This is John's second blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard II in which he discusses continuing rehearsals, returning to Middle Temple Hall and his character- the Gardener.
Transcript of Podcast
A few more weeks to go, and we’ve just about finished going through the whole play once; in fact, they’re rehearsing the final scene right now. We are only called to rehearsals when one of our scenes is being rehearsed, so although we know those scenes fairly well, none of us have a sense yet of how all the scenes are going to fit together. However, I think we’re going to start doing runs of the play next week which will set that to rights. Knowing how each scene is being played by other members of the company will be very helpful; it gives you an idea of how each character develops during the play which in turn will inform how one's own character, or in my case, characters, might react to them when our paths cross. This information won’t necessarily affect how we react to them that much, but it's useful to have it in the back of your mind; it's like gossip - you don’t pay too much attention to it because you know it's not a definitive account of what happened, but it stays in the back of your mind. I also find it helpful to watch the scenes that come before and after mine; this helps you to assess the mood at the end of the scene before you come on, and therefore what effect your scene, or your entrance could have on an audience. For example, if the scene before yours has ended on a sombre note, if you run in shouting you will probably startle the audience, and you need to consider whether this is the effect your character needs to have on them at this point in the story. After all, what we’re doing as a company is telling a story, and we need to be careful, as a company, to drive the story forwards and not allow it to jump off the track. Running the play will also help us, the actors, as we start to think about purely practical matters, such as how long we will have to change our costume, or to wait in the dressing room, or to get to a certain spot before we need to be on stage again.
Returning to Middle Temple Hall
We went back to Middle Temple Hall a few days ago with Stewart [Pearce, Master of Voice] to do some voice work and judge the echo of the space. You have to be very careful, in any space, to judge the pitch of your voice just right so that you can be heard clearly. When we were in the hall, we started with a humming exercise. First , we hummed a very low note, as low as we could, and then gradually increased the pitch so that the note got higher and higher, listening to the echo the whole time; at what pitch it was greatest. We then did this again, but speaking, not humming, finding the pitches where your voice reverberates nicely without detracting from the clarity of speech -if the echo is so much, it distorts the sound to the extent that no-one can understand what you’re saying. The important thing is to remember not to strain your voice. Pretty soon after I left drama school, I went to work for a repertory theatre, [a theatre where the same company of actors rehearse and perform several plays throughout a set period of time], where I played Hotspur in Henry IV Part I and several other roles. The first play to open was I Henry IV, and I was so determined to give an energetic, passionate performance that by the end of the first week I had lost my voice. This didn’t help matters, especially given that by this time I was already in rehearsals for another play. As actors, we always want to get to the emotional heart of a character, but it's important not to let your character's emotions get in the way of your acting technique; no matter how you feel, you still have to give another performance the next day. The acoustic in Middle Temple Hall is wonderful; I think we’ll be able to speak almost at our normal volume and still be heard throughout the hall.
I’ve been working on the Gardeners’ scene recently, and am puzzling over what his role in the play is. After all, the audience already know all the information he gives them in that scene. I suppose it must be for the benefit of Isabella; it's the First Gardener that tells her what has happened to Richard and therefore spurs her to meet with Richard in act v scene 1. The scene tells the audience about Isabella; how she is the last to find out what has happened to her husband, and I think the gardener encourages them to sympathise with her plight. He himself wishes he could help her, as he says:
Poor Queen, so that thy state might be no worse
I would my skill were subject to thy curse.
Interestingly, the gardener speaks exclusively in verse, never in prose. As a result, Tim [Carroll, Master of Play] and I have agreed that I will play him as a relatively high status character; a highly educated horticulturalist, a master of his trade. His speeches are very poetic, full of metaphors, and this makes them very difficult to say in a naturalistic way, to give them the characteristics of everyday speech. This is something I’ll be working at over the next few days. As a whole, it's an oddball scene, and it's often cut from productions of Richard II. At the moment, it's still in this production, but we’ll see what happens as rehearsals continue.