This is Liam's second blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard II in which he talks about continuing rehearsals, his character's lines and voice, verse and movement work.
Transcript of Podcast
Three weeks to go now. We are exactly half way through our rehearsal period and suddenly, the opening night seems very close! It's a little disheartening at this time because you've got more questions about what you're doing than you've got answers. You are right slap bang in the middle of lots of acting problems that you haven't solved yet and you keep thinking "oh no, we are half way through!". But by the same token, I think you do have a kind of 'actor body clock' that tunes in to the length of the rehearsal period: therefore, you shouldn't panic because your brain knows and your heart knows that it'll all be ok and so you just have to get on with solving those problems in your own time. It can feel a little as though you're lost in the forest at this stage and it's important to keep telling yourself that it really will all be OK. You do seem to make bigger strides the further you get on in the rehearsal process: it is certainly the case for me and I think most people would agree. As you're exposed to the play more and more, it gets better and better. You get the chance to do things a third and a fourth and a fifth time, as apposed to the first and the second and the third time. So it all just becomes more familiar. We, the company, are getting to know each other better as a group of people too. You get more relaxed and more comfortable with each other and therefore you find the courage to get a little bit braver in front of each other during rehearsals. Self-consciousness is beginning to wear off now: for people who are total strangers it's very hard to get up in the rehearsal room and be emotional and take chances and risk getting it wrong and risk making fools of ourselves. You need to feel comfortable as a group so that you can risk getting it badly wrong and so then you can say that is definitely not the way to go with the scene. I have to try things out to get them out of my system, but it takes a lot of courage.
We have now started rehearsing the scenes in a more traditional way. For each session a scene is selected and we typically start by sitting round and reading it - just once and relatively quickly - and then we all give a few quick thoughts about it. Basically after that we just get up on our feet and try out the scene. It is all very practical and we make the decisions on our feet. All of the scenes still feel fairly problematic! We are doing Act 5 at the moment. Today we have been working on Act 5, Scene 3 and it is very hard indeed. The Duchess of York and the Duke of York both come knocking on my door with different requests for what should happen to their son, Aumerle, because he has been caught out conspiring against me. There are several sequences in Richard II, and this is one of them, where I don't say very much and at the moment I'm not sure why. I seem to let people do an awful lot of talking. I keep thinking it would have been easier if Shakespeare had written the scene so that Bolingbroke could just cut across them and tell them what is going to happen because he has the power to do that. In fact it is written so that I do an awful lot of listening. I'm not sure why I don't just interrupt them. I seem to make my decision about what is going to happen to Aumerle at the beginning of the scene and yet I still let people go on and on and on. At the moment I'm trying to find a truthfulness to his silence, when in fact he is the person who can call all the shots and knows his own opinion from the very start. I think it's important as an actor to find reasons for Bolingbroke's behaviour: I have to solve the problem. You could just say 'because the playwright tells you'; there is an element of truth to that but I do need to find a sustainable explanation as well. I have thought of one reason why Bolingbroke lets them go on at great length: sometimes it can be very powerful to let someone talk too much. There are certainly occasions with Richard where that is the key to it. I think Bolingbroke lets Richard ramble on because he knows what Richard is saying isn't doing himself any good. It is the same in this scene with the Duchess of York. So, I have found a possible reason, but the challenge is to be able to communicate this reason to the audience. I don't know if one should even try to. Sometimes it's best to just have the thoughts to justify it for yourself. Some people in the audience will pick up on it. It's not always right to demonstrate - because we don't do that in real life. Sometimes we are just content with the knowledge that we have and we don't particularly show how we are feeling on the inside. I think we should obviously do the same in plays as we do in life. Some people will not see the reason whilst other people will think 'I bet I know what that guy is thinking - he is not showing me but if that was me I'd be feeling such and such'. The audiences here are big and hopefully there will always be a proportion of people who will share your thoughts.
I made an interesting little discovery today. I came in this morning with what I thought was a good idea for a cut of three lines of mine, but interestingly I found after doing it two or three times that actually I was wrong. I discovered it was one thing to sit and read it on the page and think 'I don't need those lines' when actually they are quite important. Sometimes you only find these things out when you're up on your feet and speaking the lines out loud. In the scene (Act 5, Scene 3) the Duke of York tells me that his son, Aumerle, has been conspiring against me. York basically says to Bolingbroke, 'kill him - I may be his father but he's a traitor so just kill him'. I read the proof the Duke of York has given me of this and then I begin my speech; "O loyal father of a treacherous son"(5.3.59). I had the idea that I could then cut the next three lines and skip to the end of the speech where Bolingbroke pardons Aumerle because of the Duke's honesty:
Thy overflow of good converts to bad,
And thy abundant goodness shall excuse
This deadly blot in thy disgressing son.
The three lines I'd been cutting were an ornate little description after "O loyal father of a treacherous son" where I compare the Duke to a fountain:
Thou sheer immaculate and silver fountain
From whence this stream through muddy passages
Hath held his current and defiled himself-
It's not a very long speech, but it's a vital one; during those lines, I make the crucial decision to pardon Aumerle and I realised today that I'm making the decision too quickly if I cut those lines out; it makes my decision appear too artificial. If I put those three lines back in it just gives me time to go on a little psychological journey towards the decision I make at the end of the speech. The lines are crucial to the process. A fair few cuts have been made in other scenes. I couldn't say how many lines exactly but it is a long play and so we've cut quite a lot. Cuts are funny things. I suppose ideally (and I'm sure Giles Block, our Master of the Words, would agree) you can always find a reason for not cutting a word, however, the reality is we've got 600 people standing here at the Globe and if you didn't cut things plays would be lasting for four hours or even more. Just in a purely human and practical 'wanting people to come back' sense, you have to cut things down.
Voice, Verse and Movement Work
As well as working on scenes as a company, we also work in small groups entitled Lancaster, York and Hereford. These are groups comprising of five or six actors in which we look at voice and verse and movement, to a certain extent in isolation of the play, although everything we do is essentially rooted in it. There's no harm in looking at your body as an instrument and trying to tune it up to work for the play. Giles Block, the Master of the Words, works with us on verse. I find it really helpful. He works with us on passages taken from other plays; it can feel a bit personal if you're working in great detail on your own lines in front of lots of people. You can work with him individually on your own speeches if you need to. In a group situation it is refreshing to work on different texts: it feels a bit freer and a bit less personal. Lots of the same rules and hints apply whichever text you use. We'll take a scene in our group and we'll read it through in a circle, each person taking a speech at a time. We'll read it through once without Giles saying anything and then he'll just give us suggestions and pointers and ideas, and then we'll do it again a few times and ask him questions if we need to. We look at inflections in the verse, rhythm, antithesis, timing, observation of half-lines, and what the punctuation (although there's very little) may be trying to tell us. I really like working with Giles because he's very non-prescriptive: he never tells you what to do or says 'this is right' or 'this is wrong'. He says things like 'have you thought of this' or 'how do you feel about that'. He's just very approachable and actor-friendly really!
We are all heading off to Middle Temple Hall this afternoon to work with Stuart Pearce, our Master of Voice. I have only been over there for an hour and a half so far on our first day. I don't know what we are going to do there as yet, although I know what I hope we don't do! I hope we don't dive in and do a scene because I think that could be counter-productive. It would be really scary! We're at this funny half-way mark and I think if we play a scene in that space it will be really difficult to stop myself feeling that, no matter what happens from now on, the scene will be roughly set in the same form. I think it's too early to get caught like that, because it won't be terribly good. If we play a scene and it doesn't go very well that could be really discouraging. And so I hope that it might be more of a voice class in the space just to see what the sound is like, rather than an actual scene rehearsal. That may be the wrong attitude to take because sometimes it's good to be challenged and it's good to do things that scare you. The main problem is that anyone who is not in the scene would suddenly become an audience and we're just not at the stage yet where people should be judging anything. We are right in the middle of a discovery process. It's not about getting it right yet. I am looking forward to working in the space, however. We will probably go over there once a week from now on, until we finally move in for the technical rehearsals the week before the performance. Only three weeks to go!
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.