Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Pre-Rehearsal

An Introduction to Colin Hurley and his character Lavatch - Colin reminisces on his first experience of Shakespeare at school and what he has now discovered about the early modern fool.

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Time: 8 minutes, 11 seconds

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Transcript of Podcast

Hayley Bartley:

My name is Hayley Bartley and these are the Adopt An Actor Podcasts for 2011. I’m here with Colin Hurley who plays Lavatch in All’s Well That Ends Well. So my first question is what was your experience of Shakespeare at school?

Colin Hurley:

My experience of Shakespeare at school? Both ends of the spectrum, I’ve got one of the awful ones where we were studying Henry V for O-Level and we sat in a room with the teacher reading through line by line and looking up the notes at the back of - I think it was the York notes - whenever there was a word we didn’t understand. It was death, absolute death. Or later, when I did Henry V I didn’t remember a single word of it. It was like I had never ever encountered the play. The other one, the magical one – everyone’s got a wonderful teacher that changes their lives. We had this great guy called Stuart Nunn and he’d do great things, like he’d make a deal with you, say, “Okay, if we agree that you really will work on English grammar for this lesson I’m gonna play you some records for another lesson.” But what he did with the Shakespeare was he said, “Look, we’re going down to the gym today.” So we left the class and went down the gym, and he put us in groups of three and he said, “You’re going to make up a little story. At some point, one of you is going to say ‘Out, vial jelly!’ and another one of you is going to say ‘Upon thine eye I set my foot.’” And that’s all he gave us. I think I was putting the empty milk bottles out or something weird and then suddenly these guys jumped on me and pulled my eyes out and said these things. He never mentioned King Lear, he never mentioned Shakespeare, it was just, “there it was”. Unfortunately, he left at the end of the term so we never got to go any further with it. You know, years later I’m like, “Hang on a minute, I know these lines, we did those in the gym.” It was the first time I’d ever committed to something performance wise, you know, without even thinking of it, and so it kind of unlocked a little door for me there.

HB:

Well, the next question is how did you first get into acting? And so that is kind of the first little step.

CH:

Alright, so I had had my little taster, Mr. Nunn had kind of done his job there. I was at a boy’s school, I wasn’t in a rugby team, I wasn’t a sports man, I wasn’t cool, I didn’t have great hair or anything like that. I was in a chess club, says it all really. And a couple of my mates who were also in the chess club said, “Oi, Hurley...” Because you always called each other by the surname, “...We’re in a play with a girl’s school up the road. Come be in it, you’ll meet girls.” It really was like that, you know. And I went, “Oh, no no, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” And then they said it again and I eventually went, “Alright then, alright.“ Met girls doing a play.

HB:

Whatever the motives are, I mean...

CH:

...Still pretty much the same. No, no Colin!

HB:

Not with Shakespeare, there’s not enough girls.

CH:

What happened was we did the school play, I showed off terribly, suddenly the rugby team was saying “Hello” cause they had been to see the school play. I only played a tiny part but showing off a lot. Met lots of girls. You know, didn’t know what to do with them once I’d met them but you know, just to be in their presence was enough then. And so I carried on doing that. Pretty much decided to be an actor then, at the age of sixteen, having never been kissed, based on one school play in which I was very bad by the way. HB: What was this play? CH: It was As You Like It. I was Le Beau and I put in a lot of extra lines because Shakespeare didn’t write him enough lines and I thought. Yes, that’s how I got into it and then you know, youth theatre, school plays, amateur dramatic societies. I went too far with it really, I lost the joy for a long time because I announced to the world that I was going to be an actor and I couldn’t stop, couldn’t go, “Do you know what, I’ve changed my mind.” I kind of painted myself into a bit of a corner, I’ve always been a bit of an idiot like that. So yeah, that’s what happened.

HB:

Okay, so if we move onto the play, what were your initial impressions of the play coming into rehearsal?

CH:

Apparently, I was in the play at drama school. I think I was Second Lord at drama school, but I’ve whipped it from my memory. I think it was a director I didn’t like or something, anyway, it’s gone. So I got this memory of this play that I wasn’t that keen on. So great to actually look at it and go, “Oh, this is quite a good story.” Reading the scenes that Lavatch is actually involved in, obviously more, I read those the most, trying to work out why he’s there. Couldn’t really get handle on it, so I thought that would become clear in rehearsals perhaps. I’ve done a lot of work over the last ten years or so on, on verse, speaking the verse and stuff. I’d forgotten just how much prose he wrote in his plays. So suddenly being confronted with that and maybe take less for granted than perhaps I would. HB: Do you have any initial impressions on your particular character? CH: Initial impressions? He doesn’t seem central to the plot. You could do a version of the play without him ever being there. There’s another character who sort of supplants the fool’s role in a way, Parolles, brilliantly witty and wonderful with his words and funny and awful and all those things and outrageous and things. You know, I’m still trying to work out where Lavatch fits in.

HB:

This often happens that they’re usurped by the other characters who are like the rogue or - The rogue is more invested in the plot and with other characters, whereas the fool’s a bit more outside of it.

CH:

Yeah, so there’s something happening in the writing really isn’t there where you go, “Hang on, why have this guy who’s outside the play?” Going way back to vice figure. “Why not have him in the play and in the story and doing these things.” And it does seem there’s a kind of a, “Oh, how do we tell Robert Armin that his services aren’t needed anymore?”

HB:

But even then, the fool was more in the play than the clown even. So Kemp and Tarlton with their jigging, that was even more outside. There’s definitely a development. Did you do any research before rehearsal?

CH:

Because of all the children I have, I have always had great intentions that I’m always going to learn my lines before we start rehearsals. And what always happens is I’m busy doing workshops here to try and bring the money in and then I’m up all night with the kids and things and turn up on the first day saying, “I’ve done it again!” I did google 45 pages of fool’s stuff which I’ve read. It’s funny isn’t it, because in a way it’d be almost better to not have read the play before you start researching. I think research is really good to kind of give you a great big field of lovely soil and stuff, but it’s always a bit disappointing when you read it all and you go “oh, wow, yes.” Like the fool character in tarot cards, it’s so interesting. And the fool as healer and shaman and all, so interesting. His anarchic role in society and questioning and all this stuff, so interesting. And then you read the lines in the play and you go “Oh, but it’s not that.”

HB:

Well, this is another problem I think, because the fool on stage is a very different character to the fool, the real fool, or the real court fool, because often, what I found, they were simple minded and not witty. Whereas Shakespeare’s fools are very witty, very language based. So how helpful is it to research the actual fools?

CH:

I think it’s a good process of elimination. There’s nothing worse than thinking, “Am I going get found out that I don’t know anything.” So it’s great to arm yourself in that way, I think. And, you know, finding out that like you mentioned, you’ve got your natural fools and your artificial fools, helps you to kind of make more informed choices. In terms of the look of him, I’d always thought, “Oh, well, you get a funny hat.” I think I asked for a red nose and big shoes when I saw the director and the designer. But now I’ve read, I’ve actually seen it in black and white, the kind of the big cosies and that, they’d be more for your sort of amateur fools. And if you’re a professional then you’d be a lot more subtle about it and be dressed as, you know, almost like a courtier or something.

HB:

Well, there’s a book on Shakespeare’s Motley [Leslie Hotson, 1952] and ‘motley’ can mean parti-coloured, but often it meant shades of the same colour which we think is green. So really, not that bright. And so just finally, how was your first day of rehearsal and what did you do on that day?

CH:

First days are great. Most of us, as a company, know each other from last season. It’s so easy then, just saying hello to all your mates. The few strangers there, you go up and you’re nice to them and try to be welcoming. We’re greeted into the space. We have coffee and biscuits, we read the play, the director John [Dove] talked a bit about his take on it. He’s very humble, very modest John, and he always sees his job as trying to get out of the way, really trying to help us, help the writer, help the story, and hope that you don’t notice any directing, which is a fantastic thing to work with.

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