The Source of Cruelty – Guest Blog by Nicki Day

Nicki Day picNicki Day is an actor, teacher and (woohoo!) expectant mother currently living in London. In 2003, Nicki was cast as Isabella in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure during the Bard in the Botanics outdoor Shakespeare festival and, within just a few weeks of starting rehearsals as one of Shakespeare’s most challenging female lead characters, suddenly found herself facing one of the most difficult roles of her career…not Isabella, but Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s sweeping political drama Antony and Cleopatra! Two major female leading roles in one summer? And thrown into the titular Cleopatra with no notice or preparation (due to the actress originally cast suddenly deciding she “just wasn’t up to the task”?) just two weeks before opening?

Well, Nicki responded with her trademark hard-work, sense of humor, goodness and charm and pulled off what can only be described as a Shakespearean home run: playing Isabella and Cleopatra in a single summer season. She was amazing in both roles, and quickly became both a dear friend and one of Scott Palmer’s favorite actors (and people) on the planet.

A few years later, Nicki was asked to take on the difficult role of Regan in Scott’s second production of LEAR, a role that she performed with a deep and delicate sensibility, making the mad King’s middle daughter both terrifying and very, very human…as difficult a task as playing Cleopatra with two weeks notice!

Nicki lives with her husband in London where she is (literally, while writing this blog) getting ready to have their first child…Nicki has promised to name the baby after Scott…boy or girl.

Here is Nicki doing what she does best: being smart, insightful, creative and loving and talking about her experience of performing Regan in LEAR in 2005.


Lear – Examining the Source of Cruelty

I had the magical experience of joining Glasgow Repertory Company for the third year running back in 2005 and collaborating with Scott Palmer, a dear friend and definitely ‘my director’ as far as experimental Shakespeare was concerned.  The production was a revival of Scott’s ‘Lear’, a dense, tight, cauldron of a piece of theatre that managed to draw the audience in to the weave of the play’s familial dysfunction by means of their own understanding of family along the way.  I feel it was often uncomfortable for the watcher, and deliberately so.

lear regan
Nicki Day as Regan, Glasgow, 2005

I played the role of Regan, a delicious character for an actor to play and especially in this interpretation as she is given so much more depth of expression than perhaps the classic play allows her.  I remember clearly a particular day in rehearsal when Scott and I were working together on Regan’s monologue “cruel and unkind my father has been to me”.  She became to me, through the process of that day, such a vulnerable small child…damaged and damaged and damaged again by the unknowing and unthinking acts of thoughtlessness on the part of her father across all her times of need.

She became gradually bent and frayed in her insecurities and lack of anything of substance she could draw on in terms of her relationship with her father.  From this base, the things that she does (oh the things that she does, a pure actor’s chocolate box of delights – seductions, beatings, squishing eyeballs and they gave me a proper machine gun to play with!!!) all had foundation and I felt moved the character far on from simply being evil for no apparent reason.

The whole production was an experience of working with actors and a director that I knew and trusted implicitly, with whom I could share so much fun and laughter and really explore the boundaries of my creative abilities, pushing to the absolute limits.

We worked very hard, we played even harder, but in contrast to the cruelties and betrayals between the characters we portrayed, I had never felt as supported personally by a group of friends as in that time.

I had a personal journey to deal with as my own father had become very ill whilst I was away.  It was a curious thing, playing a character who had come to hate her father through exhaustion at trying to love him and be loved by him, while having the joy of my own relationship and communication with my father brought into sharp focus by the prospect of losing him from my life.  Looking back now, I think the contrast fed into my performance and it was only because of my trust in the wonderful people around me that I could have felt strong enough to let that happen.

Lear 2 family
The cast of LEAR, Glasgow, 2005

Family is everything; I am about to become a mother myself in a few short days from now.

Lear brings focus and fascination to our understanding of family when things go wrong.

It takes a ‘family’ to work together to brave the places the play takes you, too – in my experience we had that in spades.

I wish all of that and more for this new revival.

Nicki Day
January 23, 2014