Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Ask Your Actor

This bulletin was composed with questions sent in by schools who adopted Peter.

Transcript of Podcast

This bulletin was composed with questions sent in by schools who adopted Peter.

When did you decide to become an actor and why?

I decided to become an actor when I was at university. I’d always been interested in performing; I had done some singing and some acting at school but it wasn’t until university that I started doing plays more seriously. I was playing Malvolio in Twelfth Night. When Malvolio reads the postscript of the letter ‘If thou entertain’st my love, let it appear in thy smiling, thy smiles become thee well’ I turned and smiled at the audience, and they made a noise I’d never heard before – a shriek of laughter so huge it nearly knocked me over! I got to the end of the scene and when I came off I was shaking. I realised that I didn’t know what to do when I went back on. That was very exciting and very frightening, but it confirmed that I wanted to be an actor. It also confirmed that I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I thought I should go to drama school and find out. I’m still trying to find out!

Did you go to college or drama school to learn to act?

I went to Edinburgh University and did an MA in English Language and Literature before going to Bristol Old Vic drama school, which is a wonderful place.

What got you interested in Shakespeare?

When I was a young, we went to the theatre as a big treat. When I was about nine or ten, we came to London and we went to see my first Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice starring Sir Lawrence Olivier as Shylock. Jim Dale played Launcelot Gobbo and I remember almost falling off my seat with laughter – apparently I said to my mother ‘I didn’t realise Shakespeare was meant to be funny.’ I don’t know what Jim Dale did, but he really captivated me. After that I said to my teacher that I wanted to do a production of The Merchant of Venice; I wanted to play Shylock and direct it! I never did, but that was what got me into Shakespeare. Then I discovered A Midsummer Night's Dream, and after that I just couldn’t get enough of it.

Do you prefer comedies or tragedies?

Well, I’ve probably done more comedy than tragedy (although I’ve done a bit of everything – I don’t think anybody likes to pigeon-hole themselves too much). I like each job to be different from the last, so this season's nice because I’ve got Polixenes in The Winter's Tale (his story is not a comic one), followed by Pandarus in Troilus and Cressida (a great part with lots of comedy). As I’ve done more comedy than tragedy, I probably feel more at home with that, but that's all the more reason to do more of something else! Some of my favourite Shakespeare plays are tragedies.

What is your favourite Shakespeare play?

Of the tragedies, I think my favourite is King Lear. I love Twelfth Night – I think that's my favourite comedy – and A Midsummer Night's Dream I suppose, although I’ve seen it too many times… the trouble is you lose the element of surprise. That's the danger of having favourites generally – you lose the element of surprise when you’re watching the plays. Last year when I went to see A Midsummer Night's Dream at Regent's Park, I knew every line as it came up (having been in it the year before and toured it around American universities). I swore that I wouldn’t go and see it again for a very long time.

What's your favourite part?

There are a couple of Shakespeare parts so far that have been real favourites: one is Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream and the other is Toby Belch in Twelfth Night – two comedies, although my Toby Belch was a fairly dark character. I played Macbeth a while ago and I loved doing that… other favourite parts? Lophakin in The Cherry Orchard was wonderful. Have you done a show in Original Practices before? No I haven’t, and the experience is really fascinating. I suppose our process in the rehearsal room doesn’t really reflect ‘original practices’ but when we go for costume fittings and when we’re introduced to all the props, that's all ‘original practices’. The Tudor Group came into rehearsals to teach us about social etiquette and clothing in Elizabethan society so that's providing background information for the rehearsal process too. It's just fantastic to be doing OP at the Globe where so much research has gone in to finding out how these things were done – there's always somebody to ask if you don’t know.

Do you like your costume?

I love my costume! It's being made as we speak – to have a costume built on you is just amazing, particularly something like this… it's hand-stitched, and made of beautiful silk fabric. I’ve got a cream and gold doublet with black and gold braid, and black and gold trunk hose, black or cream stockings and a ruff… I’ll have a disguise as well for the sheep-shearing scene. I’m amazed at the skill of the makers and Jenny Tiramani (the designer for our production). It's a privilege to wear these clothes.

What is the best method to memorize your lines?

If you’ve got a good method I’d be grateful to hear it! The best method I’ve found is to understand what you’re saying and to know why you’re saying it, and then listen to the other characters.

How many days or weeks does it take you to learn your lines?

Well, it depends on the size of your part, the length of the rehearsal period and how the play is being rehearsed. I like to be off book when we work through a scene for the second time, because otherwise it becomes a bit of a millstone around your neck.

There were a few scenes that looked like they would have been hard to do on stage. Like the queen turning into a statue and her coming back to life. How would you stage that scene?

Well, thankfully I don’t have to stage it! It almost seems to stage itself in a way. In rehearsals we found that the scene is remarkably powerful without doing anything other than just having everyone on stage watch the statue. All the characters are in on the story to varying degrees – Paulina obviously knows exactly what's going on, and the audience probably have a fair idea, but other members of the Court haven’t got a clue… it's difficult to explain, but there's something magical about everybody watching the statue come alive and their reactions to that miracle.

Do you think your character really did have an affair with the Queen?

In rehearsals we joke that the real twist at end should be that everyone goes off after Act 5 scene 3, leaving Polixenes and Hermione alone together and they go into a passionate embrace! The audience would fall over with shock – ‘It's true after all!’ But that's not the case. I really don’t think they’re having an affair.

I think what happens in The Winter's Tale is actually very human: Leontes and Polixenes haven’t seen each other since they were children, when they were incredibly close (Polixenes describes them as ‘twinned lambs’). Twenty years later, they meet again and Polixenes meets the woman with whom Leontes has fallen in love with and married. It seems very human that Polixenes would be attracted to that person on some level: she's a very witty, lively character, and I think he would be enchanted by her. There are situations where you can become close to a friend's partner because you see the same things in them that your friend does – and some of the intimacy of your friendship gets projected onto the new friendship with the partner. At the same time, if you said to Polixenes, as Camillo does, ‘The King think that you ‘have touch’d his wife forbiddenly’ – he would be (and he is) appalled. With Shakespeare, I think you have to believe what characters say a lot of the time and when Camillo tells Polixenes what Leontes thinks, he's genuinely horrified: ‘O then, my best blood turn to an infected jelly, and my name be yok’d with his that did betray the Best’ (in other words, Judas). Basically he's saying ‘If that were the case, then let that be my fate, because nothing could be further from the truth.’ He tells Camillo and the audience in no uncertain terms: ‘No way have I done that’ – nor would it ever have occurred to him.

Whilst you might look at Hermione and Polixenes and see a level of intimacy (the ‘holy looks’ Leontes mentions at the end), it's not at all sexual. I think there's a huge danger in the temptation to say ‘Wouldn’t it be more interesting for an audience to think that there's something going on?’ I’m not sure it is more interesting; that suspicion casts doubt on Hermione which is unhelpful. If the final sscene is to work in that magical way that it does, there can be no doubt about the innocence of Polixenes and Hermione. Doubt about that seems to undermine the whole play and I don’t think there is any evidence that they have had an affair. It's more important that Leontes’ jealousy is seen as a sickness, a madness from which he recovers – but for which a huge price must be paid.

What do you do to ensure a performance goes well?

The main thing is to learn the lines! I don’t have any pre-performance ritual really; I’m a creature of habit and I tend to get into a routine that's different for every show – it might be something as simple as which shoe I put on first, but once I’ve done it, I like to do that particular thing in the same way before every performance. I don’t know why that is – I suppose it's because you want to the lead up for each show to be the same.

During rehearsals, did everything working out as planned?

In a way you don’t set out with a plan – it's more about discovering things as you go along.

Does each performance have a different feeling for you, or do you tend to get into the same ‘mode’ every time?

Every performance does feel different because you’ve got a different audience and it's live – things happen slightly differently. If you’re listening to each other and open to the little changes that happen naturally, then the performance will alter slightly each time.

In order to prepare for your role as Polixenes, have you developed characteristics that your role portrays?

I suppose I have, but they tend to happen naturally as a result of playing the situation. One of the great things about Shakespeare is that if you play what's on the page rather than trying to dig down into some kind of subtext, then all sorts of things happen quite naturally, in terms of the way you are as the character. Hopefully that's enhanced by costume which will set its own parameters in terms of posture and the way you move. As we’re an ‘Original Practices’ production, some of our responses and reactions to other people are influenced by Elizabethan forms of etiquette. In that respect, playing a king is very freeing because you don’t have to worry about bowing to anybody! You don’t have to take your hat off, you don’t have to bow… but on the other hand, you have to be recognisably ‘kingly’ which naturally gives you a certain confidence and assertiveness as a character.

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.

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