In her third blog post Penny discusses how a visit from the Tudor Group informed the play, working on specific scenes and requesting a pair of eyebrows!
Transcript of Podcast
The Tudor Group
We’ve just had a very useful visit from the Tudor Group – they live as the Tudors would have done for certain periods of time, and they told us lots of interesting things about the period. I asked them about Perfumers because Borachio says he was in a room ‘being entertained for a perfumer’ [I.3.54] before someone came in and he nipped behind the arras – that was how he came to overhear the conversation between the Prince and Claudio. I wondered what being ‘entertained as a perfumer’ really meant and why Borachio was doing this job. There is a scene quite early on with Antonio [I.2], and at the end of that scene somebody comes into the room: I say to them ‘Come with me and I will use your skills.’ [I.2.22-3]. I think we have decided that that person will be Borachio, who has arrived as one of the men with Don Pedro. I see him and say ‘Come with me and I will employ your skills,’ and I get him to go and fumigate this room. Well, a perfumer's job isn’t exactly to fumigate a room; he has to come and perfume a musty room that has been closed off, he freshens it up so that it can be used. So we have decided that is what we are going to do in order to explain why Borachio, who isn’t a servant, is in this situation. We hope that all makes sense.
The girls playing girls [Mariah Gale - Hero, Yolanda Vazquez - Beatrice, Lucy Campbell - Ursula, Joy Richardson - Margaret] talked about what their relationship would have been like and what sort of status gentlewomen held. They talked about how very, very close they would have been – they would have probably shared a bed and spent all their time together. Ursula and Margaret would not have been like servants but more like Ladies-in-Waiting/ companions. I think that is quite interesting. We also learnt a lot about hats. I know that you always wear your hat unless you are greeting someone. The point they made is that you can’t take a hat off to show how polite you are if you haven’t got it on in the first place! That means everyone wears hats all the time. The rule was you always took your hat off if the king was there, and kept if off until he told you to put it back on again. We haven’t got a king – we have got some counts and princes, but not quite kings. Status is also reflected in the way you bow to a person. We all stood in line in order of our character's status, highest – or those who thought they had the highest status, which was sometimes quite a different thing – to lowest, and then we practised bowing to each other. We used deeper bows for the more important people. That was quite an interesting exercise because Dogberry thinks he is terribly important but that isn’t necessarily so. Don John's status as an illegitimate royal was tricky. I think I would welcome him in the opening scene with a bow (at the Prince's discretion), but how Don John would return that courtesy is up for grabs. He's sort of outside the order that dictates this etiquette.
The information about swords was quite helpful too. It was illegal to wear a sword, they told us, unless you were a gentleman or a soldier. Gentlemen would always wear swords; they were to do with status thing as well as practical need. I am not going to wear a sword because of my great age. The Tudor Group said something like ‘it is the right of a gentleman and the mark of the soldier’. Their facts about Tudor law interested me especially. If there was an incident and somebody got killed, perhaps a stabbing, they said that if the perpetrator stuck around after the incident and was there when the constable came, then the chances were you wouldn’t actually get hung for it. That prompted me to think about the end of the play and the punishments that await Don John. He scarpers after the wedding scene [IV.1]. I don’t know how important that is but it adds another dimension to know that this man has just left his crime behind him and he is in real trouble.
There is also a nice bit of context that explained Dogberry's reference to his ‘two gowns’ [IV.2.82]. The Tudor Group said that when you had social pretensions, what you did was to invest in a gown or two. Then when you fell on hard times, they would end up in the pawnshop, so it was full of second hand gowns. Dogberry's gowns link into ideas about his status and self-importance. Another thing about clothes: you would have your sword and belt made to go with an outfit. You wouldn’t just have one that you would put on – like buying matching handbags and shoes. All these details were very useful, very informative. They helped to explain some particular references and contextualise the action of the play.
Scene work: process
It has been quite slow. This afternoon we are going to start on my first Dogberry scene [III.5]. I feel like it is taking a long time to get through the play, but we are working in a very detailed way. I am a bit nervous about how much I have got to learn and ideally I would like to rehearse each scene several times before I have to stand up on the stage or in a rehearsal room and do a run of it. I see the time go by and I am thinking ‘How many times are we going to be able to go through it?’ So I have really got to get on with learning the scenes we haven’t actually rehearsed yet. I have tried really, really hard! I’ve never done it before but I think I’ll feel more comfortable if I just get on and do that. I am doing quite well with the lines, but only in isolation, which is very different from doing it with the other actors.
As I said, the work we’re doing at the moment is quite detailed: we look at each scene and check out any words we don’t understand. It isn’t just words that you don’t understand sometimes. Even if you understand all the words, there can be differences of opinion about why you are saying it. We had a talk about the word 'passing' in the line ‘Cousin, you apprehend passing shrewdly’ [II.1.72]. I actually think that what that means is you understand very well, very shrewdly. You apprehend passing shrewdly: you are very, very smart, you understand that absolutely. Tamara [Harvey, Master of Play] was saying that the word ‘passing’ could refer to the passing of life or the passing of time: you understand what has been happening very shrewdly. In the end, I don’t think that's it. I looked it up in the Concordance. Shakespeare so often uses ‘passing’ with the meaning ‘very’. I’ll talk to Tamara about it some more. We also look at different things in the Folio  and Quarto  because modern editors put in all their own punctuation. This is only to be helpful but sometimes you might disagree with their version and when that happens it's good to look at the alternatives. Similarly, there are words that have changed between the Quarto, Folio and Modern editions so we are in the position to choose what would be most useful for our production.
When we’ve had a good look at the text and we are sure that we know what we are talking about, we get up and have a go at it. The other day we put Act two, scene three, on its feet. The gulling scene is great; Benedick hides and Leonato, Don Pedro, and Claudio come on. They know he is there and talk about how much Beatrice loves him, to trick him into falling in love with her. There is a little boy on just before the gulling begins – it doesn’t have to be a boy, but there is a page or a young servant. Benedick asks this page to go and fetch a book and bring it back to the orchard. What I think happens is that we have ask the page as he's on his way to fetch this book ‘Have you seen Benedick?’ and the page says ‘Yep, he's in the orchard,’ so off we all go to the orchard and we can see is Benedick's feet beneath the arbor or something like that, so we know that he is hiding. We start to talk about how Beatrice loves him and how he's not a very good catch and it is best if she doesn’t say anything – that's the gist. I’ve decided that Leonato, Don Pedro and Claudio have had a meeting offstage and decided more or less exactly what they are going to say. We tried out a bit where Leonato obviously forgets what he should be doing or saying and the others prompt him – they say ‘Tell us how you know Beatrice is in love’ (‘What effects of passion shows she?’ II.3.109), and because I can’t remember what I’m meant to be saying, I say
What effects, my lord? She will sit you – you heard my daughter tell you how.
I decided that once Leonato does remember what he is going to say he won’t let anyone else talk: he sort of takes over. That was quite fun to rehearse and to just see what happens in the scene. I think that scene is a good indication that Leonato can enter into the spirit of this game. You just have to work out why you say anything onstage: why do you say it, why do you open your mouth? Leonato says what he says at that point because he forgot then remembered.
Song and dance
We have done some singing. We have started to learn the song for the tomb and I think perhaps we are going to learn a song for the wedding too, but I am not sure about that. We are doing lots of jigging too: I’m keeping up so far! The jig is a very sort of traditional thing at the end of a Shakespeare play. They would have had this dance at the end of each play and we are certainly going to end with that too. The Globe nearly always has a jig at the end and it rounds off the play in the most wonderful way. I’ve watched lots of jigs here and all of them have been really terrific, but it is quite a lot of rehearsal time to take out from working on the scenes. We get six weeks rehearsal which seems quite a lot on the face of it – most of my life I have been doing Shakespeare plays in three weeks – but it isn’t long when you take out all the time for the jig rehearsals, then singing rehearsals, and we also do classes three days a week for an hour per class. Voice an hour, Movement an hour, Text an hour: the time just disappears. We’re starting to rehearse evenings this week from now on so we will have a bit more time.
Emphasis on character
If it was up to me, I’d like to play the part just as I am until the tech then put all the stuff on and be somebody else in half an hour. That is what I’d really like to do! But that's a bit too risky; you’ve got to think about it more carefully. The first time you wear a doublet and hose is certainly interesting because they are what we call ‘pointed’ all around the joints. Imagine your jacket and trousers were tied together; that's what it's like wearing pointed doublet and hose. It is more like being in a rather tight, hot boiler suit, and it means that you can’t bend over like you would in a normal jacket and trousers because the ties hold you at the back and it isn’t stretchy fabric. Last year people had to do up my shoelaces for me! You’ve got to think about that. You’ve got to think about how you sit because you do have to sit up, you can’t slouch. It is much more comfortable if you support yourself properly. I’m already trying to build up my back muscles so that sitting becomes a comfortable thing to do rather than a chore. If you are on stage and you’re tense because it is something you are not used to, it shows. I am trying to practice my posture at home as well.
We learnt this week that we might get a fountain onstage, which is quite surprising. Tamara is thinking about having a fountain in the middle of the stage. A working fountain, though it won’t have water trickling about all the time because that would be too noisy. We are going to try to mock something up on the stage (at the moment we are in the rehearsal room) to see just what the ramifications of that would be. It would be very useful for all sorts of things, like how you move about onstage. You could move around it or sit on the edges… having said that, it would be plunk in the middle of the best possible position onstage. Although there would be room for one person in front of it in a prime position, you couldn’t have a scene with two or three people in that position so we need a mock-up to see how the scenes would work.
The fountain would only be there for the first half of the play which takes place pretty much in and around Leonato's house, in the gardens and orchard. The second half, though, has the wedding in the church and we meet in the street – it is set in different places. I think it would be disastrous to have a fountain in that central position during the wedding scene – you just couldn’t do it. The Globe stage has two large pillars that dictate where you stand in order to be seen by the largest proportion of people. If you look at the pillars, they line up with the doors to the left and right of the central doors: if you stand upstage in line with the pillars, no one in the yard or lower balcony can see you. You need the central space that the fountain would occupy, especially if there are a lot of people who need to be seen, like in the wedding scene. That is a very good spot. You have to balance up whether you gain more than you lose.
The singing is a bit of a highlight. I like the singing. I am not very good at it but I enjoy doing it. It is very accessible singing for people like me – untrained singers, enthusiastic but untrained. Everyone is learning the songs but who actually ends up singing them depends on who is in the scene and available, and if it is appropriate, I suppose. I suspect most people will sing in the tomb scene. I don’t know whether Hero will sing: she is supposed to be dead of course, but I suspect some people will sing off stage. It is very much in the same sort of tradition as the songs that the women's company sang last year: calling songs which are very open. I think that style comes from Eastern Europe, but not the songs themselves. It is very open, not as precise English like church music.
I haven’t had any more fittings, but I have put in a secret request for eyebrows! I am going to have a beard and a moustache and I thought ‘What about some eyebrows?’ It is a bit of a dodgy point. I think we have to veer away from the original practice thing in order to equip ourselves with facial hair because the sort of things that would have been available then are not going to work today, I am afraid. I think we will have spirit gum and beards on gauze. I certainly loved it last year. I haven’t talked to Luca [Costigliolo, Master of Clothing] yet about the eyebrows – I just sent a message – so he might say no. I don’t want them to be too big; just to be a little bit extra over my little plucked eyebrows. So I’m looking forward to hearing what Luca will say about that. I have asked for a cloak too, a long cloak to wear in the rehearsal room, because although the rest of the outfit doesn’t bother me too much, there will be moments when I’ll need to grapple with a long cloak. That is the only physical thing I will be thinking about in the rehearsals particularly.
We had a great session this morning with Giles doing text work. We don’t do anything with Much Ado About Nothing because that might interfere with rehearsals, but there is a wonderful speech in As You Like It that we’ve been looking at in Act one, scene 1. Orlando talks to Adam, his faithful retainer, about how his brother was charged on his father's deathbed to look after his education and so on. The brother, Oliver, hasn’t been doing this and the first thing the audience hears when they come in is Orlando's chunk of speech explaining the situation. We looked at ways to make that sound fresh and real. It is very similar to a lot of the stuff Leonato has. You know, when you start speaking and something else comes into your mind and so you have to say the next thing, and then there is another thing you have to say. That was very useful, and I hope to take it on in my Much Ado rehearsals.
Movement and Voice
My movement sessions – oh, I creak and creak. I creak through the movement sessions, but they are very good. Glynn [MacDonald, Master of Movement] has some wonderful things she does with royalty. She says that there are four stock characters: the King, the Magician, the Lover, and the Warrior. We try to walk around being these characters. She does very good things: making you stand up straight without being stressed. Adopting kingship, you have this heavy crown on your head and this heavy cloak on your shoulders, so you have to stand up. You have to carry the weight of kingship, the responsibility of kingship. She has another one about the Magician who weaves and ducks and dives through life. And the Lover, and the Warrior have their own qualities too. Then you think about how they might combine in a person. Okay, you might be playing a king, but he will probably be a lover at some point in his life. He will need to be a magician, ducking and diving a bit. So that was a good for our characters’ physicality. We also try to be a bit more masculine – or rather, we try not to be too ‘girly’ in our movements. I’m trying especially hard with my hands; men and women seem to use their hands in different ways and I don’t think I’ve got that quite right yet.
We also had a lovely voice session with Mark [Rylance, Artistic Director of Shakespeare's Globe and Master of Voice for the Red Company] – Stewart [Pearce, Master of Voice for White and Rose Companies] was unable to take the last session so we had a session with Mark. I have watched Mark many times on this stage and I have acted with him before, but I just know that he uses this stage so brilliantly so anything he has to tell me is bound to be an absolute gem. First of all, he played us a piece of music which has the beat of iambic pentameter, ten beats. And we looked a little bit at John Donne's poetry and just tried to keep the beat, the pulse, because it is written in iambic pentameter. It was lovely to find the beat then do some work on intention: you speak to communicate and we have to find the reasons for each word that we say. The verse thing is endlessly fascinating… how you can keep the pulse, which is the life-blood of the verse, going without making it sound boring… you have to keep it alive.
More rehearsals, more jig calls, more rehearsals. I just want to get on with it! I want to do this lovely play and say the words lots of times so that they become so familiar to me. I’m raring to rehearse the second half now.
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.