"You can't help but have a massive smile on your face." In her third interview, Bethan talks about the jig and the element of fun that it brings to the production. She also considers how her impressions of both the Fool and Cordelia have evolved.
Transcript of Podcast
So, my first question is: what have you been doing since we last spoke in rehearsals?
Since we last spoke, the last time we were getting it up on its feet for the first time, I think. We went through the entire play and then started going back again and putting in all the transitions, because there’s a lot of music and a lot of movement in this show. Then going through again, working on the scenes in more detail, rather than just working out where we’re moving and who you’re talking to. And then working out what happens next, and what character am I next, and what do I put on now, and just making those links between scenes that makes it a lot easier now that we’re running. So, we did our first complete run through yesterday, which was manic but really, really exciting. It’s just one of those shows where you’re in and out constantly, in a different character, picking up an instrument, then you’ve got to do something else, then you’ve got to grab something for somebody else, and you really have to be very alert and work out different ways of snapping back into character, especially with the servant characters as well. Thinking about that they’re people with history, and where have they come from and how did they react to it. I’m a servant in the eye gouging scene, and it’s like doing a Greek tragedy, it is so horrible. And, obviously, you have to act as a real person would react, but then also as a servant who can’t do certain things. So just working in more detail, basically, with the characters.
So how are the jig rehearsals going?
They’re great! I love them so much. Our jig is a challenge because we play our own music, so for a lot of it you’re jigging and playing at the same time. And for Matt [Romain], who plays Edgar and Cornwall, he plays the fiddle in the jig, and very intricate fiddle playing as well. And it’s incredible to watch him move and play at the same time. That’s an extra challenge, especially because you’re counting in a different beat to what you’re moving. Because I learnt to play the music I play in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, but we’re jigging in 1, 2, 3, 1, 2. You just really have to work out when to change your count. We’ll definitely get there with it, but at the moment it’s one of the funniest things ever, because it’s “just move, just move, ah, ah, jump!” But it kind of adds to the energy of it as well, it’s a great jig, because especially it’s such a sombre ending. I think that if we finished on that scene, and when we have finished on that scene and not gone into the jig, everybody’s sort of been like, “ugh, this is heavy, “ and it takes a while to shake off. But when you do the jig, within a few seconds you’ve got rid of all of that, and I think it’s a really healthy process for an actor. Especially if you’re doing shows twice a day, or you’re on tour, you’re shattered; it’s a really emotionally exhausting play. So to do this jig, that is also exhausting – don’t get me wrong – it clears everything from you. Even if you’ve messed up in the show, you’ve done a terrible performance, just the jig, you can’t help but have a massive smile upon your face. When you look at your other actors as well, and Dickon [Tyrrell, the Earl of Kent] is there with his tambourine just having the time of his life, I think it’s brilliant.
You said everybody’s playing an instrument, so how important is music in this production?
Very important. It’s so fast paced. The run we did yesterday (putting it all together) it’s really important that everything flows into the next. And when there are gaps, if we’re unsure of what we’re doing or we’re a little bit behind, the energy just falls out instantly. So the music is these moments that help support what’s happening and kind of lift it in a way. And I think, from the scenes I’ve watched, when the music starts you’re really sucked in, and then another energy comes on and you’re blown away again, and you can re-engage. Kind of like a cleansing palate between meals. But there’s also music during scenes, rather than just the transitions, that support certain elements like the Fool’s speech (“brave night to cool the courtesan”) has Matt on the accordion behind it, you’ve got the storm sounds and then the accordion comes in. So, the music just helps lift everything a little bit, and it’s wonderful when the music comes in and everyone’s doing so well, because a lot of us haven’t played the instruments we’re playing before, and everyone’s doing fantastically, and it just sounds brilliant. And obviously our composer Alex [Silverman], the stuff he’s come up with, it just creates the world, the tone of all the music – you just completely understand this pagan, earthly, English, natural world. It’s really nice.
Have your initial impressions of your characters changed or been confirmed since the start of the process?
Yeah, I think Cordelia’s definitely changed a lot. The more I go back and read the text again, and the more we do the first scene, especially, the more I realise that she’s got balls. It’s funny because it’s a fine line, I don’t want to think of her as stubborn, but she has got the same qualities as her father, which is why she feels that she has to speak out. And also that she’s not really afraid to speak out either. I think it’s very difficult to do. But she’s not apologetic, she’s never apologetic. She never says “I’m really sorry but I can’t do that,” she just says “I can’t do it.” And I think that that’s something I definitely didn’t realise initially and that I found kind of hard to play, because I feel as though it’s just a difficult quality for me to understand, because people who have that – and I’ve got friends who have that quality as well and I admire it and I think it’s incredible – it’s something that I don’t have really, I’m quite apologetic. So, just to drive through the line and not apologise and not colour is difficult for me, but when I do it is so incredibly useful. And for the scenes as well, and what it does for me as an actor, it just immediately sets me down in Cordelia’s body rather than flittering around it. And she’s just so driven and so straight, and especially when she comes back, she knows exactly what she wants, she says what she needs to say. And just thinking of that as a quality that real people do have, rather than thinking of it as a female stereotype in a Shakespeare play – the warrior queen who just says what she says and does what she does – that actually those are real qualities and that I can make them real qualities. I think that I struggled with that initially, thinking that if someone is that brutally honest and that straight, that it sort of meant that they weren’t realistic, that they were a stereotype, but actually not true at all. And I found that more and more in the playing of it. So, I think that’s something I realised about her and that I like about her, as well.
And the Fool, as well. I think I said last time, that I’m thinking more about the relationship with Lear and the Fool, and that it’s this very supportive relationship. The Fool spends so much time in this play stood on the sidelines just watching Lear deteriorate, just thinking: I’m not it the position to say anything, I can’t do anything in this scene, I just have to pick up the pieces afterwards. And how hard that job is as well, and how hard I have to work to try to achieve it. And I’m not sure he ever achieves it. But just remembering that he’s constantly trying to affect Lear, the most important thing is: “just realise what you’re doing, understand what you’re doing, and just have some sense.” I guess with both the characters (especially the fool) that he’s much less whimsical than I thought he was. That everything is to affect Lear and to make a point and everything is about Lear and trying to change the situation, but the only words he has to do it are funny ones. There were things I was starting to realise, but now I’m acting it and embodying it, it’s confirmed and settled and I can now start thinking of them as real people who have those qualities, rather than an actor who knows they have to portray those qualities.
What have been the highs and lows of the past few weeks of rehearsal?
It’s all been great, really. Obviously there have been lows. I suppose the lows are that it has been exhausting, but in a really thrilling way, because there’s so much to do and so much to take on. As an actor I constantly feel like I’m playing catch-up because I like to do so much work when I get home, and just feeling that I’m doing so much in rehearsal rooms, giving so much energy, that you get home and want to go through the text and do all this and you get so far and you’re like “I can’t! I just want to sleep.” But in a way that I love, so it’s not really a low. In the rehearsal rooms we’re learning so much, achieving so much as well, I’m learning so much of all the other actors that actually homework is necessary. So, looking over lines, drilling lines, I like to go home and read the play again. But I don’t have to worry when I get home because most of the stuff I learn is in the room when I’m on my feet, rather than going home and thinking it over in my head.
It’s mainly highs, Jigging, love jigging, concertina playing – really fun!