This is Michael's final blog post. This week he reflects how he feels at the end of the run, the changes he has made to the performance while the run has continued, and he looks ahead to taking King Lear to Japan.
Transcript of Podcast
The end of the run
This run has been long. We are finding that during performances the form has taken over from content, which can be troublesome because we are not thinking about what we are doing. At this stage it is easy to forget the content. The other day I could not remember of Edgar was the older brother. Someone also asked me if the brothers had different mothers, and I said ‘no’! The only way to guard against this is to go through the notes that I made at the beginning of rehearsals.
Changes made during the season
I am also trying to occasionally do things differently during performances. Scenes can become set in stone and you begin to feel that if anything changes you will be ‘thrown off’. I think it helps to see what other actors are doing in the space. On Monday I went to see a performance by the International Fellows (who came from Shakespeare's Globe Centres from all over the world). It was interesting because I could see them ‘grow’ into the space as the evening progressed. The fellows started off rather cautiously and tentatively, doing many things that I had discovered were not right – getting stuck between pillars, making things very ‘flat’ and not being very vocal. However, as the evening wore on their confidence grew and they started trying out many exciting things. It made me think about how I could use the space, particularly the corners upstage.
Paul [Brennen, Edgar] and I are still experimenting with the space and making small changes. An example of this is when I finish my first scene with Gloucester and I am supposed to go and sit in a chair. I do not think that this merits the line "what serious contemplation you are in", because it does not look like I am in serious contemplation; it looks like I am messing about in my father's chair. So, last night I went and sat at the edge of the stage and it felt better. Maybe it was because of the novelty of doing something new, but it also helped us to think on our feet because we had not planned what would come next.
We do have room to change things during performances, however you do not want to distract other people from what they are doing. It is easier to change things if there are only two people on stage, or particularly if you are by yourself during soliloquies, as you are free to try new things. But if there are a lot of people on stage the blocking of the scenes can be quite structured. Change does not only mean blocking; it can also be the mood of the speech, or the tempo. Changing the play also depends on the nature of the rehearsal. Mike Alfreds’ [Master of Play for Cymbeline] entire play is based around each performance being different. The scenes are not blocked and so the cast has more freedom to experiment with new ideas. The fact that the each audience is different really helps to keep the performances ‘fresh’, because they do effect the way we tell the story.
The company will be going to Japan for two weeks to perform King Lear in the Tokyo Globe, once the season here has finished. I am thinking about learning some basic lines in Japanese. The way we have set Edmund is as a character that belongs in the Yard; he is almost a member of the audience who takes over. I think belonging to the people in the audience will obviously be more challenging in Japan, and so therefore I think it is appropriate for me to try and say a few lines in Japanese. It will help to build my relationship with the audience. I have been told that the Yard has seats in it, which are sometimes there and at other times they are taken out. If so, it might be interesting to have Edmund sit down amongst the audience.
One of the cast members, Simon Hyde [Soldier/Knight/Edmund's Captain] cannot come to Japan and so most of the preparation work for Tokyo will be based around rehearsing with the new cast member.
We will also be holding question and answer sessions for the public in Japan, as we have done here. I enjoy doing these sessions, as it is interesting to hear other people's interpretation of the play. Often the interpretation may not be the same as mine, such as one person disagreed with my idea that Edmund changes at the end of the play. The ending of the play also rests on interpretation. Some people may see the end as negative and others may see it as positive. I do not think it is fair to say that the bad characters ‘deserve’ what they get at the end of the play, as it is never fair for someone to be killed. However in the context of the world of the play, maybe the characters do deserve it, as it is the type of world where people fight if one calls the other a traitor. Edmund's actions can be justified through motives; it is the methods that he uses that have to be questioned. I do not think that Lear deserves to die. However I do not see the death as negative, in the traditional sense, because when he does die he has reconciled with Cordelia and his life has a new level of understanding.
I think that there is something unresolved at the end of our production, as there is a moment when you are not sure who will be the next king. On the other hand, the last two lines of the play show that something has been learnt from those who have suffered: "The oldest hath borne most: we that are young, Shall never see so much nor live so long". I think that this is very optimistic – learning from other people and learning from the past.
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.