Interview with Love/Hate's Caoilfhionn Dunne | King Lear
King Lear, Shakespeare’s all-encompassing portrayal of human life, is the centrepiece of the Abbey Theatre’s Shakespeare Season this spring. King Lear premieres on the Abbey stage on Tuesday, 12 February 2013, the first time the show has been mounted at the National Theatre in 80 Years. Owen Roe stars as the ageing monarch who decides to step down from his throne and divide his estate between his three daughters, reuniting him with his Titus director Selina Cartmel. Also in town, as one of literature's most infamous stuck in the middle kids, is Caoilfhionn Dunne as Regan. She chats to Caomhan Keane, comparing blowing someone’s brains out to plucking out their eyes.
So what kind of spin is Selina putting on her Lear. Will it be more of a traditional production or have an experimental bent?
It is slightly experimental I suppose. It's not classic. It's not straightforward. But it’s such a big play it’s hard to do anything particularly straightforward. What excited me about working with Selina is her visual flair. It's timeless, this place she has set it in. So as not to be too strict or restricted. It's a pagan play. There are a lot of references to the gods and that. So it is pre-Christian. And she has used that in the aesthetic.
Tell me about your character?
I play Regan. The middle of the three sisters. She is not the nicest person on the face of the earth. She has learned this from her Father. She is very much his daughter. As is Goneril. A lot of people look at those sisters and automatically say they’re the evil sisters. But it is inherited evil. They are put in a very strange position at the start of the play, to prove their love and that continues. They are given a huge amount of power and you see what power does to people. They get caught up in it and ultimately the cause of destruction is the power that they receive. It’s also the result of living under a very powerful man with no obvious female role models.
How do you root the insane cruelty of your character in reality?
You have to find something redeemable in a character like that. And that was hard initially. It is very easy to go into that pantomime evil. You are constantly trying to avoid that. I've looked at it as Lear's tyranny. They have learned from him. The love test that happens at the beginning, it doesn't end after they have told him they love him. It’s a constant ongoing thing throughout the play. That we are worthy of being the next king, as much as a female can be.
I don't want to call them victims but there is a human side to them. Of what power does to people. It gets inside them and it looks good. Until they are caught. Because you keep going with it until you don't get away with it anymore. They are not purely evil.
It was a really hard process to keep bringing it back to that, them being a real person, not a stereotype or a caricature. Regan is a real woman under a hell of a lot of pressure. Her father is suffering from dementia; she’s been given a huge dollop of land to rule over. She gets caught up in it and nobody is stopping her. And that sisterly rivalry-who loves me most, continues right to the end. It’s about which sister can rise to the top. Throw a man in the middle-Edmund, and you have that extra layer. So you are constantly mining away at every word, every line.
How do you keep it from becoming panto-like?
It’s a game. It’s playing constantly. It’s a drug. Power being a drug. You are getting high on what you are doing. Constantly seeking the next high. It can become a bit comic. But you have to steer away from it being comic violence. Where it’s become so grotesque that its hilarious. You never want the audience to be laughing. You want the power of Gloucester's eyes being taken out to really hit people. That it is really nasty. Not over the top. It is game playing that gets out of hand. But you get a rush of it. Which is how I am playing the part.
How do you get yourself into character?
She's a tough one to find the balance from getting far enough away from myself but not going over the top and making her pantomime. It helps being around great actors, like Phelim Drew and Tina Kellegher, so that when you are looking at someone who is so alive in their part, it helps you be alive and not be in your own head or being yourself. It helps you rise to that level of hysteria and performance.
It's a tough one to get into. So I take a half hour to myself, stick my head phones in and listen to some tunes. Block the chit chat and all that out for a bit. When I am working on a character I generally get a play list of music. Just to get my head in the zone. I've never played a character like Regan before. It is such a departure for me. To play a woman like this.
What songs are on the playlist?
I heard a great tune randomly on an ad for something - it's Peter Gabriel - My Body is a Cage. There is Sinead O’Connor’s song from In The Name of the Father - Piece of my Heart, which is quite fitting for this play. Classical music and a bit of Marylyn Manson. His cover of Sweet Dreams.
Is there a line in the play that opened the character up for you? Where you went, “YES! Now I get her?”
There’s a line where the two sisters are bartering with Lear over the soldiers he can have and he turns to Regan and says, “I gave you all” and her retort is “...and in good time you gave it”. That for me was the nail for her. “I have waited forever. And now I have got what I want. But you took so long”. It is so venomous to this old man that is so weak and vulnerable. I don't like to look at it as being ungrateful. It’s far more complex. It’s such a loaded line. It doesn't come out of nowhere. Her mouth is open and it blurts out. It shows what is going on in her mind. The filter switch is off for a moment.
Did you do much work with Tina Kelleher beforehand to get the right balance in your relationship? Sisterly but on shaky ground?
Me and Tina just clicked from day one. We formed a bond naturally. Being the only girls in the play who are together so much there is an automatic sisterhood there when you are in such a male dominated show. We only really share one scene alone together, at the end of act one scene one where the plotting begins. So we worked that a lot on our own to get that feeling of togetherness yet at the same time separation.
We did a workshop before we started, the three sisters and Lear. A round table discussion. Reading out a few of the scenes and see what the relationships were and the drive. It’s such a huge play you always have to be wary of getting caught up in sub plot. You have to be constantly asking yourself “Am I involved in this sub plot.” “Do I know this?” “No I don't know that!” “How is my relationship with you half way through the play?” There is so much going on you can get caught up in your own thing that you can forget that Cordelia is gone for so much of the play and then comes back. How much has changed since she came back? How much does Regan know about Goneril's relationship with Edmund? How aware are they of their father’s demise and how do we look at that in relation to their growing power and their growing evil.
Has your life changed much since the last episode of Love/Hate?
The last episode aired just before our second week of rehearsals. I was in town a lot. Getting stopped for photographs in the Jervis and being followed around Boots by people. People stopping and gawking at you in the street. It took a while to get used to it. People stopping or coming up and saying are you her or “Is Darren dead”, which is a common one.
It’s fantastic. I'm so delighted that an Irish show has such a large following. And any attention that I get kind of confirms that the cast and crew of Love/Hate have done a fantastic job.
How did you react when you read the script?
I was a bit taken back but I was also delighted that they decided to go that way with it. To have a female character like that. She is so different from the other girls that have been on the show before. Love/Hate is full of very strong female characters but their strength is shown in different ways. It, for me, was such a fantastic twist, but it made perfect sense. I didn't question it at all. I had a horrible feeling people weren't going to like it because I knew very early on that the young females of Dublin might be annoyed at me.
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Tuesday 12th February 2013 | Theatre
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