This is Kananu's first blog entry for the 2004 production of Romeo and Juliet, where she talks about being back at the Globe, getting the news that was to play Juliet and early rehearsals and preparation for the production, amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
Back at the Globe
I played Miranda at the Globe in 2000, but that feels like a very long time ago. The Tempest was my first big job and I don’t think I had any method whatsoever – I don’t know if I do now [laughs] but I perhaps have different expectations of myself. I actually left drama school early to play Miranda and everything was so new: it's not that I made excuses for myself, but there was more leeway. I felt so lucky to get the part that I didn’t really step back to appreciate how big it was. Since then I’ve done some Shakespeare at other places; to return to the Globe feels good, especially in that there are lots of people in the team who were here last time, but the whole thing definitely feels BIG this time round. You would think after getting more experience you’d be less nervous, but I’m… well, no, not more nervous, but equally so!
Getting the News
Mark [Rylance, Artistic Director at Shakespeare's Globe] approached me about Juliet whilst I was playing Ariel with the RSC. I remember answering my phone in the middle of a busy street, and Mark saying ‘Can you talk now?’ I don’t know what I thought he was calling about, but I wasn’t expecting to be offered anything like the part of Juliet. I was stunned to have such a good part, and at the Globe too – to have the two things together was amazing. I think I went very silent on the phone: Mark asked whether the silence was a good thing and I managed to say ‘Yes, it's VERY good!’
Part of the excitement is the building itself. Sometimes when I go to other theatres with my friends or family, I get a bit apologetic if the plays are hard to understand or people get bored. I don't feel that here because the experience of the place itself is so interesting and special; the theatre gives something to the performance and helps engage people.
First Impressions of Juliet
We’ve only just started rehearsals, but what's really struck me is how much I don’t know about her! Juliet is a young girl in a rich family. Her family seems quite strict (her father certainly doesn’t like being crossed). I’m not sure how we’re going to use the idea that her position is very restricted but that's interesting me at the moment. I’m finding that there are a lot of things I don’t know as Kananu approaching the character of Juliet, and there are lots of things she must not know as Juliet. That came up early this week, when Tom [Burke, Romeo], Tim [Carroll, Master of Play] and I talked about the feast scene (I.5). When Romeo takes Juliet's hand at their first meeting, you could assume that her reaction is ‘Oh, I love you’ straightaway because you know the story already – we anticipate they will fall in love and become the core of a tragedy. But if you’re at a party and someone grabs your hand, you're more likely to be taken aback. You might think they were a bit strange and your first reaction might be to tell them to ‘Get off!’ Juliet doesn’t know what's going to happen next, so I’ve been trying to avoid making assumptions because I know the story… I trying to unclog myself and approach it afresh.
First Day of Rehearsals
It has been fantastic to get started with rehearsals. I’ve obviously read through the play and I've been imagining the Nurse, Romeo, and Lady Capulet, as well as the characters I don’t have scenes with – like Benvolio and Lady Montague. Now I'm hanging out and drinking coffee with the people who have already started to fill in those imagined characters; that's great.
Prior to the Meet and Greet, Mark sent everybody a letter suggesting some things we should aspire to during the season – I particularly liked the idea that eloquence was really a way of speaking that affected people emotionally and helped them to understand a message, because sometimes eloquence gets lumped together with a Received Pronunciation accent. Anyway, the letter and a talk at the Meet and Greet set out what the season will be about: this season is produced in association with the Samaritans, so there was some background emphasising the very modern relevance of Romeo and Juliet's situation. The Samaritans circulated an article about two young lovers who died recently in a suicide pact: a real Romeo and Juliet, which Mark read out to us. It impressed the importance of the issues we’ll be dealing with before we began rehearsals proper.
The Read Through: Cue Scripts
We got through act one on the first day of rehearsals. We’ve been using cue scripts or prompt copies, as they were supposed to have done in Shakespeare's time, which is something I’ve never done before. On my script, I had my own lines and then my cues, which are maybe two lines from the person who speaks before I do, but there's nothing else. Tim wanted to see what would happen spontaneously, so he set us off straightaway without any specific direction, saying ‘there's the stage’ (except we were in the rehearsal room, which has the stage taped out on the floor as well as wooden, moveable pillars).
In retrospect I was probably quite worried about everyone else thinking ‘what's she going to be like?’ but getting immediately to the play meant I didn’t have time to feel to nervous. The cue script was incredibly interesting because when you have an entire script you logically plan what you’ll do as a result of what someone else has said. When you only have your lines and cues, you can’t plan in the same way. You react more spontaneously and sometimes you interrupt other people because you’re not sure if they’ve actually finished speaking their part.
Bette [Bourne, the Nurse] and I certainly found that in I.3; the Nurse is telling the long story about Juliet falling over as a toddler and hitting her head, and how the Nurse's husband joked about falling backwards when she got older. My cue was:
Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit. Wilt thou not, Jule? (I.3)
Those lines are repeated several times in that speech and so I kept trying to speak, but Bette just carried on – I kept thinking ‘ooh – no, not me yet!’ It's as if you suddenly get the right motivation without planning it: as Kananu I was interrupting Bette because I thought it was my turn, but perhaps Juliet would have been trying to interrupt the Nurse's embarrassing baby-story. The exercise definitely highlighted that the repetition of cue lines is purposeful – it's not a case of the cue line being repeated three times and my simply missing it. Whereas before I might have thought ‘Oh I keep on forgetting my cue’, now I think there are repeated cues within that speech for a reason.
I also found myself looking down as if I was referring to a script that wasn’t there, as if I was following what the other person was saying on a blank piece of paper! Gradually I began to listen more carefully instead of relying on looking at the paper in front of me, and that sort of freed things up: I thought that whatever I do will just happen without my worrying about it. The cue scripts probably helped us become more spontaneous.
Interrupting the Nurse
Today Bette and I worked on II.5, when Juliet is trying to find out how the Nurse's meeting with Romeo went, and we developed the idea of interruption. Tim said we had to wait until we had heard as much of the other person's speech before our cue as would allow us to understand what they were saying, but as soon as we felt we had grasped their point, we were meant to interrupt and overlap without letting them finish – like in real life, when you anticipate in conversation ‘Yeah, I know what you mean…’. We got annoyed with each other because we never got to finish what we had to say; in that scene Juliet and the Nurse maybe ARE quite annoyed with each other, so all the expressive non-words and grunts we were using to express our frustration actually made the scene much more realistic. Tim mentioned that one of the things which highlights to the audience that what they’re seeing is not real is when you always wait your turn to speak onstage. I suppose we found that the interruptions made us less polite with each other, which is more realistic if the people speaking are in a close relationship – like Juliet and the Nurse.
The First Week
Rehearsals for me have been quite easy so far – the work itself isn’t easy but the hours are good at the moment. I haven’t been doing nine till five days because Juliet isn’t many of the early scenes and having the afternoons to wander off is nice. Right now time is divided between rehearsals, going through the play in groups, and morning classes with the Masters of Voice, Word and Movement (they’re actually called ‘groups’ rather than classes).
We had a useful group with Giles [Block, Master of Word] the other day: he talked about how the patterns in Shakespeare's verse change. In his early plays, Shakespeare (and Marlowe too) tried to capture speech within the five beat iambic pentameter – he matched characters’ lines and their thought processes very neatly, and the result sounded very grand and powerful and also quite smooth in a way, because of the clear pattern. Giles explained that this changed later on as Shakespeare perhaps saw that people change their minds halfway through what they’re saying, and sometimes their speech is disjointed rather than smooth, which captures more of the spontaneity of actually making a decision. All these things give you clues about your character, but we haven’t actually worked on lines from Romeo and Juliet in these sessions: it's good to give the play a bit of space.
Although I didn’t go into my next rehearsal consciously thinking about line-endings and so on, it's good to have so many people feeding into what you do because it might resurface at a later point. At the moment, this work in relation to the play is just like having nice cutlery as part a really great meal: it helps you, though you’re consciously concentrating on the food! We’re really just getting started.
Group Work with Master of Voice: Water Glasses and Frogs
Today I’ve been working with Mark [Rylance, Master of Voice for Romeo and Juliet]. He was reminding us that when you make any sound it has a physical affect on your body and other peoples’ bodies, because the sound vibrates – like when you go for ultrasound after an injury; the vibrations that help to heal it. So we really tried to think not just about what we communicate when we say a word, but also how we say it. We had to physically fill it as much as possible and enjoy the sound for its own sake: like the word FFRRRRROOGGG, for instance. You wouldn’t go onstage and speak like that, but the work helps strengthen your voice in a way that will be really useful during performance.
We also imagined the words as people dressed in different kinds of clothes – we had to get to know them and make friends with them in order to be able to use them most effectively. Big words, short plosives, long vowels… they became little characters. Imagining a physicality for the sound helps you think about how the sound does affect your body, how you can best use the sound of that word. After working on this for a while, we sat in a circle and Mark put a glass of water in the centre – I kept thinking of the advert where the opera singer breaks a glass with her voice… we’re nowhere near that standard, but just imagining that whenever we spoke we were sending vibrations to the water in the glass helped to really fill the words. It’ll be good to see if we can send out the same vibrations within the architecture of a theatre full of people.
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.