Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 1

This is Gareth's first blog post. This week he discusses how he became an actor, his previous experience of both the play and the Globe and the cuts made to the text.

Transcript of Podcast

Becoming an actor

I got into acting when I was very young. At Sunday school I suppose. My father was a preacher, and we used to do plays based on the bible. When I was seven, I saw Lawrence Olivier play Richard III in the movie. I fell in love with Olivier, Shakespeare and Richard III. It was the first Shakespeare I’d ever heard of or seen. I’m not even sure I was aware it was Shakespeare at first. But I followed it, I understood it. It’s still a magnificent film. I joined the National Youth Theatre when I was 16, went on to university to read Drama. Then I got into rep. I’ve been acting and directing ever since, splitting my time between the two.

Acting at the Globe

I’ve never worked at The Globe as an actor but I have done some work with the education department. This will be my first time on the stage. I’ve been in the audience a lot, but I find it rather uncomfortable. I have stood but mostly I sit, and I still find that uncomfortable. I thought Hamlet was fantastic, and I really enjoyed the original language production of Troilus and Cressida, which Giles Block directed with David Crystal working on the original pronunciation. That was a relief, to hear the lines rhymed in a way that I never thought I would hear. I knew they were there, within the lines, because Troilus and Cressida was the first Shakespeare play I was ever in. I loved that, not so much as a play-going experience but as a unique theatrical experience. I also loved The Comedy of Errors.

The play

I’ve been in The Merry Wives of Windsor twice before and I have directed it once. When I was young I played Fenton, the lover, at the RSC in a very famous production from that era. The production started in the late 60s and went on until about 78. I was in the last gasp, the last revival of it, by which time it had got a little bit tired. Not surprisingly. There were performances which had obviously been magnificent when it started but it had become a bit technical, a bit over the top. It was a very distinguished cast. We had Ian Richardson as Ford, Ben Kingsley was Slender. Brewster Mason was Falstaff. I think half the cast is dead now. But it was a seminal production of the play, by Terry Hands. He did a version of it, which I have to say, when I directed it, I just stole because it’s so clever. He re-arranged scenes. He re-arranged the end lines of scenes to make them funnier. They work better. Chris has done his own version, which I think is a combination of Terry’s and his own ideas about how the play should be reconstructed, as it were, made accessible. The other production I was in was my very first professional Shakespeare. I played Corporal Nim and I didn’t understand a single word of what he says because he talks nonsense. But I had great fun. I didn’t know what to do with him. I kept talking about humours so I looked up what humours were and I thought he’s probably yellow so I painted my face a terrible ochre colour to try and make sense of my character. It looked as if I was jaundiced.

Anticipating the space

I’m not frightened about acting in that space because I’m verbally quite confident about filling large spaces, and as I’ve done solo work for so long, I’m used to engaging with an audience on a one-to-one basis, and that’s one of the great things about acting at the Globe, you have a line and you can give it to a specific member of the audience, so that holds no fear for me. In fact I’m rather looking forward to it. But this is a much larger canvas than any I’ve worked on before. I don’t mind the fact that you can see whether or not the audience are enjoying it. I’m used to seeing people fast asleep. I really am. A lot of solo work I’ve done has been performed to very old people, in a warm and comfortable place, and the moment the lights go down they fall asleep. I don’t take it personally. Well, I do sometimes. But mostly I think: that’s life. You’ve paid your money, you’re sitting there. If I’m boring you, then nod off. It’s usually compensated for by the other people who are listening.

I’ve never worked with Chris [Luscombe, the director] as a director before, but I’ve directed him myself when he was an actor!

Cutting the script

The script has been heavily cut; in fact Chris has taken enormous liberties with it. But it’s not the type of play that purists will be saying ‘How dare you cut that vital entrance line’ about. I’ve done a lot of work with a company that only uses the full text, we never cut anything. We always have a Folio and six editions of the play, but we do the full text. We never reattribute lines. That’s a sin. We hardly ever change entrances and exits. Then suddenly you come to this type of production where we’re changing everything, everything’s up in the air.

There was a tiny little scene that Chris had cut which I think is maybe often cut because it doesn’t move the play on greatly, when I give Simple a letter to try and encourage Anne Page to favour the suit of Abraham Slender. There are three suitors for Anne Page and I’m for Master Slender. The host is for Master Fenton and Dr Caius is for Dr Caius. She has these three men wanting to marry her. It’s a nice little scene. It establishes Simple and myself because the next time we appear is together. But there is a wonderful final line, I say ‘I must go to my dinner. There’s pippins and cheese to come.’ Now I love that line. It tells you that it’s Autumn because they’re eating apples. It establishes the joke that the Welshman loves to eat cheese and there are lots of jokes later in the play: ‘I wouldn’t trust him any more that I would trust the parson with my cheese.' I talk to Falstaff about butter and cheese. There’s a lot about cheese. I think other Welshmen have jokes about cheese in Shakespeare plays. There’s a tradition that they ate leeks and cheese. I thought it was such a shame to lose this and I said to Chris very early on when he sent me his copy of the script, that I understood why he’d cut that scene but I’d love to get that line back, because I think it’s such a wonderfully atmospheric line for the play and a very useful line for my character. Anyway we got the scene back. He’s been quite radical and quite brutal in his cutting but he’s always open to somebody who says ‘I don’t need that line, do I?’ and he says ‘No, you don’t’. Or somebody who says ‘Excuse me, if I had that line back it would be useful.’

These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.

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