Shakespeare's Globe

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"It really is a sort of rollicking romp...I think we get every bit of humour out of it that Shakespeare would have wanted us to." Simon discusses the play, the theatre, and the audience during performance.

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Time: 12 minutes 19 seconds

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Transcript of Podcast

Hayley Bartley

We are now into performance, how was the opening night and press night?

Simon Paisley Day:

I think the consensus was that we were not unprepared but underprepared for our first preview. I don’t mean that in a terribly negative way; the preview period is a period of learning but we were still shaping what we had and I guess it makes it even more exciting when you are out there thinking, “What did we do last night? We do something different tonight. We’re incorporating this, we’re cutting this bit”. And through the preview period we got stronger and stronger, and quicker and quicker, and more adept and more polished, so that by press night we had taken the sting out of it. I think we were all excited to do it, quite relieved when it was all over. I don’t think we were tense or nervous about it but it had just the right amount of adrenaline and knew that the show worked by then. It really is a sort of rollicking romp really. The audience just love it and I think we wring every bit of humour out of it that Shakespeare would have wanted us to do, and there are enough good serious bits in there too to make you think it’s not just flimsy panto. I believe that some critics have said that it’s panto in places but I would say that it’s in the spirit of what Shakespeare wanted.

Hayley:

And what about the audience reaction then, have they reacted in the ways you expected?

Simon:

Even more hysterical, really. You know, we get on a role with it and they utterly go for it. There may be some people who sit there frowning but it seems to me that the vast majority of people in that place absolutely go for it. And one thing that’s interesting is that there was a lot of discussion about that we would ditch the Induction, and Toby [Frow, Director] has done a certain version of the Induction, adapted it with Sam Adamson, to his own plan. And there was some discussion in rehearsals about whether what we were doing was right, or whether it was better to ditch the Induction and just do the main play. And what performance has taught us is that why Shakespeare did it is almost like a warm up act; the Induction just gets the audience into the spirit of a play about changing identity, and changing hats, and changing clothes, and tricks played on people, and bending people to your will, and thematically, there’s a link with the main play. But it does really feel like a splendid warm up act for the main event.

Hayley:

I just love the contrast with the modern costume and then the Elizabethan costume, and then stewards as they were and all that, I thought it was so funny…

Simon:

St John’s Ambulance man then turning up as Grumio.

Hayley:

I had spoken to you before so I knew something like this was going to go on but you do question yourself, I was like, “Ooh, has it started or maybe something has gone on.”

Simon:

Yes. I do think that’s what Toby was after, a sort of unsettling event that made the audience pull up short and go, “I don’t know what this is. Are we starting? Oh no, I’m a bit worried.” And then they go, “Oh ok, he’s just -” because you hear the Elizabethan language which is at odds with the England football strip, so you do think something’s up, but the bit before that hopefully unsettles people. Hopefully not unsettles people enough that they are going to attack me as I go through the crowd, sometimes I think some vigilante geezer is going to thump me one for misbehaving. And there have been occasions out in the Piazza where I have deliberately been trying to unsettle people and they have gone and reported me and demanded that I be removed. You know, “There’s a drunkard over there and I don’t know what he’s doing. I want him removed immediately.” And someone even asked Pearce [Quigley], who is playing Grumio and also dressed as a St John’s Ambulance man, they went up to him and said, “There’s a man over there, I want you to remove him.” And Pearce went, “Oh, he’s fine, he’s often round here, he’s harmless.” And this guy went, “I’m on the board of trustees of the Globe and I demand that this man is removed.” So he was absolutely had and I’m sure he was cursing himself when I got up on stage and turned out to be an actor.

Hayley:

Oh my gosh, you could have so much fun with that. So, what about your costume then? Obviously you begin in modern costume but then the play is actually done in Elizabethan costume. So how does wearing your costume affect the performance? What does it add to it?

Simon:

Well, it makes you very hot. My costume was born to swagger in. I’ve got lovely long, leather, thigh-length boots, it’s impossible not to stride with great purpose in them, you can’t stand around feeling like anything other than an alpha male in those boots, which is good for Petruchio because that’s what he is. But I can’t lie to you, it is very hot. I’ve got a neoprene lined shirt on, underneath all my other costume, to protect my shoulders when I do a forward roll. I asked for that because I’m not built very heftily and I thought I’m going to bust something. So underneath all the already hot Elizabethan costume there is a neoprene shirt. So I’m very hot!

Hayley:

You’re praying for bad weather in England then.

Simon:

I don’t mind if it’s cold and windy, I quite like it, yeah. Although there is a scene later where I take off practically all my clothes apart from my boots and my codpiece and then it’s quite nice if it’s a bit warmer.

Hayley:

And what about the musicians, what do they bring to the play?

Simon:

They bring an enormous amount of atmosphere. There are lots of elements to this, there’s a lovely, chaotic, bizarre anthem they play, a sort of fanfare at the beginning of the wedding, there’s something slightly jarring and wrong about it. There’s a lovely bit of underscoring, a particular bit I can think of is the sun and the moon scene when we are on our way back to Padua and I finally get Katherine to say, “It is the moon, it is whatever you want to call it. I will dance to your tune now.” And I think without the music it might feel a bit overly as if she has just utterly capitulated, and she has capitulated, but somehow this beautiful underscoring makes it poignant and sentimental and rather lovely. I mean, what we wanted is that people care about these two people getting together, they’re a couple of maddos with some anger issues, but they’re meant to be together. So whatever else you feel about the sexual politics of the play, when those two people get together and kiss and dance off into the sunset together, you should feel, “Oh, bless them, they’ve got together, they’ve sorted out their problems.” And the music just lifts it there, just takes it to the right place.

Hayley:

I thought the music was wonderful in the show. I thought it added so much to it, and the singing as well.

Simon:

Yes, we’ve got a lovely, silly song about, “I went to market to buy me a cock”. And there’s a lot of cock references in the play, very bawdy but I’m sure it’s a cockerel I went to market to buy me.

Hayley:

So have your initial impressions of your character changed or been confirmed since the beginning of the rehearsal process?

Simon:

I think in performance he’s become a bit madder himself, a bit more madcap than just on initial reading. You don’t just discover what you say but you then, through watching other scenes, hear what other people say about your character; about what happens in the church, which is an off-stage action. We get married in the chapel and Gremio describes all these crazy things that happen. I’m taking the wine and I quaff it off and I chuck it on the ground. I throw the sops in the Sexton’s face and I bash the priest. He’s certainly behaving like a total lunatic; how much is madness and how much is meant is up for grabs. Yes, I think I have discovered more general lunacy in him…

Hayley:

And maybe playing with the audience more, I suppose. You don’t have that opportunity in rehearsals.

Simon:

No that’s true. I have discovered moments where I can have connections with them. I mean, most notably my big speech, “Thus have I politically begun my reign”, which you just do to a wall to begin with and then suddenly you’ve got 1,300 people to do it to. But there are also lots of nice little comic moments where I mention my dead father and Grumio kicks the bucket. They laugh and I’m appealing to them, “Don’t laugh at that, he’s pathetic, he’s an idiot”. And so I’m angry at Grumio and angry at them for laughing at my deceased father, you know, there’s a lovely dialogue there.

Hayley:

The two of you worked so well together, it’s brilliant!

Simon:

Well he’s glorious, Pearce, he really is an original; he’s a genius. 

Hayley:

And how much do the Globe’s distractions - so things like seeing the audience, birds, helicopters – how much do they affect your performance?

Simon:

They do affect it, not in a deleterious way. I love the fact that they are there, I love that I can see them and hear them. Birds: there was a particularly insistent blackbird one day, perched on the thatch up there, who really was singing all the way through; I just found that enchanting. Air traffic, of course, is a nightmare. I don’t mind a plane because a plane comes and goes and you can pitch up over it just as it comes overhead, but a helicopter, the search helicopters that are looking for some drug dealer in Borough, they just hoover, they seem to deliberately go, “Oh look, there’s a play going on down there, let’s not go and look for the drug dealer, let’s see what happens next in the play”. But Sam, the other night, came out at the bit where she’s just been trying to get food off Grumio and he’s been teasing her, and she sees that he’s been teasing her and she picks up her mandolin or lute and is about to attack him and get very cross, and then I come in and go, “What sweeting, all amort. How fairs my Kate?” And then just at that point a helicopter came over and you can see that she’s thinking, “What do I do, what do I do?” And then she looked up into the sky and she used all the anger that she had just had and shook her fist up at the sky at the helicopter and, of course, all of the Globe just erupted about it. So it’s nice when those little things coincide. I had one when I got my speech about, “Have I not in my time heard lions roar? Have I not heard great ordinance in the field, and heaven’s artillery thunder in the skies”. And that got a fabulous round too, you know, it just happened to coincide with a plane going over.

Hayley:

So I have one more question: what is your favourite moment in the play? Now this can be either for your character or it might be a moment that you’re not even in.

Simon:

I do love the jig. I mean, I’m not a dancer at all but suddenly to have it all over, to have the last line said, and everyone just dancing, and the audience clapping along, it’s a joyous thing the jig. I love that moment in the sun and the moon where she goes, “Alright then”. And I think, “Oh, thank god, we can love each other now and get one with it”. It’s a truly lovely moment. I love watching Sam Spiro [Katherine] doing her big controversial speech, she does it absolutely beautifully and you can hear a pin drop. I tell you, I always feel quite glad when the big wooing scene is over, not that I don’t absolutely love doing it and it’s like doing the most amazing fencing match with words and also the physical, but I just feel that I am glad to get through it without dying in my hot costume, hoicking Sam up to my shoulders, running round, trying to speak with the helicopters, sweating like a pig. When I finish the scene and I rush off, I think, “Ah, glad I don’t have to do that for another couple of days.” Though I love doing it, it’s a great big effort. And it’s choreographed and it’s fight directed by the great Malcolm Ranson. Physically it’s very demanding but it’s got to be very precise and, of course, you’re picking up – we finish each other’s lines for each other, it is absolute verbal rapier work and you can’t let your attention slip for a nano-second, but thrilling to do.

Hayley:

Yeah, well I thought it was wonderful, I enjoyed it very much.

Simon:

Thank you.

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