In her penultimate blog post Rachel discusses this week's rehearsals, playing Don John three ways and the fragmentary nature of Don John as a part.
Transcript of Podcast
Last time we talked, I had reached a bit of a plateau. I spent more time in the rehearsal room and that helped get things moving. Now we’re doing runs and I’m beginning to see how the whole play fits together, which is very useful as I’m better able to see how Don John fits into the journey of the play. There was a stagger-through on Sunday and we had another run on yesterday; the whole show is in really good shape and that's encouraging. From a personal point of view, however, I’ve still got quite a long way to go. I feel I’ve done all the ‘head-work’ I can and I’ve worked out Don John's emotional journey, but I’m not active enough. At the moment, he's on his back foot in a slightly ironic way. I don’t want to lose that; Don John isn’t fully part of the Court and irony helps to distance him. He can’t always be like that though. There need to be points where the character truthfully expresses what he feels. This stage in rehearsals is quite frightening; you feel as though you’re clinging to a raft and you have to pull yourself onto it. I have to be active and get on board instead of floating alongside!
The danger of doing lots of head-work is that you comment on a character instead of discovering it. For instance, Don John is sarcastic and ironic; I could say [sarcastic] ‘Oh, hi! How are you, where’ve you just been?’ and that would be entirely different from [sarcastic, insinuating, arch by turns] ‘Hi! How are you, where’ve you just been?’ I’m exaggerating, but that's the type of difference that gets worked out in the rehearsal room. Don John doesn’t have to be so arch, but he does have to be a real person who is going through a tough time, emotionally speaking. You discover those nuances by trying things out with everybody else. I try out the lines again and again; that helps me get into the right frame and the right emotional state. In the right frame of mind, you can really listen and answer each other: it's a question of listening and answering, listening and answering.
It's important to show the audience who Don John is; his pain and his motivation. It has to be shown at some point for the character to be interesting and active, otherwise he's just a villain and that's not as interesting as someone who is bad for a reason. So Tamara [Harvey, Master of Play] has been pushing me in that direction and I think she's right. With that in mind, we’ve looking at the relationship between the brothers and this morning we worked on act one, scene one. Basically Don John is very upset and he's had enough. He only has one line in the first scene. He comes in and doesn’t say anything until Leonato specifically bids him welcome. Then he says:
I thank you. I am not of many words,
But I thank you. [I.1.157-8]
This morning we played the scene so that Don Pedro enters and has a bit of a chat with everybody – he's clearly at home with this sort of thing – then Beatrice and Benedick meet each other and so on. Just before Leonato greets Don John, Don Pedro beckons me over; he nods his head as though he's telling me ‘Come on, do your bit.’ He's almost forcing me to comply with courtly etiquette. I really don’t want to, but I have a go at being courteous. It just doesn’t sit well with me and everyone thinks I’m a bit of fool. I try to be civil although it's quite embarrassing for Don Pedro to treat me like that, like a dog called to heel; it's even more humiliating for everyone to just go ‘Who's that?!’ I’ve been pushed out of a circle I didn’t want to be in anyway. It's humiliating and embarrassing, and that's what we’re trying to play. After that, Don John is certain their etiquette doesn’t suit him. When I come to the next scene [I.3], I’m thinking ‘I can’t do it. I can’t behave like that. I can’t do it. And I’m not going do it.’ Details like that will hopefully show his back story and the way he's feeling. I haven’t been thinking about alternative ways of playing that scene, but maybe I should, just in case. I wonder if walking out after my lines would work – we could try that. It might be a bit much. I’ll think about it. Any suggestions would be good!
Generally, things are moving forward but we’re not there yet. I feel I’m being a bit slow. I’ll get there in the end. Of course, ideally I would be marvellous and there already, but sometimes you need to accept that things take a bit longer!
Early last week, I did try playing Don John three ways [see Rehearsal Notes 3]. We worked on the first scene with Conrade and Borachio [I.3]. I tried being quite still, weird and dangerous. Tamara [Harvey, Master of Play] called it my ‘Anthony Hopkins’ version! We decided that was too still and arch. Then I tried being really angry, like a caged animal, and the final version of Don John was really depressed. I couldn’t immediately see what could I do with that, but we’re now moving to a cross between angry, hurt and self-contained. We looked at the same scene in rehearsal yesterday, because Conrade and I just weren’t connecting with each other. During the rehearsal, we really tried to listen and connect – to answer the questions and ‘be there’ – reacting to what the other person is saying rather than pre-empting the next line. Things got better by the end of the rehearsal; we were talking and listening to each other. I wasn’t just ranting, raving and being angry… I’d been generalising too much in previous rehearsals, I think. When we really listened, the scene became more specific and more intimate. I was angry but controlled. So we’re filling in the details slowly but surely.
Don John is an odd part to play in that it's quite fragmented – he comes in, goes out, comes in, and goes out again. He's in little bits. They’re nice bits, but the consequence is that anyone playing Don John won’t be in the rehearsal room very much. I don’t mean that bigger parts are better or easier to play, but if you have more to say, you will spend more time in the rehearsal room. That helps you to be there, in the world of the play. Don John comes in and out of rehearsals quite briefly… I would have liked more time! But we’ve got some rehearsal today, so that's good. As far as what happens next – we’re getting more rehearsal time in, which is great. Our run last Wednesday was in the rehearsal room rather than on the stage, but it was still useful because it highlighted the scenes that need work. Over the next week we’ll look at those bits and pieces.
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.