This is Peter's first blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard II in which he discusses returning to the Globe, starting rehearsals and a cast residential at 'Gaunt's House'.
Transcript of Podcast
Coming back to the Globe
This is my second season at the Globe; I was in Twelfth Night and The Golden Ass last year, so it has only been about 6 months since I was last here. To come back for a second season is something I’d never dreamed of and it was fantastic to walk back into the building and see some familiar faces.
On the first day, the whole company walked across the river to Middle Temple Hall, where we’ll be performing Richard II in April before bringing the production to the Globe. I’d never been there before; I’d seen pictures, but they can’t convey how grand the hall is. I couldn’t help thinking that it will be very easy to play nobility there. The ceiling is very high, and there's a slight echo, so I was a little worried about whether an audience will be able to hear us. However, I’ve been assured that as soon as you put over 300 audience members in that space, the increased number of people will soak up some of the sound and make it easy for everybody to hear us clearly. We were also told a little bit of history about the hall; how Shakespeare himself had played there and how the Earl of Essex, (who ordered a performance of Richard II the night before he rebelled against Elizabeth I in 1602), had lived next door to the hall at one time. The building is full of history, and it's going to be very exciting to perform there.
We spent the first week of rehearsals getting to know each other, and then getting to know the play. We spent a lot of time talking about what happens in the play, but also what has happened before the play starts. We were only a little way into talking about act 1 scene 1, when I asked ‘So, are we assuming that Richard did kill the Duke of Gloucester?’, and we didn’t stop discussing it for hours. The death of the Duke of Gloucester (the brother of John of Gaunt and the Duke of York, and Richard’s, Bolingbroke's and Aumerle's uncle) is, in many ways, the starting point for the whole play. It is suggested that Richard and his followers were responsible for his murder at Calais, but the play doesn’t give you an answer to whether they really were. During the first week of rehearsals, we spent a lot of time getting to grips with the history behind the play.
Last week, we all went away on residential. We (the whole company, plus the stage managers, the Master of Play, the Master of Theatre Music and several others) all travelled to ‘Gaunt's House’ just outside London. We all thought that the name of the house was a nice coincidence, as John of Gaunt is one of the characters in Richard II, but we found out that the house, although built in the Victorian era, stands in the middle of what really was John of Gaunt's estate over 600 years ago. We spent several days there, rehearsing different scenes from the play in different settings (such as a tower, a great hall etc.). We rehearsed a selection of scenes, sometimes using the script and sometimes improvising lines in modern speech. It can really help you to understand the meaning of your lines if you put them into your own words first; you very quickly find out if there are any lines you don’t understand, and it helps you discover which of your lines are especially important, both for creating your character and for moving the story of the play forward.
At the end of the week, we all took part in a huge group improvisation, in role, based on the play's pre-history, from Richard's coronation to the death of the Duke of Gloucester. We had the whole house to ourselves, and divided it up into different ‘estates’. For example, there was a separate building outside that became the great hall where Richard was crowned, the ballroom was King Richard's quarters, the first floor was split between the Dukes of Leicester (John of Gaunt) and York (as the Duchess of York, I had my own ‘parlour’), and so on. Everyone who wasn’t playing a role, such as the Master of Play, the Assistant to the Master of Play and the stage managers, played servants and messengers who brought us messages and pieces of information. We covered the events of many years in a few hours, staying in character the whole time and responding to particular events and pieces of information as they happened, or, more pertinently, as we were told of them. For example, when King Richard was crowned, Queen Isabel came up to me and told me that the king had sent her to me for a tea party. So, we had a tea party in my area of the house, but I was amazed when it lasted for over an hour, which within the world of the improvisation was not an hour but several years. I found out later on that this was exactly what King Richard did; as soon as he was crowned he needed to get his queen out of the way so he could spend time with his favourite courtiers, so he sent her to stay with the Duchess of York with whom she stayed for a very long time. The whole improvisation was a fantastic exercise that really helped me to understand both the relationships between different characters and the world of the play in general, and this knowledge will be a great help now we’ve come back to the Globe and we’re starting to put the play on its feet.
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.