On The Night
This is part of a series on preparing my role for a ShakesBEERience reading of King John.
The King John ShakesBEERience is come and gone. In fact, judging by the fact that I’m going to see another ShakesBEERience this very night, it must be nearly or more than a month gone. Let’s see what impressions linger.
First: it was a sell-out show, or as much of a sell-out as a show can be when you accept all comers and don’t charge for tickets. The Press Room upstairs was packed! This isn’t unusual for ShakesBEERience, but I think it is unusual for King John. What a wonderful way to present Shakespeare’s work – pieces of vital, accessible art that are so much a part of the cultural heritage of the world – for FREE! That commitment is one of the reasons 7 Stages’ audience keeps coming back month after month for these things.
Second: King John is an amazing play! Who knew? Perhaps few members of the audience did before that Monday night, but after (and during intermission) I heard from several patrons: the excitement, intrigue, pathos, and beautiful language of this piece made each of them astonished that it is not more well-known. Raise a glass to 7 Stages for bringing it to the public (of course, I hear they are planning to give the entire canon the ShakesBEERience treatment) – and also to a brave audience for coming out to see it.
I too had a little time to marvel at King John, as it was stress-tested under prime conditions: two short rehearsals off of cue-scripts, a full house, a drink in one hand and the script in the other! And I find myself a big fan now of this under-performed piece. It moves with grace from grand battles to human misery to vicious plotting to political and religious debate, and it does so at a good swift clip. There are some truly meaty characters in here, including John himself, Lady Constance (I don’t know a single line more apt to bring tears to the eyes than “Grief fills the room up of my absent child”), and also the character I had the privilege to play: The Bastard.
My esteemed director gave me a direction during rehearsal that was something very different from what I had planned. So I took it. The word he used was rabid.
Now, maybe he meant that as an invitation to frothily chew the scenery and maybe he didn’t, but I’m not one to turn down an opportunity…
All I can say about this role is that Shakespeare opens up spaces in the play for this guy to tear around like a mad tiger, and it’s a joy for an actor. When read in context, it was clear to see: half of his lines aren’t given to other characters at all! He’s a direct conduit between the audience and the inner world of the play, and as such he can be nothing other than quite mad and quite charming to the other characters, more firmly rooted in the play’s reality than he. His status in the piece is unclear – from a lowly beginning he quickly begins ordering kings about. Many characters denigrate him, but other show him a strange respect which I can’t source.
And though they don’t actually share too much dialogue, the scenes between John and the Bastard rapidly created tension and connection between the two characters. Reading the play on paper, it’s hard to see where the Bastard stands in regards to his sovereign. Standing in it, speaking it, and hearing it, it’s easy to justify these lines, spoken by the Bastard on King John’s death: