Keeper of the peace: Daniel Mottau as Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet

Daniel Mottau will star as Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet
Daniel Mottau will star as Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet

This week, AussieTheatre is featuring interviews with members of the Montague and Capulet families from Australian Shakespeare Company’s outdoor production of Romeo and Juliet, opening tomorrow night in Melbourne.

Today we are in conversation with Daniel Mottau, playing Benvolio from the Montague clan.

A graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) and The Australian Film & Television Academy full time actors course, Daniel is a Melbourne-based theatre and television actor, classically trained light opera/musical theatre Tenor and freelance model.

His many musical theatre stage credits include Ruddigore (Richard Dauntless),The Pirates of Penzance (Frederic), Madame Butterfly (Goro), Les Miserables (Courfeyrac), Fiddler on the Roof (Perchik), Jesus Christ Superstar (Peter) and Kismet (The Caliph).

Daniel is also the resident lead tenor for the Victorian Concert Orchestra and starred alongside Bethany Simons in the two time Green Room Award nominated play The Weather and Your Health.

Describe your character in Romeo & Juliet? Do you think you are similar to him?

[pull_left]I see Benvolio as something of a bored young nobleman; a good man, but with too much money and spare time on his hands[/pull_left]

I see Benvolio as something of a bored young nobleman; a good man, but with too much money and spare time on his hands. He is playful and alway seeking different forms of greater amusement, often relying on Mercutio to provide this. Historically, he has shown frequent hot headedness, but within the duration of the play has turned peacemaker, having tired of the constant tensions between the two families. In building my interpretation of Benvolio, I have combined aspects of my own nature: mate-ship, high energy and playfulness, but have also added a sense of frustration and uneven temper. I tend to keep characters close to heart and as honest as possible, to ensure that they are conveyed genuinely. Audiences can quickly detect something untrue/false in an actors characterisation.

What do you find are the major challenges of performing Shakespeare?

Having a background predominantly in musical theatre, my primary challenge has been resisting the constant desire to break out in song and dance. I often fail in this pursuit, much to the distress of Glenn, our Director. Seriously though, the use language is an obvious challenge. Using prose or verse to convey meaning can be a real challenge for an actor, especially when attempting to achieve a balance between the heightened nature of the text and generating a sense of realism in its delivery.

You’ve been doing some pretty intense sword fight choreography. Can you tell us about a funny moment or a sticky situation?

A few of us have worked with swords before, but most have never fought with Rapiers. As result, we all began our training with relative ignorance. To compound this, giving sharp and shiny things to a group of actors is never a smart move at the best of times. Suffice to say we’ve had a few scratches and cuts, but nothing too serious. Most trouble starts when people get excited and start trying new things, much to the dismay of the person on the receiving end.

What scenes do you think audiences will enjoy the most?

The show provides a great dose of comedy and light banter between characters, but also some exciting fight scenes. The sword work is outstanding, and on each occasion it grows and become more and more energetic. Not only are the fights fast and powerful, but we have been very well drilled on correct technique which has developed an agility and accuracy that is often lacking in theatre sword work.

Your role as a Montague involves some pretty intense issues of hate and prejudice. How does this relate to modern society?

A core thematic contrast of the play are the concepts of Love vs Hate. The audience relates to this on both a sympathetic and empathetic level, as we (sadly) see this in our own world every day. Whether it be at home in Melbourne or abroad, people simply don’t seem to learn from past mistakes, with history repeating until change is necessary for survival. The beauty of R&J is the eventual discovery of a common ground, forgetting the petty disputes and differences in opinion, but rather focusing on what is ultimately most important. Unfortunately, in the modern world hate continues simply because it is what they have always done, often no longer knowing why.

What’s your most embarrassing stage moment?

Do I have to choose just one? An event that really stands out occurred during opening night for a light opera. Having endured the entire cast singing a joke version of my major love song, I headed out onto stage for opening night to accidentally perform those joke lyrics (correct lyrics in brackets): “Take my hand I’m a dangerous parasite (stranger in paradise), all lost in a danger land (wonder land), i’m a dangerous parasite (a stranger in paradise)”. This experience showed me two things; how opening nerves can play with your mind, but also how fun it can be to watch a fellow performer try with all their heart to conceal a fit of laughter.

What is it like performing and rehearsing outside in the Royal Botanic Gardens? Have you performed outside before?

Evening performances in the gardens are an ideal setting for the play. Unlike being in a theatre, we have the opportunity to use a massive canvass to paint our picture, using the natural environment to transport the audience to Verona. I have performed outside before, with orchestras and operas, but never to this scale and level of detail. The audience will enjoy the use of space; with regards to the freedom it gives the actors, the pace and energy it injects in the performances and also how it removes all limits for fight and crowd scenes.

Australian Shakespeare Company’s Romeo and Juliet opens at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne tomorrow night (December 20) and will run until 9 March 2013. 

Book tickets online and remember to bring a picnic full of goodies, blanket/cushions, insect repellent and a hat. 

Erin James

Erin James is's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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