This bulletin was composed with questions sent in by the schools that adopted Tom Burke.
Transcript of Podcast
This bulletin was composed with questions sent in by the schools that adopted Tom Burke.
What do you think are the most difficult aspects of Romeo?
I think his speed is the most difficult aspect of his character – the speed at which he reaches decisions is just amazing. He makes decisions very, very quickly compared to somebody like Hamlet. It's funny that in some ways the audience are one step ahead of him, because they know when he's making mistakes, but in some ways he's ahead of them – his decisiveness has a thrust that carries people along. Well, that's what I think… I don’t really know how people view the play. My friend came to see it the other day – she's a very good director – and she said there are two ways you could do the play: either everything seems rational or everything seems irrational. The audience either goes ‘Don’t do that; that's going to mess everything up’ or they agree ‘That's what I’d do.’ Similarly, the audience could either see Romeo as being slightly silly and immature in that he doesn’t think enough, or they agree that his actions are driven by the strength of his feeling: ‘Yes, that's what people do when they’re in love.’ I think that choice is also quite difficult to negotiate.
What have you enjoyed most about this production?
There's an amazing atmosphere in this theatre; that's something that I enjoy very much. But it's also a very strong atmosphere that you have to be able to control, to a certain extent. For a while it was like the atmosphere was turning clockwise, and what the play is trying to do, the inner voice of the play, was almost spinning the other way. The audiences here seemed ready to enjoy the comedy of the scenes and at first I wasn’t sure how comfortably that sat with the more tragic aspects of the play. Now I feel we’ve really got a harness on the place, which we didn’t have at first. It was very hard to pull in focus at the end when it needed to be pulled in. Now we can enjoy the strength of the connection with the audience in relation to both the comedy and the tragedy of the play. I feel that the atmosphere of the place and the play are, if not spinning in the same way, then spinning in different ways with a kind of harmony. Reaching that point has been great: once you get there the Globe is a wonderful place to play.
What first interested you in acting?
When I was younger, I wanted to do lots of different jobs. Every job I came across looked interesting, each one was a different world… what would life be like for somebody owning a shop, or for a writer? I was interested in people just doing this or that. I wanted to see what all those different things were like and I suppose I felt that acting was a great way to try out lots of different options.
What is it like to act on the Globe Stage?
The atmosphere is wonderful, but it's really important to get used to the space and for a while I wasn’t able to do that. It is just so different from any other theatre I’ve worked in previously. Everyone can see each other and the audience are so close. I feel I’m getting used to it now. What's hard is to know quite how to interact with the audience. I’ve realised that it's not really about acknowledging that they are there, it's more to do with not pretending that they’re not there. At first I tried really playing lines directly to them then I tried not playing stuff to them at all. Now I’ve found a point I’m happy with that's just between the extremes! It's like saying ‘Okay, you’re there.’ That's playing the complete truth: we are in a theatre and there is an audience, but this action is still happening.
Do you always enjoy the parts you play?
I always forget the hard bits. I always arrive on the first day of rehearsal thinking, ‘Wow, this is going to be fantastic!’ Then I remember ‘Well, last rehearsal I did was hellish’ … one usually has to go through a pretty hard patch to come out on top. I think it's important that you only remember the good bits though – otherwise you probably wouldn’t do it again. I do usually enjoy most parts I play in the end.
How do you get into character?
I think the first thing one has to do is to identify the differences between the character and your own personality. For me, the differences with myself and Romeo were that I have lots of defence mechanisms, which most people have nowadays, and he's very open. He's not afraid of any emotion. To get into that character, I have to sort of dig underneath my own defence mechanisms and think, ‘How do I really want to react to a given situation? What do I stop happening when I try to look unconcerned about things?’ I also think that you have to find the character's tempo, and Romeo's is faster than mine. Before I go onstage, when I’m walking around backstage, I often find myself walking faster. The way I move is faster and I turn my head faster than I usually do it. I don’t really think about it in such conscious terms though: ‘I’m going to do this and this and this to get into character.’ Emotionally speaking, I don’t want to pin myself down and say ‘He is feeling this now’ because when you’re onstage you can feel many different things at any one particular point in the play.
Did you go to drama school, and if so, which one?
I did. I went to RADA. [Royal Academy of Dramatic Art]
What other productions have you done other than Romeo and Juliet?
I did a play at Hampstead called Fragile Land, and I was in a version of Hamlet which was written by Howard Barker, where I played Hamlet. It was called Gertrude, so it's more about Gertrude, but it was an amazing play and we actually opened in Elsinore Castle! I really didn’t ‘do’ Shakespeare until drama school when I played Caliban in The Tempest. That was two years ago – since then I’ve done Henry VI with a cast of actors and prisoners in Pentonville Prison, which was an extraordinary experience. This is the first professional Shakespeare play I’ve done, though: I can’t quite believe it.
What made you want to play Romeo?
I wanted to play somebody whose life was entirely focused on one thing. I think that sort of intense focus is quite rare – which is probably a good thing because it can have disastrous consequences. People usually have lots of different things going on in their lives, so if one falls away, there are other things to support you. Romeo doesn’t have that balance that often acts as a safety-catch. That interested me a lot.
If you weren’t Romeo, what other character would you like to play?
I’ve been offered the part of Mercutio in other productions of Romeo and Juliet and I didn’t do it – it was just a case of wrong place, wrong time. I remember thinking then that I would love to play Mercutio one day. Having said that, I think I’d now find it very hard to play Mercutio now – maybe that's because I can’t really imagine playing another part whilst I’m still playing Romeo. I’ve gotten very fond of this part.
Have you forgotten your lines in this production and how do you cope if you do forget?
I nearly forget the other night. I got a big laugh in the first balcony scene when Juliet went out as I threw up the mask for another kiss. I turned around and smiled then I thought ‘I really don’t know what I’m going to say next.’ Normally when that happens, I find if I just take a ‘breath of faith’ then the words come: you say to yourself ‘I’m going to breathe in, and it's going to come to me as I breathe out.’ And usually it does. The other night the lines did come, but even when the pause has only been a couple of seconds, it feels like a lifetime.
Was it a conscious decision to emphasise Romeo's immaturity and adolescence at the beginning?
No. A lot of people have said that, but I’m not really trying to play it that way, and it certainly wasn’t something Tim [Carroll, Master of Play] was looking for. He didn’t want a teen-angst Romeo, but then again, it was his idea about the dagger in the first scene [Romeo comes on in a very negative frame of mind I.1], so I don’t know… I’m aware that the part has that aspect, but I’m not really pushing it. I don’t think we’re doing it any more than is in the text.
Is it intimidating knowing that the very best is expected at the Globe?
The fact that we’re at the Globe doesn’t make the part intimidating; it's intimidating because it's a great play and because people have paid money to see it! It's no more intimidating than doing a show at a little pub theatre. At the end of the day, people have paid money and you want them to get something out of it. You want them to get a lot out of it, so you push yourself: I’m probably my own harshest critic. Mark [Rylance, Artistic Director] understands that it's a journey: it's not as if rehearsals end then you’re expected to deliver up the finished thing. Mark has played Romeo, and he told me that he used to bang his head against the wall trying to get it right. The people who run the Globe don’t pressure you: they understand that these are huge plays and huge characters, and that you can’t rush the process that results in a good performance.
How does it feel to be acting at the Globe as one of your first jobs, and to be acting with some of the best actors in the theatre scene?
I feel immensely privileged: this is my first job here and I’m playing a main part with a great cast. It's great.
How did you feel when you got the part of Romeo at the Globe?
I was just incredibly excited when I heard I got the part; I’ve wanted to play Romeo for a long time. I couldn’t quite believe that this was going to be my first professional Shakespeare production.
Does performing in the original setting help you develop the character more?
For me personally, no, not really – that's probably because I don’t know as much about the Tudor world as my own modern context. That's my main frame of reference. However, the more research one does, the better. There are lots of points in the play where I’ve instinctively wanted to try something and I’ve had to take the Tudor setting into account: for example, in my first scene with the Friar, I wanted to start dancing with him when he's telling me just before I get married to take things slowly and calmly. I did that about a week ago, and I knew I was dancing in a very modern way – it was quite a modern waltz step – and I had to go away and talk to the choreographer and ask ‘What was the Elizabethan version of that?’ To have that information at your fingertips is useful. I suppose original practices has helped develop character, in that it's made me more aware of Romeo's physicality. You have to move in a certain way in those costumes; that's probably how Romeo should move. He would take big strides, and so on. If I had been able to wear jeans and a t-shirt, I wouldn’t have had to vet my own mannerisms to the same extent. If I use too much of my own physicality in that costume, it looks wrong.
How did you become involved with the Globe?
I auditioned for last season and didn’t get in. When I came back for Romeo and Juliet, last year suddenly seemed like a preliminary audition, and I came in feeling more confident because I’d already met Tim [Carroll, Master of Play] and I knew he liked what I did. Altogether there were four auditions; in the first set I was quite nervous, but in the second set I read the balcony scene with Mark [Rylance, Artistic Director] playing Juliet and it was just such fun that I almost forgot it was an audition. I just remember coming out of it feeling so happy! The same thing happened in the last audition with Kananu [Kirimi, Juliet] – I think I had a stupid grin on my face the whole time. Partly that was because they said ‘really do the speech to us’, which you’re not always asked to do in an audition. It suddenly felt like I wasn’t trying to say ‘This is how good I am’ – I was just in a room telling a bit of a story for some people.
Do you find the costumes embarrassing or uncomfortable to wear?
Not at all; I want to wear clothes like that in real life! They just feel so right on your body. I think there are other clothes that probably look more flattering on me but I like the support it gives me and the way it holds me up. Normally I’m a terrible sloucher and when I do stand up straight I get a sort of tightness in the top of my chest, but after I’ve had one of these doublets on for a couple of hours, I feel like I’ve had an Alexander session or been to the osteopath. It's wonderful.
How do you prepare before going onstage at the Globe?
There is a fight call before every performance – we go through it for safety's sake as much as anything else - so I always rehearse the fight. I also rehearse the dance, and after that my preparation will depend on the day. On different days one needs to do different things to get ready. Some days your body feels very awake –maybe you’ve had to rush to get here and you need to do something to calm down a bit: you might lie on the floor and do some slow stretches. On other days you feel like you need to wake yourself up, so you would do some more aerobic exercise - like badminton for instance. You have to make sure that your body and your voice are warmed-up properly before each performance so that you last the run!
What advice would you give anyone who might want to act?
Once you say ‘I want to act,’ the next thing to ask yourself is ‘What sort of work do I want to do?’ The more specific your ideas about what you want to do and what makes you happy, the better. You need to have an aim and a direction. But having said that, you shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to specialise: try and see as many sides of the business as you can, then be prepared to work hard at getting to where you want to be!
What do you hope to do next?
I’m not going out for anything specific. I did a film called The Libertine that's coming out at some point in the future, but I did that before Romeo and Juliet opened. I’m thinking about doing some further training at drama school actually, because I don’t think I was really ready for this. In terms of the part, I feel quite happy where I'm at now, but I think I need to develop a stronger process: it's taken me too long to get to that place. I need a more concrete way of working that I can just go back to each time. I know I’ve gone on stage and had some bad days; that's the stuff that I should have done in rehearsal. It has been hard to find that single focus and not be repetitive. This job has been very, very fulfilling and very, very hard. It's made me think about all the things I want to develop as an actor rather than given me a specific goal in terms of the next job.
Thanks to Highams Park School, King Edward VI School, Rhydfelen School, and St. Catherine's School