This is Laura's second blog entry for the 2005 production of Pericles in which she talks about improvisation, props and clothing and character work, amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
Work begins on Marina
It's shocking! I thought Marina had a simple trajectory through the play, but every situation she faces is so extreme. In Marina's first scene [IV.i], somebody tries to kill her and then she's kidnapped by pirates. She seems to have the ability to change people – to convert them from one course of action to another, like Lysimachus in the Brothel [V.i] – so we’ve really been trying to find out more about that. It's a very strange quality… she would just seem arrogant if she knows that she can bring about these changes whenever she needs to, and clearly she's not got that kind of control over her situation. What I’m discovering is that I have to root that quality of conversion in the extreme situations she faces – what the Bawd and the Pandar and Boult do to her in the Brothel scene [IV.ii] is horrific, and only in that extreme situation can you appreciate the bravery needed to hold up a mirror to those people and ask ‘Is this you?’ That useful contrast between her fear and her bravery is what we’ve been discovering, but getting into the scenes has been a bit of a whirlwind.
Improvisation: Happy Birthday Marina
The first thing we did when we met Marina was an improvisation that started with Marina's tenth birthday party. We were all throwing a ball around as a warm-up, and Kathryn [Hunter, Master of Play] suddenly started saying ‘Oh, Happy Birthday Marina!’ It was my tenth birthday, and we started to build up the relationships with Cleon, Dionyzia and Philoten (Dionyzia's daughter) from that point. In the improvisation, Philoten was a kind of misfit – Marina's great at sports whereas Philoten drops the ball – and we looked at the jealousy that grows from that. Gower tells us that:
This Philoten contends in skill
With absolute Marina: so
The dove of Paphos might with the crow
Vie with feather white
The friction has really been present all the way through Marina's childhood. When she got slightly older, we improvised the scene where her nurse, Lychorida, dies. In the play, we meet Marina just after the death of her nurse [IV, Chorus], so we built up a whole relationship to get an idea of how she might feel in that first scene [IV.i]. We never see Marina and Lychorida together in the play, so we filled in the gaps with imagination. In part of the improvisation, we imagined what our bedrooms would be like and went into each other's rooms – Lychorida and Marina are very close, and to get a sense of that, we created these rooms and showed each other around. My bedroom was very simple and humble because that's the way that Marina is, and Lychorida's bedroom had a tapestry frame with a tapestry that we were working on together. After building up their relationship like this, the improvised scene where Lychorida dies was emotionally charged and I took that sadness into the scene when we actually meet Marina. I found the background improvisation work really helpful, because it helped us work out what the relationships might be before starting work on the text.
I’m realising how emotionally sensitive Marina is to the pain of others – she's somebody who takes that pain onto herself. Another member of the cast told me a story about a friend's child who was in a shop at Christmas with her mother and she saw a man buying Christmas dinner for one person. She was distraught by the idea that he was alone at Christmas and her mother really had to talk her down ‘It's ok. It's probably a happy time for him too.’ She got so upset about someone else's situation; it's as though she saw a pain and took it on herself. That kind of emotion is what I’m thinking about for Marina. She goes to those extreme emotional places.
I think that special emotional connection relates to what happens with Pericles and Marina in the healing scene [V.i]. What actually happens there? I’ve been reading about spiritual healing and that doesn’t really make sense to me – I felt perhaps there was just something about her nature that was very honest and direct? We did an improvisation on the Healing scene and Kathryn asked me to set up what it was that Marina actually does. When Helicanus tells Lyismachus and the Lords about Pericles’ grief, straightaway they say ‘Oh we know a girl who has healing qualities, and maybe she can get Pericles to talk again?’ What kind of healing qualities are they? Lyismachus just mentions ‘her sweet harmony, / And other attractions’ and later on ‘thy sacred physic.’ So Kathryn asked me to set up a healing, to show what it was that I do. Half the group worked with me and the other half worked with Corin [Redgrave, Old Pericles] – my improvisation turned into a vague sort of hippy festival; it was far too wishy-washy. I’d gone in the wrong direction so we stopped it.
I felt like I’d messed up; you feel quite exposed when something like that doesn’t work. But because of that experience – because I’d gone in the wrong direction and I was feeling a bit vulnerable as me, as Laura – when we went into the next exercise, doors really opened. We did the actual healing scene [V.i] from Pericles but we put in our own words instead of using the text. What I found was that Marina isn’t completely confident and certain of herself. There's an uncertainty and loneliness when she meets Pericles which came through because I made the mistake earlier. So it's such a good thing to be able to get it wrong and to feel that it's ok to get it wrong (I always think I can’t!), because that leads you to discover new things.
I’ve been collecting ideas in a notebook since the auditions – questions, pictures I found that remind me of Marina, some random doodles too! I always find images really helpful. There's one of a figure rising up from the sea into the sky: it's almost religious, and that reminds me of Marina because another thing we’re discovering is that she prays in the midst of these extreme situations ‘The gods defend me’, ‘The good gods preserve you’, ‘Hark, hark, you gods’. I use all sorts – leaflets from gallery exhibitions, pictures from CD covers (there are a couple from Rufus Wainwright), and bits and pieces from magazines. The leaflet is for an exhibition I went to see at the Hayward Gallery called African Remix, and I included that because the textiles there really inspired me. Marina's supposed to be able to sew but I didn’t want to imagine her just sitting there sewing a handkerchief; I wanted to find images that allowed her to be bold and creative rather than domestic and kind of wimpy. There's a picture of the boat and the sea looks quite serene there… we discovered that when we try and make the boat in the storm scenes, in order for it to look real, we have to move almost as though we’re fighting through clay. If you think of water, you think of something that's easy to move through, but the sea has huge force… it's not like still water in a bath or a bowl. We found it really helpful to think about opposites for ‘sea’ movement in the storm scenes (pushing and pulling, fluidity and force) and the same is true of Marina. I’m finding it really helpful to define the soft and open aspects of her nature against her fire and strength, her determination. Marina is connected to water and the sea – she was born at sea and it's part of her name and nature – but at the moment, I’m finding it more helpful to play the contrasts in her nature and look at her strength and determination in the face of the most extreme situations.
Clothing in the rehearsal room
There are all kinds of props and pieces of clothing around the rehearsal room. For our work on the brothel scene [IV.ii], Kathryn asked me to make up something that looked as if it had once been a dress, but it's been ripped up and tattered. I’ve made up something with lots of ragged layers pinned together and tucked so bits of skin are revealed and it shows my legs. The costume makes me feel very exposed, which helped in the sense that that's how Marina feels in the brothel as the Bawd and the Pandar discuss her price as a whore [IV.ii].
We have the most fun with clothes and props when we improvise the places that Pericles visits: we make silly costumes and the best thing is that it's just like dressing up! Each place has an individual look and feel. Epheseus has become a place where a tsunami has just struck so we started that improvisation with people sunbathing and fishing, then in the aftermath we built shelters and pretended to be wounded ‘Ohh, my leg!’ Mytilene is like a shabby resort on a Greek island; it's a bit dirty and seedy. Tharsus is very much set in the First World: a famine has struck but we combined that situation with the idea of photo opportunities for political leaders. When Pericles came to help the people of Tharsus in our improvisation, he gave Cleon a cheque as someone else took a photo: it was as though being seen to give money is almost as important as the aid itself. That seems very relevant to our Western way of thinking about relief. So the improvisations help draw in ideas relevant to our modern situations, as well as being a lot of fun.
We’re working on the brothel scenes now, in Mytilene. Jude [Akuwudike] and I are going to be working on Marina and Lysimachus for the rest of today, and we’ll do the healing scene with Pericles and Marina later on. We just take things a day at a time, but generally we’re going forward through the play whilst also going back to look at particular scenes in more detail – for example, if we’re working on Act four for part of the day, we might also go back to the very beginning so we’re always reminding ourselves of the story and the through-line. Although we’re three weeks into rehearsals, we’re still doing some scenes for the first time then going back to a scene that we’ve worked on a lot. That's a nice balance.
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.