This is the fifth bulletin from the Friar (Rawiri Paratene), in which he discusses the final scene, how he develops character through back story and a crisis point in rehearsal.
Transcript of Podcast
It’s been lovely to explore the character more. As I mentioned before, one of the most important notes that I've had from Dominic [Dromgoole, director] was not to play the Friar old, but to play him at least my age, and preferably five or even ten years younger. That was a real joy because recently I’ve been cast a lot in roles that are older than myself and so that has been really liberating. The more we’ve worked on the Friar’s character, the more concrete it’s become. For example, when we worked on the Friar John scene, where he reveals he hasn’t delivered the letter, Dominic asked me what I felt like doing in that moment. I told him that I wanted to punch him, to which Dominic said, “Well, grab him! Go to punch him and then pull back.” The Friar is grappling with those emotions. I had already thought that Friar Laurence was someone who doesn’t necessarily sit comfortably being a Friar – he is still trying to work a lot of stuff out. When the letter comes back to him, all of his plans are gone and he is a step away from falling back to his old ways.
Creating a back story for the Friar
I absolutely make up a back story. I modelled the Friar on St Francis’ life, which the research department got me some wonderful information on; the story of St Francis is superb. He was the son of a merchant who lived the life of a wealthy young lad: he was very well educated; he was a womaniser; he was a drinker; he got into scraps. Then he realised that this wasn’t fulfilling, so he became someone who wanted to be at one with nature and with God. All of this rang a lot of bells as I started working with the character of Friar Laurence. So rehearsals have been about me playing the Friar as someone who is continually fighting his instinctive reactions. The Friar is working through a lot of past issues; for example, in the banishment scene with Romeo, there are times there when I just want to shake him and say, “Look, you spoilt little brat…!”, because when I look at Romeo, Friar Laurence is looking in a mirror and seeing his own unforgivable behaviour. He grapples with his past and grapples with his habits. I think that is why he’s clearly very popular with young people. The best teachers and counsellors are the ones who have lived a bit and gone through it all themselves, so they have an understanding.
Relationship with Romeo: the final scene
There is a deep love in the Friar for Romeo; he loves him like a son. In the last scene of the play, the Friar has confessed, claimed responsibility and told the truth, but as a result, he has lost everything. Montague arrives and claims the grieving for his son, but there was a part of me in rehearsals that was annoyed with Montague for that, because he hasn’t been a good father to Romeo; I’ve been that father-figure. So in our production, it becomes quite a beautiful moment, because Montague shows a very superficial grief towards his son’s death, compared to the genuine grief of the Friar.
I think I’ve always been a pretty physical actor anyway, particularly when I was a younger actor, and you don’t lose that. In the text of the Friar there’s some pretty robust physical language as well. The Friar resorts to swearing a lot : ‘Holy Saint Francis!’; ‘By my holy order!’; ‘By my brotherhood!’; ‘God’s will!’. A person who swears a lot is withholding his physicality; maybe this is the language of someone who will resort to physical violence. It’s just a theory but a lot of the clues to the physicality of the Friar come exactly from the text; Shakespeare uses robust language.
Crisis point in rehearsals
I had a crisis point this week when we did the first full run through. In a funny way, the audience that makes you feel the most nervous is your fellow cast members. I don’t know what went on, but for some reason, everything that I had worked on with the other actors and with Dominic [Dromgoole, director] went out the window. I came on and I was full of bluster, I was slow – really, really, painfully slow – and I knew that I’d blown it. One of the excuses that I offer for myself is that the Friar doesn’t come on for a long time. I was watching all this fine work from the other actors going on before me and I started to lose confidence in myself, so that by the time I got on I was this booming, tediously slow Friar, which had nothing to do with what we had worked on. Afterwards, Dominic pulled me aside and expressed everything that I had known I was doing wrong. I left that rehearsal in an absolute mess! I didn’t sleep very well that night; I was really frightened that I had lost my way and I lived in fear of the next run. When we got to the next run, I was still really nervous, but the two key things that I had taken away from all of the good work in rehearsals were to speed him up and to stop shouting. Thankfully, it was much improved! Dominic came up to me afterwards to say, “We still have a long way to go with him, but he’s on his way back – thank you very much”. I think Dominic was worried because he’d never worked with me before and I come from a different theatre culture than anyone else here, so he wasn’t sure whether he was going to be able to bring me back from this stumble. But Dominic is a very clear communicator and that’s exactly what I needed. He told me that I’d lost the plot, which is what I had suspected, and I needed to know that. As an actor you analyse it all the time. I get so nervous and quite often I boom and everything comes out really, really slow. But the positive side is that it happened in the rehearsal room in a safe environment; we weren’t even on the stage yet, and so the director and I were able to grab it. I’ve got it out of my system!
These comments are the actor's thoughts and ideas about the part as he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsals progress.