This week Pippa discusses how running the play has helped makes sense of her character, creating a sense of division between Christian and Jewish characters and the role of women in the play.
Transcript of Podcast
The Last Week of Rehearsals
We’ve done a run-through. What the director has done is to go through all of the scenes and get us on our feet. At the end of last week we did a run which went really well and it’s in a good shape. What we’re doing now is re-visiting each scene and putting in extra detail. So we are in a process of layering. The first time we went through the text with a fine tooth comb, getting the basic shape and working out the relationships between people. Then, every time we re-visit a scene, we add more and more layers to texture it. At the end of last week we went back over the scenes in minute detail – plotting in the music and the dances.
Yesterday, we did a run of the first half and currently we’re working on the second half. We’re running that tomorrow, and then the day after we’re planning to do a full run! So now we’re getting the flow of the show.
Running the Show
Because mine and Lorenzo’s story is a sub-plot, we don’t have that many scenes, but a lot is said about us. When you watch a run-through of the whole production, sometimes watching it and hearing it is good because it makes you think about where and what you’re character is up to when the other scenes are happening. I’m aware that my character is away spending lots of money while my father is getting more and more angry about the fact that I’ve stolen his jewels. I’m sure that this feeds his revenge for Antonio. It is only when you see the play as a whole that you really fill in the gaps for your characterisation. It is quite interesting to think that while the trial is going on we’re looking after Portia’s house, so are completely removed from it. As an actor, I guess just seeing an objective view like this is good because it makes you ask ‘what are the audience going to learn about my character before they see me again? How can I take that information into the next scene?’
Playing the Sub-text
To be honest, these last couple of weeks I’ve actually found quite difficult. It will be fine though – its part of my process as an actress. I always reach this point where I start to feel quite insecure –and that’s happening at the moment. I’m just trying to commit totally and utterly to my story and I’m not quite hitting it yet. I’m struggling with what my whole relationship with Lorenzo is. He steals me from my father – obviously I allow him to do that - and brings two friends along who I hear giggling outside making me quite insecure about going and thinking – how does he really feel about me? The text doesn’t give me enough to convey those feelings; it suggests that I’m happy to go along with all this. But when I play it, it feels very different. I start to think, as Jessica, ‘Can I trust this person?’ So the difficulty is how to show this sub-text that I’m feeling to the audience when my words are maybe doing something else.
I’m also finding Act 5 Scene 1 difficult to play. At the moment we’re playing it that we’re out on this beautiful veranda somewhere in the Belmont garden. Lorenzo is trying to get close to Jessica but I’m having none of it because I’m thinking about my father. To portray that when we’ve only got a page of text, is quite challenging. You find that things clash sometimes. So at the moment I’m feeling daunted by how to marry all the different strands of our discoveries from rehearsal together when some of the text doesn’t actually say what I’m feeling. I like that because it makes the character more 3-D, but the practicalities of it – as an artist –are quite challenging. Eventually I think it makes it much more interesting because playing your impulses as an actor, and conveying a sub-text to the audience, embraces all the conflicts. But my panic also comes from the fact that rehearsals are now coming to an end and we’re getting near to tech week. I feel I need more time!
Jewish and Christian Cultures
After our first run-through, the director felt that we needed to highlight more of the anti-Semitic elements of the play, particularly in showing how different the Jewish and Christian cultures are. That Jews were really looked down upon; they were definitely seen as lesser than the Christian community. So when I arrive in Belmont with Lorenzo (Act 3 Scene 2) I am his ‘infidel’. Because I say hardly any thing while I’m there, staging is really important to make Jessica seem isolated. When she goes into Belmont, I think she wants to be accepted into this Christian community – but the first time they see her is with the bad news about Antonio ships. People start looking to her because it’s her father that has caused this pain.
Jessica also walks in on an intensely private moment, so in some ways her entrance couldn’t be more intrusive. At this point all the other characters are kissing and running around and are totally excited because they’ve got the love of their lives. When Jessica enters no one speaks to her until she’s forced to speak:
When I was with him [Shylock], I have heard him swear
To Tubal and to Chus, his countrymen,
That he would rather have Antonio’s flesh
Than twenty times the value of the sum
That he did owe him: and I know my lord,
If law, authority, and power deny not,
It will go hard with poor Antonio.
Portia’s next comment seems to totally ignore what Jessica has said because in some ways she repeats it again saying:
Pay him six thousand, and deface the bond:
Double six thousand, and then treble that,
Before a friend of this description
Shall lose a hair through Bassanio’s fault.
The Christians are very money driven, but for the Shylock the pound of flesh is his right.
Jessica, Portia and the role of Women in the Play
In Act 3 Scene 4 we see Jessica and Portia together. Portia is now married and there’s this exchange between them:
Jes: I wish your ladyship all heart’s content
Por: I thank you for your wish, and am well pleas’d
To wish it back on you: fare you well Jessica.
We’ve suggested that in this interchange Portia does note Jessica and says ‘I am including you in this’. I think it really comes from ‘because I need you to look after this house!’ So we are trying to make a little journey between them of some sort of reconciliation. It is a really interesting moment in the play. The audience want to know what they think of each other and I think myself and Michelle [Duncan, Portia] need to have more discussion about that. It’s a tricky thing to say and it needs to be placed because it is a part of the story.
I think Jessica really admires Portia because she sees this very strong woman running a household. With Bassanio, she sees a man who she hopes is going to treat Portia right because Jessica’s seen him waste lots of money and be quite hedonistic. I think Jessica compares herself a bit with Portia. I also think Jessica thinks that Lorenzo is a bit like Bassanio. It’s like the women are joining together against this set of very rowdy men.
Jessica also feels a slight sense of jealousy towards Portia because I think Lorenzo is taken with her as well. In a little interchange that they have in Act 3 Scene 5 where Lorenzo sees that Jessica isn’t that happy he says:
How cheers’t thou Jessica?
And immediately afterwards doesn’t even wait for her to reply:
And now (good sweet) say thy opinion,
How dost thou like the Lord Bassanio’s wife?
So there’s something interesting to play there. The women in the play are uniquely interesting. In some ways you have three very strong women. With Jessica it’s about finding those moments of strength.
A Happy Ending?
We’ve been looking at the very end of the play. The very last scene (Act 5 Scene 1) is very tricky. On that particular night Jessica isn’t very romantic because she’s thinking about her father and what’s happening to Antonio. She doesn’t know whether Antonio is dead or whether her father has won. If her father has won, what will happen to her? Will she get thrown out of Portia’s house? Also, if Bassanio does come back with Antonio, they’ll be celebrating and if Antonio’s won then something bad is going to happen to Shylock. There is a lot to play. She eventually gets given the deed of gift. The cost has effectively been her father’s life - he’s not dead – but he may as well be as he’s been made Christian. I think there is real sadness there on her part. There is also relief that Lorenzo and her have money to take care of themselves so I think she has mixed feelings at the end of the play. I don’t think it is happy families at all – it can’t be happy families when such serious stuff has just occurred.
Voice and Movement
We had some voice work on stage yesterday. It was great walking out there because it was less intimidating than I remembered it to be. There is the challenge of being heard out there, so we’ve just been working on the real drive of the iambic pentameter – lifting the voice a little higher because my natural resonance is quite low and breathy. I’ve also had a good movement session where we looked at the way that Jessica holds herself and we’re looking out how different her poise might be between her old life and her new life.
The jig is a lot of fun! The girls in the company are a little bit nervous at the moment because we’re all wearing high wedge shoes and big dresses, so it’s a challenge to move in them! It’s making me laugh a lot– I love it!
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.