“I am now naked, just covered in make-up with a prosthetic bottom.” James talks about the stages of evolution his costume went through during rehearsals and tech, as well as the final product that can now be seen in performance at the Globe.
Time: 6 minutes 46 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
You are in performances right now for The Tempest, but I wanted to ask you: what is it like to do tech week?
In a normal theatre, it’s where you get acquainted with the lighting and the costumes and things like that. But obviously, we don’t have those sorts of issues here. But it really is just you get used to the costume and you get used to the space. And in our case because we’ve got quite a large thrust, quite a circular space, there’s quite a lot built on it that we couldn’t really play with in the rehearsal room. Because of the developments that were going on at the Globe, we were working in a rehearsal room that doesn’t actually correlate to the size of the stage. So, it comes down to the amount of room that we suddenly had and started to play with all the different things. And, in my case: looking at all the costume or rather having massive problems once discovering the costume we had envisaged having didn’t materialise in a workable form. So, most of my tech was spent slowly losing confidence in the costume that I had or the bits that were being provided for me. I had a mask that should be made and fitted for my head but it didn’t move in any way and removed any facial expression and was just effectively a mask. Fortunately, I didn’t have to cut that because it was cut for me by the director and other people. And then the bodysuit that I had left never looked anything more than like a kind of Lycra bodysuit. I lost any confidence in it really becoming a useable form in the space. Things have to either look real or they have to be implied. Either the audience does the work or it has to look completely real. And anything that falls in between, anything that looks theatrical, for someone like Caliban, is a very dangerous thing to do. It’s alright for spirits and magical creatures and things like that. Magic is something we don’t really know about so that could be anything [and] that could be any form of theatricality you ask it to be. But someone like Caliban, who isn’t supernatural, who is real, has to look real. So, I slowly, kind of pointed out that I didn’t think the costume was going to work in the way that it was envisaged. So, we had a kind of massive crisis. And it’s not because anyone didn’t do their work or didn’t do their job, it just didn’t quite come off. So, we quickly had to think of something else, mainly a make-up solution. And the make-up department was amazing, fantastic. They came up with a solution that fitted the designer’s requirements, the designer’s vision in terms of keeping Caliban looking like the marble, looking like the pillars, but also something that looked more real. The shame is that in the process, I spent six weeks imagining that what had been drawn and what was on the wall was effectively like an enormous devil suit with a tail and a fairly horrific-looking red devil-type person, and that didn’t happen. So, then you have to quickly readjust. If you’re just you, covered in mud and red make-up and stuff, Caliban falls back into being something closer to a feral child or something or some damaged person and that changes the way that you approach it very rapidly. And then, you suddenly have to do different types of physicality and the animal work that I hadn’t really done because there’d been a large devil suit where it would have seemed fairly irrelevant. So, the whole thing evolved through tech week. Halfway through tech, I think we dumped that. And by the first night I think it was the first time I’d actually been in the full make-up. It’s all quite stressful. My back went a little bit at one point – I think that was just tension. And my voice went a little bit because the make-up is very cold and I effectively was naked. I am now naked, just covered in makeup with a prosthetic bottom. And if you apply clay or mud to your body it actually cools you down. I suddenly understood exactly why pigs and hippos roll around in mud because it cools your body down unbelievably as it dries. So, I was phenomenally cold and that has very bad effects on your voice. It’s very difficult to warm up properly. So, it’s been, I think, probably the most challenging three weeks in my entire career.
Well, beyond the costume, what have been some of the other challenges that you’ve approached in this production?
Nothing unusual, there are just the idiosyncratic things about this space, reacquainting yourself principally with the helicopters and the aeroplanes and things like that when you’re on a magical island . We’re okay in the comic scenes, really, because you can use them in a way that other characters in other scenes can’t quite. I started stopping and watching them as if I presumed they’re something Prospero’s dreamed up to come and torment me. And then there’s all the relationships one has with the audience and finding ways of playing with them. Because the game’s a shared game at the Globe, what you’re creating is something that’s created between the actors and the audience, and you do it together. And if you onstage ignore stuff that the audience are very aware of it breaks that trust. And the audience like it if you share their reality. If their reality involves an enormous aeroplane going over the top, sometimes it’s nice to acknowledge that, just as when it rains it’s nice to acknowledge that you know it’s raining in some way, then the audience relax, and the tension that is created by the unexpected event dissipates and everyone gets on with the story. But if you ignore it, it’s like an elephant in the room.
In tech, and I guess in previews as well, are there scenes you’re still finding difficult to unlock?
I’m very bad at this, aren’t I, because I always say ‘yeah, all of them, or none of them’. I don’t think we’ve cracked any of them. I would be appalled if I was sitting here saying ‘yes, there’s just one, we’re going to unlock that one then we’ll be there’, because that’s nonsense. The reason these plays are endlessly done is because there’s no right way of doing them. Hopefully we’ll keep finding something interesting in every single one. There are scenes that we think we’re comfortable with, we’ll go through an uncomfortable phase, we’ll find something new. But I think as a three, and I’m talking about the comic scenes now, I think we’re quite comfortable with our level of play and where we’re at. And some nights stuff doesn’t work, and sometimes nights it does, and it’s a little bit of a balancing game.
My last question is, what was it like to see the play come together as a whole, for the first time on stage?
Well the terrible thing of course is that I haven’t. The nature of this play is that it’s so split up. The court may wander around on their own, and me and the boys we walk around on our own, and really for most of the evening Prospero, Miranda, and Ferdinand are another little group, with Ariel flitting in around amongst all the scenes. We’re all quite split up by virtue of the fact that I’m under a lot of makeup and I have to keep getting it touched up, and I’ve barely seen the rest of the play. I’m having makeup put on while the beginning happens and when I come off I get it all touched up and get warm. I think as a machine we’re still finding our feet. We’ve worked a lot on stuff in isolation and then we come and play with the audience, and the audience brings something and we bring something, so there’s a lot more learning to be done here than there is in a dark theatre. So I’m quite happy where we are.