This is Meredith's fifth blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard III in which she discusses tech week and working with a different director, amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
Phyllida has now taken Barry's place as Master of Play and the change has obviously had a massive effect on the rehearsal process, as interpretations are so individual and directors can have very different visions for the same play. We’d worked with Barry for two weeks before he had to go and that's a lot of time missed, though it's great that Phyllida has been able to come and direct. Certainly it's not a normal rehearsal process: everyone's had to just muck in and start afresh. I’ve found that's been quite hard to do in terms of letting go of the ideas which I’d started to build Lucentio's character on. My instinct was that he was a naïve lover and that humour was in that and truth was in that, but that's not how Phyllida sees him. She's concerned about playing a vulnerable man as a woman – how perhaps that wouldn’t be believable. The goal is to be believable as a man. We’ve done some experiments with a very macho Lucentio as well as exploring the master/ servant relationship between Lucentio and Tranio, and although I’m not sure Lucentio is a ‘macho’ man as such, the master/servant work has helped me to work on the possibilities for this aspect of his character. Phyllida is fantastic at experimenting and at the Globe you get such a long run: any initial conflict between what you’re being asked to do and your instinctive feelings about a character can be worked out as the run progresses. There isn’t a lot of time left for rehearsal even though we’re working almost double hours, from eight in the morning until nine at night, and so sometimes you say ‘yes, yes, yes. I’ll do that’ for the sake of the show, where under normal circumstances there would be more time to explore different interpretations. The macho stereotype interlinks with the notion of Lucentio as sensitive – you start to find that people only act in a macho way because they’re completely vulnerable and insecure.
Playing a Male Character
I remember wondering about how playing a man might be different. I didn’t think I’d have trouble making that leap but we’ve been concentrating on that difference in more detail with Phyllida. For example, how you physically hold yourself when you feel upset – instead of shrinking men often take up more space, sitting further back in a chair rather than curling in at the shoulders. There are lots of moments like that where awkwardness and a ‘macho’ stereotype could interlink, so I’m starting to see ways that could apply to Lucentio. Marcello [Magne] came in one day to work with us and we continued looking at difference: he was really funny, making an example out of the instruction ‘pick up that water bottle’ – a man might go straight over and pick it up, while a woman might multitask ‘I’ve got to put that in my bag, then do this, then pick up the water bottle’. These are very general stereotypes and I think we’ve looked at that option more with Phyllida, it's essential for production of The Taming of the Shrew which we’ve got now. There's an element of satire: we send men up a bit, and when you’ve got a play that deals with female obedience staged by an all-female cast, it does lend itself to that sort of take. The last scene in particular when we’re betting on the women, and finally it's the shrew who comes when her husband calls, then the catfight between Katherine and the widow, well, there's a great freedom in having an all-female cast. You can get away with a lot in terms of sending it up. Though Phyllida is keen that Lucentio is quite a straight character, in love with Bianca, I find sometimes comedy is very tempting. I’d like to see what Lucentio is like when he really goes for it!
When I first read the play I pictured Lucentio as the archetype of a lover in the context of the commedia dell’arte: a lover with his head in the clouds, a light-footed man who no sooner sees something than wants it, then sees something else and changes his mind. In the opening lines of act one, Lucentio decides to study:
Here let us breathe, and haply institute
A course of learning and ingenious studies
then quick as a flash decides that actually he's in love and will disguise himself as a teacher and pretend he’d killed a man in order to get access to Bianca. I’m not sure if this is as straight as we’re playing it at the moment – he's a serious young man, but there's humour there too. In this production I’m definitely Tranio's foil.
Tranio has been Lucentio's servant for many years. He was raised by my father so servant-master relationship between us is unusual. I’m one hundred percent dependent on Tranio not only to carry my bags but also to help me make decisions. Amanda [Harris], Phyllida and I discussed this and we all agreed that the boundary between these characters is blurred. We decided that in Lucentio's very first speeches he must impress his authority and establish some sort of hierarchy in this relationship because after Act I scene1 he's disguised as the teacher and Tranio takes his place as a young gentleman. Though they’re frequently onstage together in the same groups of people, they don’t get a chance to communicate outside their disguises so we had to find another way to remind the audience of the master-servant relationship that underpins their role play as gentleman and tutor. We decided to use the green costume as a kind of marker – Lucentio came on in it and spoke his ‘master’ speeches then at different points showed flashes of it beneath the tutor's robe. Shakespeare uses clothes as markers in a similar way when Tranio takes Lucentio's cloak and hat (I.1.205), we watch him putting on a role as he outs on the costume. At the same time Tranio really enjoys his new status as master so we have to be careful that the disguises don’t completely drown out their underlying relationship.
Disguise adds more difficulty to a complicated subplot and Phyllida has been fantastic in stressing that our priority is to tell the story cleanly and clearly. I mean, that's where Shakespeare is great. Just by telling his story in The Taming of the Shrew, you get the comedy coming through, and we’ve got limited time so I really think this is a good idea. We learnt a lot about the power of the story when Kathryn was ill and couldn’t perform. Liza [Hayden] who was originally playing Biondello has been brilliant. The Globe doesn’t have understudies in the same way as other theatres; instead you go on with a book, and the other actors help get you into the right place at the right time. The way Liza read the text was absolutely amazing – and the audience laughed in the same places because the power of the story carries everyone along.
If you try to stick true to the character Shakespeare wrote then it's pretty hard to go wrong. I think the problem with Lucentio is that his character doesn’t really change. His speeches almost frame the play. At the beginning he says he will study, and at the end he invites everyone to his home ‘Feast with the best, and welcome to my house’ V.2.8. In terms of character not much has altered. When he first looked at Bianca he was quick to impose his ideal on her as Katherine's opposite:
But in the other's silence I do see
Maid's mild behaviour and sobriety
Perhaps Lucentio comes to Padua to fall in love rather than to study. He shares Petruccio's ideas about how a woman should behave but is less aware of Bianca as a woman with her own mind… at the beginning he interprets her silent appearance in his own terms. When he bets on Bianca, he still has quite a simplified idea of their relationship – of course she’ll come when he calls. Reality starts to kick in when she sends word ‘she is busy and cannot come’. Other comedies end with the characters leaving to celebrate a marriage, but The Taming of the Shrew goes beyond this point. Lucentio starts to realise that the journey he believes has ended with his marriage is actually just a beginning, whereas Petruccio's character definitely changes and falls in love with Katherine. In our production it feels like Bianca and Lucentio keep a sort of immaturity about them. They married without understanding each other; he's been quick to impose his ideal on a pretty woman and she's found an attractive alternative to old Hortensio. Laura had to make decisions about whether she was actually in love with Lucentio, or was she desperate to avoid marrying Hortensio, or perhaps she was a flirt? Whatever Lucentio feels as love, he completely feels for Bianca. It's interesting to ask ‘why did she pick him?’ He has moments of doubt about the marriage:
I may and will, if she be so contented.
She will be pleased, then wherefore should I doubt?
There is that instant of uncertainty – is he doubting whether she will marry him, or whether he should marry her? I keep changing the way I do the lines because I haven’t decided yet. I like the possibility that he has questions that are very relevant for today – ‘is all this going too fast?’, ‘what about her family?’ etc. – alongside the alpha male stereotype.
We had our tech week in the middle of the heat wave. Spending the hottest day of the year in costumes lined with horse hair was just utter, utter hell. I can’t begin to describe it. Whereas Richard III was more complete for tech week, we had much less of an idea about where we were going with The Taming of the Shrew, so our first show was really our proper dress rehearsal. If we hadn’t already had the experience of Richard III on the Globe stage, we would never have been able to produce what we’ve come up with here. Everyone adapted so quickly because of having that experience and though obviously we had to get used to the stage with a different production, things went smoothly. Phyllida has been amazing. Armageddon could have hit us and she would’ve stayed calm, and that ability to keep your cool really affects the whole company. Still, the nerves on first night… it was unbelievable that we were opening. You have to be very practical about it and think ‘I just need to tell this story’. We had a great time in the end, and a lot of that is due to the audience. They’re different from an audience anywhere else, in that they work as hard as we do – it's the imagination they use in that space [the Globe] which is just incredible. We knew they’d catch us if we fell – you’re in safe hands at the Globe and that gives you confidence. I’m enjoying trying out things as the run goes on, like how to physically get closer to the girl I love, and how lines sound delivered in a slightly different way – what it's like to really think that you’ve killed somebody, for example. Nothing massive, nothing major though. Now we’re relatively comfortable with the production but I’m sure Lucentio, like Lady Anne, will change a lot as the season continues because we’ll get to know how far we can take things in that massive space. Next week I’ll be getting back to Lady Anne for Richard III.
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.