcolm is then not around for such a huge period of the play until he ‘pops up’ in England and is given this fantastic scenario and situation to play out with Macduff. But there's a huge gap. I asked myself, what is he doing? What has he been doing? Does he know what he's going to say or how he's going to approach Macduff from the beginning, or is he just playing it ‘by ear’? In the first production of Macbeth I appeared in, Malcolm was a bit of a Michael Corleone from The Godfather films. He was a schemer. But if you just look on the text, Malcolm seems to be the epitome of a good king, or a good man; somebody who deserves to become king because he has all the right virtues. He is the rightful successor and arguably has a divine right to rule because his father has named him as Prince of Cumberland.
So on the one hand, you’ve got this guy who seems rather simple. No, not simple, just very good. It's harder to play good than it is evil; people seem to find malicious Macbeth-type people more interesting than Malcolm, who is essentially a good man trying to do the right thing. The whole play is very definite in its morals I feel. Macbeth seems to be, could have been, a good man, but he's corrupted, something inside him has been brought out and has corrupted his whole character and actions. In Malcolm there doesn’t seem to be that corruption. I’m searching for something to hook on to, something on which to base my portrayal. I do find Malcolm interesting, I don’t see him as a saintly white knight-type, but only because that would put me off playing him. Because then you’re playing a two-dimensional cardboard cut-out – you’re playing a cartoon type hero, and he's not that. I think what's interesting about Malcolm is his grief. I’m interested in how the play as a whole deals with grief - every time Malcolm is on stage he's dealing with grief. The first time he speaks, he's pointing out the Bloody Sergeant [Captain, Act I, scene ii]; the second time you see him he's saying how the Thane of Cawdor died, ‘Nothing in his life / Became him like the leaving it.’ [I.iv.8-9]. Then his father dies. Donalbain and Malcolm don’t have time to deal with their father's death in the moment it happens – there's too much going on; there's too much suspicion; it's too dangerous. So they flee to safety.
The audience never sees the repercussions of that huge moment – the death of Duncan. You only hear Malcolm's grief when he talks to Macduff. In the final scene when old Siward's son, Young Siward, is killed old Siward asks how he died – did he die fighting? Does he have wounds on his front or on his back? If he has wounds on his back it signifies that he's running away and that somebody's hacked him down from behind, which is a dishonorable way to die. But he's died honorably, facing his opponent. Old Siward says that's enough for me, I’m satisfied. Malcolm does not share this approach to death and grief, he tells Old Siward he should show more grief for his son. At the moment that's the only line I can find which reveals something about Malcolm's reaction to his father's murder.
I want to find the ugly bits of Malcolm's character – the nooks and the wrinkles – because that's what makes someone interesting. Malcolm talks about big ideals – how things should be, that Scotland needs him. He's dealing with being a king, fighting an enemy who's corrupt. Those are huge things but what are the personal things that make him tick? Those are the things that as an actor, if you’re going to be true, you have to find.
The experience of bereavement must affect who you are, and how you deal with people. Malcolm had a mother who has obviously died before the play begins, Macduff says that she was an extremely religious woman – ‘Oftener upon her knees than on her feet, / Died every day she lived’ [IV.iii.110-11]. Malcolm then has to deal with his father's death and his separation from Donalbain. At the moment, I don’t know how close Donalbain and Malcolm are as brothers. It's going to be interesting trying to develop that relationship, because although it seems small (they’re only together for a short period), it's extremely significant because they share the moment of Duncan's death.
The keys to the character are in the things that Malcolm says, and in the way in which people talk about him. Often you can get more from that information than you from what your own character says. The decisions taken by the actors who play Duncan and Donalbain will have a huge affect on the way I play Malcolm because we are a company and I cannot act in isolation. The direction that the Master of Play [the director] wants to go has obviously a massive affect. What you do with the other actors, how you interact with them, is obviously important as well.
This is the exciting time, because there are so many different paths to go down, and you have to make choices. I couldn’t put down the script when I knew I had got the part. I was staying up late reading it over and over, which I tried to stop doing because I tend to make a lot of decisions. But I’m very good at throwing them away if they don’t work out, which is a good thing, because we’ve got such a long rehearsal period, and there are inevitably going to be ups and downs.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as s/he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his/her own interpretations and change frequently as the rehearsal process progresses.