“What makes it very different from the experience one imagines it must have been like in Elizabethan times is that we have a huge number of associations with candlelight. Its romantic, it’s sexy. They wouldn't have had that; it’s just a room at night.”
In James’ final interview he talks about the associations we have with candlelight, the audiences shaping of the play and his favourite moments.
Time: 8 minutes 32 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Phil Brooks: Hello and welcome to the Adopt an Actor podcast series. This is the final interview with James Garnon, who is playing the Cardinal in the Duchess of Malfi.
Brilliant, so since we last spoke [which] was quite early on in the production, now we are towards the end. Has it changed, progressed?
James Garnon: Yeah I think it has. I think it’s, the nice continuity between this space and the main house is that the audience are in the play, the audience are room. You know we’re playing with them not at them, and they have a role to play in the play, depending on the energy of each different audience on each different night. That changes it. We move and adjust with them. And sometimes the play has been, more laughter has been bought out it, sometimes the audience are very still and very calm. Sometimes they’re quite restless and move-y. And it all just feeds – because everybody is in the same room, there isn’t a fourth wall, it sort of all feeds through. So that’s been great. I think we as players have played and moved in and out of stuff. I personally – I was very very still I think to begin with, and quite held, and then I let myself slowly get sort of… one hesitates to use a word like broad but it got a little bit more, flirted with more comedy at different points, and then I’ve pulled back away from it again as it’s felt suitable. So they whole thing has hopefully gone on a nice little journey and hopefully it’s in a nice place now.
PB: Obviously you’ve worked on the main stage as well and there you have, I guess not distractions really but different elements, birds, rain, audience being quite visible. What have you found about the playhouse itself, obviously it’s quite close. Are there any similarities between that and the main space or differences?
JG: Its very difficult trying to put your finger on what the main differences are. I don’t think – it doesn’t feel to me that one necessarily needs to be smaller or anything. What’s interesting about this production, in this space is that the candlelight and everything about the room, feeds the play and seems to suit this play. A lot of the scenes are at night, a lot of the scenes are dark, a lot of the scenes are, you know we’re not fighting against it. What will be interesting is when things like Knight of the Burning Pestle come in, or like The Tempest. You know, a play that’s set on an island, in the daytime. How that’s going to work in a dark theatre with candles. That will be interesting. And that will be analogous to what we have to do on the main stage where we pretend desperately that we are in an Italian piazza at night, or that you’re doing Macbeth and it’s supposed to be night-time but its broad daylight and how could these possibly be witches when there are loads of people standing there with backpacks on. That will be analogous. At the moment it’s all working rather nicely. And in terms of playing I think the only real difference, because you’ve got audience here wrapped right the way round you. Surrounding you in a really pleasing way just like in the main house. The only real difference, possibly again with this production – it’s not a question of work, its not a question of vocal power and its not a question of effort. But you kind of need less charisma in this space than you need in the main space. Because you don’t have to still the room with your presence in quite the same way because the room is stilled by the effect of the candlelight and the general oogyboogy magic-ness. And that’s another interesting thing about the space I think, is that – which I’m sure was anticipated. But what makes it every different from the experience one images that it would have been like before, as in in Elizabethan times, is we have a huge number of associations with candlelight. It’s romantic, it’s sexy, and it’s sort of you know we’re not used to see this much fire so close to this much wood. We’re not used to seeing so many candles; it evokes ideas of religious ceremonies and romantic meals and birthday parties and special events to us. Bonfire night and things. Well, Elizabethan’s wouldn’t have had that, it’s just a room at night isn’t it. It’s a candelabra in a wealthy room. It’s sort of weird, we invest all this with an awful lot, but I imagine…
PB: To them it’s just completely normal.
JG: Yeah. And you can ignore it, you can ignore a bunch of candelabra – it would be really interesting to see something like the Tempest in this space because people now can’t ignore candelabra, it’s a real event. It’s like having a dog onstage. Fire is alive, we can stare in fires for hours and see it, and think it’s alive. I wonder how long an Elizabethan would have sat staring at a fire. Who knows!
PB: Probably a long time.
JG: Probably quite a long time actually. I do actually recall I’m sure there’s a short story by Max Beerbohm whose writing about the 1890s talking about staring at fires so anyway I’m probably talking… But this is another interesting thing, is I don’t think have been – you know I think the nature of this play subdues them. It’s interesting as often they are quite bang up for it right at the beginning in an alive way. Whether that’s partly because of the seating position, which I also think is fascinating. People complain about it being uncomfortable. A lot of theatres are uncomfortable, a lot of seats are uncomfortable in theatres. Discomfort for an audience somehow breeds better attention and a greater level of investment. And a propensity to laugh and enjoy oneself, its bloody uncomfortable so you might as well kind of thing. And I think it’s really interesting that this play; it’s a very dark play – the two murders of the girls in the middle of the play are horrific. Children get killed, that’s very dark. Then the play seems to go into a very dark comedy kind of place. And what’s been interesting is the slight tension between, you know, the slight desire directorially to maybe hold that comedy back, partly because we don’t want to be seen at the Globe always to be doing things that other people might label broad. And partly because you know this production is often- this play is often done as a very dark very bloody very unpleasant thing. And this isn’t, we are all in standard costumes. What’s fascinating is that the audience has gone for the laughs and the comedy which hasn’t necessarily been played. And there are times possibly, and I have to hold my hand up and say I’ve been guilty occasionally of getting rather, of enjoying that rather too much and then pulling it back but they have made it. The audience have made it be quite boisterous in its own way and I, as I say we’ve got a lot of connotations with candlelight, not all just romantic and religious, it’s also party. So, and that kind of ‘whoa it’s a party’, something, it’s exiting. It’s interesting; there are lots of paradoxes about it as a room, lots of paradoxes. It’s calming but just like the main space, you can bend it however you want to, so it’s very alive, useful, bare naked stage.
PB: And my final question is what is your favourite moment in the play?
JG: I really don’t have one. Which is a good sign. I have lots, I have little ones. My favourite moments in this play and indeed in nearly all plays, is when you play something very honestly and you suddenly realise the audience are taking it differently than you intended it to. For example, there is a line in this where Bosola – I say to Bosola right at the end “What cause hast thou to pursue my life?” He says “Look there.” And it’s Antonio dead. And I turn and look at him and say ‘It’s Antonio’. Which I did not seeking to get a laugh ever initially. I tried to do it – I’m asking him a question. Why are you trying to kill me? He says well look at that. I say well that’s the man I’ve asked you to kill. So that’s not the answer to the question. So you go, that’s Antonio, how does that answer the question? And Dominic tried to get me to stop getting a laugh on that line and I’ve had a great difficulty because the only way to stop getting a laugh on the line was not to do that – to step out of that moment and try and work not to laugh. But every time you attempt to truly link those two thought together it got a laugh, and then you go well this is interesting. Even after all – as always I think I’ve said before, as an actor I think what one should do is absolutely prepare oneself as much as you possibly can in order to walk out on stage and be unprepared. You know, you do a lot of work and you forget about it so you’re open and available to things to surprise you. So my favourite moments in the play is when people do surprise me.
PB: Brilliant thank you very much.