Shakespeare's Globe

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Ellie talks about performing Helena at the Globe; the excitment of the opening night, differing audience responses and an unfortunate costume malfunction.

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Time: 9 minutes 57 seconds

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Transcript of Podcast

Hayley Bartley:

So, now we’re going to talk about performance. How many shows in are you?

Ellie Piercy:

We’ve done it – have we done it for two weeks?

HB:

You opened on the 27th...

EP:

...of April.

HB:

But you’ve been doing it kind of in rep with Hamlet I suppose.

EP:

Yeah, so we do generally an evening then a matinee and then you have an evening off and then you do maybe a matinee-evening-matinee.

HB:

So is this your first double?

EP:

No.

HB:

Oh, you’ve done that before?

EP:

No this is maybe our third double. I completely lost track.

HB:

How do you find that?

EP:

I think you have to do one by one. If I think about doing two I feel a little bit panicked because I think, “Well I’m tired and I haven’t even done any yet.” But I think you have to do it scene by scene. You have to because otherwise you – it’s not like a film where you have to kind of know where you need to be mentally for each scene. You have to try and get there as it builds up, so one by one, in fact I’m not even aware we’re doing one this afternoon as well as this evening!

HB:

So how was the opening night?

EP:

Very exciting. We were very prepared actually for opening. Because we tech for a week, where normally you have a technical rehearsal for one or two days, we were on stage for a number of days and it just felt like – we had an extra dress rehearsal that we hadn’t intended to have as well, so we felt really ready. You know, we actually really needed to have an audience there, we had done it on our own too much I think. They were so overwhelming because...

HB:

...I was there...

EP:

... they were literally like fireworks, weren’t they?

HB:

It was such a good atmosphere. I thought it was great.

EP:

Everyone was like, “Wow! That’s so funny”, and everything. I was a bit kind of overwhelmed at the beginning, partly because my part, we’re not playing her for laughs, so you do go “Oh”. It’s hard not to measure yourself against the laughs and what’s great though, about the writing for my part, is that she is constantly dealing with something, as I think I’ve said before. It means you’re going from one scene to the next kind of not really aware of how it’s gone because by the time you’ve reached the end of the scene something else has changed and you already needed to do something else, so in that respect it was all a bit whirl-wind the first night.   

HB:

I liked the fact that Bertram got a ‘boo’. I enjoyed that greatly.

EP:

I met the guy who did the ‘boo’. He came up and said he was really into it and he was the one that booed. And whilst I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, I think I probably believe that Bertram shouldn’t be booed.

HB:

Yeah like you’ve been saying all throughout interviews, you’ve been saying, “I feel quite sorry for Bertram”, because you’re quite full on and so you can’t blame him.

EP:

Yeah, I mean I’m not trying to be too rude about the booer but really unhappy with what happened and...

HB:

Bertram dealt with it well with his sword though.

EP:

Did he? Did he have...

HB:

...He got his sword out to him.

EP:

Did he? But it was also a sign that he was very much involved in the story and it sort of overtook him, that member of the audience. It was a bit of a sort of festival atmosphere, it was a bit of a kind of panto feel from the audience that sense of ‘ooh, ahh’, you know, lots of those sorts of responses. But it was great because it is very difficult, people take it in such different ways and there are some people they are very moved by it, some people they can’t – they find it very sexist, other people find it very hard to believe, other people find it deeply funny. It’s just really different.

HB:

I like after the show people question how did they feel about it? I think it’s great.

EP:

Yeah, it really brings up a lot of questioning and I think what’s interesting, now that we are in performance, is that partly because Helena is always trying to make something happen or trying to persuade or, you know, there’s not much time to sit and spend time with the audience, kind of hanging out with them. So I’m not really aware of how we go together, I mean I’m not ignoring that they are there, but there’s not the sense of sitting and having a bit of a laugh with them or sharing very much.

HB:

Like Parolles maybe?

EP:

Yeah, or the Countess and the Clown. So I’ve not got really much concept of how it’s going in that respect, but I’m also aware that there have been no major mistakes so far. My skirt did fall off in the scene with the King on about the third night, my underskirt. My mum was in that night and I suddenly thought, “Something feels a bit odd”, and I looked down and I saw that my underskirt was poking out of the bottom of my dress. I was in front of a king and the other thing - okay, if I was the Countess I’d just have adjusted, I’d just probably take it off, but I’m in front of the King so I sort of held it with my hands. Hopefully no one saw it. And then the King says at the end, “Come and take my hand!” And I have to walk right over to the edge of the stage and I sort of walked as if I had knocked knees and just had to walk very slowly. But apart from that lines have been alright, nothing’s really gone too wrong and every night it changes and grows - and the air was very, very, cold those first few nights so that really affects your voice because you have to try and get as much resonance as possible, whereas in the heat it seems that there’s so much resonance you have to have a lot more diction. It’s very interesting, so each night and day it’s been very, very, different.          

HB:

Yeah, but what about press night? How did that go?  

EP:

Well, because we had press over about three days and because we’d done the show for a week and a half already it felt pretty normal actually. I think I also wanted to treat it as a normal night because there are lots of people there that don’t know it is press night. And the press are going to have funny opinions anyway so in a way who cares what they think. 

HB:

I think that’s great, that’s a really good attitude to have. So, do you think the play has changed throughout performance? Have any major changes been made?

EP:

I would say it’s just steadily growing. I mean it’s hard because I don’t really watch the other scenes that I’m not in partly because I’m getting changed or something else.

HB:

So for your character then, has anything changed?

EP:

I think she’s got a little bit more determined as well as – I think she’s got, not steely, but I think she’s definitely got a bit stronger in her own beliefs rather than – she is a bit more tossed around by the things that were happening and I think throughout the performance it seems that there are moments now to just to be a bit more decisive about things, whether or not the consequences of that are good or bad, but just to be a bit more gun hoe maybe and a bit more determined. And I think in a way that feels right in terms of coping with things as well as also trying to make things happen. I think that the audience allow for more of that because they are not quite so judgemental.

HB:

How are you finding the audience reaction? Apart from maybe the ‘boo’ of Bertram which we don’t like’ but it was funny.

EP:

I’ve got quite a lot of monologues in the first scene and that sort of comes a bit out of nowhere. I think it takes a long time to kind of realise what I’m about and what’s going on and it’s only really towards the end of the first half that it feels like they are sort of aware of what I’m trying to do and, I guess, how much I’m not necessarily covering things up but just going at things very instinctively and making the wrong decisions, but because the love is so overwhelming. So first you know they are - there’s lots of sort of ‘ooh’s’ and ‘ahh’s’ and ‘hums’ and you can sort of vaguely see faces watching, but at the beginning they do look a little bit unsure. I mean I’ve heard some people laugh at me and you just think, “I mustn’t really look at them” because you just don’t know what they are thinking.

HB:

But little bits are quite funny like when you’re getting upset and then the Countess - it really is quite amusing.

EP:

Yeah, those bits are fine but when you’re doing something really serious and then someone goes “he ha” and you think, “Oh, that wasn’t actually a joke.” No, I really like the laughing and I think that also there are points where people need to laugh because they are uncomfortable. I don’t know how the audience feel about Helena, I really don’t.

HB:

Yeah, because like you said, there’s not an outward reaction to her so it would be more kind of afterwards talking.

EP:

Yeah, and it’s different, boys and girls seem to have a very different reaction. I mean I’ve had some girls come and say, “Oh there was one bit and I just lost it because it reminded me of something that I’d gone through.” And you think, “Yeah that’s, hopefully, that’s the best reaction to have”. But obviously people aren’t going to really show that because it is a place of hurt or something.

HB:

Yeah, I watched and I was like, “Oh I’m really glad they got together in the end. Bertram wasn’t that bad and he did really love her.” And my boyfriend was more like, “Don’t know why she’s sticking with him. He’s just horrible.” And he just couldn’t forgive the fact of what he’d done to her. He just couldn’t forgive that. That was just too mean.

EP:

Isn’t that amazing?

HB:

Yeah.

EP:

But I do feel generally that they are following her story, but I also think if I start trying to work out whether they are or not I’ll probably get quite insecure and judgemental of myself. I had a couple of nights where, because I wasn’t getting laughs because I’m not playing the laughs I felt really rubbish, and I just think it’s such dangerous territory when you’re playing someone who’s quite emotionally exposed to start thinking like that, because you’ll immediately just have insecure feelings and that’s just connected to the fact that you’re trying to be open on stage and it’s a very vulnerable stage anyway. I mean you can see them having their reactions to you and if you look too closely you can start really wondering why they are not or why they are or, you know, so I think in a way it’s just quite important trying to stick to the story and tell the story.

HB:

Which I think you’ve done really well.

EP:

Oh, good.

HB:

Yeah, I really enjoyed it. It’s so nice just hearing about the rehearsal process and then finally getting to see it.

EP:

Well what’s amazing is when you go into that space, suddenly there’s always other things that come into play, you know. Yes, you are in front of an audience, but you can see them and they’re walking around or looking bored or whatever it is, you know. And then there’s the planes and then there’s the weather and it’s a very, very, full experience and to be able to go, “Oh this is a good night or a bad night”, there’s never really enough time to do that because there’s too many other things you have to deal with. So with two it’s trying to deal with it bit by bit.                                          

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