This is Melanie's first blog entry for the 2004 production of Romeo and Juliet, in which she talks about getting the part of Lady Capulet, initial thoughts about the character, playing the Globe theatre and hopes for the coming weeks of rehearsal.
Transcript of Podcast
Getting the Part
I was actually rather surprised to be offered the part of Lady Capulet because I stopped acting a while ago. I’ve been working with students since then, and I’ve also worked a lot with a dramatist called Howard Barker; he's very interested in heightened language and has written things for me in the past, which was wonderful. So although I hadn’t completely gone away, I hadn’t done things on stage for a while.
I’d always wanted to be an actress; since school that's just what I’d been doing. I took a break because I felt I needed to go and do something completely different, but then I met Tim [Carroll, Master of Play] at Florida University during a workshop in the summer. We chatted and that's sort of why I’m here: one day I suddenly got a call from Tim who said ‘Do you want to come and do this?’ I couldn’t think of anything nicer, though there was a moment when I thought ‘Should I be doing this?’ because the offer really came out of nowhere. But I’d worked so much with my students on Shakespeare and with Howard Barker's Company on heightened language that it made sense to say yes. I couldn’t have wished for a better way back into theatre. There's also a real emphasis on continuing your work as an actor at the Globe, whether that's work on voice or movement or whatever – it's a great opportunity to take another look at the way I work. I suppose the road has been long and winding, but I’m very excited to be here.
Playing BIG and Playing Small
We had a very over-the-top rehearsal on the Friday at the end of our first week. It was so funny – everyone was playing ‘big’ and exaggerating things about their characters. I told Tim not to worry ‘I will get smaller’ – I’ll make it more realistic. He said ‘Oh I don’t want you to be smaller; you can’t be small with this kind of stuff’. I think he's right: the language is very grand and there's so much you can get out of it. But that's slightly different to acting over-the-top. Some people think that because the Globe stage is so vast and open, you have to grab the attention of the people who are watching with big movements and so on. I don’t think this is true: having a big imagination is what matters. As long as you can imagine big on that stage, then you don’t have to act in an over-the-top way.
The stage at the Globe is quite bare – the world of the play is not meant to present a picture exactly like real-life, and Shakespeare's characters do talk in an extraordinary way: they are more articulate than anybody could really be. It's a gift to speak so powerfully and so beautifully; they discover they can use words in ways they never expected. Sometimes they use brand new words that no one had ever used before to express what they feel – Shakespeare had a great imagination and invented his own words if the right one didn’t already exist. His characters communicate in an empowered way: they could be talking quietly or using small actions, but that ‘big’ capacity to use words and language is still there. So in one way the heightened language won’t let you act small with Shakespeare. In another way, this means you can use small movements because the big language underpins everything.
I’m not sure what Lady Capulet will be like yet: I’m exploring the character through rehearsal. I really enjoy Tim's approach to rehearsals. What we normally do is rehearse a scene and then talk about it afterwards, so new ideas keep sparking off ‘Try this, or try this’. He keeps throwing different suggestions in. When I got home last night, I thought ‘Good, an early night’, but my mind was racing with all the ideas that had been filtering through all week. It's very exciting, although a bit nerve-wracking too because anything and everything could change.
Lady Capulet: Getting the Balance Right
I know there's one way I could play Lady Capulet without too much effort, but that would bore me and the audience too. You have to find a balance between the things you naturally bring to a part (the casting director chose you rather than someone else for a reason, after all) and the things you have to work on and discover about a character. I think there's a lot of contradiction in Lady Capulet, for example. She seems quite erratic, especially in her relations with other characters, and I’m interested in exploring that.
Lady Capulet: First Impressions
The ‘fashionable’ view of Lady Capulet seems to be someone who is quite distant and unsympathetic, but I’m interested her as someone more likable. There's a lot of complexity in the part and it would be a mistake to say she is any one thing… that she's mean or that she will be likeable. One of the mistakes in rehearsal is to pursue the consistencies in a character: people are not consistent. You can feel happy and sad at the same time – in just the same way, Lady Capulet doesn’t have to feel or to be just one thing. She doesn’t always have to be mean or horrible in a certain scene; she might be unhappy or uncertain. I haven’t found anything in the text which suggests that she doesn’t love her daughter. I think she does love Juliet. You have to clear away all the other ideas about the character that you might have picked up from watching other productions and go back to what Shakespeare wrote.
The film version of Romeo and Juliet by Baz Luhrmann hints at an improper relationship between Lady Capulet and Tybalt, but there's nothing in the text to support that. I’m very happy to reject that idea. Sometimes ideas that aren’t supported by the text are useful though: an actor builds up ideas about a character and although they might not communicate all this to an audience when they go onstage, the ideas help them to build up a life for their character. Building up background in this way is sometimes called ‘invisible work’: it makes a difference, but the audience might not see it.
Lady Capulet responds to Tybalt's death in a very violent way. Within two lines, she moves from the shock of seeing him dead to the desire for revenge (III.1) and it's important to try and imagine why she reacts like this. She's not just upset, she quickly demands revenge. I think a good explanation is that Tybalt is the only son of Lady Capulet's brother. We know Lady Capulet herself only has a daughter, Juliet, so Tybalt is the last of the Capulet line. Perhaps at that moment, Tybalt represents something else to Lady Capulet: he's not just her nephew – he's also a symbol of her family line, which has now been lost.
Hopes for the Next Five Weeks
Over the next few weeks of rehearsals, I’m hoping that I continue to be open and receptive to new ideas, and that my decisions about the character come from an instinctive sense of rightness rather than reasoning everything out. You know when it's right. Also I hope that my corset won’t be too tight! I’ve got a costume fitting in a minute; when we were practising the jig that will end the performance earlier today, all I could think was ‘Oh my goodness, I’ll have to do this in a corset!’ But I’m an old hand at corset fittings: you go ‘phew’ and blow yourself out like a sumo-wrestler to give yourself a couple of extra inches! I’m also hoping that I get to grips with the space at the Globe, which is so different to anywhere else I’ve performed at. I’ll be able to see the audience, there’ll be pillars to move around, and being in the open air will mean I have to do lots of voice work – it's going to be a very exciting move forward.
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.