January 16, 2014
Good theatre should challenge our preconceived ideas, I think. Guy Henry, currently playing Captain Hook in Wendy and Peter Pan, gives us a character that causes us to question the cliché that is Hook.
But Guy has also played many a Shakespeare character: Osric, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Malvolio, Parolles.
Before we talk about this though, he tells me he doesn't like to rehearse. We've all heard of stage fright. Even the most experienced can suffer from this phobia. But rehearsal fright? This was new to me. It's the exposure to other actors that he is wary of. The audience is largely unknown but to expose oneself to the judgement of fellow actors is scary, he says. Guy has learnt to cope with it.
Drama in a hut
At school he thought of going to agricultural college if he couldn't be a radio disc jockey. Although he had studied Macbeth and Othello in school it was as he puts it 'as a means to an end' namely passing exams. They were never taken to see the plays performed.
It was while studying drama at A' level that he encountered an inspirational teacher. They had been given a hut for lessons which they painted themselves - black of course- and here they explored Pinter and Ionesco and Guy discovered the joy of being on stage making people laugh!
He was offered a place to read English at Oxford but decided on RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) instead where he won the Forbes Robinson prize for his melancholy Jacques from As You Like It. This was his first taste of performance Shakespeare.
Two characters in Twelth Night
His great mentor in the '80s was Declan Donellan who cast him as Feste in Twelfth Night. It was he who bullied and cajoled him from being a stiff actor into something much more flexible. Cheek by Jowl toured this production to British Council venues across Europe so he found himself in Istanbul with Shakespeare.
Guy has played Aguecheek twice and Malvolio once in Twelth Night.
Most of the time playing Aguecheek is a romp and you have plenty of company. But there's still some tragedy. Guy likes the line 'I was adored once too' for its pathos yet has to concede that probably only his nanny ever adored Aguecheek. The moment shimmers with the tragic. He tells me that the RSC director, Adrian Noble, used to describe this as 'fleet' - where a line can balance on the edge between the tragic and the comic. It's momentary but can be powerfully dramatic.
Playing Malvolio, by contrast, you are very alone, says Guy. It is so much more difficult to play and Shakespeare hates so much of what Malvolio stands for, although typically criticising the lack of humanity in the way he is treated.
Playing a king
Guy loved the role of King John which he played in Greg Doran's 2001 production. He 'found' John when he discovered how he had fallen in love with The Bastard. And again he was treading the fine line that exists between the comedic and the tragic with this role.
He says that he was delighted to at last play a king and has subsequently considered Richard II and Richard III as being roles that are within his grasp.
Greg Doran, he says, is very clear in telling the story in a play. He makes you feel involved in the creative process but at the same time has a clear vision of exactly what he wants. Sometimes he may drop you a hint in passing rather than send you an explicit note which means that you do not feel that you are slavishly following a director's brief.
To those coming to Shakespeare and feeling daunted by the text on the page he advises: don't try to embrace the whole Shakespeare concept but find a line or lines that you can latch onto and proceed from there. Take in what you understand.
by Viv Graver
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