This is Melanie's third blog entry for the 2004 production of Romeo and Juliet, in which she talks about the first run, continued rehearsals and changes being made to the production along the way.
Transcript of Podcast
I’m very aware that in just under an hour and a half we’re going to do our first run of the play and so it's quite a big day. I’ve spent the last couple of days thinking ‘What do I want to try and get out of it and what is it important that I do with it?’ When I woke up this morning, I thought ‘I haven’t got a clue’. It's a crucial moment, it really is, the first time you get to connect all the scenes in a run – to go boom boom boom, A B C D… and actually find your way through to the end of the play. When you get caught up in the journey of a scene you can forget about the journey of the play, and when you’re reminded of the journey of the play, hopefully things will start to balance out. You realise that you don’t have to hit a particular moment quite so hard at such and such a point because actually it's more important that it comes from this point over here instead. We’ll start fine-tuning. Basically, I’m looking forward to seeing it and being reminded of what it's all about, to just get a chance to see the whole play again.
We’ve been running acts until recently. We’ve done quite a lot of that, but in the last week or so we’ve been working specific scenes; it feels like quite a while since there's been any kind of run. I think a run-through is an opportunity to look at the play from further away, to get a sense of the broader perspective, so to run the whole thing will be very useful. It's difficult at the moment – it's difficult stuff and I’m at the stage in rehearsals where I’m feeling that every choice I’ve made is wrong and all of it is false, which is rather ghastly. In a way that feeling might be productive during this afternoon's run; I don’t feel like I have much to lose, so I might try to experiment with a few things. I’ve been thinking especially about the way Lady Capulet might just look at people. But I’m always interested to push something to the extreme, and I’m not afraid to risk an element of the grotesque as part of that. I’ve been trying to push it in rehearsal, but putting the play together is a different matter. If you find something that's quite extreme, how do you retain the essence whilst tempering the actual performance so that single extreme moment becomes part of the whole play? If you work from the outside in, one of the pitfalls is that you could end up demonstrating extremity without the essence. Watching how other people get a truthful performance is always one of the interesting things in rehearsal. Bette [Bourne, the Nurse] and I were talking yesterday morning about authenticity and I think doubts about that are just something that you just have to go through.
Yesterday we worked on Act three, scene one. We haven’t done that scene for a little while but I’m so sick of what I do at that point. I recover from the shock of Tybalt's death and become very dominating and aggressive; Bill [Stewart, Lord Capulet] has to restrain me when I challenge the Prince's decision to banish Romeo. I am bored of doing it this way. It's a phase... I’ll probably decide to do it like this, but it comes very easily. I suppose I’ve gotten frustrated with my inability. Everyone can get comfortable doing a particular bit of the play and I know that the audience won’t have seen me do that scene before... in one sense, the fact that the scene is coming easily could be taken as a good thing, but I’m only interested in pushing this woman's life into an ever-expanding area. One interesting thing that did come up yesterday was the Prince's reaction to Lady Capulet's demands that ‘Romeo must not live’ [III.1.181]. Joel [Trill, Prince Escalus] came back at me when I challenged him. Metaphorically speaking, he punched his own weight and my response was to completely concede. I felt ‘I must be quiet’, which I’d never felt in the Prince's presence before. As soon as he’d gone offstage, I felt an absolute need to get the Montagues: I wanted to fly at them. After that, I thought it would be great for Lady Capulet to have a different kind of control in the scene. Instead of dominating it with an extreme emotional energy, perhaps she could be more suppressed and contained… I would like to play around with that. It's difficult because there's a very limited amount of text to work on and for the first couple of lines she's in shock.
In a way, parts with fewer lines are more difficult. I spoke with a somebody last night who mentioned that Lady Capulet was not a very good part, but I don’t understand that point of view at all. I think he must have meant that she doesn’t have as many lines as some of the other characters. Of course, a part doesn’t need to involve a lot of text to be challenging; Lady Capulet is onstage a lot without any lines so I have to make her silence truthful. I’m constantly trying to extend the life of this character. I want her to have a variety of response but I don’t want to over-invest the text that I do have – this is where you can get stuck if a character doesn’t have much text – and the lightness of touch that achieves a perfect balance is a real skill.
I always try to answer the question: ‘Why am I not speaking?’ I think you have to have trust that a writer with Shakespeare's incredible skill is informing the characters with life and response even in their silences (he might not always do so consciously…). We are in trouble if we mistake silence for passivity. Then you’re faced with the problem: how do you activate the junctures between speeches? How do you allow all of that character's response and action to arrive without appearing premeditated?
It will be easier to judge the emotional scale of things after this afternoon. You feel very alive as an actor when you’re emoting, it's terribly seductive. Also, emoting can be quite safe, although I’ve had some moments where I’ve not felt safe, and I’ve not been quite sure where it's going to end up. Letting your intention guide you can feel quite precarious. It's indulging the feeling at the expense of the thought. Funny as it is, for first time in my life I’m not at all pre-occupied with whether what I’m doing is good or not, I’m just pre-occupied with getting on, with working, with keeping working at it. It's hard to let those questions be, but I can’t know so what's the point? All I can do is try to serve this rather under-written woman and try to give her a place in the play that she deserves to have. Using her silences effectively will be integral to that goal. I really hope this frame of mind continues for the next couple of weeks and beyond!
Interaction and chaos
I’ve been told that Act three, scene one looks chaotic. Perhaps it looks that way from the outside, as the households clash over the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, but I’m not aware of any chaos at all. I’m aware of a simple fact... In that scene I take in Benvolio, I take in that the Prince is there, I take in Bill [Stewart, Lord Capulet], and I take in Tybalt, obviously... My interest in the Montagues is really contemptuous. It's weird that I’m not aware of chaos at all. Actually, the scene I have most difficulty with is the death of Juliet, the discovery of the body [V.3]. It's a pivotal scene in which there's conflict between the play's focus and the focus for me within that scene. After Juliet's death, I only have one line in the rest of the play: from the character's point of view, the death of Juliet represents death for Lady Capulet too. Her role as a mother is cancelled out and her function in the narrative is gone. She says
O me! This sight of death is as a bell
That warns my old age to a sepulchre
Then she stops talking. She sees her death in the death of Juliet.
What I hope to achieve in the worst four or five days of this woman's life is a progression: she starts out as a rattled society hostess who's got more on her plate than she knows how to deal with and a situation which will need to be taken care of – Paris's suit – but there's no rush, it's not a big deal. There's been a brawl, but it's not a big deal. Then there's the shock of the murder of Tybalt and I’m finding the different tones and different colours in her response because it would be very easy to play Lady Capulet as a kind of walking cry of grief. It would be very easy to fall into that trap, and the discovery of Juliet is not a scene we’ve cracked yet – it's a mess. It's a difficult scene because there's an awful lot going on. The tone is very difficult and the specifics of it are so enormous for each character. It's almost as if we have to sit down and plot through beat by beat exactly what's happening. You know, I find the bottle [of poison], and the enormity of that is overwhelming. There is a huge difference in scale between the rattled society hostess and mother who realises she has lost her child.
I think there is a tendency in scenes like that [V.3], which can feel so generalised, to light upon something that feels like it makes sense and then just do it. We’re all doing it. And I think we need to resolve the bottle as a moment, because the implications of that moment are enormous. Juliet's death was suicide. She wouldn’t be able to be taken to church and given a proper burial, but that point won’t come across unless it's a focused moment. We just have to decide whether that realisation is important enough to warrant such focus.
Getting this run out of the way is the first thing to do, then we’ll concentrate on working very hard on different bits and pieces. I’m assuming that we’ll have a notes session after this run, so that will be helpful. We’ve been onstage a bit over the last week and that was good, but quite scary. I realised that there really is nowhere to hide. Lady Capulet doesn’t speak directly to the audience; I need to make sure that I don’t alienate them – that connection is something which I very much look forward to exploring.