Whilst their exhausting and energetic rehearsals are currently in full swing at West Yorkshire Playhouse, cast members Polly Frame and Daniel Rigby took some time out to chat about the production and why they think it will be a roaring success.
Both actors boast a vast resume of stage, TV and film roles over the past ten years. Notably, Frame enjoyed a six month stint in 2008 on Broadway in a production of Macbeth, and Rigby – also a stand-up comedian, performed at Latitude Music Festival the same year. Their humour, banter and jovial demeanour are sure to captivate audiences in their current swashbuckling extravaganza.
The Count of Monte Cristo’s Director, Alan Lane, is the award winning artistic director of the Leeds-based theatre company Slung Low. Have either of you worked with him before?
Daniel: I worked with him last year in October on a project at The Lowry called Beyond the Front Line. It was unlike anything I had ever done before because it was promenade theatre outside in the Shopping Plaza and I arrived there with a week to rehearse. I really enjoyed it because it suits my ADHD; just doing things by the skin of your pants and getting on with it. He’s a really ambitious man. I’ve also worked with Joel Horwood before (who wrote this adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo).
The Count of Monte Cristo is said to pose a moral question to audiences: if you seek to destroy those who have wronged you, is it possible to destroy yourself in the process? Do you think this is a strong message that people will take from the production?
Daniel: Yes, that’s the major theme of the story. I remember Joel (Horwood) saying that one of the main questions that he wanted to ask with the adaptation was ‘Is anyone a good person and is it possible to become as bad as people who have wronged you?’
Polly: In the tale, you get absolute pleasure out of watching someone revenge, until then you realise that it’s imploding on them. Hopefully audiences won’t make judgements until the end. Then you realise that you’ve supported them all the way through and it starts getting out of hand. So in a way you’re slightly responsible in the audience in your encouragement of them, or your enjoyment of the story. It’s really about the character that Danny plays being the revenging one...
Daniel: I’m all about the revenge, that’s what I’m all about! I can empathise with him, I think anyone can. He goes through unimaginable suffering for no reason at all because people are jealous of him and you can sympathise with a character who ‘wants his own back’ because his whole life has been taken away. I’d certainly punch someone if they did that to me; I’d punch someone who took a Snickers off me – that would be my revenge!
Have you ever sought revenge in your own lives?
Daniel: There’s never been a reason why I’ve killed. It’s just a thrill, an impulsion.
Polly: I don’t think I have actually. He (Daniel) has just done it blindly in a crazed rage towards a stranger.
Daniel: No, seriously I’ve never sought revenge.
Polly: You’ve got to be quite calculating, I think you’d have to have quite a lot of time on your hands to plan it all out. I’m too dispraxic; I couldn’t manage it.
How are the rehearsals going?
Polly: They’re going really well. They’re fun-packed and we acquire about seven new skills every day. We’ve been doing fencing, dancing in every single kind of form like waltzing, lindy hopping, general leaping around, music, and singing. I can’t think of anything we haven’t tried. I do loads of violin playing too.
Daniel: I fly at one point. But not unaided. I have a wire. I haven’t developed that as a skill yet. I’ve never done it before. The harness they’ve given me means that I take all the weight on my groin; it’s not the most comfortable feeling in the world.
Have you both done a lot of dance work before?
Polly: I did ballet when I was about four and I only did it because I got a Mars bar.
Daniel: I used to, when I was in Am-Dram. They used to make us do a lot of dancing; ballet, jazz and tap on a Saturday morning at 9 o’clock. That was when I was fourteen but I haven’t really done that since then.
Has it been hard to get back into?
Polly: Yes, but it’s great – you feel like you’re getting really fit!
Daniel: I don’t feel like I’m getting really fit; I feel like I’m actually dying. My body doesn’t know what’s happened to it. I wake up in the middle of the night and my feet are dancing!
The Count of Monte Cristo has a cast of six. How many characters are there in the production and which do you play?
Polly: Well, mine are quite easy because one of them doesn’t say a thing and is masked – she is my favourite!
Daniel cheekily chips in here “Ours as well!”
Polly: I’m doing less doubling than anyone else. The other s play a whole host of characters. I think between us there are about 14. Everyone covers characters from courtly, principal players to rabble to pirates to smugglers...
Daniel: I don’t do any doubling. I’m just Edmund (the Count) throughout the whole thing. As a character he starts off as a very normal, very young happy chap and is destroyed by the people who he thought were his friends. He completely changes as a result; he comes back as an avenging Angel of God, goes a bit deranged with anger and rage – blood lust really.
How can the audience differentiate between the various characters that the cast play?
Daniel: It’s a carnival of accents.
Polly: ... and of costumes. I play one character more than any of the others, which is someone who is madly in love with the Count. But for the others it’s literally swapping sometimes line by line with the different voices. Sometimes there’s not time to change an entire costume so it’ll just be a small signifier of a character. They’re very different each time they appear.
Can you give us any hints as to what we can expect from the staging and the set?
Daniel: It’s very simple but effective – like Calpol!
Why should people come to see The Count of Monte Cristo?
Polly: Well, it’s one hell of a yarn! The story itself is a real classic; of love, revenge and double-dealing. It’s the stuff of fireside story telling. We take you through it at a rollercoaster pace; once you get on it you can’t get off. It’s like a rush; once it starts that’s it - there’s no letting up.
Daniel: The writer, Joel Harwood, condensed a 1300 novel into a two hour evening out and the idea is that it’s going to be a great evening for people; lots of dancing and sword fighting and entertainment with the basic elements of this brilliant story still there.
Polly: I think it’ll be a riot. I think it has a broad attraction; a great story. Never a moment where it’s going to flag or sag. Come along if you want to see some actors sweat.
Daniel: In a nutshell, it will just be a cracking night out. And yes, you can see what the human body is capable of in terms of sweat glands.
And where can we see you next – after your appearance in The Count of Monte Cristo?
Daniel: I’m planning on lying down for a couple of months.
- Polly Frame and Daniel Rigby were talking to Ruth Kilner.
The Count of Monte Cristo is at West Yorkshire Playhouse from 16 April to 15 May. For tickets, see www.wyp.org.uk