This is Harry's second blog entry for the 2005 production of Pericles, in which he discusses act 2, scene 1, costumes, and working on the language amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
Making a storm
We had a day off on Sunday which was nice after five very full days of rehearsal. Mainly we’ve been looking at each scene in the first two Acts, but there's also been a lot of physical work as we’re creating images for the storm scenes. We have aerialists in our cast who are able to climb up ropes and produce some quite stunning effects. As if they were waves, for example; rising up and holding onto the ropes, then swinging out – not off the stage – and getting up some height before they come swinging down and crash into the boat that we make on stage in the second storm scene. For the boat, we hold two bamboo poles to make the sides and there's a sail hanging down in the middle. At first we’re inside the pole bow, but we get moved from side to side by ‘waves’ of people who push us all across the stage. That's quite a good effect.
The aerialists become the drowning sailors in the first storm scene. They’re able to go about ten feet up in the air, with the rope twined around them in such a way that it supports them whilst their legs and arms are waving, and they gently lower themselves down the ropes as if they are floating to a watery grave. That's a really striking image. In second storm scene, a few of the aerialists will bounce off the walls of the first gallery of the Globe theatre, as though they’re sailors hanging on to the rigging, and they’ll chant down instructions to Pericles: he needs to get rid of his dead wife's body, because it's bad luck to have a dead body on the ship, and will make the storm even worse.
Second Fisherman scene [II.i]
We’ve also done some textual work on the scenes, just working out what on earth some of these lines mean! That involves a discussion and then we try to put the scene on its feet. We worked through the Fishermen scene like that earlier in the week. Having been in the storm where Pericles lost all his possessions, the three fishermen have just landed their boat. We’re mending our nets and counting the fish and generally sorting everything out on the shore when Pericles comes across us. At first we assume he's a beggar and ignore him. We’re all quite jokey until Pericles actually collapses – then we realise that he's suffering and we need to help him. That was a nice progression from looking at the text to building up the characters as real people: we might even try to play that the third fisherman (Matilda Leyser) is actually my wife rather than another fisherman, and see if there's another relationship there. Kathryn [Hunter, Master of Play] has lots of images in the rehearsal room of men and women out fishing in boats. There's one picture of a mother feeding her baby in a fishing boat, or another picture of women helping pull the fishing boats onto the shore, so it seems likely that the second fisherman's family would get involved. There's a very Mediterranean feel about the whole scene – I imagine they’re from a Mediterranean Greek village that has lots of small boats, getting enough of a catch to survive. I think the tone of the Fishermen scene gives us the sense of what Pentapolis is like; it's a much happier community than any of the others Pericles has visited, where people can joke and talk about things sensibly.
Giles Block led a good verse workshop that helped us to clarify the differences between verse and prose. Giles has the idea that characters speak in verse when they’re able to communicate emotions freely, whereas there's a slightly limiting intellectual quality that comes into play with prose – as though you’re speaking from the head rather than the heart. It could be witty word play or perhaps you’re trying to conceal something; there's something overlaying the emotion of the words which comes more freely out of verse. Those transitions are good to watch out for throughout the play. The Fishermen speak in prose, and that's because they’re playing a mental game half the time, trying to top each other with the jokes really, and then Pericles comes and suddenly speaks in verse – he's on the brink of death and needs comfort, so his emotions pour out without careful consideration.
Cleon speaks pretty much in verse, really, because he feels such remorse for leading his city into a starving hunger. He's in quite a state in Act one, scene four, and we decided to make his speeches as active as possible: at the moment, he's not starving and listless and he doesn’t speak slowly as very hungry people can do. His hunger has been gnawing away at him and has given him a passion to tell people the story of how things have gone wrong for his city. The speech is quite segmented, with about four or five images which each begin by focusing the audience's attention on the people of Tharsus: ‘These mouths’, ‘Those palates’, ‘Those mothers’. Each time he's trying to make his audience, the Globe audience, understand just how awful this is – as though they’re not listening with enough attention, so he thinks up another example to re-emphasise his point: ‘Now, think of it this way…’ until he gives them a dire warning
O, let those cities that of plenty's cup
And her prosperities so largely taste,
With their superfluous riots, hear these tears!
The misery of Tharsus may be theirs.
He reaches an almost prophetic moment. Things change suddenly when he hears that a ship has come into the harbour; he feels that neighbouring nations have come to beat Tarsus down and takes it very personally, very selfishly. The tragedy is that his reign will be over – these nations will ‘make a conquest of unhappy me’ [I.iv]. I’m trying not to reveal the self-pity that I initially found in the character until this point.
He starts talking about other people and then it all comes down to him. That development is more interesting to play than one note of self-pity or remorse. And the idea is that I’ll have a very physical image to accompany that; Pericles brings a wonderful sack of corn like those brought by aid agencies and when the bag is ripped, out pours this corn (probably into the trapdoor of the stage so it can be collected easily). I think that will be a wonderful image connected with food and salvation – from the corn they can make bread which will save them.
At the Globe
We rehearse the Storm sequences on the Globe stage, with the aerialists bobbing up and down as we hold onto ropes or the sail of the boat. We also have sessions with Stewart Pearce, our voice coach, here [at the Globe]. In our last session, Stewart got us to recite lines at different points on the stage and we found the places where you can speak to people very intimately, but still be heard in the galleries. If your voice is nice and supported, you can still have what seems like an intimate conversation with somebody just across the stage from you, but you’ll still be picked up by people in the audience who are far away. Any sort of breathy whispers aren’t going to be heard because they don’t carry the supported voice.
Stewart showed us the ‘Golden Spot’ which is right in the centre of the stage, at the very front, which is actually the centre-point of the wooden ‘O’. When I spoke from there, I could really feel the whole theatre vibrating around me. That's where you have the best acoustic resonance, because you’re standing right in the middle of this wooden circle and wood is a very good fabric for bouncing words off (rather than metal or hardened concrete or the soft upholstery of seats where the sound sinks in and you lose the voice). In this central position and most way around the edge of the stage, you get a wonderful acoustic. The further back you go, the more you feel you’re losing it, and vocally you’ve got to give a bit of extra just to make sure your voice can carry. Stewart has also been explaining how we can use different resonances within our bodies to give the lines different qualities: you can speak from the head, the throat, the chest and the stomach. The ‘head’ resonance is useful for giving information and imparting facts. You might use a more soothing voice from the throat that can caress people and persuade them to do things, and when you tell people to do things, you might use a more powerful voice that resonates in the pit of the stomach. I think all the characters should use all the different resonances. If you have enough lines, you should be able to find enough of a range within that character. Cleon has a nice mixture in his speeches – in Act one, scene four, he informs and persuades people how awful the situation in Tharsus is, whilst he himself is feeling this.
Our production is modern dress, so really I could be wearing anything! I haven’t had any costume fittings yet, although there are lots of props and costumes in the rehearsal room so we’re just throwing on hats and garments as we go along. I think the idea is that we’ll have very simple base costumes over which you suddenly put on a jacket for the court of Antioch, then you take that off and roll up the jacket into a little bundle which becomes the wrappings around a dead baby in the Tharsus scene, where we’re all burying children for an image of the starving city. Simple, versatile things like that would set each scene quickly: rather than changing into a whole new wardrobe each time we change location, the action will be very fluid and quick. The important thing is the story: we’re there to tell a story for old Pericles.
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.