"We're really discovering how the Fool might be amusing to the King. And I’ve also realised in the play, it’s not just that it’s Elizabethan sense of humour; we join the fool when all her humour’s gone. She’s become depressed, because of what he’s done with Cordelia. So, when I started to see some theatrical chemistry there, I thought the big problem, was going to be solved..."
Looking back, Kevin takes us through his first memory of acting and his favourite moment from rehearsals so far.
Time: 5 minutes 9 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Rona Kelly: We’ll finish up with two last questions. The first one is, can you remember what your first role on stage was? Or the first role which really got you hooked on acting?
Kevin McNally: Yes. It was in...let’s see now, how old was I? I was eight, probably. So it was in 1964, at Redhill School in Birmingham, and I played the Sun in the Harvest Festival. And I’ll tell you how I got the part, actually. It was a Maths class and we were all doing these simple maths that was going on forever! Adding and subtraction and stuff! And the teacher wrote on the board a couplet, which was: ' My sunbeams are dancing in the meadow below,/Where tulips and daisies and daffodils grow.'
And then she scrubbed them out. I thought she was having some sort of nervous breakdown! But then she turned round and said, 'Can anybody tell me what I just wrote on the board?' And I said, because I was paying no attention to the maths, because I’m terrible at maths! I said yes, 'My sunbeams are dancing in the meadow below,/Where tulips and daisies and daffodils grow'. And I got the lead part in the school play. And I realised, at that point, that acting was a reward for a lack of application and attention to what you should be doing! And also then my mother came to see it, and for the first time in her life she bought me a chocolate bar and a Beano, because she thought I was so good, as the Sun!
RK: You don’t get that with maths, you don’t get a Beano and a chocolate bar for maths!
KM: No, nobody buys you a Beano and a chocolate bar for maths! They just say, 'Oh, well done'. So that was my first, that was when the hook went in me, yes. I’m hoping to get a Beano and a chocolate bar here, at the Globe Theatre! I don’t think the Beano even exists any more, so maybe I’ll just get the chocolate bar!
RK: And finally what’s been your favourite moment from rehearsals, so far?
KM: My favourite moment from rehearsals so far...was actually three moments. Working with the Fool, Loren O’Dair, [a character] famously difficult to make work, and discovering that we could find a circus skill or a magic skill or a musical skill or some skill to accompany each joke. And it ended up with her jumping on me and having red noses that she suddenly made into two, and really discovering how the Fool might be amusing to the King. I think for anybody playing Lear or being in a production, you think, 'How do we approach the Fool problem?' And I’ve also realised in the play, it’s not just that it’s Elizabethan sense of humour; we join the fool when all her humour’s gone. She’s become depressed, because of what he’s done with Cordelia. So, when I started to see some theatrical chemistry there, I thought the big problem, the big elephant in the room, was going to be solved, so that made me very very happy.
RK: Fascinating. The Fool problem is a big problem.
KM: It is, it is. If you see one more person with bells on their hat and curly shoes, hopping, dancing, while waggling Morris Men’s stuff in the air, I’d slit my throat! But the lady who’s playing our Fool is an aerialist and she’s [Ecole Jacques] Lecoq trained. So she has a huge other skill set to bring to the performance, which I think is as important as her talents as an actor. Because she can genuinely come across as somebody who is a performer, who has ways of entertaining the king.
RK: I’m just fascinated to see if we have the Fool by the end of the play, or what happens with that question...
KM: Well, there’s that! And do you have the Fool at the beginning? We actually (I can tell you), do have the Fool at the beginning of the play. It’s actually brilliant, because I said to Nancy [Meckler] early on that I hated asides. And so we have those wonderful Cordelia asides at the beginning, as she wonders how she is going to answer this question, and it’s a conversation with the Fool. Which pays in brilliantly to the fact that the Fool then goes missing, because he’s so depressed about Cordelia being banished. We haven’t yet addressed whether the Fool will survive, 'And I’ll to bed at midnight'.
RK: Because there is a famous [line], 'And my poor fool hang’d'.
KM: 'My poor fool hang’d', yes. That’s yet to be explored, but it will be interesting to find out. I think that my first instinct (although that might change, it usually does), is that that’s Lear’s confusion. But because we have the Fool at the beginning, our temptation is going to be to have the Fool in at the end, I think.
RK: That would be really interesting. Nice. Well, we’ll see what happens next time we catch up, but thank you for joining us today.
KM: It’s been my pleasure.
KM: And thank you for adopting me!
RK: Well, I don’t know how far that extends!
Thanks to Mary for the transcription of this interview.