This is Paul's podcast and second blog entry for the 2002 production of Twelfth Night in which he talks about rehearsals, working with the Globe space, the letter trick played on Malvolio, and Maria's costume.
Time: 7 minutes 5 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
On his first impressions of Maria: Well the obvious thing was mischievousness, extremely intelligent and very good judge of character in terms of psychologically. Sort of getting under the skin of Malvolio and understanding what would fool him, in terms of that letter which is extraordinary really. And that she must be very perceptive and very bright and flirtatious and witty as well. She is this sort of driving force in all those scenes that she's in, in a sense, because I think if she weren't around, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew would not really amount to much at all. And she kind of galvanises Sir Toby into action.
On Maria's background: She's above Malvolio status wise, in terms of breeding and family heritage. This is what I feel, it helped my character for her to feel superior, but I think within the household, her status is gradually lowering. And that's part of the problem, as Malvolio gets more and more responsibility, because Olivia's abrogating it to him. And I think that a lot of productions play Maria as a serving wench and I think you can do that, but having done it now, I just think you're missing so many possibilities and in fact it's actually not what she is.
I just think it closes off so many different layers in terms of how she has to behave and the fact that she is, well certainly within an Elizabethan setting, she has to be within that circle of Olivia. Olivia is way above her, I mean she is one or two below a queen probably. But it leads to far more interesting possibilities in terms of how she's allowed to behave in public in front of Olivia and needing to sort of keep a certain sense of decorum. And then that's far more interesting for the actor, for me as an actor, to burst out of, when she can't help it and is enjoying things too much. It's very useful and fruitful to have that tension in any character. So I'm glad I did that and it didn't shut off any of the possibilities of her sexuality and flirtatiousness. And it made sense that she marries Sir Toby and it makes sense of her outrage when Malvolio does try and blame her and assert his power over her.
On her relationship with Malvolio: In the audience's eyes, I suppose, it's gone too far but I think she's up for more tormenting of him. And I think there's a dark underbelly to the play and I kind of wanted to have that to the fore[front]. I didn't want her to be a nice, frothy character, because I think we've all got this cruel side; we just live in quite civilised times and I think if we were put in certain situations, I think there is a sort of dark side to everyone.
On how the audience reacted to a male actor playing Viola: Michael [Brown] gets more of one and so by the time I come on they've seen one. But they're seeing another type of woman, I look very different and I look the sort of Queen of Hearts. And I think there's a chuckle of delight and amusement and, perhaps still, uneasiness. I think people are much more more focused this season on the play and I think that really helped with it. And yes there were some chuckles and things, but I'm also sneaking up on Sir Toby, that's also why they're chuckling, part of it I imagine. But part of it will be, 'Oh my god another man as a woman and this time he's quite chubby and he's more obviously a bloke'.
On preparing to play a female role: Of course I was conscious I was going to be playing a woman, but actually I worried about it before I started rehearsing and thought, 'Am I going to have to change my voice and what does it involve?' And then I realised, I quite quickly decided all I needed to worry about was treat it as a character and not worry about the gender, as I would any character. And just as an actor delve into the status and the relationships and what her objectives are and how she goes about getting it. And just let things evolve through rehearsals. All I did know is I didn't want it to be camp, I didn't want it to be a drag act and I didn't want it to be pantomimic and sort of with a wink at the audience, sort of making fun of the fact I'm a man playing a woman. I just wanted to play it straight. And as it got further on, other things just came. I didn't change my voice, if anything it's deeper! It came out naturally that she's a woman because of her relationship with Sir Toby. And what was a bit sort of leap forward after all that, which was quite a lot to throw into the pot, was putting the costume on, because that immediately tells you how to move and that made you feel very, very different. You had to take very short steps and so you get that gliding movement and you wanted something that was vaguely elegant for a woman of that status in terms of movement. You've got four layers to your skirt and a train, you know you have to be conscious of that. But it also gives you a very upright carriage and a real sense of kind of decorum, which is a nice thing to then play against when I do things that are lacking in decorum altogether.
But it just added another layer of otherness, which was very useful. But in terms of authentic practises for my acting, I didn't think about that at all and I don't think any actor should. They should just think about getting to the truth and the reality of the character.
On his relationship with the audience: Yes, it's brilliant for comedy but I think you have to find the truth and the seriousness within the comedy. It's just as electrifying to have 1,500 people suddenly fall silent and listen to a very moving moment. But you have to have both, because there's a wit even in the serious moments, there's a wit that runs through all his plays.
I think it's important to sort of leave the audience to a certain extent and keep one step ahead of them. And not patronize them with a performance and a production that explains everything and waits for them to understand before moving on. It's thrilling as an audience member if the actors are understanding what they're saying, they've got the relationships clear, the audience will keep up and you should stay one step ahead of them on stage and force them to gallop with you, because that's far more thrilling.
On working in the Globe space: I've become a better actor since I've been here. I'm more confident in the space but I'm also aware of the challenges even more. But I'm not afraid to kind of move around the space in a way that, when I first arrived, might have felt a bit artificial, 'Oh, I'm not sure!' And these sort of techniques of taking it out to the audience just become far more natural and easy going and they're just tools. You have to acknowledge the space you're working in and you have to acknowledge the demands of the space and that Shakespeare's not naturalistic and the fact you must be heard and you need to be seen as much as possible.
It teaches you not to be afraid of technique, but to always harness the technique towards a truth and a reality. And it's forcing you to tackle that head on as an actor. To work in the Globe is a celebration of all the actors' craft, I think. It's a real actors' space.
The Globe Space
It's all started to get much bigger recently. Up until now, the rehearsals having been taking place in the attic, (the space above the Globe stage), or in the small rehearsal hall, and I’ve been very conscious of the fact that so far I’ve been keeping it small, concentrating on little details and not worrying about my performance as a whole. All of a sudden, I’m very aware of the demands of playing in the Globe space in front of a Globe audience. Having said that, it's important to work on the detail first; it would be an undue pressure on all the actors for them to think that they had to give a performance from the very first rehearsal. This initial work, grounding the scenes in the characters’ emotions and intentions, will allow us to expand the scenes in the Globe space later on without feeling that we’ve become untruthful to the text.. I would like to keep working through the play in this detailed way, but at the same time, I keep thinking that so much detailed work won’t come across to an audience in the Globe space. It's very hard; I’m trying to find the diagonals and expand what we’ve been doing to fit the space more fully, but at the same time, I mustn’t let the rehearsal process be dominated by such concerns.
As I mentioned, we have been working on specific scenes in detail, and at the moment we are concentrating on the box tree scene (Act ii, scene 5). This scene is a real challenge. Firstly, the text itself is tricky; at one point, Malvolio has a monologue, but it's not that straightforward as his speech is punctuated by other characters’ interjections which, of course, Malvolio can’t hear. It takes a lot of rehearsal to ensure that the audience won’t get lost! The best way to do this is to start small, working in detail on the characters’ emotions, intentions and actions, and then to make the scene, and our performances, gradually larger and more expansive.
The Letter Trick
Maria is the driving force behind the letter trick, although she backs off towards the end. I’ve always thought she needs to humiliate Malvolio, because he's always blaming her for everything, whether it's Sir Toby's party getting too noisy, or anything else that he doesn’t approve of. As she's explaining her plan to the others, her intention is very clear; she says they must pursue him now, or else they’ll lose the opportunity. It's only when Sir Toby suggests that they put Malvolio in a dark room and torture him that she doesn’t encourage them. Perhaps she feels that the mock exorcism is one step too far. Still, Maria is very proud of her plan to humiliate the steward, which is almost to be expected, considering it is her pride that Malvolio has been continually attacking. She has a very good understanding of people, and knows exactly what she needs to do to reel Malvolio in: she doesn’t make the letter too obviously loving; rather, she says the right things to capture Malvolio's imagination. Although she's good with other people, she never talks about her own feelings; she isn’t an introspective character in the same way that Orsino is. As an actor, it's my responsibility to flesh out the character and still remain true to the text. I think she is immensely fond of Sir Toby, and over the course of the play they gradually fall for each other. Both of them have a great deal of wit, teasing each other as well as Sir Andrew, and when we hear of their marriage at the end of the play, it's a nice ending as far as they’re concerned.
My costume has changed slightly since Middle Temple Hall. Then, my petticoat was orange, and it clashed with the dress. Now, I have a brand new grey one, which is much better. I think I’m also going to have a nightgown, which I’ll wear in Act ii Scene 3 when Maria comes in to tell Sir Toby and the others to be quiet. I have to admit, at this point, I’m not looking forward to getting ready for the first performance. When I come in before each performance, first, I have to shave very close, (and not cut myself), before putting all sorts of moisturisers on my face: it's all very girly. There is a reason for this; the makeup we’re using is similar to that used 400 years ago, and it sucks all the moisture out of your face. If you don’t put moisturiser on both before and after a performance, you wake up the next morning with scaly dry skin. It's not fun. Then after that, there's the corset, and then the costume itself. It's going to take a while…
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 frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.