In this second Interview Janie talks about the Countess' key relationship with her son Bertram and of a possible back story that brings the Countess closer to Helena.
Time: 7 minutes 19 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Okay, so what relationships in the play are important to your character?
Oh well first and foremost my son, which is the most difficult relationship because I lose control of him right at the beginning. I only have a moment to say everything I can possibly say to help him and then he’s gone and all I hear is reports back of how he’s been behaving and then it just gets worse. But you don’t see, at the end play, a discussion we’ve probably had or some sort of communication or some understanding where I think he’s learnt anyway, he’s learnt something. I mean I think the love for your son is unquestionable and I think in this case it’s very well portrayed. The mother’s love for her son knows no bounds. Whatever she might say on the outside she can’t stop the love. She can’t stop it! She says at one point, “I wash his name out of my blood, and thou art all my child - Towards Florence is he?” [III. ii]. Straight back to him, straight back. And then they talk about him, they talk about him and she’s just said, “I don’t want to know about him anymore”, but she’s then talking about him. It happens all the way through the play, the King with Helena and me with Bertram. Very much like father and mother to these children. You know, it’s a wonderful way of opening up the family dynamic actually, by making her so close to the King in the right way. My other relationships are definitely Helena, who is as if she were a daughter, but more so she’s sort of the woman that the Countess wishes she might have been. You know, she says, “Such were our faults, or then we thought them none” [I. iii]. They were faults were they? So did she think it was wrong to love somebody of the wrong status when she was little. And so I don’t know, it just occurred to me it might be that. I’m still playing with it really, it’s not settled at all. But I know that my love for Helena also grows and grows because she’s just so magical, Helena. She has this power for good, even though in the play you can see that she slightly manipulates things, I think probably for the good, but she does. She gets into bed with Bertram without him knowing, she gets pregnant by him. But we believe, as a company, and certainly because of John telling us, that deep, deep down, Helena and Bertram do love each other. And it’s only that the King decides that she may choose and then she decides – it emasculates him. He responds by being more virile and hot blooded. It really gets to him and you can understand that, I think.
I guess playing it like that is the only way for people to like Bertram.
Well that’s why I think they call it a problem play. You’ve got to somehow love this guy otherwise you can’t feel good about the ending. So you’ve got to understand him, rather like the Lucy Bailey production of the Scottish Play [Macbeth 2010] last year. Where Elliot Cowan, god he was good! You could understand him, you felt for him, you liked him, despite the awful things he did. In this play it’s not the same, in this play it’s about a young guy. He’s just a bit too young to be married off like that, you know, he’s not ready anyway. If we understand Bertram deep down, as angry as he makes us, we want him to learn, we want him at least to learn and then it’s alright, it was worth it, and that’s what Helena’s banking on too. So my relationships with those two are obviously first and foremost, but surprisingly in this play I have found that the Countess, who is of a status I guess, cannot I don’t think live, succeed in her being happy in life without Lavatch the clown. He is more than a fool who makes silly jokes and gets in the way. He totally tells her the truth, he is totally straight with her.
It’s like many other plays, it’s that clown-sovereign relationship, they’re so important.
He’s called clown, but I think he’s like her best friend. And she has to remain, as a countess would, she has to stay in that frame, but I think deep down she adores him.
I will look forward to how those parts are played, definitely.
Well we were on camera this morning because we were on stage, which was lovely for the first time. Sky Arts, well a group of guys, are filming for Shakespeare’s birthday different monologues or soliloquies by actors all over London. And I did my soliloquy for them, but they also wanted a bit more, so I suggested that Colin [Hurley], whose playing the Clown, and I would do our scene, our very, very saucy, naughty scene, before he goes off to court. And we did it. It wasn’t for a big audience, it was just for one person, the camera. It got us going, it was great, really great and lovely to be on that space. You know, I can’t wait to get out there.
Okay, so my next question is do you, or have you, thought about a back story for your character?
I’m thinking about it. I’m thinking that she did very much love her husband, but there is a possibility that she had forgone some love because the status wasn’t right, and it’s left her with a sort of worry. And so when Helena comes along and says, “Haven’t you ever felt like this? Please, if you can just imagine what I’m feeling.” And I think my Countess hears that and also sees that whatever status Helen is, she’s a good girl. She’s got a true hot love inside her and I’ve probably seen that Bertram responds very well to her, that together they make a perfect couple, I’ve probably seen that. I say to the Steward, because he says she’s in love with him, and I say, “Many likelihoods have informed me of this before, Which hung so tottering in the balance that I could neither believe nor misdoubt” [I. iii]. So I think that she has seen, certainly Helena’s love for him, and something that she brings out in him maybe. He trusts her. I’ve seen him saying things to her that shows he trusts her. He says before he leaves, “Look after my mother, make sure she’s alright.” Something is there, a trust, an intimacy between them, that he can say that to her. You might say that to a sister as well, but they are not brother and sister, they’re just not. I think there probably is some frisson between them, well there would be, and even between cousins you get that, they’re not even cousins. They’re just the right ages as well to be thinking of that [Laughing]...
...Yes, I know what you’re saying.