This is Melanie's fourth blog entry for the 2004 production of Romeo and Juliet, in which she talks about technical rehearsals, previews and the Globe audiences, amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
It's been difficult catching up with you over the last couple of weeks because my back was bad and then I had sinus trouble. I’ve been on antibiotics and vocally I haven’t been feeling on top form. Over these last two performances my voice felt right for the first time since about the third preview – feeling under the weather for the second half of the previews and Press Night was a nightmare. Anyway, we did the run I talked about last time and then we had our technical rehearsal. On the first day I put Lady Capulet's dress on and I thought ‘This is never going to happen. I’ll never be able to move in this!’ I never imagined it would be as comfortable as it is now. We also went for white make-up which was quite a strong character choice. I look quite severe if I expose my forehead – especially as we’re used to floppy fringes – but that look is exactly right for her, I think. It was a real shock to sit in front of a mirror and have the make-up put on for the first time: I watched this creature appear! She really does emerge before your eyes as the layers of clothing and the hair and make-up get sorted out.
I was quite surprised at how complicated the technical rehearsal was, and how tiring. You would think because there's less technology in terms of lighting, sound equipment, and set that the process would be simplified. Instead there are complex costume changes. Nothing prepares you for the sheer amount of work it takes to get you into a costume – the lacing and pointing and stitching and pinning. At that point I was so badly regretting that I had suggested Lady Capulet should have a costume change! [Melanie changes for IV.2 and changes back for V.3] Some other things changed during the tech as well; for instance, I decided that Lady Capulet's response to the bodies in the tomb [V.3] should be hysterical laughter that becomes a cry. The implications of that discovery are so huge that her reaction should communicate shock and disbelief as well as grief.
First Preview: Movement
The thing that I was most frightened of was that I would be frightened, but I wasn’t nervous – I haven’t been nervous. I went out onstage and it was like hitting a warm wall; it was incredibly exciting. Since then, it's been a case of getting to know the space and playing across it, which has been great because I love playing distances. I think we’ve generally opened up in terms of movement. Glynn [MacDonald, Master of Movement] gave me a fantastic note after the first preview actually: it just said ‘Remember the small steps: the Queen’. When you first get out onto the stage, it seems so big and in the first preview I really strode around. Of course, that's to do with finding a comfort zone – striding around helps you to feel rooted and grounded onstage when you feel like you’re in danger of being swept up to the top of the building! Now I take much smaller, quicker steps. When you do that, your weight is in a different place – around your belly-button rather than your legs. If you let all your weight go down into your legs, you get a swinging movement which looks off-balance; that would be wrong for Lady Capulet. She has to respond rapidly to situations which are constantly changing and her movement should reflect that. I’m much happier with the way she moves now. Glynn nailed exactly what was the matter. So that was something good that came out of the first preview.
First Preview: Still
Vocally, I was very happy in the space at first. I felt like my voice was there to draw on but then this cold screwed up my support: I became aware that I was taking breaths where I wasn’t taking breaths before, which makes everything more of an effort. I hate not being able to draw on every note in the range.
One of the most interesting things for me during the previews has been discovering how still you can be. This space encourages you to animate and that's a danger – at least it's a danger for an actor like me who tends to animate. The answer is not to play ‘small’ but to be brave enough to be still: to be completely still, and also to turn your back. At the Globe, you feel like you’re being drawn out all the time – I was talking about this to Yolanda [Vazquez, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing] the other day and she felt the same way. By being still and occasionally turning your back, you can pull the focus back rather than get drawn out into the space and the audience. For instance, there's a bit in Act IV, scene 2, when Juliet comes back from Friar Lawrence and she says she's learnt to repent the sin of disobedience [IV.2.17-8]: that's a very complicated moment for Lady Capulet because she's feeling so many conflicting things just then. What I do now is to take that moment away; I turn my back on Juliet and Capulet because I don’t want them to see my reaction. That's a very exciting thing to do at the Globe because all of a sudden you’re playing to a very small number of people in the audience who are suddenly quite intimately connected with you in a way that nobody else can see. It's lovely to find out things like that about the space.
Bill [Stewart, Lord Capulet] does something with stillness in Act three, scene five, which I think is just fantastic: he takes Kananu [Kirimi, Juliet] downstage when he warns her not to cross him ‘Look to’t, think on’t. I do not use to jest’ [III.5.190] – he embraces her and he stops the show. There is a moment of complete stillness and it's amazing because there are the four of us just held there, and he doesn’t hold it for a nanosecond too long. The timing is perfect. Sound and fury are all well and good: easy, exhilarating and enjoyable to play on this stage, but stillness is something else. I mean, I can say this when I’ve got relatively few lines, so I can be as still as I like when everyone else is talking! I don’t really have enough text to play around with it a great deal, but stillness and silence are things I need to keep thinking about.
I think this space is very conscious of its own theatricality and I love that – I love theatrical. That's probably something to do with personal taste, but it would be pretty useless if you tried to play completely naturalistically at the Globe: it's a space that suits hyper-reality. I like to think about the play as a work in progress; as we learn more about what suits the space, it will develop. The thing that I’m really looking forward to is the move from here [the Globe] to Hampton Court Palace, a hall that seats three hundred people. That's going to be a real challenge. I think there will be a screen at one end and a long narrow thrust stage, narrower than we’re used to here. There will be fewer people seated along the sides. Also the audience won’t be sat on so many different levels. The different space will force us to take another look at what we’ve been doing: we’ll have to be inventive then we’ll come back to the Globe and see how much of that is transferable. The change of venue is smack in the middle of the whole run and that's perfect. At the Globe, there's a tension between the theatricality of the language, the theatricality of the tragedy and theatricality of the space; we’ll have to distil that for a smaller space and then move back out again when we come back here. Technically, in terms of voice and movement as much as anything else, that move to (and from) Hampton Court Palace is going to be enormously challenging.
The change in venue might mean we have to project less, vocally. I know when I’m too quiet but I’m not as good at judging when I’m doing more than I need to with my voice. That's to do with finding a comfort zone again. You err on the side of caution. It's very good to feel your support going like a bellows and you’re producing a good sound – also, because there's no roof at the Globe, you think ‘Well, I can’t really over-project…’ but it will be good to have another look at things like that in light of Hampton Court Palace.
Some of my friends have come to see the play but I don’t go out and seek people's thoughts. There are a small number of people who I’ve worked with and who know me very well whose opinions I might ask – ‘Did you notice in that scene I was trying for such-and-such, did it read?’ and they’ll perhaps say ‘No, I didn’t get that actually, but perhaps if you did that…’ They don’t give unsolicited notes – there's a kind of etiquette about that sort of thing. If somebody asks you ‘Is there anything you want to say?’ then okay, there's an opportunity… but I think the point is that you yourself know if something is or isn’t working. If you’re worried about what you’re doing then you go round soliciting and that just makes it worse. I haven’t been worried: I’m saying ‘This is what I’m doing, hope you like it.’
The feedback we’ve been getting from the audience hasn’t really varied at all. On the one hand, that's good – it's so positive – but on the other hand that could become a problem. It sounds strange, but if the audience is so supportive every single night and we always go out to great cheers, then there's the danger that we’ll forget that the play is a work in progress. You have to constantly try and make the performance better, otherwise there's no point and things would get dull! A very, very supportive audience can take the edge off your drive to push things further. I suppose the danger is to mine the comedy at the expense of the complexity. I’m a great believer in offering audiences something that they have to make their minds up about; ‘I thought she was a kind person but maybe she's not…’ Contradictions are most interesting because they make you think. Every night I monitor how long the show runs because I think that's a measure of what's been going on: if we hit the right time, then things have gone well. We’ve pushed on and given the play the attack it needs. Mostly we’ve been very good: it [the play] seems to come in between two hours twenty-five minutes and two hours twenty-nine. There was one show where we put on seven minutes; I don’t know what was going on there – I think it was at the end of a run of performances and everyone was just shattered. We’re back on time now, I’m pleased to say. Everyone had a bit of a break whilst Measure for Measure opened.
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.