This is Sophie's final blog post. This week she discusses the experience of taking the play to Hampton Court Palace, and how performing in an entirely different space has helped inform playing at the Globe.
Transcript of Podcast
Hampton Court Palace
I found the whole experience rather bizarre. I was starting to get used to the Globe, with all its weird and wonderful energy, then we went into a very much smaller space with a roof and a steeply raked audience. I think the move was good for us all in a way, because it brought the play back to basics. We had to play the story as clearly as we possibly could, because the space was a bit tricksy, in terms of voice. The high-vaulted ceiling ate up all the sound. Our running time was a lot longer in the end, but we had really good audiences. Nothing compares to the response at the Globe, particularly because of the groundlings, but the audiences at Hampton Court Palace were really attentive; I felt like they were focussing down a telescope. I had to pull in that telescope, because the distance between us and them was completely different to the distances at the Globe. The seats at the back of the rake felt a long way away.
As I say, that focus was good for us all because it took us back to basics. Sometimes the audience can get a bit hysterical at the Globe, and in a funny way that can distract you from the story. You’ve got make sure you’re not being seduced by the laughter. I felt the play became a much simpler thing at Hampton Court Palace. We realised that we didn’t have to cope with helicopters or people fainting because of the heat, so the play came to a completely different settling place. We realised that we could do certain things that wouldn't have worked so well at the Globe - leaving a bit of space around moments and holding pauses, for instance. That did lengthen the play somewhat. Physically, the Great Hall was quite odd because we were acting on such a small stage… in one sense that felt comparatively ordinary, but, after the Globe Theatre, it also felt very odd and naked space. It was a good challenge…
There are both advantages and disadvantages performing in a space like the Great Hall. I did miss the extraordinary responsiveness that you find at the Globe. The acting space at Hampton Court Palace was only half as wide as the Globe's stage, so physically I had to draw things in. Most of us have done that kind of thing on a tour – you turn up at the next theatre and it's a different shape and size… adaptation isn't too problematic, except for dances and fights. I would have thought the transfer was a lot harder for Romeo and Juliet because they’ve got big fight scenes. I’m only in the final jig, so adjusting to the smaller space wasn’t particularly difficult for me.
There were two rows of people seated down the sides of the acting space and that helped keep a sense of being ‘in the round’; the Hall felt more like the Globe than it might have done. We had to deliver out a lot more though, just because of the acoustics. I suspect those rows down the side kept us in ‘Globe style’ to a degree, in terms of our delivery. At the same time we were trying to remember that, whilst some audience members were terribly close, others were fantastically far away. That difference was a great challenge: at first I thought ‘Some people may not hear this and some people may feel that their ears are going to bleed!’
The dressing rooms were in the King's anteroom, which the audience went through before the show. I found chatting to the audience a bit tricky because I was about to escape into this imaginary world and tell them a story. I suppose I feel that a theatre play is somehow a mysterious thing, and I don’t really want to talk to the audience as myself. I want to be doing my pretending and tell the audience things in that way. So I stood and had my costume put on and I smiled and said “Hello”, but I felt a bit silly… Had the run at Hampton Court Palace been longer, I would have sorted that out and probably quite got into it, but we were only there for four shows. As it was, I realised I wasn't the best woman for that job. A lot of the others in the company were really brilliant at it, though, and I think chatting really helped to put the audience at their ease.
Audience response at Hampton Court Palace
They were lovely. There were people who wanted to shout aloud at the end of the play, and at the Globe they would have done. Here, I’d look out and they’d whisper ‘Bravo’ back. I think that response was something to do with the space – it is a Great Hall – and the fact that the tickets were more expensive. Perhaps as a result of these things, the audience are more reverent to the moment: maybe they thought shouting out wasn’t appropriate. Audience response is influenced by so many factors: the context of the Palace, the ticket prices, the space, the Great Hall and what that means... It's fascinating.
Perhaps this was similar to Courtly responses in Shakespeare's time - the people at Court are appreciative and the audience at the Globe are more ecstatic. I did feel old-fashioned in a way, as we went to play at Hampton Court Palace - it felt like the players were coming to the Court. We were the scruffy old actors turning up at the Court to entertain the folk there! I think the place itself and the occasion of that place made the play a completely different experience at Hampton Court Palace.
Return to the Globe
Quite a few of us found different things in our parts during the time at Hampton Court Palace - just little bits and pieces - and we’ve brought them back here. Some of the fine details that came easily with a roof and an indoor stage might not last long after the transfer back to the Globe – but other finds will last. For instance, I’m beginning to adjust to the fact that you can bring things down here [at the Globe] too. I think I yelled quite a lot to begin with, but I’m getting to grips with the space now. I’m exploring which Hampton Court details can stay – how small I can be. Generally, I think it's good for a play to be jiggled about, and several weeks into the run was probably a pertinent point for Measure for Measure to change venue. I heard another more sombre level of the play and re-focused on the intense ‘thriller’ aspects of it, which can be easy to forget amongst the laughter at the Globe. It felt like coming back to the core of the story.
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.