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"10 years ago I played Maria". Paul talks about revisiting the role and what he has learnt about her from his previous experience. He also discusses the challenges of rehearsing whilst also performing in Richard III.

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Time: 11 minutes 19 seconds

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Transcript of Podcast

Paul Chahidi:

My name is Paul Chahidi and I’m going to be playing Maria in Twelfth Night.

Hayley Bartley:

Very good! This is a good question for you: So, were you familiar with the play before?

Paul:

Yes, I was, because ten years ago I played Maria. I knew it already. I think I performed a bit of it at drama school. I’d certainly seen it a couple of times but I’m particularly familiar because, in 2002…well, in fact, in 2001, Mark Rylance and Tim Carroll asked me to play Maria at Middle Temple Hall for the 400th anniversary of the writing of the play and Middle Temple was where it was first performed. And, one of the nights we performed it was on the 400th anniversary and it was amazing. And a lot of it was candlelight and we had, you know, original oil paintings of Elizabeth I on the walls around us, so it was amazing. Then I transferred with it to the Globe. We had a few cast changes there but, yes, so I’m pretty familiar with it and I’ve seen it a few times since then as well.

Hayley:

And, so, what were your initial impressions of the play? So, perhaps, then and now, maybe…

Paul:

Well, we’ve only done two days of rehearsals, so we haven’t really gone very far with it in this rehearsal process. My…I must be careful not to repeat myself…I can remember what my thoughts were from doing it last time. I mean, I certainly have come to it this time wanting to keep an open mind and not worry too much about what I did before, but at the same time, kind of using what I think is useful and not chucking stuff out, just for the sake of doing something new. So, I guess it’s more an attitude, really; that I’m not going to make any decisions beforehand, I’m not going to try and hold on to moments that I vaguely remember from ten years ago-not that I can remember that much, to be honest! But, I do remember coming in ten years ago with a few things in my head that I felt very strongly, which is 1) that I don’t want it to be a patronising portrayal or a send-up of a woman and the other thing is, I seem to remember going through all the kind of permutations and worries and things during rehearsals last time about playing a woman. Actually, in the end, I decided that you didn’t need to worry too much about anything other than just playing it like you would any character. So by which, I mean you would go and do whatever you normally do as an actor, in terms of looking at what that character does in a scene, rehearsing it and seeing what develops with the other characters and what your character wants and how they go about getting it and it just happens to be that this character is a woman. Then the other stuff about playing a woman kind of starts to take care of itself a little bit. The costume is a huge part. The costume…I mean I will talk about this more at length as we go on, I’m sure, but the costume tells you how to move. I mean it did as a man in Richard III, Hastings and Tyrell too. You can’t slouch, it makes you move in a certain way and that’s good. Also, we will look at a bit of movement. A little bit of modulating my voice, I’m sure, but not a massive amount to be honest. I know when I last did it, each of us playing women - there are only 3 of us: me, Mark and, first off it was Eddie Redmayne in Middle Temple Hall and then Michael Brown - each of us did different things. You know, Mark played it very kabuki with a certain mask-like face and I was a bit more kind of mischievous and buxom and kind of inflecting my voice more but I kind of had a deep voice at certain points. You know, I made it a bit more sing-songy but not so deep that it’d be like “Oh I’m a man, everyone! I’m a lady!”  You know there are plenty of women with very powerful, resonant voices. You know, we were talking the other day in the rehearsal room about Zoe Wanamaker and saying what a beautiful, husky voice she’s got but it’s undoubtedly a woman’s voice but it’s quite deep. So I kind of want to probably avoid, you know, I’m open but I kind of think it worked last time, of just retaining pretty much my own voice and not going high and trying to be something that I’m not. I don’t think it needs it.

Hayley:

And so, what about Maria, then? What do we know about her as a character?

Paul:

Well, what’s interesting and probably different from most productions in this one - and it came out of being original practices - is that Maria I think is described - I mean I’d have to go back and look at it again-but I think is described as the maid, the chamber maid, the lady in waiting. It’s more helpful if you think of her as a lady in waiting, in the sense that that has resonances now of quite posh, aristocratic women who wait on the queen or someone like that. And that is exactly, historically, what this woman would have been. She would have been from an aristocratic or good, high-born household as it was seen in those days. Perhaps not as aristocratic as the countess Olivia, but she’d have had to have been from a very good family to have got that job. And so I think in a lot of productions (and it’s absolutely fine) she’s played as a kind of Barbara-Windsor-busty-serving-wench type character. And that kind of works with the mischievousness and the fact that she lays the pots and things down. But actually, in terms of what Shakespeare wrote, it’s inaccurate because she was getting towards a level with Olivia. She might have been from a slightly impoverished gentleman’s family or something but she was definitely aristocratic in some way...minor. And when we did that it suddenly started to yield up some very good things because then what happens is you find your place in that society. Then it allows you to work out what your attitude to certain people are. Particularly Malvolio, who is a steward but who, socially, would be of a lower status than Sir Toby or even Maria. But normally he’s played as a higher status than Maria. And often Maria might have a cockney accent or something. I’m not saying always, but often I’ve seen that. Whereas I think it’s, personally, more interesting if you’ve got this aristocratic lady as a lady-in-waiting and this jumped-up steward who’s non-aristocratic but somehow got quite a lot of power in the household following the death of Countess Olivia’s father and, soon afterwards, her brother. This steward is somehow rising up in the ranks and taking control and it’s a threat to us. And it’s also very useful when it feeds the anger that my character feels towards Malvolio and then leads her to hatching the plot with the letter and the box tree. I think it’s really helpful to have been able to play her with that social status. Also, the language she uses is so clever and I’m not saying you have to be aristocratic with that but there’s something very superior at times about the way she’s talking, I think. It works well, I think, within that world – if you’re doing it Elizabethan – to play it like that.

Hayley:

That’s really interesting. I think you’re so right. I’ve always seen her a certain way.

Paul:

I didn’t have a strong opinion. When I came to it 10 years ago, I didn’t come in going, “oh, she’s got to be aristocratic.” It just came out of the original practice rehearsal process. And it became clear very early on: she is not a complete commoner, as it were. She would have been from some title-ish family. That then gives you a launching pad to explore your relationships. So then it makes sense the fact that she wants to marry Sir Toby and by the end of the play she does. It’s not, therefore, outrageous for Sir Toby to be considering marrying her. Then that’s useful for her relationship with Feste and Fabian and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. She kind of is the gatekeeper. Malvolio is one gatekeeper to Olivia and this is where they clash, I think, because Maria is the other gatekeeper to her bedroom and probably is her confidant and stuff. But I think you start to play with that household-in-crisis and roles are shifting and status and power are shifting. But Malvolio, I sense, is someone who has started to gain a lot more power very recently and I think you start the play with all this happening.

Hayley:

So, just in terms of rehearsals, I guess this is slightly different to normal in that you’re performing another play at the same time. You’re also acting with people you’ve acted with before and are currently acting with. So, how does it prove to be different?

Paul:

Well, we’ve got one new person, which is Stephen Fry, and that’s marvellous. We got to meet him recently and we’ve just started. And he’s lovely. The rest of us, like you say, are all people who have worked together on Richard III. My experience of doing rep theatre here and at the Royal Shakespeare Company and other places is that once you work on a second play with the same people you get things much quicker. Everyone has a shorthand vocabulary with each other and the director as well has got used to everyone. And everyone, I think, does things without discussing it quite as much. I think you get things done quicker. I think what you’ve then got to watch is you don’t assume that the new person gets all that because you have to make sure you accommodate them and give them the space to just get used to everyone and being in the rehearsal room. I never forget how intimidating it can feel on your first week in a rehearsal room. He hides it very well if he is, but I’m sure there’s an element of feeling like the first day at school or something for Stephen. And I think we’re all being very sensitive about that too and just thinking we want to welcome him in and not be this gang that’s all got to be like “oh, who’s the new boy?”

Hayley:

So, I guess in the weeks to come, you’re literally going to be rehearsing sometimes, performing sometimes, Maria sometimes...

Paul:

Well, it’s always interesting: there’s a point where you start to learn your lines for the new play and then your start mucking up the lines on stage for the play you’re already doing because you’re thinking about the new play. But, yes, at the moment, we are literally just working through the play scene by scene. Luckily, it’s all scheduled in that we get some nights where we’re not performing – quite a few nights a week where we’re not performing Richard. So, some time to go home and learn lines and have a rest.

Hayley:

I think you’ll do it.

Paul:

I think I’ll manage.

 

 

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