Shakespeare's Globe

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“What we see on stage for any character is only a small portion of their lives. So I always think of what Quince would be when I don’t see him.” In his first interview Fergal McElherron discusses returning to the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this time as Quince, and how he imagines the characters’ lives off-stage.

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Time: 8 minutes 18 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 Fergal McElherron who is playing the role of Quince and the First Fairy in the upcoming Globe production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

So how familiar were you with the play?

Fergal McElherron:

Well I was lucky enough to have done a production of it with Globe Ed[ucation] before last year where I played Puck. But before that I’d never read it. I’d seen it once. And actually it was in the Globe I saw it. So I was familiar with it but I didn’t know it terribly well. I’m getting to know it now better and better.

PB:

What were your initial impressions when you first came across the play?

FM:

There’s an element of fun in it – I think it’s really just so much fun. It doesn’t take itself too serious[ly]. And the elements that are in a lot of Shakespeare’s plays – the elements of confusion and mistaken identity are really clearly put in this because it’s Puck up to mischief or in some cases just getting it wrong. It’s not so much identities but people’s intentions get mixed up and I think there’s a real sense of comedy and fun about it that is very strong throughout. And then you’ve got the magical elements with the fairies, which is always really exciting to watch.

PB:

What about your character of Quince? What were your initial impressions when you came across him?

FM:

I love Quince. I think he’s really interesting because he tries so hard. You take it that this isn’t his full time thing. Him being a director of a theatre company or directing the plays because he is a carpenter, so that’s his 9 to 5. But he’s obviously passionate enough about the theatrics that he wants to do it. And being chosen to be [in] a play potentially to go on before the duchess on their wedding is massive. So I always thought that this is a big notch in his belt, this is a massive thing for him. I started thinking as well about things like his day job, being a carpenter can be quite solitary. I imagine him in his workshop, working on the wood. He works with his hands, it’s very tangible. His other interest is words and show, and I think that there’s a really interesting balance to be had there. I haven’t quite made up my mind what’s what yet but all that kind of stuff draw me to him. 

PB:

Between that abstract and physical…

FM:

Yeah absolutely because whatever his carpentry entails, is a definite thing. Right there. And then you’ve got his other self is about interpretation and, as is the case in these things, he would have written the script as well that they’re doing. So I imagine him sitting down writing away, trying to sound knowledgeable when making references to characters from mythology and all that kind of stuff.

PB:

How have you found him compared to Puck so far when you played him?

FM:

The thing with Puck that I latched onto, the mischief – I found the Puck that I did was quite dark and I think Quince tries his best. He really wants to please. And I think that’s a vein I’m going to put through. He’s more patient so far, as I can see. He has to bit his tongue a wee bit more ‘cause he has to manage people. Whereas Puck doesn’t really have to manage people. And then you’ve got what consequences exist in the fairy world versus the mortal world. The consequences for Puck when I did it were very different in my head than would be consequences for Peter Quince, so those two elements playing against each-other.

PB:

You’ve mentioned you’ve played Puck before, have you performed other Shakespeare aswell?

FM:

Yes, I’ve done a good few things at the Globe. Back in Ireland when I started out I did a lot of theatre and education, touring round schools with Shakespeare, real paired down versions of Shakespeare’s plays. So I did a Hamlet, and Lear, and Merchant of Venice during that time. But when I came over here, in the Globe I’ve done Romeo and JulietLove’s Labour’s LostComedy of ErrorsAs You Like ItMidsummer Night’s Dream, managed a good few now…

PB:

A fair few yeah.

FM:

Yeah which surprised me. When I was at school, I had all that stuff that everyone has, like ‘Oh my God not Shakespeare please…’ But then you see them done as plays, and you get the chance to be involved in them and it just opens them up in a different way. So I would never, ever have thought that I would end up doing – since I’ve moved to London I’ve predominantly done Shakespeare. I would not have seen that coming a mile away. I think the good thing about Shakespeare is it’s so open to interpretation. I think with Shakespeare you can watch another production that won’t come anywhere near the choices you’re making, so it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve only ever seen one other production, that was a good few years ago, so it’s not a play that I’m aware of loads of different productions of. Which is, kind of with me, ignorance is bliss to a large extent – take it as you find it and make all your mistakes in the rehearsal room hopefully so as no-one knows; they think you’ve just been perfect from the word go!

PB:

What preparation have you done for the role before the rehearsals started?

FM:

I started thinking about Quince, just in terms of who is he when he’s not doing this, because I think it’s always interesting to see your character…because what we see on stage for any character is always a small portion of their lives in real terms. So I always think of what Quince would be when we don’t see him. When he’s in his workshop or on his stall – we were discussing the other day, there’s a mention when Puck talks about the players “[who] work for bread upon Athenian stalls”. So we were thinking ‘Oh right so their public in their work as well, if they’re working in a marketplace at their stalls, it’s not necessarily them way off in a workshop somewhere. So there’s still a public element to that. So thinking about those kind of things, but also in terms of working with the wood. I just imagine – when I think of carpentry, which I know nothing about, I just automatically think of someone planing a piece of wood. Which is so ignorant of me but…I think of that action of being down and close to the wood, of the smell of wood. It feels like a very personal loan thing. And putting that against ‘at night I put on plays’. I know plenty of people when I started off doing amateur theatre at home your dealing with school teachers that taught me, then I ended up in plays with them in an amateur company. And you’re kind of going ‘my god, the guy from the classroom is so different from this guy jumping around with me’. And all that kind of stuff starts to filter in. So I’ve been thinking of it in those terms and also just his intention of putting on this piece. Because I think it’s important - even though its comedy – and we are supposed to laugh at it, if you start thinking comedically as the character you’re in a bit of trouble. Because the characters don’t know they’re being funny. So for me I always think of it in real terms. And the comedy, because the writing is so good, will largely take care of itself. But if you start thinking of Quince as a comedic character being funny, he’s not. This play is really serious to him. And his frustrations with Bottom are real frustrations. And his trying to manage Bottom’s ego is a very real frustration. That’s what makes it comedic. We’re just starting our second week now so we haven’t made any firm decisions, but they’re the wee things that have already started cooking around in my head.

PB:

Have you started developing that relationship with Bottom and the other characters?

FM:

Not yet. What we’ve done so far is we’ve sat round the table, and the way that Dominic [Dromgoole] out director works, he likes to sit round the table for the first while and go through the entire play, speaking the Shakespeare line and then saying the line again in your own words so that we’re all on the same page. We’re pretty much coming to the end of that piece now. So we’ve sat round and gone through all our lines for the most part, and we’ve talked about what we think the character is meaning at certain times, but we haven’t got it on its feet yet where all the relationships really kick off. We’re about to launch into that aspect now but we haven’t really done an awful lot there yet.

PB:

Great thank you very much. 

FM:

Thank you.

 

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Comments

Thomas Countz, London, W1

McElherron's words are a beautiful example of how actors view their characters as the centerpoint of a production. It's not an ego issue, it's the honest point-of-view an actor must adopt in order to tell his story fully and honestly. This play is about a carpenter who, with his friends, write, directs, and produces a play.

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