Shakespeare's Globe

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In her first rehearsal diary, Sarah Woodward [Mistress Ford] talks about her experience of Shakespeare at school, her previous work at the Globe, and what it's like coming back to Merry Wives after two years.

Transcript of Podcast

In her first rehearsal diary, Sarah Woodward [Mistress Ford] talks about her experience of Shakespeare at school, her previous work at the Globe, and what it's like coming back to Merry Wives after two years.

Experience of Shakespeare at school

I don’t remember learning much at all about Shakespeare at all at my school. We had some very good English teachers but my experiences didn’t inspire me at all. All my family are actors, and although I rebelled against that right up till after my O levels, towards the end of secondary school, it became clear that that’s what I wanted to do. So it wasn’t until drama school, and my first job with the Royal Shakespeare Company, that I became inspired by Shakespeare. I left drama school and went to the RSC when I was about 21 and spent the next 2 years fully immersed in Shakespeare and that’s when I really grew to love it and understand him as well. So I came to love Shakespeare quite late, after I knew I wanted to be an actress.

Previous work at the Globe

The first time I ever came to the Globe was a year before I actually worked here. Mmy husband was working here and I remember watching Richard II and absolutely adoring the place, having been told a lot about it but never having experienced it. After that show I remember thinking I would love to work here, to get the opportunity. And then one year later I came in for a meeting to do an all female version of Much Ado About Nothing; a year before they had done their all-male version of Twelfth Night (which was hugely successful) and that was to redress the balance.

I was very excited about the possibility of working at the Globe but I think what added to that first experience was that extra special experience of playing a man (I played Dogberry, who is a very comical policeman). Because most of the time I will spend my career wearing pretty frocks, dancing around and being feminine, being dressed up as a boy in doublet and hose was completely liberating.

Two years later I did The Comedy of Errors which Chris Luscombe, the director of Merry Wives, also directed. We had a wonderful time, it was a very hot summer, and we were doing the play in Carry On style. And it’s such a really friendly place to be working at the Globe as well, so I’m glad to be back for Merry Wives.

The Merry Wives of Windsor

I remember seeing a production of it at Stratford quite a long time ago and loving it, but I don’t remember hearing about another production for years after that. So when I came to the role back in 2008, I thought “Well, this is amazing. This is a play about two middle aged women!”And I think it’s absolutely hilarious. You’ve got the character of Falstaff, who is universally loved. He’s a great fun character, but also two middle aged wives – I think it’s quite refreshing to see people of that sort of age on stage, rather than the very young and the very old.

The play is very much a romp, a farce, a sitcom. It’s very warm and cozy and no-one gets killed – it’s all a bit of fun and nonsense. When we did it the first time round we weren’t really sure how it would be seen as it is not a hugely famous play but it was incredibly well received, we had great fun as a company and now we’re doing it again two years later with more or less exactly the same company (bar a couple of people) and it really is incredible to be able to revisit something that was great fun to do and a success. I can’t wait to do it again!

Approaching a revival

There are often times when you will do a play in rep with other plays and you might come back to it after a month to do a bit more touring but I have never had a 2 year gap, and in those 2 years we never really knew that it was definitely going to happen again. So it is a very strange place to be at the moment.

But in the two years, although you remember certain things, most of the script has disappeared, because one’s brain simply cannot take in too many plays and unless it’s something that you absolutely know that you are coming back to do it, your brain will let go of the lines, the words and the moves. So thinking about it again, I can sort of plot where I am on the stage but I don’t necessarily remember any of the lines.

Today for instance we have been in rehearsal doing one of the main scenes, the buckbasket scene, and Serena and I couldn’t remember any of the gags that we had done. Chris [Luscombe], the director, kept saying “No, at this point you were doing this, that and this”. Of course he’s got the DVD from the archives that he’s watching so he can see where we are and what we’re doing. So there are whole sections of it that have completely gone from my head, but having said that, half an hour after you’ve done a scene, you come back to do it and it all clicks back into place in a very strange way!

First day of rehearsals

In the build up to the first day, lots of us were texting each other and talking saying “I can’t wait” and “Three days to go!”, and then we all got here and there was plenty of hugging of everybody as we all do. Then we sat down to do the read-through and everybody was just as nervous as if we hadn’t been doing it two years before. Because read-throughs are always a fright. So I got home after the first day of rehearsals absolutely shattered from the adrenaline and the nerves. So that was quite strange and I didn’t think that would feel quite so nerve wracking! It still feels a bit like a dream to everybody that we are here, doing it again and that we are going to get the chance to do it again. We know that it works and we know it’s going to be fun!

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