This is Liam's third blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard II in which he talks about voice work, the jig and Bolingbroke's character, amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
The voice session with our Master of Voice, Stewart Pearce, across the river at Middle Temple Hall actually went very well; it was good to be back and working in the space again. I’d only been there once before for a couple of hours on the first day and so this time it seemed friendlier and more familiar. We didn’t run a full scene and so I still don’t know exactly what we are going to sound like in the space. I do know a few people who are involved with the tours which operate at Middle Temple Hall and I haven’t heard them say that they find it particularly difficult and so hopefully it's not too bad. I’d imagine there's a bit of an echo when it is empty but that's OK; the audience will help to dull the echo to some extent. It was good to just spend some time in the building and to get a feel for it again. We spent some time playing around in the space just to become familiar with it. I don’t quite know when we’re going to move over there full time. We open on Wednesday 16 April for the first preview and so I would imagine we will hopefully be in there the Saturday before at least. If it was the Monday we would have to adapt to our surroundings very quickly, and so hopefully it will be the Friday or the Saturday which should give us time to feel more settled.
This week we have done a fair bit of work on the big public scenes, such as Act 1, Scene 1 and Act 1, Scene 3. They are difficult as they require a lot of people to be on stage at once and because they contain a lot of vital information for the audience to take onboard. We also worked on the parliament scene (Act 4, Scene 1) which again is vast. I found all of that work really helpful because I was nervous about these scenes. We had longer three hour sessions specifically working on each of them and the extended rehearsals enabled us to explore things to a greater extent and to become more comfortable with the scenes. They’re not perfect yet, but it feels like we’ve played around with them and we’ve had a good go. We’ve done some speed work (running through the lines very, very quickly to fix them in your mind) and so I’d say ‘the curse’ and the bad feelings are off them a little bit now.
Some scenes require a lot of work because they involve complicated movements or stage furniture. One such scene is Act 1, Scene 3. It's the tournament scene (well the near tournament scene because it is actually called off by Richard II before it really gets going) where the actual challenge between Bolingbroke and Mowbray takes place. We’ve got a little roped off arena in the centre of the stage and basically for this production we are saying that it isn’t a joust using horses, but rather a hand-to-hand combat with spears. The spears are about six feet long! So we will be in half-armour covering our bodies and thighs, with full helmets, and we will basically be going at each other with these giant spears (or we would do if it was allowed by the King). The only people in the roped off area are going to be Mowbray and I. We have to be very careful because the stage at Middle Temple Hall is very narrow and the audience members on the front row will be close to the action. We have rehearsed set technical moves and it is all precisely choreographed. We’ll do one move then shuffle, then another move and shuffle, and then the whole thing is called off by Richard. I think there will be a lot of tension created in the scene.
Working on Verse
I am doing a lot of individual, personal work too in contrast to such epic scene work involving most of the cast. I’ve got a session with Giles Block [Master of the Words] on Thursday which I’m looking forward to. I’m trying to get one with Stuart Pearce [Master of Voice] but it's hard to track him down. We’re still working with Giles and Stuart and Glynn [McDonald, Master of Movement] within our small groups, but actually I think we’ve nearly finished those now as we have only one more session scheduled for next week. From now on the one-to-one sessions are more useful as they allow you to explore deeper into your role. I’m just trying to work in my own way and in my own time.
The work we’ve been doing with Glynn on movement has been very useful. Because the sessions are always first thing in the morning I think she tries to prepare us for the day that we have ahead of us. For example, if we are working with her and she knows we have a jig session planned, she’ll just kind of limber us all up and try to relax us. But if we are not scheduled to do anything so physical she’ll do a certain amount of work on archetypes. These archetypes are movement case studies of certain types of character; the lover, the joker/magician, the warrior and the king. The work is very useful in principal, but, by the same token, what exactly is a king-like person? How can we say there is such a stereotype? As I always say, you can watch the Windsor's on the television and see that they don’t behave physically in any way that would identify them as royalty. In no way do they behave differently from anybody else. In fact, in some ways they quite surprise me because the men often put their hands in their pockets. I’ve been told by directors in the past that you can’t do that when you’re playing a king or a prince – but the Windsor's prove that to be wrong. I think a lot of theories about posture and movement are very generalised; it's all much more complex then that. And Glynn recognises that. She does that kind of work but she identifies it as archetypes. She only concentrates on movement that is helpful to each individual actor; there's no question of you going on and doing ‘kingly’ acting or ‘peasant’ movement or whatever. I believe there's no such thing.
We’ve done a lot of movement this week because we have also been rehearsing the jig. I really enjoy it. I actually wish we rehearsed it more often: it is such good exercise! I was feeling a little bit under-rehearsed before this week so I’m pleased we’ve been doing more. Also, I think we need to work really hard as we have to give the audience something even more exciting and impressive then last year. Having said that, I feel the choreography is a little bit simpler than the one we did for Twelfth Night, but maybe it just seems that way because I’ve done it before – maybe that makes it seem less tricky. The jig will have to be restructured for the Globe production. Hopefully we’ll keep it as similar as we can so that we don’t get too confused. I suppose it will just be done in a different formation and hopefully we won’t get any new steps to master. It’ll be the same steps in different positions: I hope it will anyway as we have only a couple of days to re-rehearse it!
I’m growing to like Bolingbroke more and more I think. I don’t necessarily know everything about him yet or how to say a lot of the lines, but everyone has their own personal process in terms of development and I feel I’m on track with my own little time-table. I feel I know who he is - well who my Bolingbroke is anyway as apposed to the interpretation of him by any other actor. The process for me now is to get all of that information out; it is very easy to let it all stay private in my head and in my heart. It is all about fulfilling my responsibility to the audience, not by displaying or demonstrating things in an artificial way, but by sharing what is going on inside Bolingbroke's mind. I feel like I’ve worked all that out for myself and so now it's about opening it all up for the performance so that the audience can see it too.
I think Bolingbroke's a really interesting person. He never really opens up his thoughts to the audience: he never tells us the inner workings of his mind. For example, he doesn’t really ever tell us that he is aiming for Richard's throne. Lots of other people say that he is planning the usurpation but Bolingbroke never actually does. I think there's something going on which is to do with not even admitting it to himself. The whole situation made me think of two people that I happen to know a bit about historically: it helped me to compare Bolingbroke's situation to that of Michael Collins (an Irish Nationalist at the start of the twentieth century) and Lawrence of Arabia (British Military liaison to the Arab Revolt during the First World War). They are two men who if you had said to them right in the middle of their journey towards where they ended up ‘Are you actually planning to reach this position?’ they wouldn’t have known. If you’d said to Michael Collins ‘In two years time are you planning to be Commanding Chief of the Irish Free State Army?’ he would just not have understood the question. I think the same is true of T.E Lawrence: he knew he was involved but he didn’t necessarily have the end in sight. As far as he was concerned he was responding to events in the moment and was taking one step at a time. And I think that's kind of true of Bolingbroke. It's interesting because it's a very human reaction. For example, I think if you were to have sat him down and said to him ‘In two years time is the King of England going to be a street seller or is it going to be you?’ then he would have known there was more chance of it being him, but that doesn’t mean that the take-over was pre-planned. Everything he does screams out that that is what he is going for, but that is quite different from admitting, even to himself, that he is going for that. I mean, he certainly never admits it to anyone else and I think you could certainly make a case for the fact that maybe he doesn’t even admit it to himself. His first thought and his first realisation doesn’t occur until he actually gets there. I think it's very interesting because people do that a lot. There's a difference between just going along with events, acting as they happen, and not getting in your own way; then from seeing a goal and going straight for it. That's different.
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.