In her fifth blog post Mariah discusses using improvisation in rehearsals, the formality of relationships in the play setting and Hero's feelings for Claudio.
Transcript of Podcast
This has probably been our most stressful week so far. At the beginning of rehearsals there are lots of fresh ideas, and you don’t feel like you have to come up with a finished product. The performance is so far off that you feel you have time to experiment. Then it gets to this stage, when you start to think in more detail about the right choices for particular scenes. There are so many different things one could do, but obviously choices have to be made. As we try to get to the bottom of these specifics, there isn’t the freedom of performance and there isn’t the same freedom of the initial approach. Basically I’m really grappling with the play. I think this the most important stage as well as the most stressful. You have a choice: you can become overwhelmed by questions with the result that you don’t try to answer them at all, or you can say “Okay, I’m going to get my hands dirty and I’m going to go through this patch of questioning.” I feel like it's the ‘hard work’ bit of the process in a way, but at the same time it's really important not to lose the freedom. It's important to stay relaxed as the performance gets closer, so whilst I am trying to work in more detail, I’m also aware that I need to stay calm and relaxed because this is the time when fear enters the rehearsal room. You can feel everyone going “Oh no, we’ve only got so much time left” then it suddenly creeps up on you!
We’ve been rehearsing scene by scene. That's good because we’ve been doing lots of different exercises and games on each scene which help you to find different ways into the character and the action. Sometimes you start running scenes together quite early on in rehearsals, though, and because we’re not running it yet, I can’t quite imagine the whole thing on its feet. That makes me a bit nervous, but I think it's far better to look at each scene in detail than to plough into runs, because the play is so complicated. There's so much disguise and hiding that it's difficult to know which layer of your character's journey to engage with at any one moment. My main worry at the moment is that I’m finding it difficult to know the atmosphere of what's going on: how light or heavy things are.
I like doing improvisations because you’re bringing a life onto the stage. It's such a luxury for a director to suggest that, and it's so helpful to actors because normally you have to flesh out what's happened in between scenes in your imagination, and you also have to try to flesh out your character's relationship with other people. We hardly noticed that we’d started work on some scenes, and it takes away that fear of the scene because you know your character has a life offstage. You know they’re coming from that life and they’re going to return to it, and it just so happens that you walk into the space and happen to be there for the interim.
We improvised what happens between the first scene in Act one and Act two, scene one: basically what happens between the Acts for Leonato's family. The men have arrived back from war, and that made me wonder about what we would do all day. How on earth does that time get filled? We set the improvisation in my bedroom with me, Ursula, Margaret and Beatrice, and we found that we all wanted to talk about the men. It was so exciting, and we just could have spent hours sitting in that bedroom just talking. That really brought our relationships to life. I felt the bond with Margaret and Ursula was much stronger after that, and it made me see why Hero instantly forgives Margaret for what she's done. I do that because I know Margaret so well, I know what she's like, and I know that she's a bit naughty but she loves me. I’m glad Margaret's name has been cleared after the misunderstanding at the window. I’m glad she didn’t really lose control of herself and I can appreciate that she was having a joke. It was at my expense and she shouldn’t really have been doing it, but since we have a little fun together and tease each other, it's not such an unusual thing to have done.
We decided that Antonio comes into the room and tells me that he's heard from his man (who turned out to be called Ned) that the Prince wants to marry me: Ned overheard the Prince telling Claudio. That was all very confusing because I thought Ned's not the most reliable source. I also realised how much of a shock it was – I couldn’t believe the Prince would choose me especially. I’ve only just come of age, so it is a real shock. I am of the right age now, there are a lot of men coming to our household, and hopefully that means that someone will ask for my hand in marriage. That's what I really want, but I don’t expect it to happen within an hour or so of them arriving and I don’t expect it to be the prince! I think, then, my reaction is just shock really, and I was inclined not to believe it. Whilst Antonio was telling me this, Beatrice decided to hide.
Another thing that came out of the improvisation is that I didn’t really want to let my uncle Antonio in to my bedroom where I’m chatting with my friends. I mean, I love my uncle very much, but I think I find him rather doddery and slow so I don’t really want him to interrupt us because I’m having fun! At first I told him to go away because we were having a sleep. He came in anyway, and then my father came through the door, which meant that this was serious. He had a talk with me and it felt like a really momentous talk, it felt like one of those formal occasions that very rarely happen with your parents.
Recently I was with my parents and my dad said “I’ve got some news.” My sister's boyfriend had asked my dad's permission to marry my sister: it was so lovely that that tradition had been observed. That reminded me that the formality in world of the play can be quite wonderful. The Tudor Group said, yes, there were murders committed and brothels everywhere and people were quite free in some ways, but intelligence rather than physical strength was seen as a sign of real nobility. To be intelligent and gentlemanly and to display restraint and politeness – these were qualities prized above physical prowess. I really like that, and I don’t think it's like Victorian repression. It helps me get my head around the fact that it is such a disappointment for me that the prince has proposed. I am in love with Claudio prior to Act one, scene one, but I’ve got to get him to ask my father for my hand in marriage, and that is a hard thing to do when all the time I spend with him is years apart in between wars. He might just happen to be passing through, he might just happen to be staying at my house, and we might not get any moments alone unless we’re dancing. I can’t instigate anything myself, so that made me realise there must have been a lot of flirting going on that was unspoken; they must have been very aware of silent, physical signals.
Tamara [Harvey, Master of Play] mentioned that there was something on television about people who lived as Victorians, and how the man said that a flash of an ankle was erotic because they weren’t allowed to be nearly as demonstrative of their affection. I think that 'less is more' is also true of the world in Much Ado About Nothing and one glance across a room between Claudio and I would have carried so much information. I feel like there's a series of dangerous glances that happen between us, and I hope that he’ll do something about that. But he didn’t ask for my hand before he went to war, so I don’t know. I think when I find out about the Prince's intention to propose, I have to put Claudio right out of my mind. It was weird when it happened in the improvisation: Leonato was telling me about the prince and all of sudden I got very emotional. I didn’t realise that was going to happen; it was more to do with what he was saying about my mother, how he wished she were alive, than Claudio as such – the way that my father was speaking to me just resonated and struck me.
Feelings for Claudio and the Prince
I don’t think I’d tell anyone about the depth of my feeling for Claudio, but if my girlfriends pestered me I might tell them that I think he's handsome and have a laugh about it. I don’t think we’d ever really discuss, “I’m deeply in love with him, but what if I don’t get him?” I guess we don’t really talk about things you’re never going to get, because that just makes it harder. Friar Francis is the only person I really talk to about these feelings because I think Hero is the kind of person that would have to confess everything that was in her heart. I think she does, and when she goes to confession, he's like a councillor. Jules [Melvin, Friar Francis] was saying she feels that he's quite tough and firm, but it is that kind of person that you go to in those situations. She would go to confession for guidance; it's completely private and you can’t see the person you’re talking to. I don’t think it's a problem for me that I’m not allowed to marry Claudio because it just wouldn’t have been allowed to be a problem.
Basically I think I might have spoken to the Friar about the feeling that I’m having for Claudio – asking whether it's okay to feel that, and for advice about how to deal with it. I find it exciting when I hear everyone is coming to stay, that something might happen. So I feel happy, but I mustn’t show it yet, and that gets completely obliterated and eclipsed by the information about the Prince's intentions. I have to know how to behave and I mustn’t think about Claudio. I think deep down there's an underlying feeling that I would be marrying the wrong man, but that's far below the surface. Perhaps my intention in that scene [II.1] is to dance away my nerves. I don’t mean this literally, but I’m at a party and there are so many emotions running high, and I think we’re all in perhaps a heightened state of excitement at that point – we are in the first scene; I’m like a coiled spring. Tamara pointed out the other day that this might be one of my last parties in this house or in Messina because I might be moving to Spain as Don Pedro's wife, another life in a different country.
I found that I didn’t want the responsibility when Leonato was talking to me during the improvisation. I didn’t want to grow up, and I didn’t want to get married. Often your biggest wants are also your worst fears; there's a sort of crumbly wall in between your intentions and your obstacles. There are very mixed feelings. It was something to do with the way Leonato was talking to me – it was so formal and so packed with emotion. Whenever your parents talk to you about having brought you up, or about you as a child or how they’re proud of you, it's always so potent that you almost want to say “Okay, stop!” because it is the most powerful bond. I think there is huge love between Leonato and Hero. I think it's absolutely huge… you can only get as cross as Leonato is in the wedding scene [IV.1] with people you really love and for whom you have great hopes.
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.