This is Liam's first blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard II in which he talks about being offered the role of Bolingbroke, returning to the Globe for his third season, meeting the company and beginning the rehearsal process.
Transcript of Podcast
Getting the Role of Bolingbroke
I was offered the part of Edward in Edward II last September, before I finished the 2002 Globe Theatre Season (where I played Orsino in Twelfth Night), and I accepted straight away. I live in Glasgow and I have been working on different projects in the meantime, but I did spend quite a lot of time between September and Christmas reading Edward II and familiarising myself with the play. Last season I also expressed an interest in the role of Bolingbroke in Richard II, but I had to wait a while to hear about that. I think that both Mark Rylance [Artistic Director, Shakespeare's Globe] and Tim Carroll [Master of Play, Richard II] felt that it might be too much for me to play both Edward and Bolingbroke; I love to be busy, but I’m a bit of a workaholic! Still, I knew that in terms of energy levels and workload I would be OK, and around Christmastime, Tim phoned to offer me the role of Bolingbroke as well. I started looking at Richard II during January and February and I actually did something I’ve never done before: I learnt quite a lot of the lines for Bolingbroke. I didn’t learn all of them but I probably know between about half and three-quarters at this point. It just felt like the right thing to do. A lot of actors say you shouldn’t do that, but I think so far it has been very helpful for me. People say you make lots of decisions whilst learning lines that you shouldn’t make before the rehearsal process, but I think I’ve managed to learn the lines with a kind of neutrality. I hope I did. I think if you have that kind of awareness then you can control what happens as you learn. Learning some of the text has given me the opportunity to start looking at the role of Edward before we start rehearsing. It has bought me that luxury. I might decide to wait, however, and just dive into Edward when we start rehearsals as a full company. My plan was to get to the point where I had that choice.
Returning to the Globe
My first day back at the Globe was great. This is my third season which I can’t really quite believe. The first few days of rehearsals are always very similar: they follow an established pattern of meeting and greeting, talks from various different people and a tour of the building. We were also taken for an exploration of the Globe Theatre, just like the school groups and the public do when they come to visit. So that was all very nice and reassuring and welcoming and familiar. There are quite a lot of old faces and there are also five or six new boys in our company. I think that is a nice balance of old and new. There is a lot of talk about how extremely valuable it is to have played this space before – which of course it is – but I always think you can learn things from people who haven’t been here and experienced the space before. They will always have a sense of freshness and an openness to the unique Globe stage. Also, because several members of the company played the 2002 season with me, the new actors help to differentiate this season from the last one. It is a new experience for everyone.
At the end of the first day we all visited Middle Temple Hall where the production of Richard II will begin its run. I hadn’t been there before because although I was in Twelfth Night at the Globe last year I wasn’t in the Middle Temple production. It's a very, very beautiful place. I’m sure it will be lovely to play Richard II there. It's very atmospheric and very dark. I’d passed it a few times not realising I was so close to it, but it was a very special experience to go inside for the first time. The Middle Temple Hall space will provide a new challenge for me. It will be very different from the Globe space. I’ve never done a ‘Globe show’ anywhere other than on the Globe stage. At the moment we are reflecting the dimensions of the Hall in our rehearsal room: we have the long rectangular playing space marked out on the floor with the entrances marked at either end. Also, rather than imagining the audience of the Globe, who would be all around us, we are working and playing to three straight sides. We are trying to picture the Middle Temple space rather than the Globe space. We then have a little bit of a gap to adapt between finishing the run at Middle Temple Hall and starting technical rehearsals at the Globe, but it's only about four days I think!
After the first day we had a very gentle start really. We read through scenes as a company and talked about them; trying to make sure everyone understood everything that had been said. I spent time reading around the history of the period. I think the play is fairly clear about what happens but there is no harm in learning more: it makes me feel more comfortable if I have factual information that I can draw on for the role. Gathering information about who Bolingbroke was and where he came from was very useful because in a sense I feel that I’ve done a lot of the internal preparation for the role. This solid, internal grounding means that I will have less physical work to do externally. Every actor does their own amount and version of this private work, but we do talk about it together as a group; over the last couple of weeks there has been a lot of sharing of books and facts and things to help us give the flavour of the time and the period.
Last week we went off to the country and stayed for four days at a Victorian country house called Gaunt's House, which is built on the site of John of Gaunt's estate. While we were there we had an opportunity to improvise some of the scenes which occur outside of the play's action, for example, the death of Richard's father, King Edward IV, and Richard II's coronation. We spent time working through the scenes in our own words to make sure we understood the motivation and objective behind each line. We had the chance to try some of the scenes outdoors and to have a go at outdoor pursuits from the time such as archery and javelin throwing. We really came together I guess as a group. Everyone was away from their normal routine and environment for a few days and that was really good for us as it enabled us to focus on the play. I will remember those experiences. It is not so much that you can actually replicate something that happened there; it's more about retaining a sense of the flavour. It just stays at the back of your mind and hopefully will somehow feed into your performance.
Yesterday we began a more traditional rehearsal process of working through the play scene by scene. Within that framework a certain amount of time is spent on company dance rehearsals, and some sessions are dedicated purely to looking at verse, voice or movement. Time is also spent looking at character. I’m never quite sure what people mean when they talk about ‘working on character’. I find ‘character’ a slightly funny word. David Mamet has written a book (True and False – Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor: New York, Faber and Faber, 1997) which investigates this notion of ‘character’, and it's not particularly radical, but I very much agree with him. I just don’t find ‘character’ a particularly helpful word. I think that what we call the illusion of character is a marriage between the actor and the words on the page. I think you can become familiar with the role by just immersing yourself completely in the script. The trouble with ‘character’ is that for a lot of people it is an image which separates the actor from the person they’re pretending to be. You actually cannot escape or hide or run away from the fact that it is you up there on the open stage. You cannot give yourself a safety pack in performance by creating a character that is very, very different and alien from you. You really can’t hide anything. I think the illusion of character is created when you try not to put on things, or not to hide behind things, but just try and accept the fact that it is you and say the words bravely and truthfully and honestly.
Richard II will be an original practices production (see glossary for definition of original practices) and I am very much looking forward to it. It is surprising how quickly the original practice begins to feel ‘normal’ for the actor. I certainly found that last year with Twelfth Night. You feel as though the play has been freed up. When I first thought about doing Richard II and Edward II I was just very excited about doing those plays and it was down the line a little bit that I found out that they happened to be original practice productions. My approach to rehearsal would be the same regardless of whether this was an original practices production or a modern production. Original practices are always at the back of my mind but I don’t consider things any differently during the moment of working. I’m sure everyone is different. This morning in the rehearsal room, for example, some people were saying "should I be standing like this" or "should I be moving like that" because we believe that is how actors might have stood or moved in Shakespeare's time. I personally don’t find it helpful to be thinking like that at this stage. I just want to create a realistic person and then all of the other original practices information will just feed itself in. Apart from anything else, if you are wearing authentic armour you are forced to stand with a certain posture: you can’t move in the way you would in modern-day jeans when you are wearing armour because you physically can’t. Very soon in the rehearsal process I think it will simply become accepted as the way in which we are working for this particular production and will hopefully seem very comfortable for the actors involved. For example, it's amazing how quickly you begin to see the men playing women as women, really just because you have to!
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.