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“Very gratifyingly people have said that Viola and Sebastian do look alike.” In his final interview, Samuel talks about the thrill of the first night and the great audience responses; particularly fooling them into thinking he and Johnny Flynn (Viola) are the same person! Samuel also looks ahead to the Apollo and the timeliness of performing Twelfth Night over Christmas.

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Transcript of Podcast

Hayley Bartley:

So, you are now into performance.

Samuel Barnett:

Yes.

HB:

Exciting!

SB:

Yes, we’re into performance.

HB:

So how was the opening night at the Globe?

SB:

Oh, it was one of those unforgettable ones again, like the first night of Richard. It was the most extraordinary response from the audience. I think there were so many things combined: I think it was the fact that it was the production itself coming back; it was Mark reprising Olivia; it was Stephen Fry being Malvolio – there was such a buzz that night, it was quite extraordinary, completely unforgettable. And, like any first night, it was one of those where you come off going, “I have no idea what I just did!” I can’t seem to be remotely conscious at the moment because there was so much adrenaline, you know, just basic things like: “What if my sword falls off?”; “What if my costume falls off or something?” But it went brilliantly and it also taught us a lot about the play, because Twelfth Night felt weirder than Richard, because it is a comedy and it didn’t feel like a comedy when we were rehearsing it at all. So, obviously, much more so than Richard, the element that we were missing was the audience; and finally we got them. It was just gales of laughter, waves of laughter.

HB:

So, yes, moving on to the audience: did they react in the ways you expected? Were they laughing in the right places?

SB:

This is the thing, I had no idea where they should be laughing. With some shows you can – you can’t tell in rehearsals but you know “this is a funny line, they’re bound to laugh at that”. There was so much, there were so many places where they laughed at things and I didn’t know that was funny. And actually, what came out more than anything that first night was the story. I went, “This is Shakespeare’s version of a situation comedy”, as so many of his comedies are. And that’s what really came out, the story. We realised that over the course of – because it is long, you know, three plus hours – over the course of say three and a quarter hours, by the end, they know the characters so well that it’s the situations they end up in that are funny. And that’s when I thought, “Wow! We’ve really got the audience onside and they’re listening, following, they get it”. There’s stuff that in rehearsal, because of the language, I literally didn’t understand. When listening to rehearsals, I’m sitting there watching, and it’s only with an audience, who are understanding the same situation, that I go, “Oh, I see what that line means”. So, you know, they are actually far cleverer than we are.

HB:

One thing that I definitely think you succeeded in, and is something I found on the night I came, is that when you first come on as your character, Sebastian, there was definitely a double take of, “Oh is that Viola or is that a new character?” Which is what you wanted, I guess.

SB:

Very gratifyingly people have said that finally, possibly because we are two boys, you know, all male production, but finally Sebastian and Viola do kind of look alike. I mean, Johnny and I look nothing like each other, we’re roughly the same height, but its jenny’s costumes that have done it, and it’s the detail in the costume. And also the fact that we’re both wearing white faces; so we’ve got a bit of white make-up, a little bit of blusher, some very pale lipstick, you know, and eyebrows drawn on. And just that actually cancels out our features and makes us look pretty similar. The wigs as well really help, obviously. So, I wouldn’t ever believe this but someone from wardrobe, she took her mum to see it and her mum had no idea until the end that it was two different actors, which I kind of go, “Really? I don’t sound like Johnny”. But there is something, that real suspension of disbelieve, where you go, “I know these two aren’t the same but they look so similar. It might be quite thrilling to imagine that they are”. And, in fact, on the last show that we did just now on Sunday, in the moment that Johnny and I finally meet, it was completely silent and a little - I don’t know if it was a girl or boy, must have been four or five, really young - I heard really loudly, everybody heard it and there was a ripple of “Oh bless” and laughter, a little person went, “They’re exactly the same. There’s no difference between them”. And it was just like “Oh well, we’ve done our job then if that’s what a child’s thinking then that’s great”. So, I think yes, probably because we’re both guys it works.

HB:

That’s wonderful. And so, has the play changed during performance so far?

SB:

It has for me. I mean, I’m hardly on in the first half so I watch a lot of it on the monitor, and what I’ve noticed is a lot of people, kind of, tightening things up and picking up their cues, and now we’re more dictating to the audience when to laugh. Because it would be easy to stretch this into a three and a half hour show and let an audience laugh at anywhere and at anything they want to but actually, in a way – if they’re going to laugh there’s nothing we can do about it but we can tighten up where we don’t necessarily want laughs, where we actually want to drive the story through rather than the comedy. So we’ve certainly gained pace with the whole thing and for me, I’ve really had to experiment on stage with Sebastian. I think, to me, he is a glorified plot device and so I’ve had to try and bring something 3D to him. I think I’ve played him too clever and too knowing. And then I’ve played him, kind of, too innocent and without guile, and that’s not quite right. So I’m finding a nice balance and what I’m enjoying more and more, and it will be interesting to see if I can have this when we put it into a West End theatre, without the Globe-style audience, what I’m enjoying more and more is, as the director, Tim Carroll, said to me, my character is the one that the audience in a way identify with because my character is on the outside of the whole thing going, “What is going on here? This is incredibly confusing. I don’t know what I landed in. To be able to share that with an audience, they really get it, and I’ve noticed that I can do that off-text, you know, I can do that in a look. So that’s been really nice and that’s just, kind of, growing for me. So they’re – yes, it’s already changed and grown, as I think it should really. We only do two weeks of shows at the Globe, by the time we get to the West End it’s going to be such a different animal, I think. In a different theatre, without groundlings, and half the size of the audience; the Apollo holds 750, I think, literally half of the 1500 that the Globe holds. We’re still going to be in a preview period, I feel. We have our official press day on the 16th or 17th, or something, and then that’s fine, then I guess I’ll feel like we’re open. But I think I’ll need a lot of time to experiment with it in the new theatre.

HB:

Does it run over Christmas and then into January?

SB:

Yeah. The only days off we have are Christmas Eve and Christmas day, then we’re back on Boxing Day, and then we have New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, then we’re on either side of that. I don’t mind though, it’s great to be working over Christmas. The past three or four years, for some reason, I just haven’t worked between September and January. I don’t know why, it’s just a period that I don’t seem to work – it’s not like I can afford not to – I just haven’t got jobs during those times. So it’s great to have a period over Christmas where I’m actually working. And yeah, it means I can’t go home to my family and stuff because there are no trains on Boxing Day back down, but still that, sort of, period of November to February is notoriously hard, I think, so it’s good to be in something…

HB:

And very festive and fitting.

SB:

Very festive. We’re going to have mulled wine on Twelfth Night itself, in January, during the show; everyone will get drunk! And it’s going to feel, I think, even more – because it is Twelfth Night, it’s a Christmas show essentially; maybe it’s a Shakespeare version of a Panto. And it’s going to feel really nice and festive indoors. I love all the, kind of, on the set that touch of holy and ivy we have, and pine branches and stuff, that just dresses the Globe set; it’s gorgeous. It smells gorgeous, it smells of Christmas, and I think plus the candle lights that we’re going to have in the Apollo, it’s going to be even more Christmassy. 

HB:

So, moving back to the Globe, and what the Globe is renowned for is its distractions, such as helicopters, birds, and even seeing the audience themselves in the daylight. So how has this been affecting you? – Now you’ve obviously done this before but is there anything that springs to mind for this one?

SB:

Well only that, in Richard we haven’t had any birds on stage, but in Twelfth Night, the moment that Johnny and I met and embraced, a bird landed. I had no idea what the audience were finding so funny because, of course, everybody on stage loves a bird landing and acts up appropriately. And I turned round and there was this pigeon strutting towards me, so I just looked at it, and, kind of, quizzically asked what it wanted. It was a hilarious moment and that kind of thing really works. And then Ben Thompson drew his sword and the pigeon flew off. But planes, helicopters, I will not miss them. Rain, I won’t miss rain. Yes, rain gives me something to fight against and, oddly enough, I really like it in Richard III when it’s raining. It, sort of, doesn’t suit Twelfth Night, rain. It suits, either a lovely balmy evening or bright sunshine. And we’ve had plenty of bright sunshine but it’s getting a bit late in the year for balmy evenings. So, I’m really looking forward to having a bit more of a controlled environment. But, in terms of the audience, I actually prefer it in the daytime so I can see everyone’s faces. Even though we are lit in the evening, it’s still quite dark out there, and I love seeing the faces.

HB:

It’s really strange because normally actors prefer the evening, there’s an atmosphere, but for some reason they’re loving the matinees.

SB:

Yeah, I don’t know what it is but I love Twelfth Night matinees. Richard just doesn’t feel good as a matinee. And, of course, it will be different in the West End because it’s a black box, so the lighting is controlled at all times, but I’ve much preferred matinees on Twelfth Night, yeah.  

HB:

Cool. And so I have one last question of this Adopt an Actor with Samuel Barnett…

SB:

Am I going to be abandoned after this? I hope my adoptive parents don’t leave me.

HB:

I think its part time adoption, it’s fostering really.

SB:

Fostering, ok, I’ll move on.

HB:

So what has been your favourite moment in this play? What has been your favourite moment for Sebastian?

SB:

There are a couple of favourite moments, I feel. One is where Mark Rylance, as Olivia, comes out and saves me from a battle with Toby Belch, and runs up to me and grabs me and kisses me and the reactions from the audience. And the other moment is meeting Viola again, and it’s quite a specific moment for me, it’s where there’s so much text between Viola and Sebastian before Sebastian actually believes its Viola. For most of it I’m going, “You’re a weird doppelganger, you’d better explain yourself. My sister’s dead so you’re not her. Who the hell are you?” When I finally get that Cesario is my sister who is not dead, there’s a moment of embrace, which I never doubted we would have. But I’m told that in plenty of productions, because Viola says, “Do not embrace me”, Sebastian and Viola often don’t. And it never occurred to me not to embrace, well of course you would. So I love that moment and what’s nice about it is there’s always a different reaction: sometimes we’ve had clapping when we embrace; sometimes we’ve had an “ahhh”; sometimes there’s pin drop silence. So it’s a really lovely moment and all the build-up. So they’re my favourite bits, and I love the jig. The jig’s nice, it’s a lovely jig in Twelfth Night, I really enjoy doing it.

HB:

Wonderful. Well, I wish you lots of fun at the Apollo but we’re not over yet, you still have…

SB:

We’ve still got a few here but it’s been a pleasure, I’ve loved my time at the Globe. I hope to come back.

HB:

May you come back. Thank you.

SB:

Thank you.

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