Since the opening of the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford in 2011, Marcus has become a familiar face to regular theatre goers. He is currently playing Laertes in Hamlet and Cloten in Cymbeline. As the understudy for Hamlet, he has also recently performed the role in the RST.
Marcus feels privileged to have been the first actor invited to speak Shakespeare’s lines in the new theatre prior to its opening. He was one of six young actors recruited by the RSC for the opening. Having auditioned for Greg Doran reading Shakespeare’s sonnets, he was asked to give the “O for a muse of fire” speech from Henry V (Act 1 Prologue).
Shakespeare in school
Marcus first encountered Shakespeare at Dulwich College when he was studying The Taming of The Shrew for exams. He found the language and rhythms "alien" but his English teacher had them up on their feet, so he says he always associated Shakespeare with drama rather than exams.
He trained as a classical actor at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where in his second year he performed Corialanus, a role he shared with two other students. His best moment was in the encounter with Corialanus's mother near the end. Shakespeare understands family relationships: Marcus had experienced being cut down to size by his own mother (as had his two brothers). "It was a moment that I recognised only too well!"
In his final year he was recruited for his first professional job appearing as the villain, Conrade, in Much Ado about Nothing. Working in that space gave him confidence in reaching out to an audience, but it was a dreadfully wet summer and was hardly sympathetic background for the light-hearted feel of the production. But this must have been what it was like for an actor at the original Globe, he says.
At the RSC: Cloten and Laertes
In 2012 Marcus was directed by Greg Doran in Julius Caesar and again in Richard II in 2013. He has also experienced the thrust stage of the Swan Theatre where he was able to explore the work of Marlowe, Jonson and Ford in The Jew of Malta, Volpone and Love’s Sacrifice. "You get a sense of the age. These were Shakespeare’s mates exploring similar ideas and you start to make cross references between plays," he says. There is an intimate rustic feel when you play in the Swan, Marcus says, but the acoustics of the RST are amazing; you have to cover a 360 angle yet sonically your voice bounces round the space.
Right now, he is enjoying playing the role of Cloten there, and is pleased that the director, Melly Still, was looking for something other than a foppish character. Other characters' remarks of him are constantly derogatory, such as "this ass". But what sort of an ass is he? Certainly his defence of Britain not paying tribute to Rome is pithy: "We will nothing pay for wearing our own noses." Marcus plays Cloten’s anger and aggression. Cloten cannot abide ridicule, and when he is rejected scornfully by Innogen, he becomes a dangerous threat to her, plotting murder and rape. He is an arrogant ass who relies on his indulged class position to get his own way. When he meets Polydore he gets his comeuppance in a dark, comic way.
Marcus finds Laertes relatively easy to play, as he can identify with his strong attachment to family. As a man of action, Laertes makes things hard for Hamlet by demanding answers to what has happened to his father and sister with seemingly no incrimination of Hamlet. The understudy experience presented Marcus with a dichotomy: Laertes the man of action and Hamlet the man who must mull things over. Both think they are right. In role, you think as your character. Once he had played Hamlet he had to shift back to a Laertes point of view. "You can’t afford to empathise with Hamlet if you are playing Laertes," he says. You don’t judge your character in playing him. Cloten is ridiculous but he doesn’t think so. You embrace your character’s viewpoint entirely.
Viv Graver is a retired teacher, who taught Shakespeare for more than 30 years in the north of England. Her present interest is introducing Shakespeare into primary schools. Viv's blog is a series of interviews with RSC cast and creatives about their path to Shakespeare and how they first came to it, at school and elsewhere.