“You cannot second guess in any way the way an audience is going to respond. And I think that’s the beauty of moving around - you can really hear certain moments ringing true for different audiences.”
Six months into the tour and Phoebe talks about travelling, the different audience responses from country to country and her favourite moment in the play.
Time: 14 minutes 8 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Phil Brooks: Welcome to the Adopt an Actor podcast series. This is the fourth interview with Phoebe Fildes, who is playing Ophelia in the Globe to Globe touring Hamlet.
Thinking back to April, we might as well start at the beginning of the tour with opening night at the Globe, how was that?
Phoebe Fildes: It was really amazing and actually looking back, it feels a) such a long time ago, and b) kind of like a surreal dream. I think it will be quite amazing when we come back and do it again in 2016. But to be honest with you it all felt such a - from the actors point of view such a rush to get everything together because at the time we were packing, I was moving out of my house! There was all sorts of stuff going on which you would never normally dream of timing around the same time that you were opening a show. So we were all kind of contending with all sorts of other stuff, so to actually, when the opening night came and we all had to focus our energy on the main thing that we’re doing - the show - it was really wonderful because it was the first time that all the other stuff flew out of the window and it all became clear what we were doing and why we were doing it, and what we were taking around the world. Yeah it was a really wonderful starting point to be at the Globe, and welcomed by an incredible audience. I mean the audience we played to at the Globe I think will be really hard to beat over the next two years!
PB: Did they [the audience] for those first few shows react in the way you expected them too?
PF: To be honest I hadn’t even thought about what I expected from an audience point of view in terms of reaction. But they were so wonderfully warm and really vocal. I mean we’ve talked about it on the road a lot; I'm sure it’s something to do with the configuration of – the way the audience is standing, and they're all close together, and there was such a buzz about that. It was the opening of Hamlet two year world tour, but it was also opening of the season and there was just a real excitement in the air that night, and for the three nights actually. And I think it’s something we’ll all remember, yeah definitely.
PB: And of course since then you’ve been travelling around the world! How has it been going overall so far?
PF: Absolutely amazingly well! We’ve been really stunned by the responses we’ve had as we’ve gone to each different country, and we’ve often – I mean the responses vary in terms of the way people relate immediately to what’s going on on stage. For example, in parts of eastern Europe where the tradition of theatre going is, well the response is certainly quieter. So throughout the show we were thinking ‘oh my lord are they hating this? Are they having a terrible terrible time?’ By the end they’ll always be on their feet applauding and we’d have standing ovations which was always a huge surprise for us. We were missing that vocal response from the audience. Whereas in the Caribbean you have people calling out and saying things when things happen that shock them or surprise them which is really wonderful as well.
PB: Is it quite nice to have that interaction with audience as the play goes on? To hear their thoughts…
PF: Yeah it’s amazing and it’s a bit of a cliché but it’s such a testament to the fact that you cannot second guess in any way the way an audience is going to respond. And I think that’s the beauty of moving around and taking it to different audiences because if you're doing a long run in the same city, I think you sort of, you start to pre-empt and anticipate the particular responses that an audience might have. And this is, you know it’s just impossible to do that. Because there’ll be some nights where people laugh at moments you just would not have expected, and vice versa. Moments where it’s quite chillingly silent, or moments where you might have had a laugh in the past – not even a laugh but a gasp of surprise or… you know. Totally varied.
PB: I guess it’s that different cultures get different bits from the play…
PF: Absolutely, and you can really hear certain moments ringing true for others.
PB: And what is happening to the play itself as you go round, is it changing and sculpting, getting shorter…
PF: Yeah, I mean it really is sort of morphing all the time. I mean as you know we’re sort of doing a configuration where we swap parts, pretty much nightly we’re all sort of rotating. And at the beginning that was something that took a while to settle into because it’s something none of us had ever done and it’s a huge ask in terms of remembering basically what we’re doing! Where we are supposed to be at any one time. And it is a real joy now because it’s starting to settle and it’s just throwing up all kinds of different, wonderful opportunities each night that are different. And that is a real privilege for us because to be doing one brilliant play for two years but also have the opportunity to be playing almost all the parts in that play. It’s really amazing.
PB: Yeah because I guess your ‘main’ in quote marks character is Ophelia, but you’ve got so many others…
PB: Do you feel more comfortable with her and settle with your ideas of her or is it still very much up in the air and…
PF: Well it’s really funny, because I - yes and no. Yes in the sense that I’ve had a few months now to let it sit in and explore things, but in a really lovely way, playing the other characters has really informed my understanding of Ophelia. I know that sounds odd but because I play, I took on Horatio in Washington about three or four months in, and actually getting under the skin of Horatio and relating to – so for Jen[nifer Leong] and Amanda [Wilkin] who also play Ophelia, when I’m Horatio and I'm having conversations with them as Ophelia, that sort of throws into question all sorts of other things which I wouldn’t even have considered about my relationship as Ophelia to Horatio if that makes sense. It’s kind of constant renegotiation really of how you relate to characters; everything is changing all the time. It’s quite complicated I know but!
PB: Yeah just thinking, different audiences, different reactions all the time – at the Globe eventually you get into a rhythm
PF: Rhythm exactly
PB: Whereas this just breaks it up and is
PB: Has there been a particular venue that’s really stood out for you so far?
PF: There have been - I mean we’ve played such a variety of spaces. Probably one - my favourite kind of spaces that we play are the sort of outdoor squares or public places and I really love that for the reason that generally the event is totally free, so you get people who are just passing by and are interested, or people that have come for 10 hours on a bus because they’ve heard you’re gonna be there. And there’s a complete variety of people and often that’s – it’s really rewarding to play that kind of event because you sort of feel like you're being welcomed with open arms by the community that is hosting you because they're giving up their lovely square in the middle of their town. Another amazing place we played was actually in Reykjavik in Iceland. We played this huge, almost like a concert hall. I could only kind of relate it to something like the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester or… It traditionally is used for orchestral concerts, but the acoustic in there was so phenomenal. Actually we were all quite scared by it when we got there because it was so huge, the seats were bright red and it was just really overwhelming; we thought that we were never gonna fill the space. But actually when we started playing and singing it was really heart-warming because we realised actually it didn’t need as much pushing as we thought it might require. I mean there are so many places I could talk about, it’s so different each one! But yeah I’d say generally I prefer the outdoor spaces, it’s where the play feels at home.
PB: What sort of impact does it have on your performance, in a theatre you’re used to people sitting down to watch the show, whereas in a public square with people just passing by…
PF: Yeah I think it works in a really brilliant way because you’re kind of forced to engage really directly with the people that you're – you have no choice but to talk to the people because if you don’t they’ll walk away because they won’t be interested. I sometimes personally find when the lights are down and the audience are kind of sitting and watching in more of a passive way, it’s quite easy to become sort of, to really enjoy yourself as an actor on stage and think ‘Oh I’m really good at this bit’, do you know what I mean, whereas when you have no choice but to really engage the people that you're performing to and talking to really, it makes you work so much harder I think. I’ve been amazed to be honest at the kind of, one or two – more than one or two actually but a number of countries use surtitles, but also a huge number of countries don’t. And I've been really amazed at how nothing really seems to be lost in translation. It feels like the audience appreciate the clarity of the story, and I think in some places because of people preconceived ideas of what Shakespeare is or what Shakespeare should be, people expect it to be very serious or very dark or very whatever their preconceptions of Hamlet might be, and I think people are often, hopefully, pleasantly surprised the levity and the pacy-ness that our particular version of Hamlet has. And the humour in it as well, I think people don’t expect to see so much humour in something that they associate with traditional English heritage.
PB: Let’s talk about the travelling around as well, you’ve been on boats, planes, cars, vans, everything; how is that travelling going and…
PF: Yeah it’s quite hard going I've got to say. I mean it depends completely what region we’re in, but for example in central America we did everything by bus which sounds horrendous but I absolutely loved, and I much preferred it to flying. So our days would be getting up at a reasonable time like 8 for an 8.30 start, being on the bus for 12 – well between 8 to 12 hours generally. But to be honest it was a lovely way of seeing the country around you and it was a really good kind of wind down time. what I find more difficult is flying, often that means you never know what time the flight is going to be. So quite often it is, you might arrive absolutely exhausted, so you have to really dig deep to get the energy that you need to go on stage and give a good show.
PB: Because you have so many different spaces everywhere you go, does it take a while to get used to reconfiguring it or does it happen naturally?
PF: Um, that’s a good question actually. We’ve got a really brilliant team of stage managers – Adam, Carrie, Becky and Dave – and they generally before we get into a space will mark it out, I think it’s with chalk, something that we are familiar with in terms of dimensions. So whether the stage is a huge big opera stage or whatever, we’ll still have our dimensions which we are familiar with. Now we don’t have, we’re not confined to that in any way but it is really helpful for us because it means that if we are somewhere completely different we’ve got something vague to play with. What’s been really interesting and actually quite useful in terms of learning experience is when you play like a thrust stage or – we haven’t actually played in the round yet – we played on a thrust stage in Chicago, in the Chicago Shakespeare theatre and actually that, the first night we did that we were all kind of a bit anxious and a bit nervous about ‘well we’re going to have to re-configure the scenes completely’. And actually it sort of took care of itself completely and everybody, I don’t know everybody seemed to just use the space in an appropriate way and afterwards we all felt really chuffed.
PB: Are there any other little bits that you would like to mention or describe or
PF: That’s a very difficult question!
PB: I mean because you’ve been to so many places, I started to look at the list; even in America, the Folger Library as well, and the UN of course.
PF: Yeah gosh the UN that was a really different - I don’t really have any expectations about what it was going to be like because it was slotted into the tour at relatively late stage so by the time it was confirmed we were already on the road. But we’d gone from being – we basically flew from Chicago which was a sort of mad city experience to a beautiful little sleepy riverside town called Prescott in Canada where we were hosted by the most wonderful generous hosts who – they were doing a theatre festival there. So that was kind of a much quieter relaxing experience and then suddenly we were back into New York and the UN. That was – it was quite strange playing a space which is, I mean it’s essentially a sort of, I don’t know what the word is for those sort of spaces, a chamber or like a, there’s desks behind which everyone sits with their headsets and computer screens and stuff. So we had to work really hard to inject that kind of energy and fun spirit into a room which felt quite predisposed to serious issues and debate. Not that you know… So we had to work quite hard but yeah an amazing privilege to be performing inside such an iconic building. It was amazing.
PB: And what is your favourite moment in the play?
PF: That changes every time as well. I really love the moment when Hamlet is talking to the players. At the moment that’s probably up there with my favourite bits. I love… I think it’s brilliant because it sort of draws different reactions from each – I mean we’re all on stage at that point and it’s the moment when everything sort of slows down for a bit. The whole of act one is so pacy and fast, and it’s sort of the first moment that I think we’ve earned to take stock and reflect a bit at that point. And you can always see that’s a moment when we’re all on stage and everybody, all the actors do really seem to be so engaged with it and enjoying listening to the language because it’s just so beautiful. Another moment I really like, because I love to see how audiences react is the moment, there’s an exchange between Hamlet and Ophelia which happens just before her father is revealed behind the curtain. And in our version there’s a moment when Hamlet – I mean it’s not even particularly violent or aggressive but [he] pushes her away because he’s realised that Polonius is behind the curtain. And certainly in parts of the Caribbean the responses you’d have there, people would be gasping, calling out to say, you know, because they're absolutely horrified by the way she’s being treated and I really like that moment because it kind of throws up all sorts of different responses in the audience. Sometimes people are quiet sometimes people are horrified; sometimes there’s just a moment of tension where you can feel people feeling a bit uncomfortable. It’s not a particularly joyful moment.
PB: But an interesting one from the audience reactions.
PF: Yeah. And I love the jig. I always love the jig.
PB: Of course the jig! Last time I spoke to you you were still trying to figure out spacing and instruments…
PF: Yeah! I finally got my head around who I am and when I'm playing what. I love it. It’s great and I do think it’s such a brilliant moment. I think the audience always appreciate it because from Act 5 Scene 2 things just get heavier and the drama and the darkness really intensify. It’s a really beautiful way of bringing the characters back to life and just brushing off the darkness and heaviness that that end might leave the audience with.
PB: Especially for those really vocal audiences
PF: Exactly, yeah they all certainly loved it.
PB: Great thank you very much
PF: Thank you!