Paterson Joseph has acted in many Shakespearean productions. He sometimes goes back to the area he grew up in and teaches Shakespeare to amateurs, and he got them to do it at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, a big drama school in the U.K.
Shakespeare has been a major part of my life because when I was a young, shy 18-year-old, I was able to put these amazing words in my mouth and sound like a very smart king, prince, or duke, and it made me feel empowered. So whenever I go to teach Shakespeare, I’ve seen the miracle in them as well. These quite shy kids who aren’t very articulate—they don’t really want to talk about anything—suddenly become very articulate because you get these magical words in your mouth and suddenly feel empowered and smart and listened to.
When asked whether he thinks King Lear is funny, Paterson Joseph replies:
I think that Shakespeare is a witty playwright. I don’t think even when he writes a tragedy that he forgets that even in darkness, people do laugh. Even in darkness, there is a release. And sometimes, when you open people p and make them laugh, you can make them cry. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having laughter even within a tragedy. Having worked with soldiers and doctors at some points in my life, I know even in terrible situations there is humor. There has to be, almost, to in any way survive it.
In the 1995 production at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway, Paterson Joseph played Horatio. Ralph Fiennes was playing Hamlet. Joseph recounts a particularly tense moment during one of the performances:
Ralph’s sword broke in two. It was a rapier, and it was like slow motion. We saw it spinning in the air, going into the auditorium, and we had loads of stars coming to see the show at that point. So we just wondered, was it going to be Kirk Douglas who was going to get it in the eye, or was Tom Cruise going to be decapitated? And it went through into the auditorium and Ralph so kindly stopped the whole show and went, “Are you all right?” to whoever it was (it wasn’t anybody famous), and they went, “Yes, I’m fine,” so we could start again. The audience loved it, as they do when things go wrong.