A critically-acclaimed production of Shakespeare’s tragedy opens at the Rep this week, starring the excellent Don Warrington, with Game Of Thrones’ Miltos Yerolemou taking the role of the Fool. John Kennedy caught up with Miltos for some in-depth analysis of the original text. Photo: Jonathan Keenan.
You’re a very busy man, so let’s cut to the chase. Of course you would agree but, after Lear, is not the Fool the most important character?
Miltos Yerolemou: [Extended throaty laugh ensues…] I don’t, actually… [He really is chewing this one over.] But maybe Edgar is the most important character. They represent two opposite sides, but the Fool is very important, mainly because he is the only character who speaks the truth.
During rehearsals, had your perception of the Fool changed?
MY: Oh, yes, completely! I don’t know what I thought of the Fool before we started. Out of all the fools in Shakespeare, he is the most straightforward, but the most complicated. What I didn’t realize before is that everything he says is a direct reference to what Lear has done or is about to do. Every single line, there’s no fluff.
OK… There are those who find much of the Fool’s language almost impenetrable doggerel! Talk us through this one!
MY: He really speaks from the heart, and no, I’d never think that. Sometimes actors struggle with trying to find a contemporary reason for the jokes, because we sometimes look at them and think to ourselves, “How are we going to make an audience understand that?” It doesn’t necessarily mean that just because you understand a joke it’s also going to be funny. We have to avoid that. I do one thing and one thing only – as an actor I always take the lines completely literally. I absolutely read those lines as they are set out, and they’re quite easy with the form they are in. So direct, so on the nose, all he has to do is speak the truth. And be as literal about the lines as you can and they actually make sense. When you try and impose a modern context on them, then that’s when you start getting problems.
Going back a bit, is it only the Fool who speaks the truth?
MY: Edgar does. He’s blind to what’s going on at first, but I think he becomes a very important character. [Edgar is set up by his illegitimate brother Edmund to appear to be plotting against his father, the rather boastful, vain Gloucester.] But yes, I think the Fool is the only one who sees the world as it is.
After the storm – “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!” – a pivotal scene when Lear is close to, if not tipped into madness, we don’t see the Fool again. Is his role, his purpose, fulfilled?
MY: It’s a very interesting question as to what happens with the Fool. I think the Fool has one role to play – his job is to stop Lear going mad. Lear tells the Fool, “Let not me be mad…keep me in temper.” When the Fool fails to do that and Lear completely loses his mind, he has failed. He has no reason to be there – Poor Tom steps into that role. [Tom is Edgar feigning madness when he meets Lear to protect his identity.]
But hasn’t the Fool succeeded in keeping Lear from his mind’s destruction? His eventual cathartic redemption at the play’s end, terrible though its cost is? Far be it for Brum Notes to be giving Coles Notes here!
MY: [More hearty chuckles.] Not at all! I’m fascinated to hear another point of view.
So there we are. And what an utterly nice man Miltos Yerolemou is. Insightful, honest and generous. Happy to have chattered lots more, but with a tight schedule to keep. Asking about future plans, Brum Notes didn’t stoop to populists’ gossip mongering re a certain TV series.
Come this winter, Miltos will be appearing in the role of Puck in Robert Carsen’s adaptation of Benjamin Britten’s opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Two performances are confirmed as of now – Beijing in October and Bahrain in December.
King Lear runs at the Rep, May 19-28. For more information, visit http://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/event/king-lear/.