This is Peter's second blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard II in which he talks about rehearsals this week, and particularly time the company has spent working on verse, movement and possible meanings behind the text.
Transcript of Podcast
Exploring the meanings of the text
We’re in the third week of rehearsals now, but we’re still talking about what each line actually means. In many ways, I knew what each of my lines meant a long time ago; I did a lot of work at home before rehearsals started to make sure I knew exactly what I thought both Ross and the Duchess were saying at all times. But it's wrong to think that each line can only be interpreted one way, or can only mean one thing. It's important to consider all the different meanings a line could have, and then gradually decide on the meaning that fits best with the way the other actors are playing the scene. At the moment, Tim [Carroll, Master of Play] is encouraging us to try each scene over and over again, and each time he gives us a specific instruction. He often calls this instruction a ‘blanket’; when he gives us our instruction, it's like he's spreading a huge blanket over the whole stage and all of us who are on-stage get covered by it. The blanket doesn’t really stop us from doing anything we want to, but we can’t help but be aware of it. It's like a shadow over the scene that affects what each character says and does at any particular moment.
So, for example, yesterday we were looking at act 2 scene 3, when Bolingbroke returns to England and those lords who support him, including my character, Ross, come to meet him. First of all, we tried the scene with the ‘blanket’ that meant all the characters in the scene were not comrades but sworn enemies. As a result, lots of lines whose meaning had seemed to be fairly subtle, if not gentle, suddenly became very aggressive. For example, when Ross says to Bolingbroke, “Your presence makes us rich, most noble lord,” (line 63) I had originally thought Ross was welcoming and flattering Bolingbroke, whilst perhaps implying that he could hope to gain lands or money by taking his side. However, with that ‘blanket’ on the scene, the meaning of that line changed dramatically, and it became a sarcastic warning, as though Ross is saying ‘Ok, you’re back and having you here will help us, but be careful - we’d better do well out of this, or else.’ As soon as we’d finished doing the scene that way, Tim [Carroll, Master of Play] gave us another ‘blanket’; that all the characters are close friends. Of course, the meaning of that line changed again; it became a warm, enthusiastic welcome. We tried different scenes in lots of other ways as well; I especially enjoyed trying the scene with the ‘blanket’ that whenever you speak in the scene, you’re not allowed to look at the person you’re speaking to. By watching people address person-specific lines to anyone but that person, I suddenly became aware of how many lines changed their meaning when the character that says them is openly allowing others to hear what they say. Is a line that in theory is said to the king meant to have a stronger effect on the king, or on the courtiers that are silently listening to every word, or perhaps the audience that is watching the play? Who is that line going to affect most? By trying this ‘blanketing’ exercise, we, the company, can explore a huge range of possibilities; we can find out what every line could mean, and over the next few weeks, we’ll begin to make decisions about the best way to play each moment and each line in every scene of the play. It's a huge task!
Each morning, the whole company splits into small groups and each group will work for a few hours with one of the Masters of Movement, Voice or the Words. This morning, my group worked on movement with Glynn [MacDonald, Master of Movement]. Each movement session starts with basic stretching, like you have to do before you do sport, to make sure that you don’t strain anything. Purely by chance, 3 of the 5 men in my group are playing women, so we have started to look at the differences between the way men and women move, both now and 400 years ago. For example, whereas men tend to walk in straight lines, women walk in more of a circular pattern, and 400 years ago, a woman's clothing would have meant that she couldn’t take huge strides, but instead had to walk using very small steps so as not to fall over her dress.
I’m also really enjoying working with Giles [Block, Master of the Words], who is working with us on text. We don’t look at the script of Richard II with Giles, but instead we look at parts of other Shakespeare plays that, like our play, are written in verse; apparently, one in five lines of Richard II is a rhyming couplet. I find this really interesting, as each year I write a pantomime, (in fact, I’ve just finished Cinderella for a theatre in Northampton this Christmas). All the pantomimes I write are in rhyme, usually in a rhyme scheme called ‘old fourteenths’ (8s and 6s - ask). In every pantomime I write, I also play the dame, so I suppose I’m used to playing a woman. However, the Duchess is a very, very different character in a very different situation, but all the same, I’m being very careful not to make her in any way a pantomime character. Of course, it's not as though I’m going to come on stage and say something like ‘hello boys and girls, my name's the Duchess of York, what's yours?’, but still…
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.