This is Kanunu's seventh blog entry for the 2004 production of Romeo and Juliet, in which she talks about preparing for a performance, continual changes to the production, and original pronunciation.
Transcript of Podcast
We’re well into the run now and the play has settled. For a while after we opened, I went onstage with specific ideas and I tried to focus on these during the performance – for example, it might be the fact that Juliet wants to escape from Verona, or those points in the play when she doesn’t know what's going to happen next. I was doing a lot of work in my head. Recently I’ve become more relaxed. Points of concentration are interesting in their own right, but they're also valuable because it somehow lets everything else come more naturally. That might sound strange, but it's quite like the games we played during rehearsals, in that you concentrate on a specific task or goal and because you’re focusing on that, other things grow without your searching for them too consciously. The focus of the game – interrupting someone, moving objects around the rehearsal room, or whatever – helps you to relax.
I don’t have a routine that I go through before each performance that helps me get into character. Who knows? Maybe I’ll have one by September. Right now my preparation varies from day to day, depending on whether I need to calm down or wake up a bit. It generally involves a physical and vocal warm-up. We play yard ball or badminton in the theatre, then I’ll do some vocal exercises. I’m not very good at yard ball, so it's usually badminton for me! We get into our costumes at particular times because there are lots of people whom the dressers to help - the clothes need a lot of tying and lacing and buttoning - so that it all has to be co-coordinated. There are also particular times when people get their wigs done. Normally I come in about an hour and a half before a performance starts.
The performance is continues to change during the run. I’m enjoying the first balcony scene [II.2] a lot at the moment. It seems to be shifting away from comedy towards something more serious. I think there's just so much in it, and it's nice that we’re continuing to uncover things during the run. The balcony scene is the first time Romeo and Juliet properly meet and talk to each other. She sees he's there and she has such strong feelings for him, but there is also the very real danger that he could be killed. In the last couple of days, I’ve remembered that they are in a dangerous position right from the beginning. Also, even when you’re very much in love with someone (maybe especially when you’re in love with someone), you worry about what they think of you… that might not necessarily be serious from the audience's point of view, but it's still something that Juliet would consider. So the scene has got more serious for me; the comedy feels a bit more balanced against Juliet's anxiety.
The death scene [V.3] is slightly different too. Until recently I played that I discovered Romeo dead, then I talk to him all the way through the speech ‘What's here? A cup, closed in my true love's hand?’ [V.3.161]. It didn’t feel quite right. I think that an actor's relationship with the audience at the Globe is like a relationship with another character… there's so much to investigate there, and my feeling that I had become a bit too private in the death scene was very much connected to that. Just recently I have been looking out to the audience at different moments in that speech, which seems right. That's the tricky thing: being intimate and heartfelt and yet open. That is hard sometimes but it seems to be what Shakespeare intended for that moment.
Another bit that has changed slightly is when Lady Capulet comes in just after Romeo has left and she thinks I’m upset about Tybalt [III.5]. I say of Romeo: ‘villain and he be many miles asunder.’ I used to address that to my mother or mutter it to myself, but I’ve decided to give that out to the audience, too. I’m not sure if that will stay or not, but I’ve tried a change. It seems Juliet is thinking so many different things at the same time and she wants to talk, to say the truth. She is unable to share the truth with her mother, so made sense for the audience to become her friends and allies at that point.
Overall, the play seems to be changing in lots of little ways; there have been any major changes. It's more to do with fine-tuning and finding something that feels right. The scene where Romeo leaves me [III.5] keeps changing and, once again, that's to do with trying to keep the right balance between light and dark. Sometimes it feels light, ‘Oh are you going? But it's not day yet!?’ I’m trying to keep things light and cheer him up by pretending that everything's fine. Then at other times I think, ‘Are you going? It's terrible!’ and I’m very upset. So it changes from day to day whether I’m trying to keep positive by ignoring the situation, or whether I just go with it and show that I’m very upset.
Ideally, relationships between characters in the play should be like relationships between people in normal life - especially the ways in which they react to each other. Everyone also feels very different day to day; the way I play a situation might change slightly according to my mood. That's an interesting question – do you think ‘Right, I feel like this, I’m going to do it this way’ and then go on and do that? Or do you just go out and see what happens. If you choose the latter, then your mood is going to affect the way you play. Personally, I think the outcome is best when you don’t know what's going to happen and you just respond to people, but sometimes something's will stick in your mind so strongly that you do take it with you. You realise ‘I’ve planned; I was planning just then.’ Sometimes I try not to think about anything, but my mind is quite full of things so that's harder than it sounds!
We’ve started rehearsals for the performances in original pronunciation, which is exciting and quite funny. The idea is that we’ll do three performances following the pronunciation of Shakespeare's time. David Crystal [Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor] has produced a phonetic script, with the spelling is altered to represent the sounds of the words as they would have been spoken in Early Modern England. He's also made us a tape of the entire play. We rehearse by listening to the tape, then working through the script with Charmian [Hoare], our dialect coach. She's encouraging us to think the way David said specific things – ‘Per-fec-shee-on’ for ‘per-fek-tion’ [II.2.45] and so on – but she wants us to keep our own accents so it doesn’t sound like we’re doing a completely different voice. I’m using my own Scottish accent and I really like saying ‘Mi only love sprung from mi only hate’ [I.5.138]! Some lines actually sound more natural than they do in RP [Received Pronunciation]. Other words just sound very strange! There wasn’t the same pressure to conform to a particular kind of accent then; we drop –g so I say ‘Tis almost mornin’ rather than ‘morning’ [II.2.176], but there weren’t class connotations attendant on that in Early Modern England. I also found it very interesting to hear about how David worked out the pronunciation: when I heard we wear doing OP performances, I just wondered ‘How do they know?’ Obviously, in an era before sound recordings, no one knows for certain how people spoke, so they have to make educated guesses based on the evidence that does exist. David explained that he looked at rhyme schemes, the rhythms of the lines, and wordplay in puns amongst other things. There are some contemporary accounts [e.g. John Hart's Orthographie, 1569] that explain how Elizabethan English sounded.
My Original Pronunciation Accent
It's getting there, I think. It keeps on swaying from Northern Irish to an odd West Country lilt, and sometimes Geordie. It's a mixture of all sorts, actually; I’ve never heard anything like the OP accent on the tape before, so I find myself grabbing onto pieces of accents that I have heard. When you do that, things get a bit messed up because you’re trying to speak so many accents at once. There's a lot of Scottish in there too, because that's my own accent.
From what David Crystal has said about the quite casual way Elizabethans might have pronounced some words, the OP accent should make the play quicker. They dropped some letters (like I said about the –g) and elided other sounds together. They weren't as ‘proper’ about saying words, if you compare Early Modern English to a modern RP accent. I suppose that might change which words we stress in a line… it’ll be interesting to find out. In theory, the play could change a lot because everyone is talking in different voices... I don’t think it will change too drastically though. People will still get involved with the story, I hope. At the beginning, there might be some laughter at the strangeness of our voices, but the accents aren't going to turn us into caricatures and I don’t think people will respond to it as such.
At the moment I’m just trying to figure out what the differences are between my accent and this [OP] accent – I’m just trying to get a feeling for it. Perhaps the hardest thing will be communicating the meaning of the lines as well as concentrating on the special differences that make up an OP accent. I’ll have to think ‘What do I mean?’ and ‘How do I say it?’ That might be tricky. I'll have to keep working at it!
To be honest, May until September seems like a long run but time is going so fast. I can’t believe that the Original Pronunciation is at the end of June, and that's not too far off. I suppose there's the Original Pronunciation, then we’re going to Hampton Court Palace -it seems like we've got a lot of things to do. Also, we have a week off whilst Measure for Measure is opening, so it really does break it up. Also, every show feels different and perhaps that's to do with the kind of theatre this is... in amongst all that, I don't think getting stale or bored will be a problem!
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.