Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Pre-Rehearsal

In this first interview, Phil Cumbus talks about his quick transition from one Shakespeare play to another; from the role of Macbeth to Claudio. He also talks about his apprehension of the first day of rehearsal, meeting the cast and creatives and speaking his part out loud for the first time.

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Time: 13 minutes, 9 seconds

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Transcript of Podcast

Paul Shuter:

Welcome to the Globe Education pod cast. I'm talking with Philip Cumbus, who is playing Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing. Can we start by going right back to school, and how you first came across Shakespeare at school?

Phil Cumbus:

I encountered Shakespeare very, very young. My mother is an English teacher and drama teacher, and a huge Shakespeare fan and scholar. I lived in Oxfordshire, not far from Stratford. So we used to travel there a lot when I was younger – 9,10,11 – to see various productions at Stratford. I had no idea what anyone was talking about, but I loved it, and I was incredibly excited by them. I carried it with me all the way through school, and through various introductions to play and exams on Shakespeare, that were never particularly exciting, but I always carried with me the thrill of the theatre side of Shakespeare. The excitement of seeing productions and hearing the words spoken by brilliant actors. So that had massive influence on my journey to become an actor, and to embrace and love working with Shakespeare's language. So it is something that I carried with me for a long time through school and beyond.

PS:

And school didn't manage to damage that?

PC:

No, luckily, school didn't dampen that excitement, although I think it does for many. I always loved it. I loved reading it particularly. Obviously you study theoretically, and I was never particularly interested in that aspect of it, I was interested in the characters and how the characters speak and how Shakespeare could create such wonderful language and such individual language for different sorts of characters. I was very interested in that, and how it affected acting, and how the stories can be told, that sort of thing. The exam side I got through painlessly, but the practical side is what excited me

PS:

Mum would not have been very excited if you hadn't?

PC:

I think she was always very concerned to encourage her love of language and her love of Shakespeare on to me. And she did so very successfully.

PS:

When did you start to think that you might want to become an actor?

PC:

I have no idea. It is very difficult. That question comes up quite a lot as an actor. It is such a life defining moment, because you decided to give yourself over to a life of mainly unemployment and destitution. So it is a big moment in many actors’ lives, and I can't quite remember mine. I went to drama school when I was about 11. I went to a stage school called Arts Educational, where you did lots of drama and singing and things like that. So I had a huge passion for it, obviously, and a massive need to follow that through when I was young. But I don't know if I then connected that with the choice of a career. I just knew that I really enjoyed it and there was lots of school that I didn't enjoy, and lots of things that didn't really speak to me. But that did. Luckily that excitement and that love of it, that I have always associated with acting, has never left me, as with many people it does. You get older, and you learn, and other things interest you. But luckily I have continued to love it, so I made that choice without realising it.

PS:

Did you then go to drama school rather than University?

PC:

Yes, exactly. Again, from academic parents I made the slightly controversial choice of vetoing A-levels, so I did GCSEs at Arts Ed and then I went to a state college down in Oxfordshire and the did a BTEC in Performing Arts. All I was interested in was the practical side. I loved doing it. I knew I could study, I knew I had the ability, but it didn't really excite me. So I wanted to do a practical course, and I did that for two years, with the main aim of getting into drama school if I possibly could, at 18. Obviously, a lot of people go to university first and go to drama school as graduates when they are 21. The bulk of my year at RADA, which is to drama school I went to, most of them were graduates. That was where I wanted to end up, so I went about achieving that as best I could, and luckily it worked out. You think about the choices you make... and a huge amount of the enjoyment that I get from working as an actor now, is picking apart of text, a slightly academic experience I suppose. But, back then, all I wanted was practice, and being on your feet, learning the skills, and doing it and doing it and doing it. And BTEC gave me that. I did and AS-level at the same time, in Theatre Studies. It suited me down to the ground. Luckily, it has matched the way my career has gone. The BTEC was brilliant, because it gave me that fuel, it gave me the confidence to apply to drama school. It gave me the experience of having done lots plays and lots of productions, I loved it.

PS:

How long have you known you were playing this part in this production?

PC:

I found out probably about a month before it began. I was doing Macbeth. I was just doing a few rehearsals because I was taking over the part of Macbeth the Globe Education production, so I was doing that when I found out that I was playing Claudio when I came back. It was a lovely chain of events, but it was about a month I suppose before I was due to start rehearsals

PS:

When you weren't being Macbeth, did you do any preparation?

PC:

My life was Macbeth-swamped, because I had such little rehearsal time and such a huge job to do. In some ways that was a good thing. It was nice not to get bogged down in pre-preparation for a part. Although doing Macbeth taught me a wonderful thing. Because I had so little preparation, because I was taking over the part from somebody else, I had to sort of just step in. So I did a lot of rehearsals on my own for the part of Macbeth, and I loved doing it. I loved being strict with the text, going through the text, learning it on my own, analysing it, thinking about antithesis, rhythm, the iambic pentameter, and meaning and poetry. And doing all that pre-work on Macbeth taught me how valuable that is. I have tried to do that with Claudio. Before this, in previous productions, I would just turn up on the first day of rehearsal and let the five or six weeks of the rehearsal process be my work, and learn as you go. But there is something nice, about coming, having done a bit of prep on your own. You come in wielding a bit of armour that you feel confident with, so I have done a bit of that for Claudio, but not as much as I would have liked, because I simply did not have time. Luckily, here at the Globe, you have a long five or six week rehearsal process, so you do have time to do that.

PS:

Did you have an impression of Claudio at the start of the rehearsal process?

PC:

I auditioned for the part of Claudio, obviously, so when you audition for the part you study it, you read it, you come up with some ideas, things you like about character, things you find intriguing and potentially exciting to work on. And you gather these ideas, and you meet a director and talk about it. So I had some impressions of Claudio from then, which I have carried with me, and which I found very exciting. This man who, in terms of his language, in terms of his speech in the play, says very little. Who struggles to speak very often. Particularly when it comes to the ideas of love and seduction and wooing, he struggles a huge amount. He arrives on stage in that first scene, and he says even less than the character who says "I say very little". So he speaks volumes in his silence, and then employs the help of his friends. I found that intriguing. And then of course there is the famous scene in the wedding, where he spurns Hero, and shames her publicly, in front of everybody in the church. People very often don't like Claudio. They think this is a difficult character to make sense of. I was trying to work that out in my head, I find the idea of a brilliant soldier, a man who has been at war, and very successfully at war, and who has been hailed as a brilliant fighter, coming back. And talks of the idea that the thoughts of war have left his mind, and they have been replaced by something else to do with Hero. And I like this idea, the idea that this is not easy. For a man who is brilliant at being a soldier and brilliant in that realm, he suddenly thrust into a different realm, and he struggles to speak, he struggles to stay say his feelings. So it is a massive deal to him. A huge deal for Claudio to say “I think I might be in love with this woman," to his friends. They banter with him about it. It is a huge deal for him. So, therefore, I thought, that if you make that a big enough deal. If you make it such an effort for somebody to admit something, then the moment that he is embarrassed, or made to feel bad about having done that, when he hears that Hero might not be virtuous, it would make sense that he would go to the extremes the other way. He would then fully want to wreak his vengeance, to get recompense for being so utterly humiliated. So I was playing around with those ideas, which I found quite interesting. So those first impressions have been carried into rehearsal.

PS:

Obviously I mean to come back and ask you that again in five or six weeks time.

PC:

And see if I still have the same opinion?

PS:

Do you know the play very well?

PC:

I've seen the film, I've read it quite a lot, I've done scenes from it, I know the Beatrice and Benedict strand quite well, but I've never been in production, or seen the full production, so I was very much intrigued. I love that about working on plays, I love that you very often start a process like this, knowing a play on a very superficial level. Then through being in play, and through working with brilliant actors and a brilliant director and designer, and having this experience with the audience at Globe, I end up loving it. I love every single play that I have done here. The Merchant of Venice, the first play that I did here, I didn't particularly like, I don't think, when I first encountered it. Through that process, I now think it's an amazing story and an amazing play so I'm hoping the same will happen with this.

PS:

Is that a standard part of the actor's life, that you fall in love with the plays you work in?

PC:

I think so. They could be tainted by the productions that you are in. If you were in a terrible production of a play, then that will always be associated by default with those words. It will remind you of that awful feeling of being in that horrendous position as an actor or are, being forced to do something you didn’t like, being forced to work with people you didn’t get on with. Those things will taint the words. That is what Shakespeare is so good at counteracting. When we did Romeo and Juliet, people very often think of Romeo and Juliet as a three-hour long balcony scene. You have a play that is so entrenched in people's minds, and characters are so set. Part of the joy that you have at the Globe, part of the ability that you have to make it fresh, is to challenge those ideas and to challenge those preconceptions that people bring. So you can bring them alive in a way that the Globe offers. This is a wonderful position to be in, and I am hoping this will be the same with the character like Claudio. You are not looking to do things differently; you are simply looking at the play, looking at the text, looking character, and thinking, in basic terms, who is this man? Who is this character? How can the Globe bring this out? How can we show them that in this theatre? That is what I love.

PS:

What have been the highlights and the lowlight of the first week?

PC:

Highlights: I would have to say the read through. When you begin a new play there is the conflict and the difficulty and the excitement all mixed together in the first day of rehearsal. You have to come in, you don't know many people in the cast, you are feeling nervous, you feel anxious about what the day holds. You come in, and you have to do a Meet and Greet, and then you have to do the read through. That is terrifying, to sit in a massive circle with people you don't know, and to read a part. You invent all these things in your head, stupid and unhelpful paranoias about your own performance, and your own voice, and about what people are going to think. And they are all unhelpful things, because, at the end of the day, they just a bunch of people coming together to start this process. However, the play reading that we did in that room upstairs was really lovely. It was in the top room in this building [the new Sackler Studios], it is bright, it is very, very new, and we all sat in a circle. And this play, that has that lightness to it, which really came out, even on a very simple reading. It was funny, it was joyful, it was full of love, and comedy, and beautifully painted characters. That story really leapt off the page, even on a very basic reading in that room. I loved that and it made me feel very excited about the way the play is going to feel over the summer in that theatre. So that was a highlight. The low point, I suppose, was the moment leading up to the high point. The Meet and Greet. Which in the end was lovely, and everyone was very good, but, you worry about those things.

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