This is Harry's third blog entry for the 2005 production of Pericles in which he discusses the brothel scenes and creating a storm on stage amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
We’re just ploughing on through the play, really! We got to Act five today, so we’ve been through the play once after three weeks (which is halfway through rehearsals). We’ve also gone back over a couple of scenes and made them much more precise. Early on, we did the scene in Antioch as a kind of gameshow where Pericles had to work out the king's riddle; if he fails in the gameshow, he dies, but he has the chance to win the big prize of Antiochus’ daughter. There was lots of singing and dancing and the king used a microphone like a compere, very loud and big. It was great fun, but we came back to the scene this week and it felt like the story had got lost, so we pared the gameshow right back. The stakes are still as high and we’re keeping some of the arrangements of people on stage, but we’ve taken out a lot of the distracting noise and hullabaloo so the story comes through clearly.
Coming back to scenes like that is important because, after a couple of days of letting things sink in, you realise what doesn’t work or what stands out like a sore thumb in the context of a run of three or four scenes. A particular detail in a scene might not be helpful or a scene as a whole might outweigh the other scenes, so things need balancing out. If somebody's actions or a scene don’t seem to be part of the same play, it's always good to make changes. Playing the Antioch riddle as a gameshow highlighted the stakes involved in that situation – there is this fantastic prize, it is the life or death situation – so it was useful to explore those things, and we’ve taken forward what's useful for the story.
I enjoyed rehearsing the brothel scenes with my Pandar and the Bawd. Kathryn [Hunter, Master of Play] is keen to set it in Mytilene, which is a little Mediterranean fishing village with lots of tourists, and it starts off with the funeral of the Transylvanian who we refer to as having been a customer of the brothel but who has died because of illness he had caught there:
The poor Transylvanian is dead that lay with the little baggage.
He lay with the ‘little baggage’, the prostitute, and he's now dead. So we all came in with a funeral march, led by a priest who chanted away endlessly. We went around the stage with the funeral coffin, around these little cafes (like in Greek market places) and hopefully that will help to build the idea that we’re a community. After the funeral, we start our scene as the Pandar and the Bawd: they’re desperate for money – that's our raison d’etre, not sex but money through sex. For my character, I think it's all about making enough money to retire.
First of all, we spent a good couple of rehearsal periods working through all the difficult words and Elizabethan puns that our characters have – working out what they meant, and paraphrasing them in modern English to make sure we know what it is we’re saying. Then we tried to carry over the sense of flow (how your voice goes up and down when you say the lines in modern English) back into the Shakespearean English.
My Pandar is very lecherous, although he's a sort of a spent force and keen for retirement. Kathryn asked us to walk around the rehearsal room as our characters and think about how they might be led physically. We tried that my character was led by the groin; I suppose that's where his focus of life is, although now he's diseased and on the way out. It gives me a rather loping sort of walk with a tiny pelvic thrust every other step: you know where this character is coming from the moment you see him. And when he sees Marina, even though he's trying to talk business (he doesn’t want to pay the high price that the pirates are asking for her), he can’t resist lusting after her. He tries being a gentleman and kissing her by the hand, but he can’t resist imagining how good it would be to lie with her.
For the Bawd and the Pander, it's fantastic news that Marina is a virgin because it means they can sell her maidenhead for a lot of money. When we did that scene, the Bawd and I were so excited at the news that we ran around the stage in our hobbling, lecherous way, celebrating how much money she's going to bring in – it's as if all our prayers have been answered. That was fun to do, but having gone to the extreme, I think we’ll tone it down like we did for the scene in Antioch. We brought that scene back within the realms of realism after pushing the situation as far possible – I’m sure we’ll be doing something similar with the Pandar scenes during the next few rehearsals. We’ve got through half the difficult bits, but we haven’t got to the tricky bits with Lysimachus and Boult, who each attempt to take her virginity, but she outwits them and out-talks them. They’re even trickier scenes I think, but we laid the groundwork for them this week.
Storm on stage
We have sessions on the Globe stage on Friday mornings. This week was good because the aerialists have been working on some new sequences for the storm scenes, and when we put that together with our movement sequences on stage, the whole thing seemed much more fluid. We came in as a boat; Pericles and I hold the sail in the middle and other members of the Chorus hold two long bamboo poles to form the sides of the boat. It's coming along smoothly, but we found that the sail of our boat masks a lot of what the Aerialists are doing, unless they’re quite high up, so some of the lower actions might have to cut out if we keep the sail. We also discussed the possibility of getting a much bigger sail that's positioned in the yard and is translucent so people could see through it to the action on stage. We’ll see how that works. It's quite tricky putting the different elements of the storm scene together: the aerialists rehearse their bits, and then they come to put these with our bits and if it doesn’t quite work, we just need more time together to get it right. We’ve got three weeks to go, and then a technical week so that should be plenty of time. During the tech it will become clearer who's holding what rope and where each person can go – you might find that you can’t stand where you did in rehearsal because you’re blocking somebody watching, for example – so we’ll have to modify it and make decisions quite quickly about setting our movement.
Cups and saucers
I had a nice one-to-one session with Kathryn on my first speeches as Cleon. That was very valuable because it helped me get to the clarity of the thoughts. I have two big speeches in Act one, scene four, which are really out to the audience. I tell them what Tharsus was like; how beautiful it was, how rich it was, and what a great life we had. The second speech goes on to explain how that's altered; how everyone is begging for bread and are so hungry they could eat their own children. We’re trying to be specific with each image in the language in order to bring out that contrast. Kathryn had various exercises to help me with that: one involved laying out some rather exquisite cups and saucers! I laid them out very carefully, just as I carefully described how beautiful the country of Tharsus was. I laid them out very, very nicely and used my words to explain how wonderful life was in Tharsus before the famine, and then in the second speech I put all the cups and saucers very carefully back in a box like I was burying them. I did that with great care because they’re beloved things that are now dead. That helped me be very precise about the images in the speeches; there were about five or six images in each speech that I painted very precisely and saw very accurately, matching my careful movements with the cups and saucers.
That exercise also helped me realise that Cleon has a great love for the past, even though pride ultimately came before a fall and he was probably responsible for governing his country into famine. There's a note of regret in his speeches, but in order to avoid just being regretful all the time, I have to paint a picture of how fantastic life was and then how awful it's become. The development brings out the contrast – so that was very valuable work, it was a precious hour with the director!
All change: clothing
It looks as if I’ll have one change of costume between the Pandar and Cleon in the second half, but I have a couple of pages’ time which will be plenty – I’ve been in productions where you’ve only got about 10 seconds! I think as the Chorus we’ll have some kind of base costume consisting of trousers and shirts and we’ll put on and take off a few items in addition to that – it's not like an Elizabethan ‘Original Practices’ production where you’ve got to change everything and need 2 minutes off stage to do that. There's another change from the Fisherman back to Cleon which we haven’t really marked out yet – it probably means I’ll have to duck out of a storm sequence before the storm actually finishes so I can come back in as Cleon. That shouldn’t be too tricky.
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.