In her second blog post Ann discusses playing a male character, a visit from the Tudor Group and discoveries she has made about Claudio.
Transcript of Podcast
I’m getting really excited about it all; I’m starting to have sleepless nights! My costume fitting yesterday was just incredible – the costume looks amazing. I’ve got a silvery-blue doublet actually made out of silk, and blue hose which are very big but actually look great. There are two colours in the hose so they’ll really shine (I think the material's satin). For the wedding scene, I’ve got another jerkin which I think is silk, too. There are also collars and then a ruff… lots of layers and pieces. It's a good thing we have dressers to help us into costume. The idea of a ruff is horrific, but it looks so good! At drama school, when I played Queen Elizabeth as a joke, I had a massive ruff but this one is a man's ruff and looks very good.
Playing a man
Yesterday was the first time I tried my costume on. It's not that hard to look like a man once you’re in costume because obviously you’re wearing men's clothes, and in some ways being dressed like that helps you access the character's maleness. There isn’t much you can do about having a female face apart from putting on a false beard and Claudio doesn’t have a beard – Benedick calls him ‘Lord Lackbeard’ [V.1.185]. But that got me thinking about how I am going to become this man; what can I change to seem more like a man? I suppose appreciating Claudio as a man has been today's revelation! I’ve got to understand what Claudio says and why he says it, I’ve got to understand his relationships with other people and all the thoughts and feelings attached to those relationships. I’ve got to understand the words, the words, the words! But there's another element to performing all that convincingly, and that is Claudio's maleness. He is a man and that means I’ll have to do some things differently. That's the point I’m at now: I’m saying to myself 'Okay, you’ve got to be a boy.' This season I feel we’re exploring that in more depth. Whereas last season a lot of us said ‘Oh no, don’t try and change your voice’, this season I’m experimenting a bit more. Vocally, I do think there's a lower register that's more suitable than my own voice. I was trying it out today, not whilst we were rehearsing but just in the breaks. I didn’t find a male tone easy to access – I had to keep humming low. I like it because I feel more like a man when I speak like that, but obviously I have to see how it comes across when you look at Claudio from the outside rather than from the inside. There are times when I really do feel like a man and then there are times when I don’t at all; it's to do with things like where you put your voice, how you hold your body, and the attitude you assume. To some extent, those things are dependent on the play … of course the situations in the play and the text itself will give you directions. If Claudio is embarrassed, he’ll hold himself in a certain way and assume a particular attitude. But I think it would be quite easy to play the character without factoring in certain things that stem from the fact that the character is a man.
A lot of the standing and bowing that the Tudor Group taught us when they came into rehearsal was very useful, because Elizabethan men would have stood in a certain way. It was nice to take that on board; all the information adds up. The footwork they showed us really made a difference because suddenly these Elizabethan-style shoes looked right when we stood in a particular way, almost like ballet dancers. As I said before, being men last season was a very different kind of experience; it was more like assuming a contemporary male pose – you know, chest stuck out. I don’t think that modern stance really worked in the context of original practices, because on the one hand you’ve got these stunning Elizabethan costumes but on the other hand you’ve got quite modern mannerisms. Some of us must have looked quite strange! I can’t remember where I was when the Tudor Group came in last year, or whether I decided to abandon the Elizabethan aspects of Catesby [Ann's character in Richard III] but I don’t think I ever really thought about the discrepancy between our costumes and our behaviour. This time round I’m more appreciative of the fact that Claudio is an Elizabethan man – the Tudor Group work helped me realise how interlinked those two aspects of his character are. Modern men are so different to Elizabethan men and learning the proper Elizabethan gestures is another way of eliminating modern man. The Tudor Group said our movements should be all about control and refinement rather than suppressed power, which I think is better for us as women playing men. It's nice not to have to go to the other extreme of aggressive, macho behaviour. I found all that information really reassuring, and I think my costume is going to help me assume the right attitude too: I don’t have to remember to stand straight in it because the doublet is pulled tight and you can’t do anything but stand upright! At the moment I’m walking slowly in my costume, as though it's armour, and it's nice to feel strong and powerful. It will be odd when I get onstage though because I’ll be thinking ‘Oh, I’m just walking like a fool’ – not necessarily feeling comfortable in the costume will be scary, but I feel that the more I learn about the time period, the more comfortable I’ll be with the costume and Elizabethan attitudes and mannerisms.
Today: Act II, scene 1
I came in today at ten o’clock and worked on Claudio. He's just been told that his friend Don Pedro is in love with and will marry Hero [II.1]. Claudio speaks to himself and the audience about this in a soliloquy [‘Thus answer I in name of Benedick’ II.1.157-67]. It's a short section of verse in between two prose conversations and we worked on those lines in a really good way using a ball. I threw a ball into the air on the last beat in a line – not the last word, but the last stressed syllable in the line – and then caught it on the first stressed syllable of the next line. Imagine iambic pentameter rhythm going de-dum de-dum de-dum de-dum de-dum; I’m throwing on the last ‘dum’ and catching it on the first ‘dum’ of the following line. That helped me work with end-stopped lines because it showed their continuation in a physical way; I could visualise how Claudio's thoughts carry across the line endings and where his next thoughts come from. For instance, Claudio says:
’Tis certain so; the Prince woos for himself.
Friendship is constant in all other things
Save in the office and affairs of love; [II.1.159-63]
I would throw the ball up on ‘self’ [see underlined above] and catch it on ‘ship’: the Prince's betrayal leads Claudio to think about friendship and constancy. After the ball exercise, the lines sounded more natural. It was helpful because I’ve never stressed the second beat in a line. We also put actions to the character's thoughts – acting out what the character is trying to do to whoever they’re speaking to – and that also helped to make the intentions behind the lines clearer.
One of the things I discovered from working on Act II, scene 1, is that Claudio's relationship with Hero has been purely visual. He sees her as very beautiful in a way that is something to be looked on. In his soliloquy [II.1], there's an emphasis on eyes:
Let every eye negotiate for itself,
And trust no agent; for beauty is a witch
Against whose charms faith melteth into blood. [II.1.163-5]
When I first explain to Don Pedro that I’ve fallen in love with Hero, I begin ‘I looked upon her with a soldiers eye’ [I.1.277]. It's just the way I say ‘looked’. Even then, looking is important.
After working on the soliloquy [II.1], I also realised that I take responsibility for what's happened (or rather what I believe has happened). At first I accuse Don Pedro because I think he's guilty of falling in love with Hero and taking her for himself. That leads me to think that I should have wooed her on my own behalf. I don’t lay into Hero, but I do slate beauty, and in the end I come to a conclusion of my own – without being bitter necessarily – that beauty ‘is a witch’ and therefore I should not have trusted an agent. I learn and I do take responsibility for the situation. I think that's an excellent trait, especially as he makes such a mess later on in the wedding scene [IV.1].
Early on, I think Claudio has seeds of doubt about Don Pedro's offer to woo Hero. The main thing that makes me say this is that when I’ve explained how I came to love Hero [I.1], Don Pedro calls it ‘twisting’ so fine a story. I think what I have to say is major: the facts I’ve got to keep hold of are that I’m in love, I’ve seen the girl of my dreams and I think I’d have doubts about someone else speaking to that person and declaring love for them as me. I’d like to do it, possibly. I’m at the stage where I just want to do what he's doing; I would rather do it than someone else.
I certainly regret Don Pedro wooing Hero later on – ‘Therefore all hearts in love use their own tongues’ [II.1.162] – I think just tongues, the whole speaking aspect, you know, just tell someone you love them, woo for yourself. Like all Shakespeare's lovers. Viola says in Twelfth Night
I’ll do my best
To woo your lady – yet a barful strife –
Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife. [I.5.40-3]
Similarly Claudio has that feeling of wanting to woo… the same impulse makes me arrange to play music at Hero's window and send her gloves. There all these things you’d want to do if you were in love with someone. So there are definitely seeds of doubt and Don Pedro's attitude towards the whole thing has surprised me: I’d rather do it myself and take it slowly.
Also, what I discovered yesterday is that none of the disguises work. I was taking it for granted before that Don Pedro looks like me for the stand-in wooing to work, but he doesn’t! He doesn’t in the play, anyway, because I’m described as a lamb [I.1.12-6], which I know doesn’t necessarily have to refer to him physically but it does suggest how he looks. I might have doubts, I think, from being at the party watching everyone else, and maybe hearing snippets of conversations… so when Don John tells me that Don Pedro has declared his love for Hero and is going to marry her, I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t believe it. In fact, I think this is easier to believe than the possibility that Hero is having an affair. Although as a character I have to believe in that later on. As the actor I find Don Pedro's proposal easier to believe because I can’t see any reason why I shouldn’t, but I’ve got to get my head around it. Maybe having been through one big doubt, he would be more susceptible to a second crisis of faith; I’m young and impressionable and if the evidence says she's guilty… well, because I’ve been a fool once I probably won’t want to look like a fool again.
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.