This is Laura's second blog entry for the 2006 production of Titus Andronicus, where she talks about exploring her character, the ups and downs of a week in rehearsals, and doing research for specific parts of the play.
Transcript of Podcast
Exploring my Character
I’m getting a much better picture of Lavinia. She doesn’t speak very much at all even when she can speak but people say things about her at crucial moments – when Bassianus claims her as his wife, when she is given away to Saturninus by her father – she doesn’t have any lines to say. Not even ‘no’ or ‘OK’. Later, when Saturninus is humiliating her in front of everybody,and flirting with Tamora, he asks her if this troubles her and she just says no, since you will only be doing this out of politeness. [Ii, 275-6]. She chooses the words very carefully. So I’ve found that what people say about her is very important.
I always have trouble with the pure, chaste, virginal characters. How do you play those qualities? I’ve been hearing all the time about how wonderful she is – ‘Rome's rich ornament’. How do you ‘be’ Rome's rich ornament? Rome's rich ornament really sticks in my mind. That and things that Titus says to her. Another thing that sticks in my mind, especially now because we’ve just been doing it in rehearsal, is the scene after Bassianus and Lavinia have run off and got married and they then return to Rome. Lavinia needs to appeal to her father because she's shamed him in public, they both have. The guilt would be overwhelming. And she doesn’t say anything again.
Shakespeare and women
At this point in rehearsals, I don’t think Shakespeare liked women. He just left them to whine and they’re either raped or they’re bad. He underwrites women….perhaps he doesn’t really, it just feels like that from where I am now. I don’t just want to be the one who whines, I want to have an opinion here. It has to mean something. For instance, Titus rejects Bassianus's help and says he doesn’t need help from ‘thou and those that have dishonoured me’ [1i,430]. That sticks in my head because my relationship with my father has to be all consuming love, and at this moment we still haven’t had a reconciliation and I don’t know when that comes. I think maybe it doesn’t come until he sees me after the attack. It's love and duty, but mainly love. It's a funny relationship because he's been away at war for 15 years so I haven’t been brought up by him. I’m seventeen, he's been away for most of my life. Marcus, who is Titus's brother, has probably been a father figure to me. But it has to be love, it can’t be based on ‘I don’t know you, now look what's happened to me’, it has to be a wrench from the heart.
The rape of Lavinia
I’ve been ignoring the idea of rehearsing the rape scene, knowing it's horrific. I’ve been nervous, thinking I’m going to have to play this convincingly. I need the audience to see a woman raped. I think that's the main thing and the mutilation is secondary. I was reading about women in Sierra Leone, in so many different places, who are raped and mutilated. That's what happens. They are just forgotten. On one web site, people have written their stories of being raped – sometimes children of fourteen or thirteen. I’m just trying to get under the skin of it. It's horrible. I’m trying to take it on board. Once I get underneath it and I’m playing it again and again and as an actor on stage there will come a point when it becomes second nature. The audience will be seeing it for the first time, but I will be used to performing the sensory feelings – but when you are first trying to access those emotions in the rehearsal room it has to be raw, and you have to really go there. That's the only way I can pretend. We’re going to rehearse that scene tomorrow. We’re at that point now. I’m just nervous because you have to open yourself and your heart out. Once I do it, it will be such a relief. You know that it's in you to go to those extreme places, but I haven’t gone there yet.
Last year in Pericles, I played a character called Marina and she has almost the same scene when she's in the brothel. It comes out differently because she manages to convince everybody not to rape her. She has this amazing gift of making everybody see the good I themselves. But for Marina, if I’d played those moments thinking I have changed people's mind before, and so it's going to be alright this time, it wouldn’t work. I had to play those moments thinking I’m going to be raped. She thinks she's going to be raped and die – it's the same as for Lavinia, she thinks she's going to be raped and die. She sees in Tamora another woman who must surely have the one quality that all the men in Titus Andronicus don’t have – pity. She keeps using the word pity. In that whole pleading scene she's imploring, asking for pity, needing Tamora to find that pity in herself and she doesn’t. The battle is lost. So it's awful.
Lowpoint of the Week
The lowpoint of the week has been looking on the internet last night to research rape and cutting out tongues, and thinking about it. But I mustn’t get too depressed about it. I do know that on the other side of Lavinia's journey there is something quite wonderful. She transcends. All she wants is to die. She would rather die than have these men touch her. Then that right is taken away from her. I was reading last night about rape victims who say they want to die. It could be that awful. For a woman in those times, it's as if everything is taken away from her. In a twisted way, Titus takes rights away from her, he puts words in her mouth which is almost another rape in itself – he's claiming he understands what she is saying. After the rape they concentrate on her, they try to read her signs and the books, but once Titus knows that Chiron and Demetrius raped her, Lavinia disappears. She's no longer important - only revenge is – and they’ve got what they need from her. Her purpose in being alive, to communicate, is now taken away as well. It's horrible. Then it's as if she's able to fly away, and she does. Titus allows her to in the end.
Highpoint of the Week
It was a short week! We had Monday off [a holiday in the UK]. I really like playing handball every day in rehearsal which allows you to just free your body up. Today we played a game where we all had a number – you throw the ball and say a number and that person has to catch it, and then if they get out you have to remember who's still in. We’re doing a lot of sitting around and talking, which after a while I get fed up with. At this point we need to do those things, it does help to understand, but you are eager to be playing the scene and to be in the moments rather than analysing them. We’re not really living it yet. We’re doing the scenes for the first time so it's broad brush strokes and more questions keep coming up. When you finish each scene you think that there's so much more to do! The more you do each scene, the more you see how much more there is in the language, characters, plot - because the text is so rich.