Stage Door Dialogues is back for 2023 and the first interview of the year is with the talented Mairi Babb who plays Kent in Shakespeare Bash’d’s production of The Tragedy of King Lear by William Shakespeare. You might recall reading about Mairi in my review of Eldritch Theatre’s Requiem for a Gumshoe, and I’m so excited to see her take on this fantastic Shakespearean role. Having played in several Shakespearean works including Cymbeline (Shakespeare BASH’d), The Tempest (RMTC), and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Bard on the Beach), Babb will now get to explore the world of Lear’s court alongside Scott Wentworth and David Mackett.
What is the experience like going from a film-noir horror piece like Requiem for a Gumshoe right into a Shakespearean tragedy?
It’s more similar than you might think! Like Requiem for a Gumshoe, King Lear is about the text, the images, the rhetoric, the pace. Each requires the same facility and dexterity with language and thought – even though the words themselves couldn’t be more different. In both rehearsal processes, we spent days dissecting scenes, asking “why THIS word?”, making sure we were crystal clear in our intentions and relationships, the history of the mythology because the text is so rich and dense. It’s easy to get a bit seduced by the delicious words you’re speaking and forget WHY you’re saying them. And with this production of Lear we’re very exposed because the tech is so minimal. We have some sound, a couple of lighting states, some chairs – no puppets for me this time! I find both shows such a mental workout – my characters don’t just need to communicate clearly with the rest of the cast, they must ensure that the audience is along for every step of the ride too. And I’ve learned new physical skills for both too! For Requiem, I had to learn two magic tricks and in Lear, I’m fighting with a butterfly knife for the first time! So that’s exciting!
You’re getting to explore Kent as both male and female in this production. What differences, if any, do you notice as you navigate through Lear’s court in these bodies?
I love this gender journey. As Lady Kent, she is a strong, intelligent, passionate woman who relies on courtly rhetoric to deflect bawdy chat with Gloucester and prove her case with King Lear. After her banishment, when she becomes the male-presenting Caius, her flair for language and her physicality become more aggressive, more unpredictable, more impetuous. I feel like she’s relishing this opportunity to release all the pent-up frustration from years of biting her tongue, minding her business, not seeming ” too emotional.” She has this great explanation of why she flies off the handle with Oswald; she says “Having more man than wit about me, drew.” I love that line because as a woman playing it, I feel it’s a direct comment on all the bad behaviour she’s witnessed from men. By the end of the play, she has integrated both sides of herself – physically and mentally, grounded in strength and emotion.
What’s one of your favourite moments from the rehearsal process?
ONE??? That’s not fair….I’ll give you three. 1. Watching the blinding of Gloucester the first time they used the blood and…other effects. It was thrilling and horrifying. 2. Getting to have Matt Nish-Lapidus, our sound designer in rehearsal to create the storm sounds together. The storm is another character and being able to have dialogue about it while it was being built was a rare and amazing experience. 3. I’m going to fan-girl out right now – but honestly – just watching Scott. He plays and surprises me every single rehearsal. It’s evident this role has been percolating within him for a long time and being able to witness him exploring every corner and edge of emotion and intention is absolute magic.
Do you have a dream Shakespearean role you haven’t played yet?
YES!!! SO many – Emilia, Hermione, Beatrice, Paulina…But I’d also like to play Gertrude again when I’m slightly more age-appropriate – I played her in university so I’m sure I lacked some nuance/layers! I think that’s one of the many gifts of theatre – the chance to revisit roles. I met Mark Rylance in 2010 after a performance of the epic Jerusalem in the West End and he said “I’d like to do this play again in ten years and find out who Rooster is then”. And he did it – they remounted the show in 2022! I love the curiosity that we as theatre artists have about the mercurial essence and humanity of these characters we briefly travel with.
Make sure you get your tickets for The Tragedy of King Lear which runs February 16 – 26 at The Theatre Centre. For more information and tickets, visit: The Tragedy of King Lear – SHAKESPEARE BASH’d (shakespearebashd.com). Keep an eye out for my review coming soon!
Lear Graphic – Design by Matt Nish-Lapidus