Directors in Conversation – Transcript

Directors in Conversation – transcripts of video

A Director in Conversation 1 -James Wallace on the Globe Theatre

I’d say that was a great danger. I’d say that it could be that, that people were expecting that. I’d say that Mark
[Rylands, former director at the Globe] has done a great job of confounding those sorts of expectations. When people
thought that it was just going to be a re-creation, he cast one season entirely in modern dress. People got really upset
about it. Critics got really upset about it: “how dare they! This is the first production of Macbeth that someone may have
seen; how dare they have people fighting with feathers and when they died they threw the stone of their soul into a metal
bucket”. But, you know, Mark deliberately did that to mess with people’s heads. The audience is young – the groundlings
are 700 seats for a fiver. That’s open access. People say it’s just for tourists – but what’s a tourist? It’s just you or
me abroad. It’s a young audience. No government funding. For me, it doesn’t work when people just rely on a bit of
pantomime, like Much Ado About Nothing, last year. That didn’t work for me. I thought it was trying too hard
to get laughs. That doesn’t work. But, in many ways, its still a bit of an exploration. There’s still a lot of research
being done. But to recreate a Globe, to recreate an open-air amphitheatre, to see what would happen, has changed
people’s opinions. Billington said that you can’t do Shakespeare now without an acknowledgement of the audience.
It has shown that, and it works, and its not pantomime. It’s not Disneyland – in the sense that the laughs are so much
more sophisticated. You can make somebody laugh, or cry, or think – from one line to the next. Having a constant
awareness of the audience there is something that’s present in Restoration theatre as well as in Classical theatre,
and it was something we’d lost, certainly, from what little I know, in the last century with their ‘black boxes’.
When the audience is there and engaged, its more like football matches with the terraces. People are standing up.
You don’t close off your emotions. You’re there. You can move around. You’re in daylight. When Prospero talks about
“you’re going to die” or if Hamlet talks about “you’re going to die”, you feel the wind on your cheek, and you
know what it is to be alive. I don’t know if most people get this, I’m sure most people don’t because they
don’t know about it, I’ve been lucky enough to get a little bit – but for me, the Globe is like a big Renaissance
soul-transforming machine. It’s like a big machine to transform your soul. Theatre comes from Greek ritual –
that’s what theatre should be about, making you aware of yourself so that you don’t just understand something
intellectually, because otherwise you could just write an essay, but to experience it, like the little plays
that you go through if you’re a Mason, you go up through your 33 degrees. You take part in it, like the
Mysteries of Isis, or Orpheus. You take part in it with other people, and somehow this changes you.
Which is quite an extraordinary idea. It’s not a twentieth century idea.

Time: 3.33

A Director in Conversation 2 -James Wallace on rhetoric

In Shakespeare’s time, if you got a grammar school education, it involved learning Latin, and it involved learning rhetoric. I did a workshop with Lynn Hunter whose a Professor at Leeds with her husband Peter ? , who used to be a director. They’re editing the Arden Romeo and Juliet. She opened my eyes to how much rhetoric there is in Romeo and Juliet. I just didn’t realise. The scene between Benvolio, Mercutio and Romeo – “you gave me the goose”, “your pump is well flowered” – you know, “pink” for “pump”, “pink for flower”. Trying to read it, with all the sexual innuendo, just doesn’t make sense, just as a word game it makes sense. I don’t know how many terms of rhetoric there are, at least a hundred; we know a few of them, but Shakespeare was brought up with this, as were the other gentlemen of that time. Rhetoric is there to move people, and of course it still exists today. We hear it with politics, or in advertising, or with lawyers. It’s no surprise that Tony Blair was a lawyer, or that Bill Clinton was a lawyer. These are people who know how to speak, they know how to move people, and a lot of it is technical. It’s to do with rhythm, with repetition, with using gestures, the shape of it. And the form itself has an effect. We all know that 80% of language, they say, is not to do with the words we use, it’s how we say them. So I do believe it’s encoded in there, and I’m sure it has some kind of ritualistic effect. If you’re hearing a rhythm repeated – di dum, di dum, di dum – it does something to you after a while. I was just reading some stuff by William Burroughs about rhythm in lights affecting the alpha waves of your brain. You can physically change your brain with rhythm. Songs change us – you can be in a bad mood, you hear a great song, it cheers you up. You don’t have to consciously understand why.

Yvonne McDevitt: The voice is the first thing that you hear in the womb and that we experience.

Time: 2.33

A Director in Conversation 3 -James Wallace on Shakespeare’s use of language

Yvonne McDevitt: Can I ask you about language? John Caird came up to speak to us two weeks in a row and he mentioned that if you’re working with [director] Peter Hall, Peter Hall will sit there with a script and note down each little bit in the language and holler if he feels that an actors’ off key. John Caird spoke of himself as being a director who’s more interested in the psychology of his characters and therefore is heavily involved with his actors’ journey towards this. What kind of approach to you take to directing Shakespeare, to the language and to rendering it alive?

James Wallace: I come at first as an actor, which is basically what I am,. When I was at drama school, I didn’t understand verse at all. I didn’t understand what you were supposed to do with it. I knew that somehow you were supposed to drive through to the end of the line, somehow you were supposed to lift the line, but I didn’t understand that there was any point to it. Obviously, I’d read the John Barton book and seen his masterclass on TV, which was good. I’d heard him speak, and spent some time at the RSC. My ideas about verse completely changed when I met a guy called Giles Block, who was Master of Verse at the Globe – I’d come across his ideas a few years before I went to work at the Globe. He has an idea that verse recreates natural speech. The common sense view would say that prose is natural and verse is artificial. Giles’ idea is that somehow it’s the other way round. Prose is somehow more guarded, prepared, less intelligent if you’re a lower character like a clown or something. If you look at plays like Hamlet, or Othello, people go into prose when it’s something they’d already thought of, or when they’re wearing a mask. If you look at Hamlet and Ophelia in the nunnery scene, Hamlet starts off in verse ‘Soft the fair Ophelia / Nymph, in thy orisons.”, full of love, and then she comes up and starts going “here are your CDs back”. And he puts up the mask, and goes ‘Oh, right, fine.’ As an actor, I found this very exciting as it meant that I could use the form of it, but to be real, and to explore the psychology of it. And as I’ve worked on it myself, to explore my own understandings and misunderstandings, it seems that every change in the rhythm can have some psychological meaning. If you begin with a trochee, it’s obvious that you have some reason for coming in very strongly. If you end a line with a pyrrhic foot followed by a spondee, there’ll be some psychological reason why that’s the case, why the character wants to make an extra strong point at the end of the line. If there’s an epic caesura, that seems that your heart is too full or that there’s some extra emotion in you. I’m an iambic fundamentalist. I pay really close attention to the verse. Certainly, when I’m working with students, whether I’m right or wrong, at least it will give them the tools to be able to withstand any other director who demands this kind of stuff from them. I find it very useful, just as a first port of call, to try and pluck out all meaning from rhythm, because it is built on rhythm, and rhythm is great to listen to, and rhythm has meaning. I don’t know whether it’s officially part of rhetoric, but it’s certainly part of communicating. Rhythm and pitch and stress and volume are things we use to communicate, and that’s already encoded in there. And then the plays begin to direct themselves a little. It wouldn’t surprise me if, given the quick nature of rehearsals in Shakespeare’s day, if the verse in some way encodes directors notes within it, or character notes within it. So to answer your original question, I hope I’d have a bit of both. I start off with the verse and scour it for any deviation from an iambic line; if there is a deviation, is there some psychological reason for it? There practically always is in Shakespeare, or you can imagine one. Obviously, I do that in the beginning, breaking the language down, and then, putting it back together, I work on character, plot, bits of business, timing of jokes, and working out which entrances to use.

Time: 4.33