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RSS Introducing Joshua McGuire as Hamlet

Introduction to Joshua McGuire as Hamlet - In this introductory interview Josh tells me about his early experience of acting for the RSC and how his youthful interpretation of the Prince of Denmark will be a refreshing change from recent productions.

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Time: 7 minutes, 20 seconds

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Transcript of Podcast

Hayley Bartley:

Okay, so my first question is what was your experience of Shakespeare at school?

Josh McGuire:

My set texts that I studied were Macbeth and As You Like It, so I never did Hamlet, though some people did. I would have loved to do Hamlet at school, that would have been amazing. I guess I was biased because I have always been into acting so I always enjoyed it. A lot of my friends didn’t. I had a really great experience, I was lucky I had really great teachers, but at school it’s kind of different. But I love studying the text anyway, I’m a bit of a geek in that sense. I think they can blend, the study of a text in a literary context can help you loads in a performance context. I did King John at the RSC when I was 13...

HB:

...Oh wow that must have been amazing?

JM:

That was great fun. I was there for nearly a year so it was kind of more exciting than a job, I was only 13. But it was great and it’s a really little known play as well of Shakespeare’s, so I had great fun doing that. So all my Shakespeare kind of performing was extracurricular, outside of school.

HB:

Well my next question was how did you first get into acting, so very young then?

JM:

Yeah, well my sister was part of a drama group and I think I was just bored so I joined it. I stuck with it for about 10 years, the same drama group. I did the RSC at 13 and that was it really. And then I just kind of did amateur, just stuck with it. It’s kind of weird now to think that I do it as a profession, I just kind of never stopped. Some people stop and decide they want to make some actual money and do a proper job. I don’t really feel like I chose it as my job, I just feel like I carried on and never stopped. But that’s how I got into it really, my sister was into it first off.

HB:

Well I think you do have a proper job...

JM:

...Yes absolutely...

HB:

You’re an example that it can work, it’s great. So moving onto the play, what were your impressions of Hamlet coming into rehearsal?

JM:

Obviously I knew Hamlet and had seen Hamlet, there have been enough productions recently. I knew it, I’d seen it, I’d never read it. So when I got the job – I spoke with Dominic [Dromgoole] about this, the director, I’m not one of those actors whose always wanted to play Hamlet. You will get those actors whose dream it is to play Hamlet, and I can totally see why, but I wasn’t one of them and I never thought I would play it. So I guess that kind of put me in a weirdly positive position going for it, preparing for it, auditioning for it, because I didn’t have a great love for capital letters Hamlet beforehand. I approached it like any other part really, so reading it was fascinating. I read it over Christmas.

HB:

Which edition did you read?

JM:

What like the Quarto or the Folio?

HB:

Yes.

JM:

I read the RSC copy so it’s the Penguin publication. I think it’s kind of the Second Quarto, so it’s not the ‘Bad Quarto’ [First Quarto]. I was talking to someone the other day and they were saying, “So, are you doing the full Hamlet?” And I was like, “well that’s a really weird question because there isn’t really....” Every time you are putting on a production of Hamlet, you are putting on a new play essentially because you pick and choose what you want. Whether you want it to be 5 hours long – We’re trying to come in under 3 hours.

HB:

So do you have “Denmark’s a prison” [II. ii]? Because that’s the Folio line.

JM:

Yes, we have “Denmark’s a prison”, but we also have bits of the First Quarto which is much more abrupt and almost vulgar. The bit where he’s talking to his mother, talking about Claudius, he says, “A dull dead hanging look, And a hell bred eye to affright children and amaze the world” [Scene 11, Q1]. It’s kind of less poetic, but it’s more brutal.

HB:

It’s quite pacey. I quite like it for that...

JM:

...We didn’t put “Ay, there’s the point” [Q1] in instead of “that is the question” [III. i], that would raise a few eyebrows. So I think our play more than any is kind of like a mongrel version of Hamlet because it really has taken all three of them and squashed them together, cut bits and put bits in. If anyone asks me what it’s like, our Hamlet, I kind of say, “It’s a massively schizophrenic, quick, abrupt show”, which lends itself perfectly to what’s going on, not only with Hamlet, but with all the characters. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” [I. iv], it’s a mad place to be. And more than any of his plays I think it examines what it is to be an actor and to be in a play. And it acknowledges that it is a play and that’s how we’re doing it. Kind of the way I have to kind of go through it in my head is that Hamlet isn’t aware that it’s a play and everyone else kind of whirls around him and changes roles and knows there’s a facade, but Hamlet is just the through line through...

HB:

...That’s interesting...

JM:

...Yeah it is interesting. And then we kind of blur those boundaries and you know.

HB:

So what were your initial impressions of Hamlet?

JM:

Incredibly, I mean I will be stating the obvious I’m sure, but incredibly clever, incredibly in touch with his emotions, incredibly cerebral. And I think the thing about Hamlet, that I think some people forget, is that the Hamlet we see in the play is almost a different person to how everyone else knows him. He doesn’t skulk around the castle, for 23 years he’s been the life and soul of the party, you know, he would “have prov’d most royal” [V. ii]. Incredibly loving family, great times at Wittenberg...

HB:

...Yes he has friends, so clearly he’s not a loner or weird...

JM:

...Oh no, not at all. That’s why I think if you were to write a prequel, Hamlet would be this just the centre of fun. And that’s sad that you don’t see that, all you see of Hamlet is just the shell of the former self, and you never see that former self. The thing that struck me about Hamlet, and as an actor to try and get hold of, is his journey. But he’s so chaotic and changeable all the time, temperamental. I think one of the reasons why it is such a good part is because he’s so human and to try and describe Hamlet is impossible, I kind of think, because he changes all the time in the play.

HB:

And there are so many different ways of playing it. I think it’s great that you’re a young actor playing him because that’s quite refreshing recently...

JM:

Absolutely, yeah, I guess so. I’ve definitely got that on my side which is really nice.

HB:

I just want to end by asking just a little about how the play has been adapted for touring?

JM:

It’s speedier. It’s more direct. Simple yet sometimes extremely complicated, but made to look [Laughs] simple. When you do a play, but especially when you are touring or are at the Globe, you’ve got no blackouts, you haven’t got a proscenium arch, you haven’t got smoke and effects, and it’s just about making the play, and the words you say, and the way you perform it as truthful as possible. You know, you can have lights and music and stuff like that, but nothing means anything if you don’t believe a word anyone’s say. So I guess basically it’s just the massive, massive need for complete honesty. You are there to tell a story and if they don’t get the story then you’ve essentially failed.

HB:

Yes, so onwards to Margate!

JM:

Absolutely, yeah.

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