Shakespeare's Globe

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Janie talks about playing the Countess of Roussillon at the Globe; the importance of employing a back story and the continued advice of the director throughout performance. Plus Janie describes in detail the beautiful costume she wears as the Countess.

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Time: 15 minutes 54 seconds

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Transcript of Podcast

Hayley Bartley:

Okay, so we’re now in performance and my first question is about the opening night, how was it?

Janie Dee:

The very first preview? I mean there’s never anything quite like the very first time, because it’s the first time that you communicate with the audience, but our first night on All’s Well That Ends Well was so wonderful. Oh God, they laughed so much, and they were with us all the way which is the most important thing. The director, John [Dove], afterwards said, “Don’t let them laugh that much ever again because you will lose it, you will lose the story, you’ll lose the connection to the real story.” So, you know, we have driven through and it is very good, the story holds and the story is the thing that makes them laugh and it makes them cry. So as long as that’s in place and drives through and doesn’t sort of sink anywhere into “oh, there used to be a laugh there.” That can happen, if a director doesn’t say, “Keep the story alive”, and he loves the laughs with the actors then what can happen is one day they get laughs in those great big holes, so quite right to advise us like that and to keep the characters alive and real so that the audience believe it and therefore believe the story and go with it and care. And that’s what the first night was like, plus this amazing energy of - I mean, somebody said to me the first night at the Globe is like no other place on earth. And I think they might be right, I just couldn’t quite believe it.

HB:

I was just impressed at how polished it was for a first night. It was pretty flawless I thought.

JD:

He had rehearsed us very well and intelligently, carefully. He never hurried anything but at the same time he had a great understanding of how to pace us, so that when we first read through, then we worked slowly and talked a lot about what we thought we were talking about and what he thought we were talking about, so we got it absolutely clear in our heads what we were wanted to say, why we wanted to say them with that meaning. And we came to sort of agreements with each other so it was very clear for everybody before we got on stage. And I think that probably was helpful for you when we did get there.    

HB:

Yeah, it definitely showed. But how about press night then? How did that compare to the first night?

JD:

Very good, I think the nips and tucks, that he’d kind of pulled us back here and let us relax in other places, they helped the story really arrive. There’s always a nervousness and an excitement to press night that I both love and dislike, but actually the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, and the excitement and the camaraderie and the feeling of a press night because we know there are people out there who also care. The critics, I know a lot of them now because I’m so old, they do care about the work in the same way that we care about it, they have the passion that we have. So when they come to see us they want us to do it well. You know the feeling that I used to have as a younger actor was, “Oh God, they are going to hate me, they are going...” you know, they don’t want to, they want to believe it like a child wants to believe it.

HB:

Yeah, exactly. You’ve had some lovely reviews. The Globe audience, you just don’t know how they’re going to react.

JD:

They seem to really appreciate lines, things that people say here as well as the way we deliver it. They love the language but they - they are all these different people from all over the world, from London, from schools, you know, they are actually a mass of all sorts of different people so they’re not one type of a person. They are very young people, very old people, foreign people, all here loving it. So why is that? I don’t know, I don’t want to know, I don’t want to analyse it. I’m just thrilled to be here. You haven’t heard laughter until you go in front of an audience. You haven’t heard anything. People are very polite and quiet in a rehearsal room and actors being actors are watching and thinking, “Would I do it like that? Is that right? Do I believe it?” They are analysing it so they can then be as good or as intricate themselves. So in a rehearsal room you don’t get the real reaction or any reaction sometimes.             

HB:

Is there anything else needed to be changed? So you’ve said that John Dove made notes on that on the first night. Is there anything else that has changed since rehearsal?

JD:

Yes and he drops in periodically and he came last night and he rang everybody this morning, just gave little tweaks here and there, absolutely brilliant. And we’re having a really good show today, a really alive-show and it’s because he’s just - he still cares for it and we need that, you do need that on a show. That’s why, when you’re going to the West End with things you do ages, a week, for months, sometimes years, you have to have somebody who will keep an eye on it and if you don’t it’s very hard, you know, very hard. Hopefully actors themselves want to keep it together but it’s very hard. You need an eye, you need an eye that you can trust, looking at it.

HB:

I completely understand. And what about your performance, anything in particular that you think has changed or developed since the beginning?

JD:

It’s growing. I’m more and more French, I’m more and more the Countess who grew up in Roussillon. You asked me, originally, if I’d thought of a back story and I’m so grateful to you for having asked me that because then I really thought about it. And it is the root of my performance now so thank you for that. I don’t do it very often, I mean maybe I do it without thinking, but I had really thought about it this time. She is more full-blooded than I was and there’s much more reason behind everything she does, connected to her past as well as her present.

HB:

I think it’s good for you when the play opens, you’ve lost your husband, your son’s going straight away, so you’re thrown straight in now.

JD:

Yeah, it’s a crazy time in her life and she stays very close to God all the way through it and that, here at the Globe, is really wonderful because of the open sky above you. So when I talk to God he is really there. He’s very accessible to me I find in this space and to her therefore and to think this play’s very sure in there. I think there’s a belief in the play about faith, just her holding onto her faith, faith in people as well as faith in God.

HB:

And how do you think some of their character relationships are developing? You have Helena, you have your son, you have the fool.

JD:

Well the fool is – we’ve always got on very well from the moment we started rehearsals which is great and it’s such a blessing because we need to have had - I used to say to him, “I think we’ve had a relationship or something, there’s something here. You’re so rude to me and I’m so rude back. I think we know each other, I think you’re more than a fool, I think you’re a real person as well, not just a guy with the bells on.” And he loved that and we’ve worked like that. We’ve worked with a kind of profound relationship so when it gets hard he’s absolutely there. He’s a great friend as well as this brilliant person to be naughty with. He helps her through, I mean otherwise she’d be sitting crying or worrying herself sick, but he just always gives her a wink and a nudge and flirts a bit and it just makes her feel good again. Not like an old widow, which she’s not really. She wouldn’t have been, in those days, of course they died earlier in those days so I’m absolutely perfectly placed to play this part. But I’ve heard that people said I’m too young but I’m actually not, I’m absolutely the right place for her. It doesn’t mean to say either that in those days you would feel at the age of 48, “I don’t want to have a relationship anymore”. And then the King now, he’s given me rather nice looks at the end of the play, and I think, “Yeah, well maybe you’ll end up being my husband, who knows”, it might. So we get on very well and we have this sort of growing communication at the end of this play. And my son and I – well, I have a boy and so I rely on my own feelings as a mother to guide me with Bertram and that works for me. Whatever he’s done, I get cross with him, I say he’s never going to be part of my life again, but of course he’s my boy.

HB:

I remember the lines you were saying when you found out he’s left Helena to go out to war. And I remember you were saying about how you changed the subject but then you were going back to him like, “Oh I don’t care about him...but I do.” I thought that was really lovely. I remember you talking about it, she’s trying to hide it but she cares so much.

JD:

She does really care about them both. I mean, I think Gerard de Narbon is now a fully fleshed character in my mind. I knew him, his wife died when she gave birth to Helena (this is my back story you know) and he became a great friend and helped me when I was – I think I’ve lost a couple as well since Bertram. So Bertram’s even more precious than he would be anyway, he’s the only one that survived. And I think she probably had a bit of a twinkle with Gerard de Narbon because he was probably around a bit more than her gorgeous husband. I mean her husband was obviously somebody that she just really wanted and really loved, but he wants to fight, he wants to be a soldier and do all that stuff that they want to do. That’s part of being a man, a boy, male.

HB:

Definitely. And with Helena as well, I thought there were some really lovely moments where, after she’s crying and you stop her from crying and - just the parts about you wanting to be her mother, really nice. I think they went down really well as well with the audience there.

JD:

Yes, they really get it which is great. They just get it and I get it. I feel we’re not speaking a language that you can’t understand at all. I never feel it. I understand what I’m saying, everybody in the play understands what they’re saying.

HB:

It’s not one of the more well-known comedies but we just came out thinking, “God, isn’t that a good play!”

JD:

It is a good play.

HB:

I forgot how good that was.

JD:

There’s a wonderful thing setting in – I mean I love Parolles. I know I say he’s a “Tainted fellow full of wickedness”, but I think he’s so clever. He’s as daring as the fool, as Lavatch my clown, my friend. He’s as daring. I don’t have any scenes with him but I’m sure before he’s gone I’ve heard him talking to him and I probably thought he’s rather wonderful. I think she thinks he’s rather wonderful, but on the wicked side of wonderful, dangerous side of wonderful. I blame him for Bertram’s misbehaviour, of course I’m completely wrong, it’s not Parolles’ fault, it’s actually my fault, Helena’s fault, the King’s fault, his own fault. A lot of things have gone wayward since I sent her off to go and cure the King, hopefully and then Bertram will feel, you know, everything will work out. I mean I don’t know what I think I’m doing really, I just see her love for my son and it’s pure and it’s what I know is right and Maudlin, this daughter of Lefeu – I always felt in rehearsals a great antipathy towards him, not the excellent Michael at all, but I just sort of felt a bit off with him and Michael stopped one day and he said, “I seem to be getting some sort of antipathy from the Countess.” We didn’t know each other very well and he said, “I’m not sure why.” And I said, “I’m afraid”, I said, “I’m not sure why either, Michael, but I can feel it.” And now I know why it is, because he just talks and talks, he is a bore. He’s brilliant on the stage, he’s absolutely hysterical, but the Countess finds him a bore. He says things that she thinks, “What are you talking about, you fool?” She doesn’t like him and I think the thought of Maudlin being his wife, I mean the name’s enough to tell you, not a good choice is it? And then Maudlin has to come back into the play because Helena’s dead, it’s all my fault. I think John directed me very well here, I said, “I don’t really know what I’m saying and this seems just more and more emotional.” He said, “No. It can’t just be “Oh woe is me”, he said, “It’s got to be ‘it was my fault I shouldn’t have done it’.” I don’t know what I’m doing, I’ve lost confidence in myself. Yes Maudlin, let’s get back to Maudlin. You think it’s best because I don’t know anymore and I should never have interfered but you wouldn’t have known that without John Dove to tell you. If you haven’t got the right person in the driving seat it could go wrong and that’s why I guess they call it a ‘problem play’. You have to have somebody there who will really be honest about human nature, you know, and he pulls up the reality of it. He said to me, “You’re like the Queen. You don’t see her sobbing and wiping her eyes ever.” Which, you know, I have that moment but nobody’s meant to be there at that point.

HB:

Yeah, it’s all public.

JD:

With public situations, she deals with everything and whatever’s going on inside, it’s got to be covered up. I think probably the Countess quietly wasn’t right when she married her husband, the Count, because she says, “Even so it was with me when I was young”. And I don’t think she just means I was madly in love. I think she means, “Well, I wasn’t the right place either”, but it’s spoken in this play that my husband didn’t mind about status, he was friends with everyone, he believed everybody was equal. I think Shakespeare had some politics going on as well, don’t you? Messages of democracy through the play.  

HB:

Definitely. I just want to move on to the set and the costume because seeing as you are in your lovely costume – that’s what I wanted to talk about a bit because now finally you have your costume. Everything’s come together from the very beginning with the box set and the costume fittings it’s now all one big thing. I love the costume how you have different – what do you call it underneath there?

JD:

Well it’s a dress and then you have the sort of over coat which is made of velvet, silk-velvet, just after Elizabethan, but the Puff sleeves going into the straight in the dress and this huge collar that surrounds – I must say when I put it on I thought, “Well, the costume does a lot for me. I can’t be human inside because the costume does it.” It’s made of the finest material and with the finest seamstress working on it and the designer Michael Taylor and - the choice you know the choice of fabrics and trimming - this gold trimming on the black velvet, I thought, “You don’t need that as well”, and they said, “Well we’ll try it and then we’ll take it off if it doesn’t look right”. Of course there it is and it’s fine, it’s subtle but it’s just beautifully finished and it’s true to what they would have worn over, evidently. This is the black to keep the mourning of my husband alive and of course eventually I’ll go right back into real black and everything because I believe that Helena is gone.

HB:

Yeah, it’s a really good design how you can change, yeah.

JD:

It’s great, so every under dress is made of a sort of silk with embroidered – this one’s more of an autumnal rust, isn’t it, colour? With a silver brade of flowers all over it and little white lace cuffs. And then I have another one which is cream with flowers embroidered very beautifully all over it, quite large. And then the other one is just black again with flowers embroidered on it that you can hardly see, but they are there. It’s just gorgeous textures you know.

HB:

It’s really lovely, the whole set was lovely. Quite simplistic.

JD:

Yes, I mean we have to remember that in those days they were still darning everything and weaving everything by hand, so they must have had quite a lot of people around doing that. I mean I don’t wear much jewellery and, yeah, I don’t go mad. I mean because she has come from there and she understands Helena so well. She likes the earth, we talked about that.         

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