Interview with actor Peter Dukes

Ahead of Watermill Theatre's innovative adaptations of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet, SoGlos speaks to actor Peter Dukes about the plays, the music, and what to expect from the unique shows.

Discussing Watermill Theatre’s upcoming productions, Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet at Everyman Theatre, SoGlos speaks to local actor, Peter Dukes.

Exploring the unique nature of Watermill Theatre’s shows; just what audiences can expect, which includes Ed Sheeran and smoky jazz clubs; and why Shakespeare is accessible for everyone, Peter talks all-things theatre with SoGlos.

Can you tell SoGlos readers a little bit about yourself, and your experience in the theatre?

I’m originally from Cirencester and went to school in the area; I spent most of my summers growing up performing in both Swindon and Cheltenham. I’ve been a professional actor since graduating in 2009 from the Guildford School of Acting, and have been lucky enough to work in theatre in the West End, around the country, and abroad.

You’ve treaded the boards in and around Cheltenham before; what do you enjoy about performing in the area?

I’ve performed indoors and outdoors all across Cheltenham, from Sudeley Castle to Tuckwell Amphitheatre to the Everyman itself, both in the Studio Theatre and Main House.

It’s always lovely to come back to Cheltenham as it feels like where I really took my first steps as a professional. Apart from the lovely feel in the town, its rich history in theatre means the audiences are always so warm and open-minded, which makes any acting company’s job easier and hugely rewarding and enjoyable.

How did you come to perform with Watermill Theatre, and how does it differ to your previous experiences in theatre?

I worked at The Watermill for the first time last year with Paul Hart, our director on a Gershwin musical called Crazy For You, and he then asked me to come back in and audition for these Shakespeare plays – and the rest is history!

The Watermill is really the only theatre of its kind, a beautiful converted Corn/Paper Mill complete with gorgeous gardens and ducks, who are as much a part of the experience as the building itself!

It provides many difficulties being such an old, specific building, but within that it means that it becomes an extremely intimate and charming space to play; you feel that the audience take every step with you, becoming as much a part of every show as each member of the cast.

The approach to Shakespeare is bold, exciting and fresh, and at the core is the idea that each play should appeal to everyone no matter what age.

How do Watermill Theatre’s adaptations of Shakespeare bring something new to the plays?

Paul’s approach to Shakespeare is bold, exciting and fresh, and at the core is the idea that each play should appeal to everyone no matter what age. This brings an immediate sense of fun and creativity into the rehearsal room, and to a text that can often be stereotyped as difficult and only for the clever.

The clarity of the story is so important and our adaptions focus on really letting the audience into these two differing worlds from the moment they walk in, taking them on the journey with us each night.

The Watermill’s deep history of actor-musicianship immediately helps too, using music as much as the text to tell the story and engage with the audience.

Can you tell us a little bit about your role as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet?

I think my favourite word that describes him in the play is ‘fiery’. Though not as big a role as some, he really is the catalyst and spark that sends everything into chaos and inevitable tragedy. His short fuse and passionate disposition means he’s the first to look for any confrontation with the Montagues and find the occasion to start a brawl. Great fun to play!

What can audiences expect from Watermill’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet?

A contemporary and fresh telling of the greatest love story of all time. Everyone knows the story; the prologue tells us exactly what’s going to happen so a lot of our approach to this play, particularly through the chorus work, was how we can continue to retell the famous tale and keep it fresh each night.

We also use a lot of very current music in the production chosen cleverly by Paul, ranging from Ed Sheeran and Johnny Flynn to Mumford and Sons. Like our production of Twelfth Night, the music is integrated into the storytelling, and really helps both us and the audience engage with the tale.

You play Malvolio in Twelfth Night, can you tell us about your role?

He is the head of Olivia’s household and a real Victorian in his manner; secretly he dreams of being as royal, influential and important as those he serves with complete dedication.

He is holding on to the traditions of old, using his beliefs and rules to try and maintain control within a turbulent and uncertain household and time in history. When he’s tricked by a letter into believing that Olivia wishes him to express his deepest feelings, he gambles everything in the hope of escaping the repression of his place in society.

Twelfth Night is set in the 1920s, how do you evoke the sights, sounds and atmosphere of this era?

When you choose to put a production in a specific era like we have, you try and apply it to everything from character and music, to set design.

Our version is set mainly in the Elephant Jazz Club where we use classic jazz songs, some original music with Shakespeare’s words, as well as modern popular songs all arranged to emulate that 1920s sound.

When the doors open to the theatre, the appearance and sound of a smoky 1920s café is so distinctive that it immediately tells you where we are and helps us to set the stage for what’s to come

I think the most interesting part of the 1920s setting applies to the characters; the post-war era was one of high tension, hidden secrets and uncertainty, and that has been fascinating to apply to this wonderful play that has all those elements within it.

Our intention is, by applying some interesting ideas both with the setting and music to these wonderful plays, we will intrigue people to come and see them, and release just how much fun they can have.

What do you enjoy about the musical aspect of Watermill’s productions, and do you have a favourite song from either show?

I think the reason that actor-musicianship at the Watermill continues to succeed at the highest level is because playing in an ensemble creates a real team ethic. I’ve always loved being a part of a team whether it be sport, a production or playing music, and that aspect of our shows is the best part for me.

Every cast member is as vital as the next, no matter what part, and playing and singing alongside some real talent in a jazz era style, which is my favourite type of music, is such brilliant fun.

As far as favourite songs I think in Twelfth Night it has to be 'Royals'; and in Romeo and Juliet I love hearing Lauryn Redding sing Mumford and Sons’ ‘White Blank Page’.

Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet both offer something new and exciting; how are the plays accessible for those who might not be as familiar with Shakespeare?

They are simply brilliant stories. Our intention is, by applying some interesting ideas both with the setting and music to these wonderful plays, we will intrigue people to come and see them, and release just how much fun they can have and just how easy it can be to enjoy Shakespeare.

And finally, how would you sum up the shows in a few words?

Two playful and poignant productions with music, merriment and misadventure.

Twelfth Night will be at Everyman Theatre from Tuesday 4 to Saturday 8 July 2017. Romeo and Juliet will be at Everyman Theatre from Wednesday 5 to Saturday 8 July 2017.

For more information call (01242) 572573, or visit directly.

By Kathryn Godfrey

© SoGlos
Monday 03 July 2017

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