Shakespeare at The Tobacco Factory: Interview with actors Vic Llewellyn and Jack Wharrier from As You Like It and Arcadia.

Vic Llewellyn, Touchstone in As You Like It and Jack Wharrier, Orlando in As You Like It and Valentine Coverly Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, offer some insights into the productions and their characters, playing in repertoire and adjusting to different theatre spaces for SATTF’s 2014 spring tour.

Q&A by Alexandra Hearth – currently on work experience placement with SATTF from University of Bristol. 

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Vic Llewellyn ‘Touchstone’ in As You Like It:

What do you feel is unique about Touchstone, and distinguishes him from the other Shakespearean fools?

I can only answer with what I know about other Shakespearean fools; but it seems to me that what distinguishes him from the other fools is that he has his own narrative within AYLI. His smaller love scenes with Audrey run counterpoint to the other grander love stories that are in the play. The audience can enjoy his progression from the anxious, worried and low status character that first presents himself in Scene 2 to the overtly confident Touchstone trying to win the senior Dukes favour in the last scene.  

Also he is a wise ‘Fool’ rather than a natural fool. He seems to have a sharp and witty view on most things although some of his logic may be lost on a modern audience. He says to the unwitting William “A fool doth think he is wise but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” This, I think, puts into sharp focus, the polarity of ideas that make up this character.How does Touchstone view himself within the context of his pithy saying? He leaves it up to the audience to decide.

What is the experience and perception of the Arcadia which he finds himself in, and how does this differ from other characters in the same surrounding?

Touchstone needs an audience to function. Removed from his precarious position in the court to the wilds of Arden has put him in a predicament. Who now to entertain? Jacques comes upon Touchstone basking in the sun and is informed that he is no longer a fool because he has no employment.

Touchstone remedies this situation by performing to anyone he comes across; even I think the forest around him.  Who he is has been totally informed by the court and society; it is in this environment he thrives, entertaining and commenting on the moirés and politics of the courtiers and their life around him. His entrance into the Forest of Arden throws him at first into confusion. The forest is frequently described as a Desert i.e. deserted of people, so who to perform to? 

Touchstone seems to solve this problem by creating and building for himself a false persona… a courtier of experience and social standing. He attempts to impress Corin with his courtly wit, and Audrey with his promise of courtly love and position. He fails on both counts; with Corin because of the shepherds Natural philosophy of which his own can’t match and with Audrey because his lust always shines through and demolishes any outpourings of love.

In this way the arcadia around him and the other characters force them to take on and develop personalities that may fail them eventually. The energy needed to sustain them will eventually fail, they cannot compete with the real inhabitants of the forest. Eventually we do see a shedding of these characters with the arrival of Hymen and the Duke and his court will eventually resume their normal civilised environments; bringing back to the court a taste of the natural order they have experienced in the Forest of Arden.

Could you explain the relationship as you see it, between Touchstone, and his female companions, Celia and Rosalind?

Touchstone has a great attachment to Celia who he has known since she was a child and a great respect for Rosalind who he has also known for as long a time.  His loyalty allows him to follow them into the forest, although we do get a sense that he is no longer at favour with the new court. As soon as he realises that the cousin’s residence is going to be slightly more permanent than he anticipated he soon leaves them to pursue his own agendas.  

I think then that when his contract of employment has run out with the cousins his emotional bonds with them are forgotten for the time being.

His main aim at the end of the play, with the performance of his “If” routine, seems to have been set up by him and Jacques so that he can gain employment at the Senior Duke’s court, albeit in the forest.

Where there any particular moments in the performance which triggered a notable reaction from the audience?

A physical moment incorporating a sock, had an interesting progression as to how it happened. In rehearsal we always knew that Touchstone would remove his left sock to prevent it from getting dirty in the mud. It wasn’t until performances however that we progressed to the moment as it is now. Pulling off a sock in public isn’t that interesting but pulling off an extremely long sock and prolonging the struggle to remove the sock might be a little more so.  I also had the idea that at the end of the sock might be Touchstone’s pants (to get an even bigger reaction) but this proved practically difficult to achieve. The sock being pulled off by a member of the audience actually happened because I couldn’t get the sock off and literally just thought “I need some help here!”The clown can always break the fourth wall convention I think, much more so that the other characters. 

Following its run in Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol, As You Like It tours to theatres in Scarborough, Exeter, Salisbury, Truro and Cheltenham. Have you visited any of these Theatres before? Will the different spaces ask for any changes in your presentation?

Of the theatres we are visiting I have only ever played Exeter Northcott before.  I believe that all the others (apart from Scarborough) are end on, proscenium arch performances.  These will certainly make a big difference I think to how I can connect with the audience with some of the moments that have worked so far in Bristol.   I am really looking forward to some of the challenges that this will present.  I think it’s just finding ways to communicate directly with an audience which I suppose is always the actors challenge.

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Jack Warrier, Orlando in As You Like It and Valentine Coverly in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia:

Jack, you are playing both Orlando in As You Like It, and Valentine Coverly in Stoppard’s Arcadia. Could you outline the role each character has in the plays, and their distinguishing characteristics?

Orlando is the youngest son of the late Sir Rowland de Boys, an ally of the banished Duke Senior. During the course of the play Orlando himself is also banished but not before he has met (and instantly fallen in love with) the Duke’s daughter, Rosalind! In the early scenes he is almost a stranger in his own home, it is only in the Forest of Arden that he finds love, acceptance and, most importantly, himself.

Valentine is a post-graduate mathematician studying Grouse populations in the modern day Sidley Park. Although, from an acting point of view, I find it tricky to discuss a character’s role in the drama (rather than the effect the drama has on the character!) it is clear that Stoppard uses Valentine to explain some of the mathematics at the heart of the drama. He is passionate about science and ideas and has a pet tortoise called ‘Lightning’.

Do you find it challenging switching between the characters for rehearsals? Do you predict this will become harder as you prepare to perform them in repertoire?

Actually, its proved a lot easier than I originally thought. I asked a friend who had experience of rep about this. He told me ‘you don’t forget how to ride a bike when you learn to drive’ and he’s right!  You just keep each role in a different part of your brain. As for whether it’ll get harder as we go into rep; I don’t know! Hopefully if someone tells me which play we’re doing and gives me the right costume, I should be ok. Fingers crossed!


How do feel about the challenge of adapting Orlando’s character to new performance venues as you go on tour?

It’ll be interesting. I’ll certainly miss Tobacco Factory Theatres, which is such an intimate, actor friendly space. We’ll have a project a little more in some of the larger touring venues! But, once we’ve re-rehearsed for the different theatres, I don’t think it’ll change the character too much. Orlando still fights his brother and falls in love with Rosalind. He just does it a little louder, and standing in a different place. When side by side, it’s difficult to ignore the cross-over between Orlando’s role as the romantic hero, and Valentine’s name. How does Valentine approach and present romance? 
Valentine is actually rather an ironically named character! He is, I think, completely in love with Hannah (a fellow researcher, working with Valentine’s mother) but is inexperienced and finds it hard to articulate those feelings. He’s much happier talking about the wonders of science. And grouse. 

Finally, as the play’s key modern mathematician, how important is it, do you think, for the audience to understand the science which Valentine discusses?

I think it’s probably more important to understand his passion than the science itself. That’s where the drama comes from. But the science in the play isn’t especially complicated. Tom Stoppard has done most of the work by making Valentine’s speeches entertaining and accessible.

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For further information and 2014 spring tour dates visit:As You Like It & Arcadia. 

As You Like It: Mark Douet
Arcadia: Graham Burke