In her penultimate blog post Sophie discusses the first preview performance, the dynamic between stage and audience and coping with pigeons.
Transcript of Podcast
The very first show was like being on a magic roundabout – everything was a bit of a blur, and I couldn’t look out at all! It was a liberating experience in many ways, because we were finally performing the play with all the people there. That's always a relief. It's like breaking through some sort of membrane, and afterwards I thought ‘Right, we’ve got it out there and people have seen it.’ Now we’ve had lots of previews, and bits and pieces have changed. For instance, in my first scene with Angelo, I’m trying to persuade him not to kill Claudio and I say
He's not prepared for death. Even for our kitchens
We kill the fowl of season. [II.2.84-5]
Since the first preview, that pleading has become increasingly desperate. I want the audience to see that this is serious and I’m clutching at straws, so I try to say those lines as though I’m really not sure what on earth I’m going to say next. In the second scene with Angelo, we’ve been looking at the shifts between comedy and something much more serious. At the beginning of Act two, scene four, I say to Angelo ‘I come to know your pleasure.’ [II.4.31] and in the first previews that was received as a joke. Now, later on, there's still the comedy of the words but we’ve tried to balance it a little with the threat Isabella is facing. Small changes like that help keep the thriller-aspect of the play alongside the comedy aspect, and they result from getting the feel of the space with an audience in it. So it's a case of getting that experience and then practising!
I find the speed with which the groundlings react amazing; they respond very quickly which is both exciting and nerve-wrecking. They’re almost a part of the play. Of course, the audience is always a part of the play, but here they’re practically on the stage and everyone can see each other, so they’re much more involved than they would be in an ordinary auditorium. They were very attentive and laughed much more than I expected. I think the whole cast was surprised at some of the bits they laughed at and other bits which they didn’t find funny. Here [at the Globe] they feel that they can laugh more, which opens up the show in a completely different way… in many respects Measure for Measure is a comedy. The way they do hairpin changes between hysterical laughter and serious attention is great. I think it's normal to get a mixture of reactions. In the scenes with Isabella and Angelo, I expect quite a lot of nervous laughter because the scenes are quite extreme. We got all varieties of laughter, which surprised me.
For example, when Angelo grabs Isabella's crotch [II.4], there was not only a reaction of shock – there was also some laughter and it was the kind you can't really categorise. That is the sort of moment when I do expect people to laugh a bit, though, because it's such a difficult moment to cope with. Most people don’t have a bracket to put that in, and they have to manage the shock of what they’re seeing, which makes them slightly hysterical and you get nervous laughter. But yes, we did get more laughter than Liam [Brennan, Angelo] and I expected. Well, Liam's played the Globe before, so perhaps he was more prepared for the immediacy and the openness of the audiences here.
During the first previews, we focused on the shifts that we'll have to make in order to accommodate what happens out there, in a theatre full of people. We have to get used to adapting the play in such a way that it doesn't lose the pace or certain rhythms in the scenes. The real challenge is to find a way of accommodating ‘out there’ whilst keeping your concentration. The Globe is very open and people move around quite a lot (particularly at the matinees), which is a new experience for me. Also, sometimes people in the audience pipe up and say things because they feel they can – well, they can, but I found that quite tricky to manage. I have to focus like mad to avoid being distracted. In the daytime with all the light, the audience almost makes you feel light-headed, because they are quite dazzling, especially when the sun is on them. So I’ve found it difficult to keep my focus in amongst all these elements.
When I’m up there onstage, I mostly notice what the groundlings are doing rather than the people in the galleries. The groundlings are like the sea, they’re moving all the time and the people sitting down are like some sort of coastline. The groundlings are definitely the people that make the most marked difference from one performance to the next, and they can be very different – it's quite alarming. That's part of what the Globe is all about, though. It's a matter of experiencing that difference and finding a way that makes it work for you – and with you.
I also noticed that the pigeons are much more active in the daytime than they are at night! In one of the previews, Angelo and I were circling around each other [II.4] and two pigeons on the stage were doing exactly the same thing! That was hard, because we can’t really react to them in that scene; as our characters, it's impossible to ‘incorporate’ the pigeons at that point! I thought ‘Oh, no, those pigeons now!’ You just have to deal with it as best you can, and say to yourself ‘I can cope with the pigeons.’ I do find the ‘outdoor’ aspects of the Globe rather difficult sometimes.
We didn’t have a different type of audience, I don’t think. The difference on Press Night was not as marked as it usually is, perhaps because the Press actually came in on three nights (due to the Tube strike). I try to forget Press Night's happening. I just want to play the play as best I can - as you always want to do - and that's easier without extra nerves. I suppose I was hoping that we didn’t have too many helicopters, pigeons, rain and extra challenges that night. I’d love to say that I didn’t mind about it at all, but it is harder, it's a hurdle.
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.