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Faustus Interviews: Toby Jones, Wagner

Updated Monday, 10th September 2007

Actor Toby Jones talks about the tradition of the chorus in drama, and playing the character of Wagner.

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Copyright The Open University

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Well the role of the chorus, not a very glamorous name, chorus, but I suppose you could think of a chorus of being the master shot in most plays, that the chorus in some way sets the scene. And, of course, traditionally in Greek drama the chorus represents the body of opinion of a community, and as the chorus splits and divides so the drama is developing. But here Marlowe’s chorus, it seems what’s intriguing about it is that it seems more particular than that, it seems a very individual voice, the chorus, and indeed it’s traditionally played by Wagner, the character playing Wagner, Faustus’ servant who I also play.

My feeling about that is he seems to have two functions. One is to bridge time, that he’s moving the story on and he’s able to condense time and explain where the story has moved on to in the scenes that aren’t shown to an audience, and at the same time what makes it more specific, as in a lot of Marlowe’s work, is there’s a kind of ambivalence in the voice of the chorus in the play. We’re not always entirely sure what Marlowe’s position is as an author writing under a censor, he’s seeming to find areas of ambiguity in what should be a straightforward, moralistic story.

We get a sense that it isn’t so straightforward, and that’s even true in the normal voice of authority which is the chorus so there’s lots of challenges, and then there’s a kind of light-hearted side which is maybe more clear on stage than on radio, in which Wagner as the chorus very directly sets the scene, takes you right to the present moment of this is the character coming through the door right now, and we’re delivered straight back into the immediacy of the play.

It’s clearly not straightforward working on comic characters from Renaissance drama because they appear to be speaking a completely incomprehensible language of reference. They speak in a demotic and in everyday language to each other that implies that everyone knows to what they’re referring to, that it’s a very everyday way of speaking, but of course to us it isn’t because the references are very direct. It’s like jokes that are funny to us last year may not be funny to us now. Nonetheless, I think the specific challenge is that these characters are often written in prose rather than verse, so they’re operating according to a different time.

You have more control in a way over timing, and I think as long as one respects the energy of these characters, because I think that partly the prose implies a certain vocal energy, that one can play with the language more than sometimes the verse allows but, you know, you talk to any actor about playing these comic parts and the amount of business that has to be sort of like brought into the play in order to make anything funny or matter at all, it’s a constant problem and challenge for an actor.

 

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