In his second blog post Simon discusses the experience of joining an already established company, the language of the play and developing his character in Act I.
Transcript of Podcast
The role of the director
I’ve actually worked with Lucy [Bailey, the director] before [in Don’t Look Back at the Hammersmith Lyric] and, in fact, she made me take my clothes off then as well! Last time, I was wearing a pair of 1960s underpants, and this time it’s going to be a loin cloth. She is amazing visually; I think that’s going to be such a strong point of this production. When you’re doing what Lucy does, which is to create as she goes along in a collaborative way, there can be quite a lot of sitting around, waiting for her, Maxine [Doyle, movement and dance] and the composer [Django Bates] to weave a tapestry of sound and body movements with the text. All those big ensemble movements are going to be magic but they’ve got to have our patience to pull that off, so I take my hat off to the company for their patience.
Becoming part of an established company.
Most of the company are already involved in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and so it’s difficult for Lucy because she hasn’t got everyone to rehearse with all the time. But there are four or five of us not in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so that at least she’s got some people she can always rehearse with. It can be a little daunting joining an established company of actors – you don’t know who you’re joining and they may think of you as the new kids on the block, or they might be very tired and exhausted – but I have to say this company’s been utterly delightful and welcoming and extremely supportive. I don’t know Jonathan Munby’s work terribly well, but I’m sure he has a very different working method to Lucy’s. And also the plays couldn’t be more different, I mean there is darkness in A Midsummer Night’s Dream but it is joyously funny.
First week of rehearsals
We read the play. We did two or three days of improvisational work about friendship and status. It’s quite difficult playing someone who has the status of a film star or a billionaire, when you’re just a jobbing actor. You have to get into the mindset of someone who walks into a room and changes the chemistry of that room. So we were thinking a lot about that dynamic. We were playing with levels of devotion, from handshaking, to embracing, to kissing, to almost having blood transfusions so that you become blood brothers. We were also doing a lot of animal work, because there is a lot of bestial imagery in the play – loads of references to dogs, bears, wolves.
The language of the play
After the improvisations, we went back to the text and started to go through every scene trying to paraphrase, to put into our own words, what a character was saying at any particular time. For the most part, it was straightforward, but there are some little corners of text where it’s extremely dense. But we not only had Lucy on the case, but also Giles [Block, Textual Adviser]. Between us, we unpacked it and decided on a particular meaning. This has been an ongoing process, and there are still a few little corners of text where I’m feeling that the interpretation we went for doesn’t quite fit with what we’re doing now. We’re still ironing out little patches, for example, the opening speech of Act 4 Scene 3, where I’m lying in my wilderness spot and I say:
Twinned brothers of one womb,
Whose procreation, residence, and birth,
Scarce is dividant, touch them with several fortunes,
The greater scorns the lesser. Not nature,
To whom all sores lay siege, can bear great fortune,
But by contempt of nature.
That part’s quite clear, but after that, I say:
Raise me this beggar, and deject that lord;
The senator shall bear contempt hereditary,
The beggar native honour. [4.3.3-11]
It’s a difficult corner of text and we did talk for a while about whether it would get cut, because its meaning was not really coming out, but in fact, we’ve stuck with it. We did a lot of paraphrasing, which is useful; because the language is so difficult, it’s good to have in your mind a simpler version of what you’re saying. So this passage is about how money corrupts and we are always corruptible. If a noble person loses their money, they can suddenly be treated like dirt – which is exactly what’s happened to Timon at this stage – while the beggar, when he’s given a lot of money, is treated with ‘native honour’, as if he’s always had it. And so people forget the history of that person.
The development of the character
I’m discussing with Lucy ways in which we could seed a little bit of worry about Timon’s excess into the first half of the play, maybe to give subtle hints of someone who, although he is lovely and warm, perhaps has something a little funny about him – someone who is perhaps on the edge of a breakdown, as happens in people’s mid-lives. If he has been an orphan all his life, and he’s been under this pressure of being a celebrity and exhibiting great largesse, then one day, it all catches up with him. But instead of giving way moderately, it’s like he decides he’s got to be absolute. He doesn’t move away, but decides to stay near Athens and curse and curse and curse its people. He doesn’t sow food. He’s not even interested in nuts and berries. He just wants the very basics, the bare necessities – just a little root of a parsnip or potato or something – to live in the most basic way he can. He’s a pretty extreme guy, and in that extremity he almost knocks himself out of his own humanity, and becomes a wild beast; he pushes his own humanity too far. So we are plotting little points in the first half where you might think that he isn’t alright mentally, because I think that might help us to understand why he really goes off the deep-end so much.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as she goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.