This is Che's first blog entry for the 2007 production of Othello. In it he talks about his acting career before coming to the Globe, rehearsals so far, and things he looks forward to in this production.
Transcript of Podcast
Before the Globe
I have been acting for fifteen years. I went to a drama college called Webber Douglas Academy. I haven't acted for a while because I am mostly a playwright. I have written two plays that were both on at a theatre called the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, Been So Long and Flesh Wound. I have also been directing a lot in the last couple of years and teaching. I teach at RADA and I have taught at Central and various other drama colleges. I teach acting technique. It has been a good two or three years since I have been on stage. It's nice to get back to acting because you realise you have to practise what you preach in the classroom. I sit there thinking, what would I make of myself if I was in class, or on the other side of the table directing or in the position of the writer?
Initially I wanted to be an actor, but in the first two years I played about seven or eight policemen and drug dealers and bouncers and stuff like that. Its worth pointing out that I am comparatively large in size, although in this cast I am sort of average as everyone is huge. And I thought, there is a bit more to me than this, this is a bit boring! During one of the lean times that you occasionally get as an actor, I was working as a security guard and I was just sitting at this desk checking people in and out, of a, largely empty, building. So I just decided to start writing a play. I was very lucky that I sold it to the Royal Court. That generated a momentum and since I have had commissions to write for the BBC, a couple of film commissions, I translated a play for the National Theatre and I have also written a second play for the Royal Court Theatre.
The main theme of my writing is families. People trying to make families or repair families where there have not been very good ones. And passion, I write about passion, lots of passion. I like to use a lot of language, contemporary language, but I do like to heighten the language. I like to give people big speeches.
Othello at the Globe
I have been commissioned to write a new play for the Globe for the 2008 season. So I am actually currently working as a writer for the Globe. Wilson Milam, who is directing Othello, directed my last play, Flesh Wound, at the Royal Court Theatre four years ago now. So I harassed Wilson and Dominic Dromgoole (the artistic director of the Globe) and sold it to Dominic that it would be good for me to act in the space and be around the theatre. Luckily they both talked about it and went for it. I auditioned and I was recalled and Wilson tried me for various parts. Eventually I was cast, in comparatively small parts, I am senator number two and first gentlemen. I am only in two scenes in the play.
Because I haven't been on stage for a while, it's nice to be able to ease back into it. And, to be honest, because I am trying to write at the same time it is nice to know I am ‘off book’ already. But, paradoxically, it is interesting that because your time on stage is so limited, it is possible to feel a lot of pressure playing small roles. Coming on just for one scene, you think 'I have got to get this right!' You can also feel that, 'I have got to make an impression in just this one little speech that I have got, so that people will remember me.' Whereas, perhaps if you have got a bigger part where there's a sort of arc and a journey, you can pace yourself and there is more opportunity to allow the text to change you. Because I have only got a couple of scenes I have got to nail it straight away. It's a little bit like being a substitute in a football game. You have to come on and make an impact. The thing mustn't die when you are on.
We are ten days into rehearsals and all we have done so far is sit around the table and read the play. There are lots of different versions of Shakespeare's play and we have had to make choices between the folio and the quartos. When the play was first written down in the 1600s there were tiny little differences and discrepancies between the different versions and so we have been sorting out whether we want to use the folio or the quarto versions of different line. The differences between the two can be tiny like:
If imputation and strong circumstance,
Which lead directly to the door of truth,
Will give you satisfaction, you may have’t
Here it is circumstance as opposed to circumstances. And we consider which one we want to go for? Which is strongest? Which is more powerful? We have got the Arden out, we've got the Penguin out, we've got the folio out, and we've got the quarto. We have a brilliant guy called Giles Block to help us. He's just amazing, and an expert at this stuff. Sometimes you think, well does it really matter? And it can feel like nit picking, but it can make a big difference if you take only one syllable out, because it is so finely crafted.
In the last three or four days we have started to dig into the characters. Wilson is very thorough and he's very keen on people understanding what the stakes are in their scene. What are they fighting for in each scene.
We have done a lot of historical research. There are pictures up all over the walls of the rehearsal room of Cyprus and Venice. We visited the Golden Hinde ship yesterday which is the closest boat we could find to a boat that would have taken us to Cyprus. That was a real eye opener. The conditions were appalling! People basically lived among rats and goats on a boat for ages and if you stole a chicken you had a nail hammered through your hand. It does help inform you when you come on stage and you know you have been on that boat for three or four days that that's how it would have been. Farah Karim Cooper has come in to talk to us about Venice which was fascinating.
We have done a lot of voice work with Patsy Rodenburg which has been brilliant. We have done work on trying to free up the natural voice and extend our vocal range. We have been attacking the text. Patsy wants us to realise that the text is our friend and not our enemy, and that Shakespeare is trying to help us all the time with the way he's laid the verse out. Patsy is acknowledged as the best, and even the older members of the company who have been in the RSC, who've worked at the National Theatre and who've had forty years of a career are finding it really useful.
We did one exercise to unlock the iambic rhythm of the verse. We would say a speech on a hum, so you keep your mouth closed and hum the words. Then when you open your mouth and speak it, it seems that the iambic is more solidified without having to think about it. Everything Patsy does is about freeing you up so that you don’t have to think about your technique. She also made us do the same speech but only say the pronouns and ignore the rest of it. So in my case it became: 'us, we, the turk, we, us, the turk.' This makes the speech more personal. You see who you are talking to. When you put the missing words back in it suddenly makes more sense. I realised that the 'us', was us reaching towards each other in the senate.
We haven't been out on the stage yet. They keep threatening to take us out on the stage for a voice class. You've got to have a good strong voice for the Globe stage and if you've done a lot of telly you've got to be careful that the lines don't die off at the end. You don’t want a fading inflection on a line.
I am so delighted to be in this show as Othello is my absolute favourite play. It's the play that got me hooked, it got me hooked into acting, and it got me hooked into Shakespeare. And I still feel that it's the most exciting play I have ever read. It just thrills me in such a way that I can't explain. Obviously Shakespeare has written some brilliant stuff, but I think the plot is so exciting and it is so horrifying what happens to Othello; it's like a film noir thriller.
The plot is so tight. We start in Venice and the first act is quite public. The senate are realising that their patch in Cyprus is being attacked by the Turks. They have to mobilize an army really quickly. Brabantio comes in with a very public accusation of Othello. So the opening act is full of public speaking and big affairs of state and affairs of war that have to be addressed. And then it sort of boils down into essentially a six hander, well in fact I would argue it boils down into a two hander, between Othello and Iago and this bizarre relationship that they have. It's watching that as it simmers down and how Shakespeare uses double time in the second half of the play to accelerate the events and to bring everything to such a horrible boil. I just love it. And everyday I just see more and more stuff that I hadn't seen before, my understanding of it just gets richer.
And to be at the Globe! Something happens to you when you step on that stage. I was standing on it having an almost private moment and one of the stewards said a beautiful thing to me, she said, 'Actors when they step on this stage say it's like having an enormous hug from the audience.'
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as s/he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his/her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.