This is Peter's first blog entry for the 2002 production of Twlefth Night, in which he talks about performing at the Globe, rehearsal exercises and his character, Feste.
Transcript of Podcast
Performing at the Globe
This is my second season at the Globe; last year I played Oswald in King Lear. This experience is invaluable at the moment as we start rehearsals for Twelfth Night. One thing that particularly struck me last year was that the actors working in the Globe need to be very honest in the way they portray their characters. In a conventional theatre, where you can’t see the audience, it's easy to lose yourself in playing a role, but when I’m working on the Globe stage I feel like a storyteller with a responsibility to lead the audience through the play. Overplaying your character in the Globe Space is a dangerous thing to do, as the audience won’t necessarily believe it. You have to be totally truthful, both in the way you address your lines to others, and in the way you respond when they address you.
I played Feste when we took this production of Twelfth Night to Middle Temple Hall earlier this year, but the production feels totally different now. This is partly due to the setting, as we’ve moved from an Elizabethan hall to a reconstructed Elizabethan playhouse, but also because only five of the cast from Middle Temple Hall have stayed with the company for the summer. This has been very refreshing, as we are re-exploring the play and continually making new discoveries about the characters.
We’ve just been looking at Act 5 today, and did a useful exercise to help us understand the relationships between the characters. We all stood in a circle, in character, and threw a tennis ball from one character to the next. The way in which you pass the ball to someone else depends on both the nature of your character and your relationship with the recipient. So, if you had very little respect for them, you might throw the ball very hard at them, or perhaps put the ball on the ground for them to come and fetch from you. When I passed the ball to Orsino, who I wanted to impress with my gift, I polished the ball before handing it to him. This exercise was really helpful in helping us understand how the characters interact with each other before we approach the text. We have also been using improvisation to help us develop our characters. We improvised the funeral service for Olivia's brother where we had Olivia, Maria, Malvolio, Sir Toby Belch, Aguecheek, Orsino, Feste, Curio and Valentine all together to pay their respects. This improvisation created lots of useful background to the characters, especially concerning Sir Toby – why was he there, and why was he staying on after the funeral.
Feste is unique, as he feels equally at home in both Olivia's and Orsino's household. At the beginning of rehearsals, the whole company did an exercise where we all made three lists of lines from the play. The first contained what our character said about themselves, the second what they said about other people, and the third what others said about them. All we know about Feste's past is that Olivia's father enjoyed his company, and I’m trying to find out more about who Feste is and what he's been doing. When he first meets Maria in Act 1 scene 5, she says that one of the phrases he uses ("I fear no colours") originates in "the wars." She could be implying that he's simply been roughing it, or she could mean that he has been fighting as a soldier. Shakespeare and his circle were connected to the Earl of Southampton, who, in the years before Twelfth Night was written, had been fighting in Ireland. In the end, he disobeyed the queen and was only saved from hanging by the appeals of his friends in high places, but, anyway, it would make sense that Feste could have been away fighting for some time before the action of the play begins. Nevertheless, he is very independent.
Feste is a singer, a man of wit and pleasure; in many ways a total contrast to Malvolio. I think this is why he went away, as a house of mourning is no place for a fool. But he comes back because he has a great deal of affection for Olivia's household, and he fears for them should Malvolio remain in control. Still, Olivia does not rule him in any way; he does not feel he needs to tell her where he has been, nor will he plead on her behalf. In a way, Feste seems to be outside the world of the play. His final song at the end of the play is a musical soliloquy – he is informing the audience of his state of mind, and reminding them that he is not part of the world in which Olivia and Orsino's marriages are soon to take place. He is an outside observer.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as s/he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his/her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.