This is Melanie's fifth blog entry for the 2004 production of Romeo and Juliet, in which she talks about midnight matinees, Original Pronunciation and challenges faced this week, amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
We’ve done lots of shows and we’ve done Original Pronunciation [OP] and now we’re rehearsing for the performances at Hampton Court Palace. It all feels quite busy which is good. I’m looking forward to Hampton Court. Our rehearsals for that space are bringing the company back together. Generally, we have stuck together very well as a Company, and going back into the rehearsal room reinforces that closeness.
Performing at Midnight
I have to say, the romance of the midnight matinee was lost on me! I only woke up at three o’clock, after it was all over – that meant I enjoyed afterwards very much but I found the performance quite a trial, simply because it's difficult to be at your best at that hour of the night. The show was fine, but it did feel a bit stodgy. We put time on, inevitably, but I don’t think people came to the midnight matinee to see the best performance they could possibly see. I think they came for the atmosphere, and the experience of doing something quite special.
The audience was very attentive, very on the ball, but I didn’t find performing easy... It was quite weird getting in to the building at quarter past ten at night, and throughout the first half I thought ‘I’ve just got to go to sleep.’ I’d slept at the wrong time – late in the afternoon rather than early in the afternoon. I think it would be rather fantastic for the show to go up at two in the morning so that we finished at dawn instead of three in the morning. That would be quite an amazing experience, but there's no way people are going to come to something that starts at two. Playing twelve to three, we were playing in the dark for three hours. I just think it would be wonderful to have the line “A glooming peace this morning with it brings...” [V.3.305] at quarter to five in the morning, as dawn breaks.
We got through Friday's performance [first OP performance] on adrenaline – it felt quite like a first night and we had no idea how the audience would react. The fact that they enjoyed it as much as they did was great, and it gave the whole show an energetic buzz. Saturday wasn't so good, though [second OP performance]: we had rain and helicopters, then OP on top of that. The accent was all over the place. Generally though, I enjoyed the OP work more than I thought I would. I was very struck by the number of voices that it freed up. One heard voices that were much more ‘owned’, but, in the final instance, I didn't rehearse the character in OP and, in terms of building up a character, the way that a person sounds and speaks is as important as any of their other aspects. In that sense, Original Pronunciation was something of an imposition on top of work we’d already done.
I talked to Charmian [Hoare, Dialect Coach] about the class connotations of the accent and, from the point of view of Lady Capulet, I didn’t think it presented me with any problems or status issues. She just sounded different. The accent works more successfully with some characters than others. I think John [McEnery – Friar Lawrence] really enjoyed it. Bette [Bourne, the Nurse] got much more out of it than he thought he would. Everybody did. The accent reminded me to keep my vowels open and to use the sounds that we’re given.
I felt Original Pronunciation helped me focus on the rhythm of the text – the fact that one breaks up that rhythm at your peril. I think the rhythm should only be disrupted if one intends to do something very cheeky! You have to make an interpretive point with that disruption. There's a scene with Juliet where I have the line “What are you busy, ho? Need you my help?” [IV.3.6] We thought that it would be fun if we anticipated that entrance a little bit and I heard her saying that she had need of many orisons, so that the ‘what’ became “What?!” That completely breaks the line up and it's naughty, but it makes a little point. You should only break up the text if you’ve got a really good reason.
Whilst we were concentrating on original pronunciation, we seemed to cut back on superfluities and that took time off the performances. The fact that this was the case let us know where the problems lie when we do put time on. Distracted by the need to think about the accent, I found it was easier to 'stop acting'. There wasn’t time to worry about superfluous things, so we just cracked on with it, and less is definitely more. Of course, we should be doing that anyway. I just thought ‘Oh great, why is it always the way that, distracted by a practical problem that needs to be solved, it suddenly becomes so much easier to just get on with it?’ Having said that, I’m glad we’re not doing OP for the whole run because we didn’t rehearse it enough for that. We only had twenty-eight days to rehearse. In the time available, Charmian could only fit in two or three hours’ work with each of us individually. We also had a recording produced by David Crystal [Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor] – he read out our phonetic script on tape, which was very helpful – but we only went through the whole play three times as a Company before the performances themselves. The pressure of time meant that learning the OP accent was similar to learning material for television work: one learns it at a certain level of one's brain then two days later you can’t remember a word of it!
Hampton Court Palace
That space is so much smaller and the logic of the stage traffic is very different. I looked at the layout today and I realised there's no way we can replicate what we’ve been playing at the Globe in this space. It would be pointless to try. We need to be quite radical and start doing some very different things, but somehow there's an unwillingness to do that. The atmosphere in rehearsals has been quite unsettled as we’re literally getting a measure of the space. There are also issues that arise from the fact that now we’re effectively playing front-on now. There are people seated at the sides of the stage and of course I’ll be aware of them, but there are so few people sat here that you can’t ‘play the circle’ in the same way that you can at the Globe. It just wouldn’t happen. The back row of the rake at Hampton Court is a long way away too… we’ll need to address that sort of thing over the next few days. We’ll obviously deal with issues like that when we arrive at Hampton Court on Tuesday (for our technical rehearsal and our first performance). I think Tuesday's going to be a very stressful day and it would be nice to have more time. During the tech, we’ll have to re-shuffle quick changes and so on. The dressers have only got an hour to become completely familiar with a brand new set up; it's their skill and familiarity that enables us to change quickly. I imagine that it will be tricky to get the technical things right in that space of time.
Rehearsals: Challenge for the Week
In terms of these re-rehearsals, we’ve got to think about performances that are smaller, subtler and more intense, with more energy. I’ve been thinking about the audience-relationship. This is something that affects me less than quite a lot of other characters but there is one moment where I come right down centre stage at the Globe, after the fight [‘I beg for justice, which thou Prince must give’ III.1] and that's not going to work at Hampton Court at all. All of these challenges are really opportunities; halfway through the run, we get to muck around and experiment with the show but we’re not going know what the result will be until we arrive at Hampton Court. It's a shame that we don’t have another day to rehearse… what will probably happen is we’ll get the measure of the space by the end of the week and then we’ll go home! But I’ve toured enough to know that's just the way things happen.
I think it will be good for it when the show returns to the Globe. Playing at Hampton Court should connect us afresh within the playing of the scenes, but I do think there's a logic to this new space which we haven’t cracked yet. I did Act one, scene three, with Kananu [Kirimi, Juliet] and Bette [Bourne, the Nurse] today and I don’t think we connected up to the space. The big difference is that this space is a domestic one. We are now inside [the stage at Hampton Court Palace is in the Great Hall]. I was struck by how little of the space we utilised. It's not a case of moving around more in a smaller space: you still have to place things. Perhaps in a smaller space, you can be more fluid…
Over the next few days, we will have a chance to run properly and review some of the set-pieces we’ve been looking at. I keep returning to the fact that these performances will be indoors, and the impact that will have. I expect I’ll do some things quite differently, whilst keeping the same essence. That will be tricky; Lady Capulet demonstrates a lot with relatively few words because she's in an environment where she has been shut down vocally. You know, she's become one of those women who communicate a lot in what seems to be a suppressed way - actually there's a whole floor-show going on. And then at the end of the play she just shuts down: that's it, no more floor-show, because there's no reason to have a floor-show any more. The difficulty will be finding those different levels in a smaller space. That is my challenge for the week.
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.