Mike left his Middlesbrough comprehensive school at 16 untouched by Shakespeare. It was not being in the top set that did it, he says. He found himself a job as a van driver but then fell in love with a girl who had set her sights on university. Her influence caused him to review his own path. He enrolled at his local further education college to do A-Levels in English, Theatre Studies and Sociology, taking up amateur dramatics in his leisure time. His interest engaged, he had the grades for university but, after a year on a kibbutz, he decided on LAMDA. He had learnt to love acting.
Performing at the RSC
His first roles for the RSC were as Manny Rat in The Mouse and His Child and Hodge in The Shoemaker’s Holiday. This season he plays Capulet in Erica Whyman's production of Romeo and Juliet. He has worked with the director before when he was Scrooge in her Northern Stage production. Having previously played Capulet at Sheffield Crucible, he has noticed many changes in his performance now: “a little turn of a dial to right or left can have a profound effect.”
He appreciates the luxury of more rehearsal time at the RSC, a creative period of exploration before decisions have to be made. He says that with Erica you sit in a circle and, with her sleight of hand, you emerge with direction without having been directed. You come away with valuable nuggets to feed your performance. Erica continually stressed that he should go for the humane side of Capulet, and careful consideration of the text revealed a man attempting to make inroads to peace and reconciliation. As such, he throws a party, silencing Tybalt’s objection to the Montagues being present.
The Porter in control
A very different style of acting is employed in Mike's depiction of the Porter in Polly Findlay’s Macbeth. His agent hinted that there might be more to the role than the one scene, and he did not want to play the funny man with a gag-heavy routine, staggering around the worse for drink. Polly agreed and they both felt that they wanted to honour the black sinister oddness of the man. He was to be a Beckett-type character. Polly felt that Shakespeare was going for a bit of experimental writing with the character and if he is a fool, he is one of Shakespeare’s darker ones, like the Fool in King Lear.
The idea developed in rehearsal. He was the controller. He could stop the play at any time. He was, in fact, a devil, and he and the witches were spirits outside the timeframe of events. Originally he was to enter after Duncan’s death, but it was decided he would be there from the start, always in control. What a role!
The Porter's dark humour
The Porter has his own slow tempo rhythm which serves to heighten the dramatic tension in a play where the characters hurtle towards destruction. There is a wise Mephistophelian objectivity to his view of events, and his brand of dark humour allows him to honour the concept of the clown without playing the clown.
Every character on stage is open to interpretation, Mike says. And the Porter. “It’s a deeply rewarding part for me.”
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.