October 1, 2013
David Fielder has become a familiar figure on the Stratford stage. We saw him last year in King John and Richard IIIand this year he is in Hamlet, As You Like Itand All's Well That Ends Well.
It has been a long season for him but he comes from an As You Like It matinee, thrilled by the number of youngsters in the audience, some whose feet don't touch the floor! That first encounter with Shakespeare in performance is so important, he recognizes.
David says that personally, through contact with Shakespeare, he has grown as a person and his life is the richer by having been informed by him.
He says that he has been very lucky in his own theatrical experience. Born in Todmorden, Lancashire his was a poor family. His own grandparents had been in service, a fact that he is mindful of in playing Adam, the old retainer, in As You Like It. But the 11+ exam lifted him into the Burnley grammar school and he was supported by a full grant during drama training.
At school, they were visited by the RSC outreach team who brought The Hollow Crown. So he saw Diana Rigg and Norman Rodway. He came to Stratford to see Alan Howard as Hamlet. But it was a trip to what is now The Royal Exchange to see Litz Pisk's The Tempest that so moved him that he couldn't speak on the return bus journey from Manchester.
He went through a grueling 11-hour audition at the Central School of Speech and Drama and at the end of the day found himself accepted, to begin the course in two weeks.
He says that he has never been ambitious, just happy to work in theatre. And Shakespeare has proved to be his passport to the world. The Tempest is his favourite play. He is fascinated by a man who has a dangerous addiction – magic - and has to learn to let go and accept his own mortality. He has played Prospero in Trinidad, Russia and in the USA. He has taken Hamlet to India.
He speaks of how highly regarded Shakespeare is around the world and how keen people are to see a performance even when they can't afford it. Student riots over ticket prices in India resulted in Hamlet episodes being played at the university.
And here at home he sees appreciation in responses to performances. For example, a Pakistani woman in Leicester told him that she was surprised how well Shakespeare understood prejudice after seeing David as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. A woman who had tragically lost a young son found her feelings reflected in King John: 'Grief fills the room up of my absent child'. A six-year-old girl, having seen the Little Angel puppet version of The Tempest asked David whether he thought Ariel and Caliban could ever be friends.
He has thoroughly enjoyed the ensemble work this season. Playing three old characters has made him an uncle or grandfather figure in the group.
It is his role of Lafeu in All's Well That Ends Well that is the most interesting. This is a new venture for the audience, many don't know the play. He thinks they are less critically detached, more receptive with a play they don't know. Lafeu is one of the most interesting characters. Where exactly does he stand and why is he prepared to accept Parolles when he has been exposed as a braggart?
David says that a character goes on a journey in a play and as an actor you follow his path. At the beginning Lafeu is somewhat impatiently dismissive of tears but by the end he has become more humane: 'A window in his heart has opened,' he tells me. And so he tells Parolles: 'Though a fool and a knave you shall eat.'
by Viv Graver
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