This is Liam's first blog post. This week he discusses his first impressions of the Globe from his audition and rehearsals, the production's design, and the challenges of doubling roles.
Transcript of Podcast
The first day was great. I really enjoyed it. It was very different. I’ve never had a first day like that before. It was maybe a slightly bigger day for me than for other people because I think I’m the only person who isn’t London-based, so I had the additional experience of moving into digs the night before and traveling to London on the bus. The first morning was mainly spent meeting and greeting, but that was really nice because everyone was welcoming and kind - and we got a nice lunch! There were just so many people, so many faces, so many offices – they all started to mould together in my mind. It's given me the impression – well, I suppose I had a hunch really – that there is something different about this place, which I think is pretty special.
Previous experience of Macbeth
I’ve been in Macbeth three times before. I don’t know – maybe it's because I’m Scottish or maybe it's just coincidence. I played Malcolm years ago when I was younger, that was my first time, at Dundee Rep. Next I played Macbeth for a touring company in England, seven or eight years ago. Then about two years ago I played Macbeth for a Scottish theatre, so I know the play pretty well. But I hadn’t actually played Macduff before, so that's interesting. I’ve seen a few different Macduffs – both in productions I’ve seen and obviously in the one's I’ve been in, so I know the role well and have lots of ideas.
When I came to the audition Tim [Carroll, the director] didn’t really talk about what he wanted from the character. I did the big England scene with Malcolm and we chatted a bit about the scene but he didn’t talk about the character. I wasn’t at all sure about how it had gone, because I’d just playing finished a production of Hamlet in Scotland and initially he asked me to do a bit from that play. I’ve never done this before or since, but I found myself saying, no, I hope you don’t mind, but I really don’t want to do that. I’d literally just finished a couple of days before and it suddenly just felt weird to take a speech from Hamlet. I suppose I just felt really close to it still and it suddenly felt really inappropriate. I thought, well, that's blown the job, but Tim was lovely – he said, no, I understand that – and so instead, because Macbeth is quite familiar to me having played it a couple of times, I did a bit of a Macbeth scene and then a bit of Macduff.
After the first few days of rehearsal the company fall into a regular schedule. In the morning we have group sessions [the actors each have one hour of verse work, one hour of movement/Alexander Technique and one hour of voice work per week, working in small groups of four or five]. I’ve really enjoyed that so far – I think that will be really helpful, just to be in a smaller group for that time. And those sessions are entirely separate from the play, so when we do our verse sessions, for example, we look at other things. I don’t know, but I would imagine that as time goes on they’ll become more focused on Macbeth, but so far we’ve read bits of Henry V and Twelfth Night. It's quite unusual, to have sessions like these. The three individuals we have taking them strike me as quite gifted teachers. Glynn, who takes the movement sessions, is something else – I’m dying for her next session!
When I heard about the design for the production my impression was that it's still fairly kind-of fluid, sometimes designs for productions can be very set from the beginning. The only thing that has been talked about really is that the men are going to be in suits of some description. The words evening dress have been used, but then I do also remember how someone talked about how they may be ‘broken down’ – deconstructed in some way - so I’m not quite clear about the look of it at all. I think that's OK actually, because it is very early days and also our job is to say the words truthfully, so ultimately it really shouldn’t matter too much what we are wearing.
Two of the previous productions I’ve done before were quite similar in their design and one of them was quite wacky. The first one when I played Malcolm and the last one recently playing Macbeth were both vaguely modern military. It wasn’t actually saying, ‘this is the British army’ or ‘this is Bosnia’ or anything like that, but the men were in army fatigues, and we had machine guns. The other one that I did was very bare and spartan, we were all just dressed in, I don’t know what you’d call it, but almost Mao suits with canvas trousers and canvas tops with no collars and canvas shoes.
Reading the play
The company's first read-through of the play was quite playful – it wasn’t all of us sitting round the table. We stood up and there was quite a lot of laughter, which is fine I think. It was good that there was a spirit of fun to the read through, because Macbeth is a serious play.
Macduff doesn’t say an awful lot. He's obviously very important to the story, but I at the moment have a feeling that he is a ‘man of few words’. He only seems to speak when he needs to, when it matters. At the moment I have a feeling of, (it's such a cliché) but of a strong, silent character– someone who has no particular need to talk for the sake of talking.
I reread the play a few times before rehearsals started, trying to focus on Macduff. I’m also playing one of Macduff's sons, which is interesting. I’ll have to find some way of being like a child without resorting to stereotypical child acting. I found out about this doubling of roles about two or three weeks before we started. Tim phoned my agent and my agent phoned me and said ‘what do you think of this idea?’ My agent thought it was completely insane and that I should say no, but I loved it. I don’t know how well I’ll be able to do it but it's a challenge. I think this doubling will give a specific image which is missing, or which Shakespeare has chosen not to put in the play, that of the actor playing Macduff and the actress playing Lady Macduff on stage together at the same time. I also think than in an indefinable way there will be something interesting about the balance of an actor playing both one person and that person's son.
The company has been working on Act IV, scene III. The first exercise we did was to repeat back a single word from the other person's line that seemed significant to us. The exercise really just tunes up your attentiveness, your listening skills. When Ross enters the scene, both the actor playing Malcolm and I were repeating a word, and that was an interesting moment because then you started to hear what the other person says, and you notice if the words chime but also if they differ. The final exercise that we did was really interesting. We were just using two words from each line but trying to communicate the whole line to the other actor. It took a long time but it was just really interesting; it felt very helpful. Exercises like these force you to think, ‘what is the key to what I’m saying?’ If you take away all the rest, what is the grit of it? There was a point in the scene when I got really angry. I think Macduff tries really hard for three-quarters of that scene with Malcolm, because it's so important to him, to convince Malcolm to take on the mantle of rightful King, and to come and join Macduff's army but eventually I think he just ‘snaps’. I think probably there's a moment there when it just doesn’t matter to Macduff that Malcolm is his sovereign monarch but seems him just as nasty little boy. Malcolm just can’t take it anymore. Whether Macduff's anger in this scene become physical is still to be explored.
It is interesting working on scenes like this using just two words as your brain's having to work very hard to use this foreign language of a two-word line. If there had been time, it would have been useful to go on to work on the scene in its entirety.
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 change frequently as the rehearsal process progresses.