In her final interview, Janet Fullerlove (Witch) talks about Macbeth in performance, from the opening night to press night and beyond.
Time: 9 minutes, 57 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Hello, I’m Ryan Nelson and these are the Globe Education podcasts for Adopt an Actor. I’m here with Janet Fullerlove, who’s playing a witch in this year’s production. And this is our last interview about what’s actually happened now that Macbeth is in performance. I guess the first place to start with is how was opening night?
It was very exciting, and very scary, because a lot of the stuff that we were doing, particularly us witches, and I think for a lot of the cast, there were changes that went in at the last minute. We really had to concentrate hard, think hard about what we were doing, and I’d got notes made that I referred to backstage. We had our scripts backstage, not for the lines but because on the stage we’d written all the different times that we we’re on and off, these sort of scenes when we were on and off and not saying anything but we’ve got to know what we’re doing when… And there’s a lot of trap work, you know, things like that. So scary and enormously thrilling because it’s the first time that you’ve got your audience there for real!
That leads quite nicely on to my next question, which is, what’s it like when the audience first comes in and sees the play, and engages with it? Is it important for you?
Oh yes, hugely important, hugely important! The Globe, it’s such a different theatre because the audience really are, do feel connected with the actors. And in particular in this production with the membrane that we’ve got, this cloth that extends from the edge of the stage, out across the groundlings where they have to put their heads through these slits and sort of appear like this Gustav Doré vision of Dante’s hell: he did a picture of people with their heads through ice and so forth, so that that’s what the groundlings become, heads in ice, they all become part of hell.
And then particularly for the witches, because we come in before the play starts, and we go under the membrane; this is our subterranean hell, this is where all the muck and nasty stuff goes on right underneath. And that’s sort of carried through as well when you think about the fact we’ve got the trapdoors in the stage, and things come out of the trapdoors during the show to indicate there is life, there’s this sludgy, nasty detritus or whatever, this life that’s going on underneath as well.
But initially we come on and we’re sort of semi-acting like stewards, in as much as we want the audience to put their heads through the slits in the membrane, but it’s been developed into far more than that. We run along under the membrane, and of course people are already in the membrane who don’t realise that we’re coming, and suddenly feel something poking them underneath the membrane, they look underneath and they see this ghoulish white face or, you know, scabby arms coming at them and filthy fingernails and they scream! Especially when we’ve got lots of schoolchildren in. We like schoolchildren because they’re good screamers, they’re not inhibited and they really scream some days, you know. And we don’t just go under the membrane, we also sort of climb up into the sort of lower gallery and try to scare all the people there, we love it.
What’s also great is that you can follow where you are by the ripple or wave of screams round the yard, you can follow your path.
Yes, yes, exactly! And Karen [Anderson], who’s our little witch, she’s perfect under the membrane because she doesn’t have to bend down, she just running around under there, and she does a lovely gag at the beginning once where we’re up on stage and pulls out a wallet and makes out that she’s pinched it from somebody and of course it gets a wonderful reaction! So it makes a massive difference having the audience there.
I mean, when we were in rehearsal Lucy was saying, “Right, now, imagine that you’re there and you’re talking to the audience and you’re getting them in…” and you just can’t sort of imagine what the audience are going to be like before the audience come in, because you react as a performer according to what you get from those members of the audience. And it’s still different every night, it’s still developing. You know, I’m sometimes, when I see a bunch, I’ve scared a load of them and they’re all screaming, I’ll sometimes pretend that they’ve scared me! And I’ll have a nice little scream at them and then I’ll turn round and laugh and I can see a whole load of people laughing at it, so we’re kind of playing games, we’re being a little bit mischievous and naughty , it’s great, it’s great fun.
It’s brilliant. And I guess also last time were talking about tech week and the changes that were made right up to dress rehearsal and opening night, but then I’m also interested to know about how the play changes in performance, I guess over previews especially but even after that.
Yes, it definitely changes during previews, and you know, people think that once you’ve opened that it stays the way it is, is very much mistaken. Enormous changes are made: not only are we performing at night but we’re rehearsing it during the day, and then performing again in the evening, so long long days again, 12 hour days until press night, and then after press night we finally got a day off, with an evening performance. But lots of changes made.
For instance, she wanted Lady Macbeth’s body to be brought on at some point, she really wanted that in. And it does kind of bring closure in a way. I was always disappointed that you never saw, it was as though she was written off. I felt cheated, I suppose, when I first read Macbeth and thought “Oh, is that it? We don’t even know how she really, or we hear about it but we don’t see it any more”. So there’s some kind of closure I think bringing in Lady Macbeth.
We drag her on in this cloth when Seyton announces to Macbeth “the queen my lord is dead”, we sort of bring her in and we throw this cloth over her and there she lies with blood on her. We sort of then haul her to the back of the stage, and at first we were leaving her lying there and she just lay there till the end of the show and got up for the bow. And then it changed during preview. All the other bodies, or most of the other bodies bar the King’s body, had been taken down into the subterranean sludge below the stage level, so for instance when Banquo’s murdered, his body rolls towards the front of the stage, trapdoors open, little witches hands come up and stop his body, and we get out, Simone [Kirby, Witch and Lady Macduff] and I climb out, Karen pops out of her hole and we feed him down below the stage. The other bodies are dropped into various traps, all of them – the Macduff murders, all of those bodies are dropped below the stage so it kind of made sense that she too got dropped below the stage, and it happens at the very end, when Malcolm his making his final speech, and talks about Macbeth and his queen. And at that moment they bring her back from upstage, bring her to downstage, top of the steps, and just sort of drop her and she falls like a plank to waiting hands below, and as she drops everybody sort of goes “shhhhhhhh” like this, and the witches are there hissing, and it’s got that, and she too sinks into the subterranean hell.
I guess the last question then to really ask is how you found press night, and whether that brings a different dynamic, and how you cope with either any pressure, or do you try to avoid that sense it’s a different night? JF: I think it’s sort of builds up to press night through previews, and it gives you a bit of, not closure, but it gives you a point of going “Okay, we got to the point now, this is the one where they’re going to judge us, obviously”. And it’s not just that press night, they come in from then, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, there were all sorts of press in. But I don’t think we give any less or more of a performance that night or any other night, it’s always the same – you put as much as you can into it. What’s nice is from then on you just sort of, I don’t know, it’s not just the same after that, because it still continues to change.
But it’s very exciting, you know; you know the press are in, people’s agents are in, and so you’re being seen by people that you need to be seen by, in a way, in the business, and there’s this nervousness about what the reviews are going to say, and a lot of people in the cast, I was surprised how many go “I don’t read the reviews”.
I was going to ask you actually, do you read the reviews, do you have a policy on that?
Yeah, I do. I read the reviews and I think… I try not to let them bother me one way or another, so that if they are fantastic you’ve just got to try and not get too big-headed with it all, I suppose. And if they’re not good then you try not to let them bother you too much, because after all it is only one person’s opinion. However there are some people’s opinion that I value, and some critics that you think “Well, let’s hope we get a decent review there”, and you know, we got quite well reviewed I think, so we were quite pleased.
When you asked me earlier about how the production changes and develops, after press night things changed, and only last week Lucy came in and said “The witches have gone to a new level of evilness.” So we feel that we’ve become even more consummately evil as the witches! We’re scaring people. We had 27 people on one show either faint or throw up or pass out or come out because of what was going on. And it wasn’t just the heat.
So the last question then is, now that you’re coming close to the end of the run here, would you come back to the Globe, and are there any parts that you would particularly love to play?
Oh gosh! Now, I don’t know which parts I’d particularly love to play, I can’t really answer that, but, would I like to come back? Oh yes! Oh please! Yes please! It’s just my kind of space, really. I really have felt very much at home here, and it just seems to be a really good sort of family feel to it, not just our cast, but as we’ve gone on now Henry VIII is playing and Henry IV is in tech week, and so it’s not just our company of actors that are around, and I’ve got on with all of our company, I think they’re wonderful, we’re lucky we’ve got on very well, but it’s nice to have the other actors knocking around, there’s this wonderful family feel to the Globe, and I don’t think there’s another venue quite like it, well, I’m sure there isn’t. So to come back here, yes, parts, well, any he’ll throw my way, any crumb.
Well thank you so much for the time you’ve given over these weeks. It’s really appreciated.
It’s a pleasure. Very flattered to have been asked.
Thank you very much.