Shakespeare's Globe

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“There’s a real freshness and a boldness to the comedy, and a tone of it that was quite different to any other Shakespeare plays that I have read and anything I’d expected.”
Leah talks about first encountering the play and the debate as to what story they are telling, and the magical space of the Globe stage.

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Time: 5 minutes 57 seconds

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Transcript of Podcast

Phil Brooks:

Hello and welcome to the 2013 Adopt an Actor podcast series. My name is Phil Brooks and I’m here talking to Leah Whitaker who plays the role of Petruchio in the upcoming Globe touring production of The Taming of the Shrew.

So how familiar were you with the play?

Leah Whitaker:

Very unfamiliar actually. I’d never seen it before, I still haven’t seen it. And I really didn’t know it, apart from knowing the controversy about it and knowing obviously the problems that people have with it. And rightly so. And I think all I knew about the play was the final speech. I read it for the audition, but no I genuinely hadn’t read it, hadn’t seen it so it was quite a surprise in many ways. Encountering the play for the first time, because I’d heard so much about it but I found it was something very different. I think its problematic, in a lot of ways and I’d never encountered a play – certainly a Shakespeare play – where there’s simply so much debate about what story you’re telling and what story is being told. And all of the productions that I had read about, seemed to tell a very different story chiefly because there’s so much that is unanswered and there’s so much that’s unfinished. But also because for many natural reasons we are very uncomfortable with this play and uncomfortable with what it says so I think a lot of productions try and answer that or rationalise it, or set it in a world where we can make sense of what goes on between them. So I think its very complicated, and I haven’t even begun to work it out entirely. But that was really what I thought when I read it for the first time which is ‘Wow there’s so much more to this than we speak about. I think it’s more complicated and more subtle.

PB:

So what were your initial impressions when you first read through the play?

LW:

One how funny it was. Because I only knew about a lot of the feminist critique of the play I was expecting to read a tragedy about a battered wife. And then I first read it and was quite surprised at how much – obviously there is that part to it - but how different it was. How funny it was. How bold it was. There’s a real freshness and a boldness to the comedy. And a tone of it that was quite different to any other Shakespeare plays that I’d read and anything I‘d expected.

PB:

What about your character of Petruchio, what were your initial impressions of him?

LW:

He’s massively complicated. Obviously it’s a stretch for me being a young woman and a feminist to take on such a famous misogynist.  And so I think I just really had to look for his humanity and see him as a person first. At the moment I’m really sort of wrestling with how in control he is, and I think that he spends a lot of the play on a fault line – he’s in a very uncertain and shifting position in his life. And I think he’s quite volatile. As an actor I can’t judge him. As a person I can look at what he does, I can look at the fact he starves and deprives her of sleep and controls her in all of these ways which I naturally have problems with. But as an actor I can’t judge that, as an actor I have to find the humanity in him and find why he does what he does.

PB:

A little bit about you, have you performed Shakespeare before?

LW:

I have performed Shakespeare before. Yeah the last Shakespeare that I did was Midsummer Night’s Dream. I love Shakespeare, it’s sort of why I became an actress.

PB:

What did you play in Midsummer?

LW:

I played Hermia.

PB:

Did you enjoy it?

LW:

I did. Whenever people see that on my CV they always wonder how I could play Hermia because Hermia is meant to be short and I’m not! But I loved it, and it was outdoors aswell.

PB:

Have you performed at the Globe before?

LW:

I have never performed at the Globe before. So this is hugely exciting, we did our first work on the stage the other day and it’s quite magic actually. It’s an amazing amazing building and an amazing space to perform in and like nothing else. My experience was if you’re in a traditional pros[cenium] arch theatre behind you there’s always nothing – obviously imaginatively there’s something behind you – but behind you there’s always wings and flats and people wondering around. So you’re always reaching out, you’re reaching out to an audience and they can be very far in front of you or sort of miles back depending on the size of your theatre. But there’s something quite complete about being on the stage at the Globe because you are surrounded. And it’s different to just a theatre in the round. There’s a sense that you have to pass sound and pass ideas through you and there’s a real expanse to it.

PB:

And is this your first touring production as well?

LW:

No I’ve done thousands of touring productions – I’m a modern day travelling player! Not thousands obviously…

PB:

A good amount that you kind of-

LW:

Yeah although this will be different to any tour I’ve done. I’ve not toured outside, I’ve not toured abroad. There’s going to be a sort of robustness to the job itself.

PB:

What preparation did you do for the role before the rehearsals started?

LW:

I read the play a lot. I read about the play a lot, mainly to just sort of get a sense of where opinion has in terms of this play. I think it’s such a universal play because it speaks about gender and it speaks about the roles of men and women and what’s essentially man and what’s essentially woman. And it seems that thought has shifted about it over the years so I think I just really tried to get a handle on that. Obviously I couldn’t come up with my own theory on it too much because until we arrived in rehearsal we didn’t really know what story we were telling. And where we were placing it. So I just tried to read as much as possible.

PB:

Great thank you very much!

LW:

Pleasure!

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