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We are in Edinburgh at Hopetoun House. I think Hopetoun House is the largest stately home in Scotland, and if it’s not the largest it’s a massive venue.

Transcript of Podcast

My good sweet mouse I commend me heartily to you …

We are in Edinburgh at Hopetoun House. I think Hopetoun House is the largest stately home in Scotland, and if it’s not the largest it’s a massive venue. It’s a strange place, to get here you go through a suburban estate and down a little road along the coast and suddenly you come to this grand old stately home. Apparently it used to house injured soldiers in World War Two. At the very back of the house there’s a lawn the size of Wembley stadium.

Our little stage is set on the top of this massive hill, slightly sheltered by trees. The sea is on one side and on the other is a forest walk with a fountain at its base. The scale is big for playing to, but our stage doesn’t seem inadequate. It’s peaceful here. We don’t have a big building in front of us that our voices are sounding against, as we had at Lincoln’s Inn. We do have to combat an echo from the forest if we go too big, which is sometimes absolutely beautiful, but we have to be careful that it doesn’t echo too much. In the shepherd’s scene it is lovely.

The first night here it rained. We had a really big audience and it was lovely to come into such a big space and see it filled with people. In the second half it decided to bucket with rain and that’s when all my work is. Once I hit the stage in my dress it acted like a mop - it just literally sucked up all the water from the stage. I got really drenched. But hats off to the Scottish audience they were so prepared, they put up umbrellas, pulled up hoods, and they stuck with us. We did our dress rehearsal in the rain, so we knew we could do it.

The other factor that comes into play here is the midges. They come out of nowhere when there’s wetness in the air. We have to spray ourselves with all that protector stuff. It’s quite a combination of things to combat backstage when you’re getting ready to go on.

There’s something lovely that comes with the rain, you stay true to the text. The rain creates stillness. I think it centers the text. You have to be careful though, because we’ve noticed that if the air is damp your voice flattens off very quickly in a big space. You realize that whatever the conditions you’re telling the story. That’s something you can hang on to, whatever adverse conditions you’re facing - midgy bites, rain, wind, lack of audience, lots of audience - you’ve still got the words.

Another difficulty we have is we’ve just come from Richmond, Yorkshire, where we’ve been in this doll’s house sized theatre. It is hard to go from a little box theatre to a big open space. The Saturday show helped us to make that transition and it is really nice to get back into the open air. I’ve never toured before. I find it quite strange, you are just getting into it and then you’re on the move again. Everywhere you go you’ve got first night nerves and the second night when it goes a bit flat, and then the third night you’re usually getting there, but as soon as you get it you’re off somewhere else.

The travelling is not too bad. It can be hard if you only have one day to recover and get yourself onstage. We haven’t done enough to feel the impact of it yet. It’s really nice to feel the energy of different audiences, and they are very different. The Yorkshire audience really got a lot of the humour, whereas the Edinburgh audiences are very focused and committed. They are with us the whole way. The audiences are white and middle class. There have been a lot of families at matinees, picnics with lots of young kids. There are a lot of teenagers and students in the audience as well.

Playing outdoors has really helped to enrich the play for me. Performing at Hopetoun makes me think differently about the relationship between Florizel and Perdita. When I am thinking about Florizel and marrying him behind me is this massive stately home, which could be Florizel’s palatial estate. The story in the second half of the play suits an outdoor setting, the sheep shearing and Perdita’s relationship with nature and flowers. The realism of having stars and nature all around us makes the experience more filmic in a way. You get this ‘on- set’ feeling, where it’s all there, rather than having to create it with words.

My character is altering and strengthening, she’s got more grounded. As a company we’re playing nicely, and the show is getting stronger because we’re working together as a team. I know it will shift and change throughout the summer.

Our dressing room in Hopetoun is an old converted stable, but we do all our quick changes behind the stage. We start the show with a promenade, so we come out as actors welcoming the audience, which establishes that we all know it is make believe. When you’re backstage you can be seen, getting musical instruments, picking up props, and getting ready to come on. At first I didn’t know whether that would break the make believe convention, but it works. When we’re backstage we go back to being actors and when we come on we’re playing, we’re telling someone’s story and being a character. All of us are doing lots of different things – singing, playing chimes, helping someone else. There’s a real team involvement and that’s great because you can’t be like ‘I don’t want anyone to see me’. We are a genuine touring troop of players and we’re here to tell a story.

… And so sweet mouse, farewell, and brook our long journey with patience,

Niamh McCann

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