This is Chu's third blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard II in which he discusses his character in further detail as well as audiences and Edward II- the next production the company are working on.
Transcript of Podcast
I’m feeling a lot more confident about Aumerle. He's developed in the last couple of weeks. Though I’m not a leading character and I don’t drive the action of a scene as such, you have to interact constantly with the characters who are speaking lines. I’m finding with Edward II that in a way it's easier to have lines as there's more material to build on. With fewer lines, you have to be able to react; other people bounce their speeches and actions off you, and that forms the basis of your position. As the leading actors have made decisions about their roles during rehearsals, the play started to develop a more definite structure, and I could really begin to decide what I wanted to do with Aumerle. That framework gives me confidence. During the run in Middle Temple Hall we had lots of note sessions and felt we could tinker with scenes – especially during our first week – but I found that the audience reaction was helpful too. They let you know when you’re telling the story properly. They look attentive, though I do find it harder to gauge the audience reaction at Middle Temple Hall than at the Globe.
In both instances you can see the audience, but the demographics are completely different. The Globe audience has a huge spread including tourists, students of drama or literature, and people who just wandered in from the street. In a way it's misleading to think of the ‘audience’ as a regular mass because the people within that body are so varied. However, a Globe audience generally feels like they’re eager for a good time whatever the play, while Middle Temple Hall audiences were waiting to be entertained in a more passive, reverential way. The environment at Middle Temple Hall is quite intimidating. Stained glass mirrors and dark wood fosters a quieter atmosphere. There were shows where applause at the end was rapturous but it was only really at the end that a reaction was evident. Tickets a Middle Temple Hall were more expensive than Globe yard tickets so that makes a difference; the audiences tended to be a bit older. Having said that, there were scenes where I felt the audience at Middle Temple Hall were really tuned in. That space was fantastic for the parliament scene (IV.1), and in my opening address I use the audience as the ‘princes and noble lords’ (l.19). I look directly at them and they lean forward, and play their part. Richard has a similar moment of connection when he hands out the flowers, and the exchange of an object makes the link more obviously. On the Globe stage the audience got more involved; I came right down to the front for the parliament scene and during the series of challenges people would hand me odd things to throw down when I asked for ‘some honest Christian’ to trust me with a gage. I improvised with caps, scarves, a glove… even a lighter. You just carry on with the scene and return everything after the jig. I think there were a couple of people who wanted to hand me things at Middle Temple Hall but they restrained themselves.
The audience entered through our dressing room at Middle Temple Hall and this changed the dynamic between us – the novelty wore off quickly. I’m quite a private person and I felt exposed listening to everyone pass through, commenting on our costumes and things without actually talking to us. I usually ended up walking to the other side of the room. One of the parts of a production that I really enjoy is the laughing and joking just before you go onstage, and because it took so long to get changed at Middle Temple Hall, there was plenty of time for joking around together. You didn’t want to be in your underpants when the audience was coming through, but at times they sort of cut into that. It was certainly interesting. It made me think about when a show actually begins – in other theatres houselights etc. signal a beginning but at the Globe and especially at Middle Temple Hall, with the entrance through our dressing room, that sign-system has been altered.
I’ve changed the way I play some scenes for the Globe – we’re further into the run and as I said, the space is completely different. The nature of the ‘beach scene’ especially has developed. At III.2 Richard has just returned from Ireland and finds his troops have abandoned him in favour of Bolingbroke. He has a semi-breakdown and Aumerle responds:
Comfort, my liege. Why looks your grace so pale?
Richard tells Aumerle that 20,000 of his men have deserted. He knows that it is likely he’ll be deposed. The last lines of this speech could be his reflection on what is already happening – everyone who desires safety is leaving his side – or a final instruction for the remainder of his troops:
All souls that will be safe fly from my side,
For time hath set a blot upon my pride
Aumerle then says ‘Comfort, my liege. Remember who you are.’ There's a choice here; Aumerle can be hard, almost bullying Richard into action. Bullying isn’t the right word – cajoling maybe. There's force behind his words. Later I decided that Aumerle's manner towards Richard at this point should be softer, more to do with reassurance than reprimand because our relationship is close. Aumerle loves Richard and their families are related. In fact, the reason I was so hard on Richard in the first place was that I’d imagined him as a brother and I know you talk to family in a different way. When you’re tender you can be a bit more loving, and when you’re hateful you can be a bit more hateful. The reaction I got from Richard (Mark Rylance) so much better when I softened. He realises that he hasn’t been completely abandoned and that he is loved. Whereas earlier in the run I’d thought that the line should say ‘Don’t you know who you are? Pull yourself together – you’re the King of England. Be the King.’ This was much more revealing about Aumerle as it suggested that he needed Richard to fulfil his proper role as leader. Again, I’ve found I could use the audience as part of this scene. A king is a ruler of the people and when I told him to ‘Remember who you are’, I made him look out at the audience: they became his people. So it is possible to make a very direct connection with the audience at Middle Temple Hall and the Globe just then.
Aumerle's relationship with his father (the Duke of York) in the first scene has become much warmer at the Globe, probably because I’m more relaxed and you end up playing the situation rather than plotting a journey. If I’m in a good mood then I’ll be very nice to Bill (Stewart, York) and if I’m not I’ll use the minimum in terms of courtesy. Act V is a different story – it's quite arrogant to talk about where your journey is taking you when it's the play that takes me along in Act V: I’m in conflict with my father, and while the texture might change from day to day, the way we play it basically stay the same. I still have the same feelings of anger and betrayal and frustration that I had at Middle Temple Hall. York will always choose his allegiance to the King over Aumerle. One of the difficult things about Aumerle's character is the way he seemed to change sides, especially in the first act. In our production we decided that Aumerle will second Bolingbroke during the challenges, and in the first scene we have a couple of moments that help us develop a relationship; we make eye contact, and Liam grabs my shoulder for moral support when Mowbray unleashes the stream of abuse in I.3. The audience might miss these smaller things but it all contributes towards our general idea. I feel Aumerle is really only duplicitous when Richard asks about the parting in I.4 ‘And say, what store of parting tears where shed?’ Aumerle gives an excuse for his tears – the wind got in his eyes. He seems to go take the trouble because he recognises that Richard is wary and jealous of Bolingbroke. From this point he increasingly finds himself in a situation where loyalty becomes a struggle and perhaps he wavers. I hope my closer connection with Bolingbroke emphasises that problem.
Aumerle is a kind of pressure point for the play's themes of conflicting allegiance. His close relation with Bolingbroke in the early scenes foregrounds the moment when he turns against Bolingbroke and gives King Richard his support. As far as Aumerle is concerned, Bolingbroke pledged his loyalty to the King and this pledge has been broken. I see them as traitors because they swore to uphold the monarchy and they fail to do this in a radical way. Bolingbroke tries to make a distinction – he's challenging the law – but usurping the King follows on naturally and Aumerle find this unacceptable. He's perfectly justified in maintaining this position. I see Aumerle himself as usurped from his own position at court because of his loyalty to Richard. The parliament scene (IV.1) charts the emergence of a tyrant; Bolingbroke invites challenges from his enemies and any opposition is just carted off – the Bishop of Carlisle and the Queen's faction, for example. The first half of the play ends with Bolingbroke sending word via Northumberland that all he wants is the return of his lands and titles. Next minute he's accepting the crown, visibly taking it from Richard. Aumerle is only branded as a traitor because his side lost and it's the victor's privilege to write history. Though you obviously have to have some sympathy with your character to perform a role, even before casting I’d always thought Aumerle was harshly treated. Allegiances in the play are so complex that you can’t make clear-cut judgments. It's all about shades of grey and that's why you get Henry IV parts 1 and 2 because to some extent everyone in Richard II is guilty. The repercussions of Richard's deposition continue to ripple throughout history and Bolingbroke as Henry IV must deal with them. His position on the divine rights of kings changes substantially once he wears a crown. Kings were seen as elected by God to rule over earth and Henry has to cope with the guilt that stems from Richard's murder, especially once he has taken the crown. Edward II is an interesting comparison because there isn’t the same stress on the divine. Edward clashes with his nobles over low-bred Gaveston's influential position and this puts the emphasis on an earthly hierarchy in crisis.
I’m starting to think more about Edward II now. I did readings for Young Mortimer, Young Spencer and Edward's queen, Isabella. I went for Isabella because she's a real challenge though my first impressions were mixed. Her initial speeches begin with lamentation – Young Mortimer asks where she is going in I.4 and she replies:
Unto the forest, gentle Mortimer,
To live in grief and baleful discontent.
Two scenes later she's left alone onstage and begins ‘O miserable and distressed queen!’ Everything sounded like a moan which is understandable because Edward does treat her badly but it's not very endearing. My ideas changed significantly after I started some close reading. She's on an emotional roller-coaster and I think her journey is one of the most interesting in the whole play. I’m noticing similarities with Aumerle actually – her loyalty is put under incredible pressure as well. Aumerle lost his place at court; Isabella's place in Edward's heart is usurped by Gaveston – which puts her in a very exposed position, politically speaking. She has more lines than Aumerle and I’ve found I get a lot out of Edward II rehearsals because that greater degree of verbal interaction opens up a wider range of possibilities. You have to know the other characters almost as well as your own because each has their own prejudice; it's important to decipher statements and find out where the truth lies for your character. Pembroke casts Isabella as a saint ‘Hard is the heart that injures such a saint’ (I.4.191) for example and later she's called the ‘wall of France’. The verse is less complicated in terms of feeding you material but while statements made seem more clear-cut, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the characters are straightforward. There's an alternative for Isabella in Kent's line '[…] For Mortimer/ And Isabel do kiss, while they conspire.
At the moment I’m mostly concentrating on finding where I fit in the play's journey.
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.