"Well, I have done something I've never done before on this production..."
As Tech Week approaches, Emma takes us through her approach to music, comedy, and characterisation in the rehearsal room.
Time: 9 minutes 48 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Paul Shuter: Welcome to podcast three in this series looking at the creation of Emma Rice's production of Twelfth Night. My first question for Emma today is to pick up something that you said in podcast two about music. At what point do you start thinking about music, and how important is it in the gestation of the play?
Emma Rice: Music is so important! It's right at the beginning...I can't really separate music from story, because it's where my emotion is triggered and I also think [the] audience's emotion is triggered. And also the style that I've developed over many years is so integrated with music, so it's inseparable; from the minute I want to do a piece, I'm already thinking about the music. And I worked very closely with the composer and this show has been particularly special because I'm working with the composer Ian Ross who I call 'Fluff'. So when I slip up and say Fluff, that's who I'm talking about! And I have known him since he was a babe in arms, and I gave him one of his first professional jobs as a musician over ten years ago now. And he's been a musician with me, he became an MD [Musical Director], and this is the first time that he's composed for me. And I just wonder why I've waited so long, because he is phenomenal and he's on fire. And of course we know each other very, very well, but suddenly he's bringing a lot to the table.
PS: So there's a short-hand in the way you're working?
ER: There's a great short-hand, but this is the first time he's been saying, 'This is what I've done'. And it's absolutely astonishing to watch, and I feel like somewhere between a proud mother and a proud friend. Because it's brilliant, you know? Watching somebody who (as I say) I've known since a very young man being such a phenomenal artist.
PS: So with the decision to use him as the composer, was that right back at the start?
ER: Yes. I knew it was his time and actually, I also knew it was going to be my last show at the Globe. And I thought, 'Actually, I want to use all of my powers for good', which is my mantra every morning. And I felt that it was Fluff's moment and I was right.
PS: You talked last time about this being the period just before electronic music really kicked off. Do you start with particular pieces of music from the time in your mind?
ER: Well, I think I described it before that the coming together of this world was quite fuzzy in many ways (which I've enjoyed enormously). I think Shakespeare creates that, because there's quite a lot of blurry lines in the world anyway. But as I described before, I had always been thinking about the Falklands War, which meant I'd always had tango in my mind. And of course it's a very hot dance, tango. So as that idea fell away, I still wanted some heat in there: I feel that there's the heat of the drunkards, and the heat of Feste, and the heat of the party. So we've looked at some salsa and some tango but also as it moved to Scotland, we worked on folk. Fluff has done a lot of folk music, so that's deep in our bones. So we started to add in some Scottish folk music, obviously all original. But at the very beginning, I do reference disco, just at the very beginning. It sort of anchors the audience in the world and the humour and the time. So just by using one piece of music, you don't really have to do anything else. You say, 'This is where you are. You can all locate yourselves.' And then the rest will unfold from that moment.
PS: Moving on to think about character, there are some extraordinary characters in this play. What sort of work do you do with the actors to help them develop their views of the character?
ER: Well, I have done something I've never done before on this production in which we haven't done any character work yet. And I think I had some good reasons for this and some bad reasons for this, because in my early years I was devising work. So creating whole stories that didn't exist and whole worlds, and I did a lot of work with improvisation about how to create characters. And this is very useful when you're devising, because those characters then take you through an imaginative journey. And of course, I'm quite new to directing plays. So what I've discovered in these plays are that the plays are very strong: they tell you what's going to happen next, what happens next is brilliant! So there's a lot of jobs that I used to do as a devising director which don't need to be done with these plays.
So I've made a decision...and this production is very complicated, it's complicated musically, physically. And I wanted to get to know the world before I started really doing detailed work on the actors. And we're on course for that. But of course what happens is the actors do their own work and they keep saying, 'When are we going to do it?' And I'm going, 'You are doing it!' So actually, what they're doing is building up really strong offers, I'm letting them play. By the situations I'm putting them in, whether it's fishing or playing golf or whatever or salsaing, there's lots of information being fed in. But we're not doing character work. I'm going to do that next week, because then the production's there. They know what they might be doing, they know what they're saying, they've learned their lines.
And I think it might be quite successful, because what I hate...and I can't do it, I can't do it [and] I know other directors can but I can't. It's if you start sitting down talking, you can't get up. It's so hard to get up, by the time you've said, 'I'm not sure, I don't know. Why might this be...?' It's like your hootspa is gone. So what I've done is I've thrown a load of hootspa, we're beginning to feel the world. We ran Act One off the book at the end of Week Two, all the actors are going, 'I can feel the production'. Which means they've actually answered probably 70% of their questions, and then when we go back over it, we can really dig in and we'll ask the right questions. So it's a new process for me.
PS: One of the few things we know about how these plays were originally put on is that they were put on with very little rehearsal.
ER: I know!
PS: There's the example of the Rose Theatre, where they did thirty new plays in a season with one company of actors. And they were putting on a new play probably twice a week.
ER: Wow! Their brains, their brains!
PS: Yes, but they probably lived in that pre-literate, memory oriented society, and I guess if you're in the habit of learning, learning gets easier.
ER: Phenomenal. I do pour whispers in their ears quite a lot! So anybody listening to this, they're not floundering round going, 'What?' I suggest an accent or a personal trait or I say why don't we try some little things. But I try to give them triggers, because I was an actor myself. [And] many of the actors that I work with don't work that psychologically, [so] it's quite good to say, 'What if the person has a limp?' Nobody has a limp in this show! But actually, they go, 'Okay, I wonder what that might do...'
PS: And just keep trying things out and finding the things that help.
ER: Yes. And as I say, I'm in great awe at seeing them all work out things that they want to offer to me. So that's what I've created: a situation where they're all wanting to please me, which is lovely!
PS: You've said that you did a run through of Act One at the end of last week. So presumably, you'd done some work scene by scene through the first half of the show.
ER: Yes, yes. We've done all the scenes in the first half, so we've worked through chronologically and staged it. And we talk through every scene and also edited every scene and we know what it means. But I haven't done the detailed character work.
PS: No, okay. Looking back over the last week (or last week and a day, since we're here on Tuesday morning), what's been the most difficult thing?
ER: Oh, the comedy without a doubt, without a doubt. Because it's not funny in my opinion, most of it. Now the situations are funny, but the words aren't. I'm getting better at it for my own productions. But of course what happens is actors do their homework because they're wonderful and they work out what they mean. And then they're quite attached to it. But an audience never can. So I'm annoying them very much and I keep saying, 'What does that mean?' And then they tell me and I say, 'Can you make me understand that physically?' So I'm really trying to cut cleverly the comedy scenes, so that the situation is revealed so that we can play the situation. It's not random that we call comedy 'situation comedies', because that's often where situation lies.
I think a lot of what was obviously verbal banter, for example Feste, presumably that Clown, Shakespeare's Clown did this amazing almost gibberish that was irresistible. That's all that I can imagine, it was somebody's shtick that the audience just went crazy for. Oh, in 2017 it needs a...so that's what I find difficult. But it's a hard process, because I find that the Shakespeare stops people playing, whereas if you just put three funny actors into a room and say, 'Play a trick on that one', they will. But actually, what you have to do is wade through an awful lot of words that I find quite difficult. Of course the heart sections of the play just fall off, drip off the page like honey. And the soul sections, the grief sections drip off the page as well. So this isn't me saying, 'I have a problem with Shakespeare!' It's the comedy in this play [which] I think is tricky to land. And I hate seeing an actor trying to play a scene, and obviously looking like it should be funny and it's not. I can't bear that! So that's the trickiest bit, and we're not there yet...
PS: We'll come back to that later then.