Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Interview • CORIN REDGRAVE • Pericles • 2005


As you may have seen in the news [2005], the actor Corin Redgrave is in a critical condition in hospital after suffering a heart attack while speaking in support of a travellers’ site in Cray’s Hill, Essex, on Wednesday. We send our prayers to him and his family as he fights the odds on a life support machine.

The following interview, which took place a scant twenty-four hours before the opening night of Kathryn Hunter’s production of Pericles at Shakespeare’s Globe (2 June), in which the actor has been starring as Pericles the Elder, was to have been published last night but then the news came in and I delayed as a mark of respect until I was able to check with the Globe press office.

Written as conversation, I would merely add that my allotted ten minutes was extended to thirty for he was kind enough to speak to me at some length, giving truly considered answers about the Globe and its working methods, about the threat to the Arts Theatre, and some of the positive changes to have occurred in British theatre over the last few decades. Fresh from King Lear for the RSC, which transferred to the Albery Theatre earlier this year, and having announced that he is being treated for cancer, Pericles was marking his first ever appearance at the Globe.

Have you ever worked somewhere similar to Shakespeare’s Globe in terms of sight lines and acoustics?

Never, no. I suppose the nearest thing, but it’s still some way from this, is to work in theatre-in-the-round and I’ve done that a few times. That certainly gives you a sense of having to share in a more extroverted way what you’re doing with different parts of the audience. So I suppose in a way that’s some sort of useful experience to have in the background of things but I don’t think I’ve ever come across a theatre anything like the Globe, no. Not just because of its space, which is still remarkable in the way it sort of welds the audience and the performers together, but because of what that gets out of performers and more, perhaps, what it gets out of the audience, which is something unique. There really is a sort of feeling of interaction that I’ve never encountered anywhere else so that when the audience applauds at the end, quite rightly you feel that they’re applauding themselves as well as the players.

Apart from taking those factors into account, you’ve just done Lear, which performance Howard Loxton, whom you know, of course, from the Theatre Book Prize, called ‘masterly’ and ‘intelligent’ — what has it been like going from one set of working practices in terms of the RSC and now the Globe? In other words, do you approach everything in exactly the same way?

Yes, I try to. I don’t, so to say, have an RSC performance and a Globe performance and if there were a temptation to find a different style of performance, perhaps it ought to be resisted, at least that’s my feeling. Others may have a different account to give. I think there are certain things which have to be negotiated, and you have to be ready for performing in the Globe, which don’t necessarily obtain in either the Stratford theatre or the West End theatre which we did Lear in. Modern lighting and the advantages — and I still think there are some advantages either to a proscenium theatre or to a theatre with a large thrust or an arena theatre — modern lighting enables the director and the actors to focus the audience’s attention much more rapidly upon, shall we say, even a word or a movement or a speech so that you don’t have to negotiate in the same way for the audience’s attention as you do when you’re performing in the open air and with none of those technical, post-19th century assistances to help you to shape and focus and, so to say, ‘live edit’ a performance, because that’s what technology does — it’s a form of editing rather like painters use perspective in order to lead the eye to what the painter wants you to concentrate on; that’s a complex matter in the Globe. So that there are certain things that are different about it.

A lot of the younger generation don’t seem to be coming out of training, or wherever they’re coming from these days, knowing the importance of focus. Or the director has not been able to curtail what they’re doing and so focus is often lost at important moments.

I think that’s true and maybe it’s because most young people have been so accustomed not only to watching but, if you’re an actor, appearing in film or television, where all the work of focus is done for you — you don’t have to think about that as you do in the theatre. Whatever the theatre, you have to think about it to some extent. But a great deal is done for you even in a proscenium theatre or let’s say in a darkened theatre, which isn’t done for you in an open air theatre.

What do you see as good changes to have happened to the business over the last few decades and, conversely, what do you regret the loss of and wish was still a part of theatre?

There’s quite a lot of things on both sides of that line, really. One of the things that I very much welcome is the fact that some theatres, not nearly enough, but it’s a good start, I suppose, have been able to attract sponsorship like the National Theatre has attracted so as to bring the price of their seats down and that has completely invigorated theatre. The RSC also has a policy for young people up to a certain age — they come in for £5. That’s a marvellous policy and it completely transformed the composition of the audiences at the Albery and I thought that was wonderful.

I think that the fact that the prevalence of marketing and the sheer quantity of musical productions in the West End has crowded out other kinds of theatre very much to the detriment of theatre generally. That’s on the minus side. And there seems to be less space except in the unofficial or the fringe theatres for work that isn’t either a musical or doesn’t contain an American film or TV star and I regret that. But there’s good and bad on both sides, I think.

The one thing that’s been exercising me is the lack of ability in terms of projection with younger actors. If you can’t hear people and, however they’ve come up through the ranks, if they can’t make themselves heard and their character comes across… How are you finding it with Pericles.

I think they do have a difficulty. The Globe is very good because it provides constant, twenty-four hour voice tuition and movement tuition so whatever difficulties you might have when you come there, there really is no reason for you not to be able to overcome them. It’s constant, you know; you can get group tuition or you can get private tuition, doesn’t cost a thing, it’s all laid on and it’s very good so there’s no reason why that should last.

You’ve just spoken out about saving the Arts Theatre from demolition. Is there anything in particular you’d like to add?

I’m glad you ask about it because the more clamour that’s made about it the better because it does seem that the danger of it being pulled down is much more imminent than perhaps I, for one, had realised. I formed the impression, and I hope I’m wrong, that the owners want to knock it down this August and there’s really nothing in law that can prevent them from doing that though there are requirements on them to reproduce something and that has to go before Westminster Planning and so on. But there’s nothing to prevent them from knocking it down in law and all that can prevent them from knocking it down is public concern that this should not happen.

It’s funny, I was reminded by John Levitt of Save London’s Theatres that he first appeared on the stage, his first professional job, aged 12, in the Olivier company when they did Caesar and Cleopatra and it was during that run that Vivien Leigh, very bravely, from the gallery of the House of Lords, interrupted a debate to say, do you know, my Lords, that this magnificent theatre, the St James’s, is to be pulled down? And there was then no law to prevent that. Subsequently, various listing things have been done and requirements, you know, things that happened, but I thought there’s nothing in law to prevent a theatre like the Arts from disappearing because it doesn’t have any great architectural distinction. But it has huge distinction as a pioneering theatre of 20th century drama and an awful lot of people wouldn’t ever have acted or directed or written if it hadn’t been for that theatre. So I just hope that it is saved and I believe that Peter Hall and others, and perhaps myself too, are going to form a committee as soon as possible to get to work to save it because it’s going to need all the work that we can do and a lot more besides.

Sarah Vernon © 2005

Originally published on R&V on 09-06-05

Update 28th July, 2015
Corin Redgrave did survive the heart attack though with many problems including memory loss, and he continued acting. He lived for another five years, dying on 6th April, 2010. I am so thankful that I snuck in there to interview him when I did!

My next post will be a reposting from The Guardian of an interview with Corin’s widow, actress Kika Markham, who has written a memoir about their time together and the difficulty of the final years.

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