"The whole Malvolio story is set into motion by Maria...and she does it so brilliantly!" Paul talks about Maria's key relationships, including her feelings towards Malvolio. Paul reveals how it is Maria's status within the household which really shapes her character.
Time: 8 minutes 20 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
So, Twelfth Night: what have you been doing in rehearsals so far then, since we last spoke?
Well, we have been going through the play, as is Tim’s way. Often we will come into the room and muck around with a scene so, you know, for instance, we may do a whole scene singing it. We’ve done that, we’ve done it intoned, you know, where you say every word with the same length, at the same tone. And it’s trying to – well it partly gives you time to, kind of, go through lines, but it gets your voice warmed up. And then we’ve done exercises where we’ve thrown balls at each other whilst speaking it. Danced the scene so when you speak you do a dance, and even if you’re not speaking you might dance in response to what people are saying. We’ve done it very fast, where people have overlapped; so you would overlap the last word or so of the previous speech. And then eventually we get up and do it more or less as normal. And because I think most of us have now worked on Richard – apart from Stephen who is coming to play Malvolio – everyone has worked together for months on Richard. We all have this shared vocabulary and it’s very quick; it feels like we’re making progress very quickly in rehearsals, much more so perhaps than we did at the beginning of rehearsals for Richard III. I think people know each other, and know what they mean, and know what Tim means when he wants something. And, on the whole, there is a lot of freedom again to stage it yourself almost as actors, because we now know as a group the principles of, kind of, using the diagonals, using the space. We’ve been using it for real in Richard III and we know that we can, kind of, play around with that and adjust to each other. But it’s been very interesting coming back to these big scenes like Act 5 Scene 1 – it’s basically the whole act, its one act – and it’s a massive scene, it’s got everyone on stage – so, you know, that‘s 13 people! – so, Tim has just immediately gone “look, we’re just going to give it a rough shape, you can dispense with some of this later, but I think we need it for now”, and you do need a bit of that. And that’s interesting because it’s been quite different from what he’s done for most of Richard III, but having said that, you know, I think we are coming into a revival of a production and it’s striking that balance between allowing everyone, even people like me who have been in it before 10 years ago, to rediscover and reinvent things, and jettison what we did before. But also holding, not chucking out, not jettisoning everything for the sake of it. There are some things that just work really well and allow you a, kind of, framework on which to hang your performance. And sometimes that’s to do with blocking and staging. And the same goes for some other scenes, some things have not changed so you just have to adjust to that. We’ve just been doing the Box Tree scene, you know, there’s still the Box Tree that we used 10 years ago, this very compact little thing, and it’s still the three grown men crammed into it, with holes at various parts of this octagonal little turret. It’s been quite, sort of, laborious and painstaking and technical, working out when they pop their heads out and when they pop it back in; when they make a noise; when Malvolio turns round and almost sees them and doesn’t, you know, with the letter. So we’ve been looking at those kinds of things, but it does feel like we’re blocking a lot more formally than we did in Richard III.
And so, which relationships are important to your character and why?
Right, so, I think you’ve got to, kind of, look at the domestic, the household setup. I mean, that is very important, and status within that. So, within the play the most high status person is the Duke, Orsino, but then the next, not that far behind – the Duke is like a King in this scenario, in Illyria. I think he’s the highest ranking person in that country. Now within the household, I’d say it goes: Olivia, then Toby, her uncle, and then Maria. So the next person after Olivia who is important to me is Toby, well Toby’s probably the most important; at the end of the play they get married. And socially, Toby is of a higher status, but they are both gentry and it’s opened up lots of possibilities for me in performance, that she is higher status. Mainly, which I’m coming to, because socially she is higher in status than Malvolio, but Malvolio is grown in power, in status within the household, because he is a steward and because Olivia’s father and brother – so the father died, within a year the brother died, who would have been the heir and become the count, and she is suddenly the head of the household, which is not in the plan. You start the play with this woman who is in massive mourning, massive grief, she’s lost her brother and her father within a year, massive body blows to her. And the sense you get of what’s going on in the household is that Malvolio’s power has suddenly come to the fore, it’s just increasing, and it’s partly because she’s in grief and someone needed to take control of the household. And I think the play starts with a lot of tension for everyone: for Olivia because of her grief and constantly getting pestered by the Count; the Count Orsino because he’s not getting a response and he’s madly in love with Olivia; for Malvolio because he wants to impose his puritanism through his growing power in the house and is sensing this growing power; for Maria because she’s sensing her power is waning and needs to upstart Malvolio, who is her social inferior and suddenly taking control. And the same goes for Toby, he feels the same and just wants to be able to have drinks and parties. And the same for Feste the clown when he comes back, everyone seems to have changed in the household. I mean, there is a lot of tension going on. So those, the people are: Olivia; Malvolio; Toby; to some extent, Andrew; and to some extent, Fabian. I have a little contact with Viola/Cesario, but that’s not quite so important. But it’s really those characters…
Like household politics.
Household politics, they are the main driving force. Let’s not forget that the whole Malvolio story is set into motion by Maria, deciding to come up with the plan to humiliate him with the letter. And she does it so brilliantly, forging the writing and drawing him in like this, kind of, expert angler with a fishing rod. She talks about the trout that must be caught with tickling. So she does it so subtly with this letter, it’s just enough to open up his imagination and to make him believe that Mistress Olivia is in love with him. So those are the characters.
Is there any scene or moment that is significant in the interpretation of Maria?
I think it’s the point, I always thought this when I did it before, it’s when Malvolio has broken up the party in the Buttery, in the middle of the night with Feste, Toby and Sir Andrew and, just before his entrance, Maria has come in trying to get them to shut up because she says, “Malvolio will come down and you’ll be in serious trouble then.” Malvolio comes in, she’s shushing them all throughout the scene and then, at the end of it, he suddenly turns, having ignored her, and says, “This is your fault, you shouldn’t have let this happen, and I’m going to tell my lady about you.” And that’s the breaking point for her where she goes “right, I’m going to get you.” And she says, “Go shake your ears”, and then she comes up with the plan. So I’ve always thought that’s the big turning point for her.