In this final interview, Elliot Cowan (Macbeth) talks to Adopt An Actor about opening night, how the show has developed over the run, and his plans for after the show has finished.
Time: 7 minutes, 59 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Hello I’m Ryan Nelson and these are the Globe Education podcasts for Macbeth. I’m here with Elliot Cowan, who’s playing the lead character in this year’s production, and we’re at the final interview now, which is going to talk about what’s happened now that the play is actually up in performance and has been running for a while. I guess going back to the start of the performance period then, and asking just how, in every way, was opening night?
It was great, it was a big night I think, it felt like a really big night, sort of an event: the first show of the year, Shakespeare’s birthday, St George’s Day, Macbeth not having been done here for several years, a big show, ambitious ideas, created by Lucy [Bailey, director] and the team, so the expectation was high and the atmosphere was thick. We’d had some great previews and we had some good feeling off the theatre: for the first time I really got a sense for what the Globe’s reception could be like and how it is playing out there to people you can see and that kind of communion.
But we’d had our mishaps in the previews: there were some elements where we were concerned or weakened or there were compromises, or had been. So when we opened I think part of the relief is having got through it and you’re in one piece. What’s slightly odd is that we did have a matinee that afternoon, so you are pretty tired by the time you have to do the big night, but maybe that’s a good thing, it sort of diffuses your nerves, up to a point.
It was well received on the night in terms of the audience and we had a great party afterwards, and felt there was some reward to be had. That was sort of the middle of a very tough week for me personally. I’d had a tough weekend that sort of transgressed into the week towards opening, and nothing personal – that was to do with the show. I had an accident, my leg was damaged and so I then had to compromise slightly on some of the decisions we had made previously. Then there was a sort of niggling injury, well, quite painful injury, I was carrying, and I wasn’t as versatile then or as nimble or as physical as I could be. And I suppose that was playing on my mind a bit. It’s now a lot better, but that night was obviously an apex of that experience, and Lucy and myself were quite concerned about it. But no-one knew really, so it all passed unnoticed, and we got what we got in terms of reviews. I’ve not read them but we’re doing very well now.
That’s wonderful. How much does the play change in performance? I know that previews are in some ways designed with that give to allow that to happen, but think I also often get the feeling that even beyond that it’s not a static thing in any way, that it continues to evolve. Has that happened in this production?
I think so, yes, I think there’s definitely been things where we’ve naturally modified and varied our instincts and our interpretations. There is a show there that exists strongly as an interpretation by Lucy and by us all, and I suppose that’s never really going to go too far off its axis. But I was speaking to someone just between this matinee and just now, a woman who’s now seen the show three times, and she said “Oh, it has changed, it’s changed enormously and what people are doing, and where you go, where you sort of pop up to”.
It’s more down to actually what you say and how you say it really. I mean obviously we don’t change what we say, but we do change what we mean, and we change where sometimes where there might be a direction or a reference point or a pause or there might be who you think you’re talking to. I mean certainly with Macbeth, this changes for me from time to time when I’m talking to an audience, to myself as it were, to Lady Macbeth or to one of the men or to a ghost or to a witch that I can’t see, you know. And sometimes that’s not wholly clear in what’s been written, and that changes as an interpretation as you go along.
But we’ve become very solid, and very fit, match-fit for this play, so we know how to go on there and deliver the story clearly, and I think people have said it’s got clearer and clearer and clearer, and elements of the show that seemed rushed and a little bit… not bodged together at all, but kind of hanging on by a thread when you first open then become very sound and solid and you know that that’s clearer and people should be understanding what’s going on more. But generally I think the reception has grown positively day by day, we feel like people have heard about us and they’re coming to see us because it’s meant to be a good show.
And it’s mostly sold out for the rest of the run.
Yeah, well, I’m sure Macbeth does well whatever the weather, but I think that if people know that it’s worth seeing anyway, because of what we’ve done, than yes, it will become popular.
You mentioned, talking about one of your speeches there, the phrase ‘talking to the audience’, and obviously one of the very fundamental, surface level obvious differences at the Globe is that you can see the audience. I’m wondering what impact it had on you, the audience finally coming in to the space?
Well it did, yeah, massive, it was like, you know, somebody had turned on a light, quite literally. The soliloquies then were about talking in discourse with somebody. They are internal and they’ve been symbolic of, or representational of internal thought and conflict of thought in one’s mind, a dilemma. But in this language, from our vantage point, we’ve become very psychological and psychotherapeutic about it perhaps, there’s been various influences in the twentieth century from film to Freud that means that we don’t necessarily recognise that as clearly as before, this kind of discourse that you have with yourself.
But in this case in the soliloquy Shakespeare wrote it, it seems, for a discourse between the actor, the character and the audience, and with their faces fully lit in daylight or what have you, and staring up at you, the audience become so clear to pinpoint that question. And I was immediately sort of liberated by that idea once I got into the space, that also, you know, obviously you don’t want to just deliver it all to just one person the whole time – that would be rubbish. But you’ve got to place your thoughts in different parts of the theatre to honour every audience member as best you can. And I think that that gives you space and place for landing one line against another and making that dialectic, that conflict, clearer. So it was wonderful for that reason and continues to be.
And it’s not always as clear with the sheet over people’s heads because they sometimes disappear more obviously than they would do otherwise, but I guess for a lot of the time their faces are highlighted by the contrast of the black sheet. I can see exactly what they’re doing, if they’re yawning or if they’re picking their nose or if they’re looking elsewhere or talking to one another or, when it’s at its best, they’re looking up at you as if they completely forget where they are, they’re just captivated, so it’s good.
And so you’ve only got then two more weeks left, do you have anything planned for afterwards? A well deserved break?
My brother’s asked me if I wanted to go to New York with him to help him shoot a video thing that he’s doing! But also yeah, I’ve got no work lined up other than a campaign to raise money for a show that I’m going to be directing later in the year, at a theatre which is also trying to raise money to stay open. That’s in the East End and that will be a sort of actor-directorial debut for me, and I’m just trying to raise money for that, so there’s a kind of ongoing job there, but otherwise it’s unformalised yet.
Well thank you very much for the time you’ve given to Adopt an Actor for the last couple of months – it’s been an absolutely pleasure.
Thank you, it has been for me.