Actress explores mind of a complex character

Picture by Ellie Kurttz
Picture by Ellie Kurttz

Bethan Cullinane admits that Cordelia in King Lear really is a bit of a tough one to explain – which is probably why she’s relishing the prospect of spending a whole summer in her company.

“Every time you do it, you are learning so much,” says Bethan, who is on the road as part of

Shakespeare Globe’s award-winning small-scale touring programme , with dates at Parham House on May 28 and 29 and at Worthing’s Connaught Theatre on May 31 and June 1.

“I remember starting rehearsals and thinking ‘Why is she saying this?’ She could just say what’s wanted and go along with it. It’s definitely a difficult role.”

Instead, Cordelia sparks the tragedy.

When her elderly father offers her the opportunity to profess her love to him in return for one third of the land in his kingdom, she refuses and is banished for the majority of the play.

“You have to work out why she has decided to do this, but I don’t think she expects her father to react in the way he does. She is honest and funky and has got her own views and beliefs. You have also got to remember that it is happening on the day she is getting married and is being given away. It is her day. She says that when she gets married, her husband will have half her love to share.”

In the end, it’s all about speaking what you feel rather than what you ought to speak, but Bethan admits that she is still changing her own opinion about Cordelia constantly.

“I would defend her, though. I would say that she doesn’t need to flatter her father. Before the play starts, she had a good relationship with her father. Seeing him do this little performance, she is bound to think ‘Why do you want to feed your vanity?’, in the same way that I would say to my own father something like that if I felt he was being out of order. You would just say ‘Calm down a bit!’

“She means for the best, and she is not doing it just to get a reaction. She is doing it because that’s what she thinks.

“It is very silly on his part. It is her day, her celebration. But he is really proud of what he has done, he wants to hear how much they love him.

“You can also understand why he wants them to say it.

“That’s the great thing about the play. You can understand why everyone is doing and saying what they do.

“You hear some of the arguments in the play, and you could hear them in a supermarket. You could hear them between your grandparents. That’s why I love doing it. It is so modern in all those things.”

Bethan is also enjoying the Globe approach to Shakespeare, touring with a stage that enables them simply to pitch up and perform in a relationship of great intimacy with the audience.

The audience aren’t in darkness. The actors can see the whites of their eyes and can engage properly with them both individually and collectively. That’s the whole point.

“It gives you a different relationship with the audience. We are not dragging people up on stage.

“We are not putting anyone on the spot or making them feel uncomfortable, but they can really feel that we are addressing them and that it is for them directly.

“We feel that we are telling the story with the audience.”

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