In his second blog post Mark discusses how rehearsals have progressed, the relationship between his character and the other male characters, and how that relates Gratiano's relationship with Nerissa.
Transcript of Podcast
We are still going through the play and paraphrasing the lines. Although we are starting to incorporate some singing and dancing sessions. There is going to be a big masque section in the play. I think the director feels that we talk about having a masque and prepare for a masque with costumes and torch bearers and this that and the other. You never actually see this masque in the show. So in this production you will see the masque! It’s in a particularly interesting place for my character because it’s just at the end of the scene where Antonio comes in and says to me: ‘Oh they are all waiting for you at the dock to go to Belmont.’ We are going to do the masque - dancing around and I’ll be getting more and more drunk and into it and more and more out of control. At the end of it I will be vomiting and I will have reached a complete low and be on my own on the stage! Then Antonio will come in, and we want to play it as a sad or thoughtful ending to the scene. You will see Antonio, who is a very lonely character, and you will hopefully also see that Gratiano is quite a lonely and sad character as well. That will emphasis how important it is for me to go to Belmont and stay with Bassanio.
Gratanio, Lorenzo and Bassanio
We are a group of really close friends and again that’s why I feel I have to go to Belmont because I feel like I am losing my friends. They all want to go off and get together with girls and I see that maybe I am gong to be left on my own and I need to do something about it. That is an argument for the cynical version of why I get together with Nerissa, but I don’t see why it can’t be both. You are more likely to fall in love with someone at first sight if you are particularly looking to. That’s a whole world of this idea that in Shakespeare’s time that the understanding of psychology would be different. We are used to talking about our feelings and being open about our feelings and people. Maybe they had a different relationship to that kind of thing, knowing what motivated people - the convention of marriage being something that you did for social status and for money. How important love was at that time. It’s a whole other sort of discussion.
Gratiano and Nerissa
I talked with Kirsty [Besterman] who is playing Nerissa about this, and we thought maybe they have seen each other before. It is indicated that Bassanio has seen Portia before. However the way this production seems to be going is that Bassanio is forgetting Portia’s name when he is telling Antonio about her and I think the director is quite keen that we are opportunistic young guys and that I go with Bassianio to Belmont - see an opportunity and take it. I do some quick work! I like to think that it is love at first sight. I think that is what Shakespeare writes about, big events. Everything, I feel, that happens in Shakespeare is a big event and the fact the Gratiano is not the sort of person you imagine falling in love at first sight, is even more interesting because then he will be surprised by it himself. He would be thinking: ‘I never thought this would happen to me but it has!’ and all that gives us an excuse for more energy and passion and anything like that is useful.
We are thinking that maybe their relationship will be quite a good one, fun and a bit cheeky and naughty. We are thinking about how to show that chemistry and attraction. There’s not very much time for us to get that in, but then equally, when it comes to the final scene, if we are not that into each other, then her teasing me about the ring that I have lost, and us having an argument, wouldn’t really matter. The stakes are very low, but if he does care and if he does want to be married to her then that keeps the stakes high.
With Gratiano being quite anti-Jewish, especially in the trial scene, I don’t know whether it will be interesting for audiences to see that he is quite naughty when it comes to Christianity too. Gratiano mocks Christianity quite a lot. It seems to occur to him quite a lot, especially at the beginning where he is mocking people who behave very well. I say ‘why should we be like statues?’ and when I am saying ‘like statues’ I am imagining the religious statues with people in religious poses and I am mocking them. It is maybe a fine line to tread, this idea of being not very Christian when it suits me, and also being anti-Jewish when it suits me and then being like ‘Oh I am a real Christian now and I am very anti-Jewish’. People may think ‘it doesn’t make sense that you are so anti-Jewish if you are not very Christian’. We are talking about how to get this whole world idea of it not being a PC world where we all really feel superior to Jewish people –whereby our anti-Jewish behaviour is natural, we don’t even think about it. It is not a secret thing ‘we are better than Jewish people’ everybody knows that, that is just the way it is.
I am in a lot of the scenes with Jessica, and towards the end of one of them I say to Nerissa, ‘oh welcome Jessica’ and it seems that we are going to go for an interpretation where it is quite uncomfortable for her to be there, her coming to Belmont. You could argue that I am quite sympathetic towards her at this point, but I am not really sure yet.
Because we are really emphasising that the guys are only after money, Gratanio thinks it is great that she has stolen all this money from Shylock and that is the reason that he likes her. So I am really unsure whether Gratanio sees her as someone exotic and different or is she someone a bit embarrassing and we don’t really want to talk her.
The main thing is that you can have so many ideas about a scene and a character but then they seem to pass by so quickly. You start a scene and you feel like you are shouting and running around and suddenly it’s over and gone and you’ve maybe only had time for one or perhaps two of your ideas and all the other things you have though of are gone. You think ‘oh no, how am I going to get this in?’ Because of the nature of Shakespeare, of one scene going into another, it doesn’t really give you the time to play things after the speaking has happened. You almost have to run off stage on your final line every time. Sometimes I would like to say the final line and then be able to have a reaction to that or act after that, but you can’t really do that because the next scene has got to start and you have to keep the energy up because you can’t drop it for the people in the next scene. You feel like you have to work the language. It is so easy to feel like you are shouting.
I have had lots of interesting meetings with the vocal coach and she has introduced me to a lot of new exercises. I have always hated my voice and thought it wasn’t very good. She has done a whole new diagnosis of how it can be better and how I can change and develop it and how I can be more ‘full’ in the space. I am trying to get on with doing those exercises, so I think that will help, but then again it comes down to this time because you think ‘oh there isn’t even the time to breathe’. Once you start analysing the words, especially this sitting down and going really really into it you feel like eventually you are going to be wanting to stress every single word in a sentence and then you will just be shouting whole sentences. It seems you have to work or pummel the language almost. But then you do get this sense that if you can use it, like there is a bit where I am talking about how certain people put on these faces and they are ‘sour faced’ people I am talking about and what the vocal coach pointed out to me is that I say the words ‘cream’ and ‘mantle’ and if I really say the m’s in the words and I go: ‘creammmm’ and ‘mmmmantle’ - if I really go for them then that actually happens on my face. If I exaggerate the M’s, the ideas of what I want to show can happen at the same time as speaking.
In the rehearsal room, when you are at the front of the stage then that’s the wall and you are thinking in the real theatre that will be a huge space. That’s going to make a huge difference. I am quite impatient to get moving. It is quite exposing, and with the concentration on the language, you don’t feel that you can sit about or be doing too many actions so you are quite physically exposed. You have to stand strong and tall.
They have been great. They have been scary. The difference that I can feel after a session that I think ‘what am I doing half the time, closing off my body and not feeling’ I feel so much better after a session.
I have had a costume fitting and it took quite a long time. It was hard to tell what the costume will be like because they were trying different types of sleeves and trying different colours. The theme is renaissance with a kind of modern twist, so I have got these breeches / trousers but they have got a kind of twisted seam - like Levis twisted jeans. At the moment my costume is completely black. This is good in helping to emphasis the dark side of my character because it is very easy to see Gratiano as a very light character. Liz [Cooke the designer] was saying that she was worried that it is too dark and that it is over emphasising the darkness of the character, but I think that will be useful.
I will probably be dressed up as a monk in the Masque scene, so I will probably have a cassock on for that bit.
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.