Maeve Fitzgerald & Marty Rea Interviews

February 25, 2010

Five hundred years before people were being buried under the patio in Brookside and marrying their own sisters you had William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, with its tales of incest, insanity, and apparitions. It set the standard for melodrama and nothing has surpassed it with regards the truth of the human condition ever since. It opened this week at The Helix brought to the stage by Second Age Theatre Company, who reach maturity this year, their 21st. It stars the RADA trained Marty Rea in the title role and Maeve Fitzgerald as Ophelia as they search for the meaning of life, the meaning of death and explore the loyalties of ason, of a mother and of a daughter.

“That’s what is so brilliant about Shakespeare. “ Rea tells me. “He understood human nature so brilliantly. I don’t think he was apsychologist by any means…or that he was aware he was breaking any grounds. He just understood the human psyche so well that when he wrote it down everything was summed up so wonderfully.”

Director Alan Stanford, perhaps aware that you can’t improve on Shakespeare, directs this tight, sparse production that attempts to wring the humor out of the script in a way that hasn’t worked so well before. The cast includes Stephen Brennan (as Polonius), his sister Barbara (as Gertrude) and Garreth Keogh (as Claudius) and forgoes contemporary relevance. “Were not asking them to accept very archaic language, behavior and social mores and giving them denims and leather jackets and white t-shirts.” Rea says. “To contemporize anything just to make it relevant isn’t necessarily the right thing to do.”

Instead they have set it in Victorian times, for no definite reason other than the aesthetic of it, which they liked. “When you think of Denmark you think of Tundra, blasted heaths and huge skies and tracks of land. That reminded Alan and the designer and all of us of the Bronte’s, that Gothic quality that was happening during the Gothic revival in Victorian times. “  And in doing that, Ophelia is still bound by a certain social thing where she can’t do anything because of her sex and her age.

Maeve Fitzgerald, who has made her name playing Shakespeare’s heroines, having played Portia, Desdemona, Cordelia and now Ophelia, disagrees with the way Shakespeare’s female charges are often portrayed believing them to be misconstrued. “Just because Cordelia is the youngest of the Lear family doesn’t mean she hasn’t got balls of steel as well. Just because Desdemona doesn’t fight back against her husband at the end when he tries to kill her, if you look at what she does at the beginning of the play; She defies her father to go and live with a much older man, who is black, in a war torn country. Ithardly screams shrinking violet. “

She believes the mistake made by many actresses is to make Ophelia’s actions choices rather than the way society was. “She can row and argue, talk all she wants but as far as action is concerned there is only so much she can do. The house was built in a certain way and you couldn’t knock the walls down. When you have a framework of what was acceptable in society you can do pretty much what you want.”

She finds it tremendously boring to play a character that doesn’t have a journey or an arc. “If you are weak at the beginning of a play, the weakness at the end of the play is not tragic. At the moment the way Shawn (Sturnick), Stephen and I are playing the Polonius family, at the beginning we are a very happy family who love each other and have arguments but have fun with each other, admire each other. The kids take the piss out of the dad, the dad is aware of this, he pretends to be grumpy, and it’s the classic family situation. And that’s what makes their downfall all the more tragic.”

With only four weeks of rehearsals Marty and Maeve spent a lot of time together prior to it ensuring they were on the same page, figuring out their history together before the events of the play so that their characters would be believable. Their main objective during this period was not to impose anything on the text. “We were determined to strip back and be as honest as possible with these characters, “ says Marty. “I think they are more like Maeve and me than they would usually be. We kept calling each other on it all of the time. We kept saying it to Alan. Are we imposing this idea? Not even the overall concept, just the tiny moments within scenes.”

Rea was also determined to re-own the soliloquies, breaking down the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly. Due to modern acting techniques and film and TV the soliloquies have become moments of introspection with two or three pages of text rambled out into thin air. With a Second Age audience, whose attention may often be hanging by a thread, this can be lethal. Rea and Standford had the very definite idea of coming out of the action, eyeballing the audience and including them in the action.

“Hamlet is a play that knows it is a play, it keeps referring to the fact that it is a play, to the idea that the players come in and do aplay within the play itself. So I ask the audience ‘Are you with me. Do you see where I am coming from? This is what I’m thinking. I don’t know if I’m right, but this is what I’m going to do.’ During the Nunnery scene, they watch it, they are riveted to it but they don’t like what they see. And they let you know that they don’t like it. They are involved.”

Fitzgerald believes that the audience is now tolerant of the moments the rest of the players act out which Rea will later discuss with them. “I was terrified of the mad scene. Absolutely terrified. I thought, ‘I’m not going to get through this, they are going to go bonkers’. But for some reason, by the time we get to it they are buying the convention. And that’s to do with Marty, because he actually speaks to them. He keeps them on their toes because he reminds them that we know that they are there. “

Second Age is marking their 21st year with this production. Set up in 1989 they are dedicated to staging a programme of productions, on a regular basis, which would give both second level students and a wider public an opportunity to experience the highest quality of staging of classic texts from the Second Level Syllabus. What do Rea and Fitzgerald think their legacy has been?

“I think the best thing about Second Age is not only do the schools get to see a blank page being played; they see it done to such a high standard” says Rea. “We have the responsibility as a cast to remember that at the end of the year a lot of your audience is going to have to go away and sit an exam. So you cant go ballistic with it. You have a responsibility to do it and to do it right and deliver a good, clean-stripped back, honest production. And in the process of doing that we realized that this was probably the best way to do this anyway, because you don’t patronize anyone and assume anyone is stupid or compromise Shakespeare, who was a genius. You’re working with him. That a teenage audience is making me do that as an actor is pretty incredible.”

Fitzgerald concurs. The most important thing it’s done, perhaps, is that it has given so many young people their first taste of proper theatre. To really decent standards. Alan doesn’t cut corners or say ‘ah it will be grand sure it’s just for schools’.  They are your toughest critics. They will see through it.

“It’s also given young actors experience in parts and plays that is very hard to come across elsewhere.“

“Alan Stanford is one of the most reliable directors I have ever worked with.” Rea concludes. “He’s so patient. He is incrediblyclever, incredibly brainy. But the most important thing about him is that he loves what we do. He, like the rest of us, will be swept up with an idea, spend an hour working on it and developing it, and then we can turn around and say “is this working or are we banging a square peg into a round hole” and Alan Stanford has the guts to turn around and say, “I was wrong, were going to start it again.” It’s something I haven’t seen in many directors.

Helix Theatre Dublin – 23rd Feb – 19th March @8pm

Box Office:t 01 700 7000

Everyman Palace Theatre Cork – 23rd March – 26th March @8pm

Box Office:t 021 450 1673

Matinees @1pm, Evenings @8pm

3rd February – 26th March 2010

With limited availability & some shows already sold out


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