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RSS Introducing Emma Pallant as Phebe and Jacques

Introduction to Emma Pallant as Phebe and Jacques - In this introductory interview Emma tells me about her familiarity with As You Like It, how she is coping with playing two parts, and why they have adapted Jacques to make it a female role.

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Time: 10 minutes, 16 seconds

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Transcript of Podcast

Hayley Bartley:

Okay, so my first question is what was your experience of Shakespeare at school?

Emma Pallant:

My first experience of Shakespeare at school – I don’t really remember. I think we did Romeo and Juliet, but I don’t remember it at all. What I do remember is seeing Mark Rylance perform Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Company when I was probably about fifteen, sixteen, I think. So I suppose my earliest memories are of performance rather than of reading it in a school room. I know I did Anthony and Cleopatra at A-Level which I remember being really tricky and lots and lots and lots of scenes. Quite an unusual one to do and I think it’s got the most scenes of any Shakespeare play. So I remember finding it quite heavy going, but I did love the language of it, but it was always sitting at a table. As far as I can remember, I mean, God I’m probably doing my teachers an enormous disservice here and they probably did something very interesting with it, but I don’t remember it being there at all actually, let alone interesting or not. But I do remember productions that I saw, I remember Mark Rylance. And I was in the production of Measure for Measure when I was seventeen playing Isabella and I remember that very clearly and that’s when I first loved it though, I’m very fond of it because it is the first one I ever did.

HB:

Well, my next question was how did you first get into acting? Measure for Measure, age seventeen?

EP:

Yes, I mean I did amateur dramatics when I was younger. I did ballet from when I was three so I did performance, I suppose, in some little tiny measure from very small. But when I was about ten we did plays at school and I was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and Asher in Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat. We were always doing something usually as a Christmas show. So from about the age of ten I was doing stuff in my own time really, mostly amateur dramatic things and mostly musicals and then at school I had an amazing teacher, when I was doing my GCSE drama, who was a great fan of Brecht and he did Caucasian Chalk Circle with us and I got to play Grusha in that which was fantastic. And I think just having the inspiration of people around you and doing it, I think doing is really important. It’s always through seeing a production or being in a production that has really inspired me, not so much sitting with a book or reading a play. There’s something imaginative about getting up on your feet or seeing somebody bring it to life that what really inspired me.

HB:

Okay so now I just want to move onto the play, As You Like It. What were your impressions of it coming into rehearsal?

EP:

I know the play quite well. It’s one of the first plays I was ever in when I started to work as an actor professionally so I feel like I have a bit of a soundtrack of it from this performance that I was in years and years and years ago. And I didn’t really remember it well, in the sense that I had a very clear memory of the text over a tannoy and of images from the production. I suppose this is how we construct our memories through little snatches of other senses. So I remember it being very silly and colourful and pastoral and quite long, but I think that’s because I was in it for a long time.

HB:

And who did you play?

EP:

I was the famous character of Hysperia and everyone will go, “Who?” And she was the lady in waiting for Rosalind and Celia who then tells the Duke where she’s gone. She’s a silent character but I did get to get beaten up by the Duke every night which I remember loving. The brilliant Ian Hawke beat me up quite regularly in that play. So that was good. I got to have a big bruise put on my face and fall on the floor and be very over dramatic. But she’s not really in the play, I mean she is not necessary in the play. I was understudying Phebe actually, whom I’m now playing, so my impressions are sort of muddy and murky, but I do remember loving the language of it, having heard it on the tannoy, again a sensory thing. I remember hearing it on the tannoy and loving the language and sort of by the end feeling like I knew it by heart because I heard it so much because I was rarely in it, I wasn’t in it very much, It was one of my first jobs. I had quite a strong attachment to it emotionally, but also I got it completely wrong. I completely misremembered it, it’s a much better play than I remember it being actually because I saw it through a skewed point of view.

HB:

And so what about impressions of your characters? Two characters, very different characters.

EP:

Very different characters, yeah. I got the incredible opportunity, I still can’t quite believe I’m doing it, to play Phebe and Jacques who don’t really appear at the same time so it’s actually quite an interesting double and we’re having still a little bit of tweaking in the final marriage scene, but everybody’s in that so that’s inevitable. And they’re both very different, obviously, but also they’re quite similar. They’re both very down on the romantic side of love so there is a sort of grumpy irksome and melancholy in both of them which is quite interesting to look at. They’re both extraordinary people and we’ve been doing a very interesting thing where we’re setting it in a sort of Victorian setting, a band of travelling Victorian players, who arrive and burst out and give the audience this little play that we’ve made, all eight of us. And so trying to find a Jacques that is a Victorian woman is quite interesting and there’s actually quite a lot of people to look at as role models for that. So we’ve been doing lots of research on people that we can draw on from real life, from history, from fiction, to try and make her something a little bit more unusual. So I’m not wearing a beard and doing it as a man, I’m making her a woman.

HB:

I’m pleased to hear this.

EP:

I’m very pleased to hear this too. So I don’t have a stick on beard or something with elastic around my ears to hold it up.

HB:

So Jacques is definitely more of the challenge you foresee?

EP:

Well at the moment, because we’re only in the first half of the play, so we’re working on her now and so that’s what’s in my mind at the moment. So she’s quite challenging, but actually it fits surprisingly well and it does introduce something quite unusual to the forest because it’s a community of men essentially and the reason that Rosalind decides to dress up as a man is they’re afraid of what will happen if they go into the forest as two women. So to have this sort of errant woman there is quite something, but she has been a libertine, the character of Jacques is described as having been a libertine and travelled a lot. She’s quite an eccentric woman, who’s had the chance to travel, who has status, who has probably quite a lot of sexual experience, we think. So she’s this quite dangerous little character in the middle of this bunch of men, it’s quite interesting.

HB:

And so, does it work then that Celia and Rosalind - It’s not that they’re women, it’s that they’re strangers to the forest, that’s why they really have to disguise themselves?

EP:

I think so, but also that’s their fear going into the forest rather than the reality of the forest, and they’re also much younger. Jacques is definitely a woman who’s been around and I think Celia and Rosalind led this very protected life in this very severe strict Victorian court so they’re coming from that into something much wilder. Whereas I think Jacques has already been through quite a wild history so it’s not so much of an anticipated fear for her, she’s just getting on with it.

HB:

And I just want to ask about how the play is being adapted for touring? What particular elements are you changing or having to adapt to make it work? You’ve mentioned it being Victorian travellers.

EP:

James [Dacre], our director, has been very good and very clear with us about this, that it is frame work to help a very clear picture come to the audience that people know where we are, what sort of world we’re dealing with and we’re doing a lot of research, but he has also said if it’s not helpful after a week or two we can just chuck it out. Telling the story is the most important thing, to be very clear and tell a good story and let people have a lovely evening, a good time. Maybe learn something, maybe stretch their imagination a little bit, but we’re not going to kind of stump a ridiculous concept on the top of it, it’s purely there as a sort of framing device and a wash over the work. Certainly my impression from what James’ been speaking about with us is it’s not going to be sheer horned into some ridiculous kind of gnarly concept which it doesn’t really fit. So the thing we’re really struggling with is the fact that there’s only eight of us and there are so many characters so the doubling is quite extraordinary. We have some very funny doubles and triples of people who are playing characters.

HB:

Is a man playing Audrey? Is this correct?

EP:

He is. The two Dukes. The wonderful John O’Mahony who’s playing the good Duke and the bad Duke or rather should I say, to be more exact, Duke Frederic and Duke Senior, is also playing Audrey which is very good and very funny. But the other side of it is that very often someone has the last line of one scene and the first line of the next scene as a completely different character so the challenge at the moment is working out how to do the quick changes, how to make that happen either incredibly self-consciously, so that it is great fun to just go I now have a new hat and I’m somebody else, or to do it magically so that people go, “How on earth did that happen?” Or to hardly do it at all and just see what happens then. I don’t know we’re just playing with those ideas of how...

HB:

...And you can probably do all three in different ways. It’s really good fun.

EP:

Exactly, so at the moment we’re doing a lot of playing, a lot of experimenting. We’re working with Georgina Lamb, our lovely and wonderful choreographer, and Olly Fox, our brilliant composer, and we’re just experimenting with what music does, what movement does, how we can move, who we are when we’re the actors who are performing this piece because we’re a band of Victorian travelling players as well as characters. So trying not to make it too complicated, but also to make it a thing of wonder because you want to be able to have a good time essentially, you know, they’re coming out and sitting on blankets in the summer evening, hopefully under the sunset and not the rain, so you want to make it something that holds their attention and gives them a magical evening. We’ve also come up with a few really fun ideas about somebody being in the same scene with themselves and how you do that.

HB:

It’s so fun. I love that.

EP:

And people buy it because you forget and accept very quickly, especially if it’s quite rough theatre. If it’s not all illusion and everybody is in beautiful huge extreme costumes with wonderful lighting, you know, it’s just very plain light, like it is at the Globe, and it’s very bare bones and you just get on with it and do it and people buy it, you know, I think that’s really exciting. And it will be very fast...

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