In his seventh blog post, Michael discusses the process of re-rehearsing the play, the exercises performed to keep the play fresh and what changes to the play and his character have emerged.
Transcript of Podcast
I have had a week of re-rehearsals, which I found to be quite ‘light’. I was expecting it to be more strenuous and rigorous! Barry [Kyle, Master of Play] did not want to challenge the basic structure of the play that already existed. Instead he wanted to use this period to make subtle and minor changes in order to make the play ‘broader and deeper’. This went into accordance with my own aims. Previously my focus was on playing King Lear, and Edmund, specifically at the Globe. By the time it came to the re-rehearsals I had already achieved this and I felt comfortable in the space. However, I think that I had neglected the substantive nature of the part – who is Edmund? What does he want? I had given these questions some attention during the initial stages of rehearsals. Therefore, my contribution to the re-rehearsals was trying to make the character of Edmund more ‘real’.
I had thought that Edmund was a happy-go-lucky chap at the beginning of the play, who became dangerous as the story developed. I now think that there should be more of the dangerous elements in him from the beginning. However, it is very challenging to do this without losing the wit in his speech.
In the first half of the play Edmund reflects on his identity, and pronounces "I should have been that I am, had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardising". I had previously played this statement very lightly in a joking way. I now perform the statement with a negative attitude. The fact that Edmund is an illegitimate child is his identifying feature in the world of the play and he is angry with this. On one level he is admitting that this is his identity and he does not care what anyone thinks, but I do think he is damaged by it. This would make sense, as it would provide a motive for his actions.
Barry read a book by Frank Kermode who wrote about Shakespeare. Kermode said that evil is a form of sanity. Edward Bond (who wrote a version of King Leir, which Barry directed) echoed this idea. He said that madness is like being particularly sane. Bond said that it is society who is mad, and the people who are considered to be mad by society are simply trying to understand what society is. Therefore, the madder the person, the more sane they are. The saner the person, the madder they truly are as they are accepting society which is actually insane.
I asked Barry if he wanted me to act in a more evil manner. He suggested that I should concentrate on how rational, justifiable and sane all of Edmunds ambitions and actions are. It is for other people to say that the betrayal of his father and the subsequent banishment of Edgar are caused by evil acts. This relieved me as I could have played him as an evil madman who rolled his eyes and had a twitch! However, I think that the fact that he does all of these evil things and remains relatively normal makes him more scary and threatening. In his soliloquies he can afford to say who he is and what he wants, but he cannot act as an obvious threat in the world of the play as his plans will not be successful.
In long runs of a play we have to try and keep our minds ‘fresh’. Sometimes you find that when you are in a scene you are already anticipating the next event. Because you know what is going to happen next, your reactions to that particular event will not seem real. An example of this is when Edmund offers his father a letter; I now know how he is going to react. So we looked at this point in the play and tried to think of alternative reactions, such as Gloucester declaring that the letter is a forgery. If this happened and he realised that there was a conspiracy taking place, it would have been the downfall of Edmund. If this was Gloucester's reaction, the other bad events may not have happened. There is a point in that scene when Edmund is unsure to whether his father will really believe that the letter is from Edgar. The key to a real tragedy is that there are always moments where an opposite reaction could prevent that tragedy: Gloucester realising about the letter or Cordelia telling her father that she does love him.
One of the key exercises we did in the re-rehearsals was to get all of the ‘evil’ characters together (Edmund, Goneril, Regan, Oswald and Cornwall) with one ‘good’ character (in this instance it was Albany). The exercise was called ‘Hot-seating’. We took on the roles of different media journalists, ranging from Jeremy Paxman to a journalist from Hello! magazine. All the bad characters interrogated Albany in the style of a press conference. I asked Albany who would be king now that Lear was dead, and Albany could not answer; he grew nervous and mumbled. We all took turns in doing this and it was very revealing to see how characters got themselves out of difficult situations. It became clear that Edmund was like a Darwinian character that believed in survival of the fittest and had a ruthless logic.
Changes to the play and Edmund
Edmund is interesting, because despite his ‘evil’ traits, he has the ability to charm an audience of fifteen hundred people. This seems to be a historical trend; people such as Hitler displayed similar characteristics. What do the audience think when Edmund dies? Are they sorry to see him go? Characters like Edmund are much more complex than they appear to be. In a pantomime version, all of his complexity would go. After the re-rehearsal period, I felt that the complexity in my portrayal of Edmund did increase. I toned down the charm and increased the intensity of his negative speeches and aspects of nature. I saw a change in the reaction of the audience, who now do not warm to Edmund as much and do not react as obviously (such as laughing out aloud). Although it took some time to get used to these ideas, I am enjoying it more now.
Barry asked Geoffrey [Whitehead, Gloucester] to be more comedic in the scene when I present him with the fake letter. We did try this for sometime, however it did not work as it portrayed him as foolish and innocent – and he is neither of these. Barry has asked Albany to act less aristocratic, which means that there is more potential for Edmund to get along with him. This is important, as the audience need to believe that an alliance could be made between them.
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.