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In this first interview, Charles Edwards talks about his familiarity with Much Ado About Nothing, having played Don Pedro in the Peter Hall production at Bath festival. Now Charles plays the role of Benedick and so he explains his need to look at the play from a very different angle.

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Time: 7 minutes, 55 seconds

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Transcript of Podcast

Paul Shuter:

Welcome to this Globe Education podcast and I’m talking to Charles Edwards about this Year’s Much Ado About Nothing. Can we start with your first experiences of Shakespeare? What did you have a school?

Charles Edwards:

At school I was very scared of Shakespeare. I could not understand it. It was mainly when I was doing A levels – it was King Lear I had to do. I was becoming much more interested in the acting of Shakespeare, I think you find at school it is often a very deskbound procedure, and therefore rather boring. But the moment you get it up on it’s feet and start playing around with it, it becomes something else. I did Hamlet at school, acted Hamlet, and I seem to remember understanding it, although I'm sure there's a lot of it that I didn't understand. But my desk bound experiences of Shakespeare were dull and rather tiresome.

PS:

You played Hamlet yourself?

CE:

I did, yes. I was 16 or 17, which was great.

PS:

Was that the first acting you had done?

CE:

No, I had done quite a lot of acting before that, but it was the first Shakespeare that I had done. I got involved with the drama gang at school, we didn't have drama on the syllabus, but there were a few of us who did plays and I was one of those.

PS:

How did you move from that, to training to become an actor? What was the route?

CE:

Well, I knew I wanted to do it. My A Levels, as I just mentioned, suffered quite badly, as a result of my constantly being in the theatre and doing plays instead of concentrating on my studies, so my grades were appalling. But at the time, I had already done some research into drama school, and I knew the grades weren't of the essence as they are for a university place, and I had already decided that I wasn't going to go to university, I was going to go to drama school. So I started auditioning, I think I did my first audition before I had even left school, when I was about 17. I was too young, but I just wanted to give it a try. I didn't get in, and then I had two years, I was going to have a year, but it was two years, before I went to Guildhall, ultimately. In those two years, I did a lot of youth theatre. I was with a company called the National Youth Music Theatre, which concentrated then on doing shows at the Edinburgh Festival and we also had a January and February slot at Sadler's Wells Theatre. So it was a bit of the Edinburgh Festival in the summer, and then that show would come to London in the New Year. It was a great experience and wonderful life. Terrific.

PS:

Moving on to Much Ado, did you have an impression of the play before the first day of rehearsal?

CE:

Well, I've done it before. I did it five or six years ago for Peter Hall at his Bath Festival, that he does every year. I played another role, I played Don Pedro and Janie Dee, who is here in All’s Well, was Beatrice, and John Gillettt was Benedick. So yes, I did have an impression. It is five or six years ago, so it is quite a long time ago. But hearing it read out again at the read through, you remember how it was said before, but obviously I was concentrating on it from a very different angle, so it feels like a new play.

PS:

And the same about the character? You will have had some impression of him from before.

CE:

Yes, but with that season with Peter Hall, there are often two plays going on simultaneously in rep, and I was in another play as well, I was in Private Lives. So my daily rehearsals would be shared out between the two rehearsal rooms. You just tend to pop in to do your bit, and then rush off to the other room. So you don't really get much of an impression about what else is going on in the rehearsal room, when you're not in it. Then, once you doing the performance, it is very busy, it's a wonderful thing to being rep, but you can't concentrate solely on one play. Of course, you get impressions of how you might like to play it, the sort of comedy you might like to do with it if you ever played it. So yes, I have had thoughts about Benedick before starting this.

PS:

Did you do any research before the start of the rehearsal process?

CE:

Yes, in so much as going through it and finding out what the words meant. (That's also how we have spent our first week, going through the text. We call it ‘translating’ it, to get the contemporary sense of what is being said.) Then a little bit of learning. I've got into the habit of doing that. It is not something I used to do, but with Shakespeare, I find it very useful to try and learn a little bit of it before starting. It is a Peter Hall dictum, he insists on all lines being learned before the rehearsals begin. As I said, it's not something I'm particularly comfortable with in certain plays, but I find that Shakespeare and things like Bernard Shaw it’s good to at least try to get a grip. I probably know about half of the play as we speak. But then you have to re-learn it in a way when you are rehearsing, but I like to have a good grip on it before beginning.

PS:

You didn't go off and study Renaissance city states?

CE:

No, I didn't do any of that. Because it is always a surprise, you get to day one and you are not sure where it is going to be set, how it's going to be set. I have not worked at the Globe before, so I'm not sure what their view on setting things other than in Shakespeare's time is. I assumed it probably would be a round about then.

PS:

Can you say a little bit about the first day? Is that a bit like the first day at school?

CE:

Yes, it always is. It is always the same feeling. The main feeling is excitement: looking forward to the whole project. Particularly this, I have to say, because I have never worked here before. It was a real thrill walking over Southwark Bridge, seeing the Globe there by the river, it was a beautiful sunny day and I just thought, “this is going to be a great summer.” Yes, there are nerves, and remembering people’s names, and all that kind of thing. It was a great first day, Dominic [Dromgoole], the Artistic Director of the Globe, gave us all a great speech. There was another show starting that day too, As You Like It started rehearsals the same day, so it was just a feeling of community, instantly. So it has been great, but those nerves are always there on the first day.

PS:

You have spent the first week sat at the table working through it? Are you nearly at the end?

CE:

We have. We are hoping to get to the end tonight, which is Friday, but we stop occasionally and have the occasional game volleyball, just to keep everyone alert and on their toes.

PS:

Can you think of a high point and a low point from the week?

CE:

High point and a low point? I was very excited about doing this play with Eve Best. I have done a reading with her before, but I have never worked opposite her before. To see her on the first day was a high point, and I am very much looking forward to it. Low point? I don't think there has been a low point, it all going terribly well so far. Ask me in a couple of weeks time.

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