This is Kanunu's ninth blog entry for the 2004 production of Romeo and Juliet, in which she talks about performing at Hampton Court Palace, the effects of a new setting upon the production and audience reactions at the performance.
Transcript of Podcast
Hampton Court Palace
Time is flying by! I can’t believe that we’re halfway through our run at Hampton Court Palace. We’re here for a week to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare's performances at the palace [during 1603 and 1604, Shakespeare's Company performed seven plays for their patron, King James I and his family]. The Great Hall is an amazing space; it's very grand, full of wood and stained glass. Performing there is very different from playing at the Globe. I didn’t expect such a big difference: we didn’t change very much during the brief rehearsals for Hampton Court, even in terms of blocking. The floor of the rehearsal room was marked up with an outline of the stage and we just went through the play, working out our entrances and exits. There was some re-positioning to do – for instance, there are no pillars at Hampton Court, so people have to sit or stand in different places. Also, the musicians would be unable to run down the little windy staircase from the minstrel's gallery to the stage, so they aren’t onstage with us as much. Those stairs are lovely but you can’t get down them very quickly! I can’t use the minstrel's gallery for the balcony scenes: I would need a slide to get me down fast enough in Act three, scene five! A scaffold has been built for Juliet's balcony, just underneath the minstrel's gallery.
There are three entrances to the Great Hall; one on either side of the stage, and a big walkway right down the middle of the Hall. It's as if you were to enter or exit through the yard at the Globe. Tim [Carroll, Master of Play] compared that walkway to the tunnel at Old Trafford… the stage does feel a long way away and there is a lot of running about! The other day I made my exit after the line ‘Hie to high fortune! Honest Nurse, farewell.’ [II.5.78] and I found myself tearing down the walkway: I was going the wrong way and it was too late to turn around, so I just kept going. That was a bit like running out of a stadium. Especially during the first show, I had to keep thinking ‘Where do I need to be?’ because of the different exits and entrances. Set has probably been the trickiest thing though. The bed and the tomb come down the long walkway and I feel a bit precarious lying there, holding tight!
Discoveries in a New Space
I’m finding that Romeo and Juliet is like a pattern with lots of different colours in it, and as you set that pattern against different coloured backgrounds, then different colours stand out. Different lines come alive as the images connect to the new space; for instance, when I find out that Romeo has killed Tybalt, I say ‘O, that deceit should dwell/ In such a gorgeous palace!’ [III.2.84-5]. Standing in a gorgeous palace, that line became very clear. Also, I think about the Capulet vault (whilst I’m deciding whether to take the Friar's potion) and I refer to ‘an ancient receptacle/ Where for this many hundred years the bones/ Of all my ancestors are packed’ [IV.3.39-41]. To say that in a huge Hall with the pictures of so many old people in the stained glass is different somehow. Perhaps one becomes increasingly aware of ancestry and the passage of time in that environment. Generally I’ve found that there are lots of moments when the grandeur of the building seems to match the grandeur of the play perfectly.
There are lots of things which come from the space and inform the play. The grandeur made me think about Juliet in a slightly different way. I suddenly realised the wealth of the Capulets. When they throw the party [I.5], the Hall could well be a Hall in our house and the audience are our guests. That led me into a phase of thinking about Juliet as quite self-confident: she's got a gorgeous dress and she from a rich household and she's pretty. She might think she's really quite good! Then I thought ‘Oh, who does she have, really, to talk to?’ She might have beautiful things but she's very isolated; she doesn’t have any friends. Romeo is the only person she has… it is an unusual situation. Another thing that struck me (and it's really obvious, but it hit me again at Hampton Court) was that Romeo and Juliet do not know that their situation will end with suicide. Although she keeps on saying that she’ll kill herself, perhaps she's not really so sure, even when she first sees Romeo dead… of course, at that point she doesn’t have too many options. And at Hampton Court I just imagined people seeing the play for the first time and wondering what was going to happen, ‘What is she going to do? Is she going to marry Paris or what?’ Perhaps when you’re in a space that is so grand and so civilised, then you somehow expect that everything will turn out well in the end.
The audience reaction at Hampton Court has been very different. They were rather quiet on the first night. I think that's because they had come to a huge castle and there are fewer people in an audience than there are at the Globe. The space is so beautiful, it's awe-inspiring. It's also unfamiliar – together, the strangeness and the beauty could be overwhelming. People don’t quite know whether to laugh. There's not the same energy you get at the Globe where everyone's eating and drinking and so many people are standing and everyone's familiar with the process because it happens every week. There's more hush. There are people standing, but not as many as at the Globe, and although the Hall is lit, you can’t really see the people right at the back. Yet some people are very close, practically sat onstage… it's an odd dynamic. At the Globe, you can turn your back on the audience and that's not such a big deal because you’ve got hundreds of people on either side. At Hampton Court, the majority of the audience is in a bank of formal seating straight in front of the stage so you would shut lots of people out if you turned your back. We’re still learning how to be clear, too. The ceiling is very high and, though you want to reach the people at the back, you don’t want to shout because that gets a bit of an echo. It's interesting to try and work these things out as you go along.
There is a makeshift feeling about playing at Hampton Court and I love that. There are no dressing rooms so we’re all just making do, which is fun. You feel like a real player, coming into a space with your play and telling that story as best you can. Shakespeare's Company performed at different venues and it's nice for us to have a go! The people at Hampton Court are so friendly too. Yes, those are probably the best things… and getting the chance to see the play in a slightly different light. I’m looking forward to coming back to the Globe though; we've done so many performances there, it feels like home!
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.