Interview with star actor Mark Rylance (2)

16th April 2004



Heather Neill continues her conversation with the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, looking at original pronunciation productions.

We’ll see what it sounds like… it’s really all part of the experiment.



Heather Neill continues her conversation with the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, looking at original pronunciation productions.

Recording date: 16 April 2004

Transcribed by the V&A © This transcript is copyright of the Trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum. If you wish to refer to this in publication its reference is INTERVIEW: MARK RYLANCE (2/2) and you must use the full url as displayed in your browser’s address bar.

Heather Neill: We’ve talked a little bit about original practices and experiment here, which go along side by side – perhaps they’re the same thing in a sense. But this season there’s something new, which sounds really, quite amazing to me: the original pronunciation. I think they’re going to be three performances of Romeo and Juliet in what we think might be as close as we can get to Shakespeare’s way of sounding. How do we know this? How much do we know? And do you think it will be possible for audiences to follow?

Mark Rylance: I don’t, I really don’t know, I don’t know – it’s an experiment! As far as I can perceive, the way that people like John Barton and David Crystal (who’s the linguistic scholar who’s going to help us with this) determine the dialects of that period is that they look at the text and they find where there are clearly two words that were meant to rhyme, at the time, and they don’t rhyme now, and therefore they have to, one of the words, the sounds of one of the words, or both of the words, has to change and meet mid-ground, or go to the other word’s territory and from that they determine a dialect. But I also read that there were many dialects at that time. I think it’s Raleigh, Rawleigh I think they say, or Drake, who couldn’t be understood by Queen Elizabeth because his Dorset dialect was so strong. So the Aristocrats also spoke in the dialect of the land on which they lived. There wasn’t such a thing as the Queen’s English or Standard English, that’s a much later idea. So I doubt that it’s one dialect that everyone has to express in the same way. I hope that the audience will be able to understand it, that’s why we’re only doing three. We generally, we’ve generally considered it over the last few years and rejected it as being a bit, there are so many different theories about it, it’s difficult to make a choice, but this year we’ve decided to go with David Crystal’s work and explore that and have a dialect coach come in and work with the actors and we’ll see what it sounds like. I know I’ve heard John Barton say that it sounds closer to something like North Carolinian or North Carolina speech in the United States, which make sense as a lot of people were going across there at that time and maybe the dialect would have survived a bit better over there than they have here. But we’ll see, it’s part of the experiment. And I suppose from my point of view, as Artistic Director, the promotion of the Globe as an experimental theatre space which is how I’ve always seen it.

Heather Neill: For the last couple of years you’ve had a relationship with Middle Temple Hall, where Twelfth Night was, we think, first performed before an audience of lawyers, and that was a particularly successful production, and then, there was Richard II last year. This year the Globe’s productions, all three of them, are going to Hampton Court. How has that come about? And how difficult is it to adapt a production meant for the wide open spaces of the Globe to something quite different, where you have a more, not a conventional theatre exactly, but you don’t have the same conditions as you do at the Globe.

Mark Rylance: It’s a challenge to go to another space, it was always part of Sam Wanamaker’s vision, drawn really you know, obviously, from scholarship that Shakespeare’s company…

Heather Neill: Sam Wanamaker of course who was the originator of the whole project of the reconstructing the Globe wasn’t he?

Mark Rylance: Yeah, Sam was the first Artistic Director, I’m the second Artistic Director. Sam was everything, you know, on every committee as far as I, it seems to me, but he respected enormously the scholarship of the period and drew forward that scholarship through the development of the project. It’s been one of the great, you know, achievements of the project, is the bringing together of scholars about this period, and it’s the project has ridden on the wave of the last century’s fantastic scholarship about Shakespeare. I’m sure it will be seen as a century remarkable for the increase in enquiry and knowledge about Shakespeare’s working conditions. One of the things we know is that they played, from 1606, in the indoors Blackfriars theatre as well as in the amphitheatre, and previous to the building of the Globe or the theatre in Shoreditch, they, it was familiar to them to play in the halls of aristocrats, particularly in the halls of the King and Queen out at places like Hampton Court, Richmond Palace, when it was there, Whitehall, which is still there, and indeed the Inns of Court, the Middle Temple Hall, Gray’s Inn. Certainly one of the first recorded performances of plays like Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night take place in Gray’s Inn and Middle Temple Hall. Now these halls still stand! So we can go into the Middle Temple Hall and play in a building, albeit a building that was damaged in the Second World War and rebuilt, part of it, but all the, most of the material and the shape of it is the same. So it’s a wonderful experiment in how did, how did the company play in there? What was it like? What are the demands of the space on the voice, on the movement, on the dynamics of the story? And it’s been a great development for us to be invited by the Middle Temple Hall twice to go and create a setup there, and play the plays and we’ve discovered an enormous amount. Not least the way a play like Twelfth Night had a lot of jokes that are in Latin that the lawyers laughed at and they didn’t, they went for nothing over here in the Globe, but the sense of the different audiences that Shakespeare was writing for is a very interesting thing as well, that the plays were adapted or could fit different audiences, so that’s been a good experiment, and, particularly as we’re still waiting to build the second theatre on site here, the Inigo Jones Indoor theatre, which’ll be a fantastic addition, but it’s always been the conception that the actors here would explore not just the amphitheatre but also these wonderful early indoor theatres, just on the cusp of scenery coming in, just before scenery enters the theatrical language.

And then this year Hampton Court have very nicely invited us. We’re also in a very resonant 400-year anniversary period, aren’t we from these last ten years that I’ve, well it’s nine years that I’ve been here, replete with anniversaries relating back, and indeed this year’s the anniversary of a big festival of drama that King James held at Hampton Court in January of 1604, just after he’d arrived. Measure for Measure is first recorded as a play in its performance for King James at Christmas time in 1604 in Whitehall, and it’s very clearly written with a lot of particular observations and comments for King James, who wanted to learn more about the people and tried to go in disguise sometimes to observe or to go and observe just people working and would become overwhelmed by crowds, so the very fact that the play explores the way a duke can go and find out about society by disguising himself as a friar is very resonant. And so this why Hampton Court have invited us. And we’re going to try a very different seating set up in Hampton Court as well, and try some things called Standings, which are a bit like scaffold, platforms for people to sit and stand on and the whole thing will be very interesting for the company. Because we have three companies performing here this summer in repertoire (to sustain the thirteen shows a week that we do), we’re able to send one company up to Hampton Court while the other two stay here at the Globe and so it’s going to be an exciting July for the actors to go to these places.

Heather Neill: Well this year you have three plays by Shakespeare and none by other dramatists, either contemporaries of Shakespeare, or new ones, because you have in fact commissioned two new plays, haven’t you, for the stage here. How do you decide what’s going to be in the rep each season and why is it all Shakespeare this year?

Mark Rylance: It’s very, I don’t, there are lots of things that come into deciding what plays to do. I suppose I start by looking around at the world at what, and the plays in a sense relate, you know, you can always relate a Shakespeare play to something in the world, but I try and look at what, what perhaps is resonant. Last year we did the season of Regime Change, which of course were very resonant with the topics of discussion in the news, and, about, about the rights and wrongs of regime change, so we were looking out in a sense to other societies, to matters of governance and relationships between nations, and the five plays were all about that kind of idea. The two Marlowe plays were present last year as well exploring that kind of idea. So I felt also in the nature of the theatre it would be quite good to come closer to home and look at something that was happening just in England, in our home territory and, and so the Samaritans theme came up as we were just talking about. I also look at, I also look at what’s happening with our artists and I’m very keen to bring back as many artists as possible and to develop a kind of ensemble or a team that involves new, star players you’ve, you know transfers you’ve brought in, as well as a very experienced mid-field, back-field or even, you know, front players. And the women’s company, was, had such an exciting birth last year with Richard III and Taming of the Shrew I was very keen to bring the women back, and to give them a very popular play and it seemed to me also that the single gender stuff, both all-male and all-female, is particularly resonant and works very well when you do the comedies because they are about the meeting of the genders more than the histories or the tragedies. So, I wanted them to have a comedy, and Much Ado about Nothing seemed a very perfect choice for them.

With the Measure for Measure that was also very much to do with wanting to bring the director John Dove, who I’ve wanted to bring for a few years, to the Globe and so that depended a little bit also on what play he liked and a play where I felt that I had a part that would be suitable, for me. And with Romeo and Juliet it was just time that we did that and well it was really particularly to do with Kananu Kirimi who’s had great successes both here in the season with The Tempest, and also more recently at the RSC, up at the Roundhouse and in other plays there. She just is, happens to be in the perfect place to play Juliet, iin my mind. And so the production really started with Kananu, there. So do you see it’s a mixture, of, if I can speak about actors in that sense, of the players and material I’ve got at hand that I want to retain by offering, you know having parts to offer those people, and what I think will have some resonance or depth for the audience. Because undoubtedly it’s an original practice that Shakespeare didn’t just write about the past or foreign cultures for everyone to escape from what was happening – he wrote about them because he felt they had something that was shaking, or resonant, or enlightening about what was happening in that time. That relationship has gone now, in matter, but the spirit of that interaction, that when you come to a Shakespeare play it has all the frankness and wit of someone who’s got their finger on the pulse in a sense. That’s something that I think any theatre that does Shakespeare is always thinking about, so those are some of the contributing factors. Obviously I’m a commercial theatre, I don’t receive any sponsorship for, I live completely on my box office, and indeed my box office not only pays my way but contributes to the charitable ends of the whole centre, which include education and the exhibition and the life of all the employees here so I have to bear those things in mind as well.

Heather Neill: You mentioned a director, that you’d wanted to bring in John Dove, and one of the other directors this season is Tim Carroll, who’s done many productions here and is therefore used to this, particularly challenging space I would have thought, for a director. Do you find it difficult sometimes to get people to come and direct here? Is it more frightening than other theatres do you think?

Mark Rylance: Yes some directors, I’ve spent a long time, lots of meetings with them over months and they in the end have not felt they can. A lot of directors, necessarily, are very skilful with lights and sets and creating sealed worlds in black boxes in a sense, with a kind of fourth wall that keeps them from the audience, and this enables great subtlety and finesse in the control of the production. You can really set it and then, you know, keep it as it is and sustain in a kind of, you know, Les Mis-type productions that are meant to be exactly the same all over the world. So the Globe is daunting for them; they’re going to have to again like a football player who always kicks with the right leg they’re going to have to start kicking with the left leg some of them, and I can see it is daunting for them to lose the lights, lose the sets, and indeed realise that the actors will have to respond spontaneously to the audience and to the weather and all the things we were talking about before; they cannot just respond to the director’s wishes. The director has to prepare the actors, like you’d prepare sports people, to play, to play well in the given moment. Now all directors will agree that’s what they do in any theatre, and they do try and do that, but this space depends and relies more on the actor and the audience for the nature of it, that you can’t support them quite as much, the actors have to give and take focus to each other. The director can’t, with a light, dim a whole group of actors on the stage and light one person, so no matter how weak or strong they are they will come, they will look the most, everyone will look there; they have to work with the actors to achieve that kind of dynamic and focus. So it’s, yes there are different skills, and some directors like Tim Carroll is re-really brilliant at that, though he loves as well to do more abstract set things and stuff like that as he sometimes does here with his production of Macbeth and with Dido Queen of Carthage. But he’s very, very good at taking on the difficulty of the disciplines of Original Practices. That’s also very difficult for some directors as well, to not just have a free hand to respond with their instincts as a modern storyteller, but try and stay within the disciplines of what was possible at that time, it’s a very, very subtle aesthetic to take on board. And so, for example, at times I find it, either the directors really pause and hang around, or that they’re really keen to do it, and they’re really ready and they want to, to come back to something as simple and live and direct and as exciting as I think the work can be here.

In the case of the third director, directing the women, I really wanted a woman director, and I’ve come to Tamara Harvey who’s a young director who’s been having success in Fringe Theatres and taking over West End Shows and touring them out round the country, but her main value was that she’s done three seasons as an Assistant Director here with Tim Carroll, so she knows all of the very particular craftspeople who are around an Original Practices production and she knows the stage and the needs of it very well. And, again much like a good sports team, I’m finding one of the things that changed over the eight years I’ve been here is that we’re starting to bring forward, people who were tailors are now designing the clothing, because they have the skill to take on the design, people who were just musicians are now directing the music, for my wife Claire in productions, and it’s time that I also brought forward the young directors who’ve been around a while, and moved them into positions of leadership. And it’s happening with the actors as well, wonderful actress, Ann Ogbomo, who played small parts in the women’s company last year is playing Claudio this year, due to a fantastic audition, and her experience. So there’s a nature of me realising that I can sometimes find directors from the outside world but their skill set may be really totally foreign to the Globe, and a very good way for the Globe is for us to grow our own artists who know about the skills required for this particular space.

Heather Neill: Well thank you very much Mark and good luck for the season which begins on 7 May, with Romeo and Juliet. Thanks.

Mark Rylance: Thank you Heather.