In his second blog post, Liam discusses learning his lines during breaks in rehearsals, his thoughts about playing a 'baddie', and an impromptu rehearsal under the Millennium Bridge!
Transcript of Podcast
I don’t really have anything to say this week because I haven’t been in rehearsals for about five days! I’ve been doing the jigging rehearsals and I’ve been doing the group sessions, but we’ve basically hit this chunk of the play that I’m not in – Act III and most of Act IV. I’m in this afternoon which is good: it's nice for a couple of days because you get a breather and sit back from it for a bit, but after that it does start to feel strange. You just feel a bit detached. We’re coming towards the end now for the first time, working through it. I’m not exactly sure where we’re going to stop for the interval, but roughly looking at it on paper I’m not in about three quarters of the second half.
Funnily enough, Angelo's part is distributed across the play in almost exactly the same way as Orsino's in Twelfth Night: your good stuff is in the first half, you’re off for most of the second half, and then you are back again at the end. Last year my characters, Bolingbroke and Edward II [Richard II and Edward II] were on regularly all the way through, which is actually better in that rehearsal feels slightly more unified.
We’ll read through a scene then really look hard at what might be going on in the lines. I think we have worked quite slowly – not too slowly though. I suppose by the end of this week we will be half way through rehearsals, and we’re just coming to the end of the play. But then there are set backs that you can’t help; we had an accident yesterday. Ed Peel [Escalus] snapped his Achilles’ tendon so he's out now, which is a shame. We’ll be finding out today or tomorrow who we’re going to get to play that part. It's a shame for Ed; he's a really nice guy. It's just one of those things. It happened so quickly – we were leaping around in a movement class and suddenly he just crumpled.
It was a bit unsettling for everyone. We were working in smaller groups, and certainly for those of us who were in the room, it was quite weird. I have a few scenes with him, so it will be interesting to see what happens next. The scenes aren’t huge but we’ll obviously have to go back and do them again. When the Duke puts me in charge, Escalus is like my second in command.
I’m expecting the play to change a lot when we go back and look at the earlier scenes. By then, it will be three weeks really since we worked on them, which feels like a long time. I’m not so bad with the two Isabella scenes [II.2 and II.4] because we did those more recently – they take a little while before they happen, about a third of the way in. So they don’t seem so long ago, but we’re going back to the first one of them this afternoon then we’ll go back to the second one again tomorrow afternoon. I’m glad about that. I feel like I’ve kind of put the parts of the play together again, which is good.
While I haven’t been in rehearsal, I have been learning my lines. I don’t know them all yet, but I will do by the beginning of next week and that's fine. I don’t have a massive amount of text so if I learn them for the beginning of next week, that still gives me half the rehearsal period off book, which is what I usually look for. This morning I had a session with Giles [Block, Master of the Words]. We looked through a couple of my speeches. I haven’t made any major discoveries with Giles so far, but he's always really helpful. He points out things and Shakespeare is so dense that you do miss things; to have someone who just listens to you read and gently suggests thoughts and ideas is great. He just asks ‘Have you thought about this?’ and ‘Have you thought about that?’ They’re not huge things, but everyone does find it very helpful to have a one-to-one session with Giles. It's a little bit of a boost for the next try at rehearsal. You just feel more clued up with the words.
Scenes with Isabella
I’m looking forward to this afternoon and tomorrow because when Sophie [Thompson, Isabella] and I did them previously we both had our noses in the book. I think Sophie knows the lines now as well, so hopefully it should be more interesting this afternoon. We can think about things other than ‘What comes next?’ They’re great scenes, and one of the problems is I think they both actually should go quite briskly. It's a bit odd – in a way you think ‘It's over before you know it.’ You are just beginning to enjoy yourself and then you go ‘They are actually quite quick’. Sophie has a lot more to do than me because she has several scenes with the Duke, as well, which I don’t have. But I know she likes these scenes as much as I do. We bumped into each other on the street the other day and just sat down under the Millennium Bridge and did the lines from the first scene [II.2]. That was fun to just sit in the sunshine and do it.
He does something absolutely appalling, but I always think that these plays are so good and these parts are so good that you should never feel that the characters are so evil as to be completely alien from us. I think we should always be left thinking that you can smell a little bit of yourself in one of these parts however awfully they behave. I just think that they are so well written that they are that human. Angelo does face Isabella with an appalling dilemma, but I don’t think he should be such a monster that you can’t relate to him at all, and so you feel safe.
In a way, Angelo is the ‘baddie’ in the piece - although I personally think the Duke's quite a dodgy character as well - but I find the fact that Shakespeare gives Angelo soliloquies really interesting. I don’t know why he has them unless we are supposed to… not necessarily feel sympathy for him, but at least go with him on this, on what's happening to him. If he's so appalling that we hate his guts, why would we want to listen to him when he is talking to us? I think you just have to go with that and discover and play him, and try and find out why that is. It's easy enough to watch a complete monster if they are acting with other people and you’re watching them do something at one remove, but when they are actually speaking to you and asking you questions, I think that you have to find them interesting.
I think Angelo discovers lust for the first time. This happens when he's been put in this situation where he also has power and the combination of the two things tip him over an edge. He decides to follow through with that ultimatum because he can. I think the reason is simply that, for whatever reasons, no one has ever had this affect on him before. Isabella has a devastating effect on him when he meets her and it happens to coincide with a time when he holds an all powerful position. That combination spoils him.
Angelo could have any woman he wanted but he wants Isabella, and she's going to say ‘no’ so the ultimatum is the only way; that's what he tells us and I don’t see why there's any reason to disbelieve him. He has led this incredibly virtuous, celibate, holy life so far and that obviously must be part of her appeal. She is just about to take her vows to become a nun, so there is a big connection there. In an odd roundabout way, that has got to be huge part of the attraction for him.
Mariana and Isabella
My feeling at the moment is that Angelo's relationship with Mariana was probably the only one, actually. He seems inexperienced because of the way he deals with it, and there is no particular reason to believe that there has been any consummation of the relationship with Mariana. I find it helpful to think that there hasn’t been. He has the meeting with Mariana and who he thinks is Isabella, but I think there's something interesting in the fact that it is his loss of virginity as well. I mean, yes, he's engineered it and he's in the driving seat, but there's something human and interesting about it almost certainly being his first sexual encounter as well. Although he's being rotten about it, obviously it's a big deal for him, too. It's not something obvious that you can play; there's nothing you can do to kind of get that across, but I just think it's a useful thought to have whilst you’re playing the scenes. We haven’t touched the final scene at all, so I have no idea how he responds to the news of the marriage. He certainly is paired up with Mariana at the Duke's order, but I don’t know how he feels about that. He's as silent as Isabella at the end, really, which is perhaps another nice parallel between those characters.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as s/he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his/her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.