Megan Farrow talks to director Peet Cooper and members of Foolscap (Maude, Marsail, Paul, Greg and Bill) during rehearsals for All The King’s Fools.
Meg: Peet, tell me briefly how this project came about?
Pete: I’ve been playing Jester and Fool at Hampton Court since 1992, and one summer they asked me to play Henry VIII’s most famous fool Will Somer. He was one of the most famous jesters probably in the whole of English History and recent research has shown that he could well have been a man with learning difficulties –apparently he was the model for the fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear. I thought this was quite amazing and it kind of turned the whole thing on its head for me. Here was one of the most influential and respected comedians on the English stage and he had learning difficulties. I thought if I am going to do this, I’d better do it properly, so I came back to Bristol and met up with a lot of local actors with learning difficulties and spent time getting to know them and how they worked. I’m not an actor, I’m a performer, an entertainer, so it was really good to get an insight into their working process, how they put their shows together, which is quite different to how I do mine.
In 2009 Hampton Court came forward with enough money to research not only the history but also the theatre of it. The actors collaborated with the Hampton Court historian Dr Suzannah Lipscomb to find out as much as they could about it. They went through all the original records and house accounts to get hold of as much information as possible. We went to the British Library to look at the original pictures of the jesters of that time and all came back together to discuss the findings. Meanwhile I was working with the actors in the rehearsal studio coming up with ideas for a piece.
At the middle of last year we put a proposal to Hampton Court and various funders to see if we could pull together all of these ideas and perform something at Hampton Court. It all worked! We got the money and were commissioned to produce a site-specific piece.
A bit of a long-winded answer, sorry!
So tell me a little bit about All The King’s Fools? What is the story about?
Marsail: 500 years ago King Henry VIII married lots of Queens and we are working on a piece about this. Whoever is going to play them parts will have to be brave women.
Peet: You are working on a piece where you’re going to be doing a play for the King about one of his wives, Catherine Howard.
Marsail: Yeh I am, yeh
Peet: And you think that will make him feel how?
Marsail: Very angry but then you know I have been practising how she spoke, not like we do here but she would say ‘Well I don’t care what they say, I love my men, I love them a lot’ and the King gets really angry with her.
Meg: What kind of characters do we meet along the way?
Maude: Well, I play a Jester and I’m very hilarious and my laugh is going to be used a lot in my solo piece.
Meg: You have a solo piece? Is that going to be a dance or song or..
Maude: I’m not sure yet, we are making it up as we go along, we haven’t got there yet.
Peet: We all looked at our characters yesterday – do you remember, with the hot seating? Most of the actors are using their own names as the Fools, for example Maude you're Mistress Maude Read aren’t you?
Marsail: I’m Mary Edwards
Peet: You all found out things about your fathers and mothers didn’t you.
Maude: My father and mother were called Gertrude and Henry and they pigged farms, I mean farmed pigs (hee hee!)
Peet: And what was it that your mother made her perfume out of?
Meg: Is there going to be dance and live music?
Paul: Yes there’s dancing. We have The Fart Dance which Rob was part of (Robert Turner was one of the original performers involved in the early stages of the project, but passed away last year). The dance is in memory of Rob.
Meg: All of you have been involved in the Misfits Theatre Company based down at Hamilton House on Stokes Croft – what others shows have you worked on with the Misfits?
Paul: Next Monday we are performing a play about Domestic Abuse in Bedminster.
Meg: So, All The King’s Fools is being staged later this month at Hampton Court Palace in the very rooms and courtyards where these jesters would have performed 500 years ago. You went to visit the Palace last weekend, how did that feel?
Bill: It was fun. There was this picture there of the King, and I took a photo of it and looking at the photo it looks like there is a ghost or something, there is a blur on the side of the picture on my camera by the King’s arm.
Meg: Don’t they say that one of his wives haunts the Palace?
Bill: Yes there is a ghost tour.
Maude: I felt a coldness when I was in the haunted corridor on that tour.
Meg: Like a spirit was there?
Maude: Yes, in fact I was shivering
Meg: You’re coming to the end of the first week of rehearsals. How has it been going?
Bill: Good, I’m getting into my character. I do this play for the King called St George of the Dragon and I do all the voices of the people in the play. Every single one of them. I’m looking forward to that. It’s funny.
Meg: What do you want audiences to feel when they are watching the show?
Maude: I want people to come away thinking about how people treat people and how sometimes people are very rude to people with Learning Difficulties. I want to show them that we can do anything like any normal person. We’re not sick, we’re not stupid and we don’t deserve to be treated like we are.
Marsail: I want it to be funny and moving for audiences.
Meg: What do you all enjoy about acting?
Bill: When I’m performing its like nothing can happen to me, I am just in the character. That relationship with the audience, I love it.
Gregory: I love it too, and I like the story of Henry VIII
Maude: I like the feeling of being someone different to me. I like that people enjoy seeing me acting. I can make people laugh, show them I’m not thick.
Marsail: When I’m on stage it feels the best thing ever. Acting is a great home for me, the feeling is great, it’s always happy. I’m never sad when I’m acting, that’s what I love about it.
Paul: My mum used to be an actor, my dad used to be a singer. It’s in my blood.
All The King’s Fools runs from Thurs 24 – Sun 27 February