The Man Beneath The Costume: Superhal, PART 2 – The Actor – TALKING ARTS

The second half of Peter Maple’s interviews for Superhal.

One might think taking on the lead role of a Shakespearean character is a large enough task in itself; or assuming the mantle of a superhero figure would be a responsibility of just as sizeable proportions. But, try combining the two together as one – and you may just find yourself floating in the realms of a universe jam-packed with commitments of Herculean magnitudes…!

Armed to the teeth with Shakespearean verbal ammunition, and decked out in full superhero garb, actor Richard Hilliar is leading the charge on the Puzzle Collective’s upcoming production, Superhal. A vast undertaking that seeks to present Shakespeare’s Henriad (Henry IV Parts 1 & 2; and and Henry V) cross-bred with resplendent superhero lore.

This hybrid reimagining will be arriving this March on the battlegrounds of NIDA’s Parade Theatre. And while the Superhal troops are deep within the midst of a fierce development and rehearsal period, actor Richard Hilliar takes some time out to spend with us mere mortals…

What was it that interested you about the concept of melding Shakespeare with superheroes?

I saw it as a potential to open Shakespeare up to a wider audience. There’s already been great interest from the Cosplay and comic book community. I also just thought it would be good fun and a real laugh – I’ve never played a superhero before. Not to mention that Henry V is a great role! So, two birds, one stone, really.

Ok. So, tell me – who would win: Batman or Superman?

Superman! Of course.

It’s simple. Superman is indestructible. Sure; Batman has cool gadgets and so forth, but he is still just a man. I think it actually comes down to human vanity to think one of us could ever defeat what is essentially a God…

Again – who would win: Titus Andronicus or Macbeth?

Macbeth. Easily. A soldier himself. A proven military commander.

Titus uses others at his behest to do all his dirty work.

And finally – who would win: Shakespeare or Stan Lee?

That’d be Shakespeare. Grew up in a tougher time. He’d be scrappy. I’d imagine there’d be some sword training in there too.

Stan Lee is just a bit of an old Boob…

The Henriad plus superhero stage action – sounds potentially exhausting. Extreme stamina required? How are your fitness levels…?

I have been hitting the gym and pool to be honest. Want to do the superhero thing justice. Want to look and feel capable and be the part as best as possible. And then what’s interesting is the Shakespeare side of things is vocally taxing – breath; projection; and duration… So, they are each ‘draining’ different things – the physical and the vocal. The blessing is they don’t tend to be in operation at the same time on stage…!

Have you had to learn any new (superhero) skills? How has that been?

There’s a lot of fight choreography to get down – to learn and get into your body.

Superhero-wise, my character is a cross between Iron Man and Wolverine. Whilst heavily armoured, in the vein of Iron Man, I’ve had to learn to best represent the blasting of energy beams from my palms. And like Wolverine I employ the use of claws for close quarters combat, though my claws aren’t a part of me – a part of my body – I wear them on my hands as a chosen weapon.

How do you go with the choreography? Easy/Hard to get the hang of?

We have a great stunt man working with us on that. He normally works in film. Really knows his stuff. He approaches the fight sequences from a story and character point of view, which gives a richer context, and makes more sense from an acting outlook. The actors are granted a lot of say also – it’s very collaborative. And he takes any one actor’s capabilities and limitations into account – gearing the movements specific to them. He’s made sure to avoid some of the older cast members aren’t engaging in backflips over other character’s heads…!

Do you ever get (over)excited, possibly lost in a moment, and ‘go too far’ during the fights…?

Only when blocking, unexpectedly – as opposed to delivering a ‘blow’. I guess the instinct to protect one’s self can be quite inherently strong! And then the receiving of a strike can be quite impactful. There are a couple of ‘war wounds’ now – some marks and bruising… But no-one’s been knocked out yet – so I guess we’re doing pretty well!

Tell me about the costumes; and their effect on you. A very important element to any good superhero. The costume doth maketh the superhero…

They’re extremely detailed. Fantastic. And still more to come. A lot of cast members to fit, and costumes to be made for them. These are not the type of costumes you just go out and purchase pieces of everyday clothing for.

How does it affect me? How I ‘hold myself’ in costume is always different – how it feels.

Shoes! Shoes are massively important. What’s on my feet – how I ‘sit’ in them – always bears a great impact on the character.

How has the process been – with your cast – with your director?

Fun. Fun people. Fun rehearsal room. No egos. Very collaborative.

Is it a show you’d want to see as an audience member? And why?

I’d be interested to see for sure. It’s rare to see this entire story played out. And this version promises to be so very visually striking. I wouldn’t know what to expect – so there would be a large amount of intrigue on my behalf as an audience member.

Tell me something about yourself as an actor – anything.

I’m always very focused on ‘quality of character’. And a truthful depiction. That’s my main objective.

I also believe you can find everything you need in the script. Every answer – The script.

And; I have noticed that over time I have grown more confident and vocal about my own ideas.

Superheros also have their alter egos – where they lead their ‘normal’ lives. What’s at the end of your day when the costume comes off?

At the moment – probably some sleep…

Rest well. Power up.

And thanks for taking the time out.

Peter Maple – Theatre Now and Talking Arts
Original publish date, February 24, 2017.