Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 3

This is the third bulletin from Mercutio (Phil Cumbus). It covers Phil's second week of rehearsals, his work on voice and the Queen Mab speech, fight direction and getting the play on its feet - all very vocal and active!

Transcript of Podcast

This is the third bulletin from Mercutio (Phil Cumbus). It covers Phil's second week of rehearsals, his work on voice and the Queen Mab speech, fight direction and getting the play on its feet - all very vocal and active!

Getting the play on its feet

The second week was a transition point: taking what we have discovered in that first week from around the table session, and bringing it to the floor. It’s a natural transition, where you move from thinking about just the words, to thinking about entrances and exits and blocking, and things like that. But it’s also the biggest change and so can be difficult; it’s the first time you have to move as the character, the first time you actually interact with the other characters in the setting of the play, as opposed to round the table, and the first time that you are speaking the lines within a situation, in a world. So it is the most unstable time in the whole process, because whatever brilliant ideas I have in my head about what I can do with Mercutio, trying to manifest them is much more difficult and scary than you imagine. You’re trying to discover the character, but in front of everybody else, so that transition point is a tough moment, in any rehearsal period.

Voice Work

When we aren’t in a scene, there’s the chance to have one-on-one classes with the various experts in movement, voice and text at the Globe. This week, I had a session with the voice coach Jan [Haydn Rowles], who is a brilliant, brilliant woman. She’s an amazing dialect coach for accent work, and we’ve worked on a few productions in the past together. But she’s also amazingly well-informed about the way language affects behaviour and the psychology of how our brains work; she’s studying neuro-linguistic behaviour. I went in there thinking I was going to have a voice session – in terms of vowel sounds and projection and resonance and technique – and actually, we ended up talking about character, about what I think Mercutio needs and what I think Dominic [Dromgoole, the director] wants from him. So it’s not just a case of coming at those questions from the point of view of technique, but connecting that to how he behaves and moves, which then affect his voice.

We were also thinking about where people look when they talk to you. She was explaining the idea that if someone is trying to talk about emotion or if they’re lying, they often look at the ground and maybe shuffle a little bit, especially if it’s something they can’t deal with; whereas when giving facts, or honest feelings, or directions, people are more likely to look up at a middle level.

Interestingly, the architecture of the Globe works in a similar way with different associations at each level. From the stage, you look down to the yard below, which, in Renaissance hierarchy, would have been thought of as the belly. The middle gallery is dead ahead of you, which is the brain, and then there is the upper gallery above. Jan talked about how that upper level is the far more imaginative zone, the spirit, which obviously Mercutio operates in most of the time. So Jan and I began thinking about those three levels in relation to Mercutio’s scenes, and we’ve started work on the Queen Mab speech, and thinking about which parts of the theatre his lines are hitting at different points, at what point does he lose the thread of it, and tying that into the Globe space specifically.

The Queen Mab speech

The Queen Mab speech is such a profound moment, a little bubble that seemingly comes out of nowhere, and it is filled with such amazing language. But because it’s not driven by the narrative, it’s not clear how Mercutio feels about it; you enter into it with so many possibilities that the directions you can take Queen Mab in are pretty much endless. So you need to make a choice, which is what I am confronted with in this period of rehearsals … which is as exciting as it is daunting!

The way I think I’m going to play this speech is using the idea that it starts out as a game, a riff. Mercutio enjoys language like a jazz player; he’s a free-flowing beat-poet, and he’s unleashed this speech to entertain everybody, including himself. But then at some point in the speech, it becomes devoid of Romeo and Benvolio; he leaves them, and enters his own imagination so much that he gets lost in it. But then, Queen Mab eventually descends after the joy of this universe and the imagery he has created; he could continue to talk about Queen Mab for hours if he wanted to – he’s got that much imagination – but something else happens that stops him. And what I think happens is he realises he’s talking about himself. More and more, I’m coming to the conclusion that when Mercutio is talking about other people or other things, often he’s really talking about himself. For example, there’s a moment where he’s talking to Benvolio about quarrelling, saying:

Thou art like one of those fellows that, when he enters
the confines of a tavern, claps me his sword
upon the table and says 'God send me no need of thee!’,
and by the operation of the second cup draws
him on the drawer, when indeed there is no need. 3.1.5-9

But Benvolio is not like that at all; Mercutio is. So it’s like he directs energy at other things or other people because he doesn’t have the capability of being honest. And I think Queen Mab is about that. He’s this guy who’s good at being imaginative and witty and funny and being entertaining to other people but there’s nothing else to it, and during the course of the speech, he realises the pointlessness of it. Although he starts by describing Mab – “she is like this, she is like this” – there’s a moment where the language changes and he starts describing everything with male pronouns. This whole speech has become about him, and he starts to descend, because he realises he has nothing to give other than the fact that he has fun, sleeps around, but there’s no love – just, sex, sex, sex. He’s so lost because he’s got nothing else. He realises this, and having bared his soul in front of his friends, it cuts him half. He descends from being at the peak of his talent at the top of the speech, to the very depth of his depression by the end.

Typically what happens with the end of the Queen Mab speech is that it builds and builds and gets more energy and more frenetic, and Romeo has to come in and say “Peace, peace, Mercutio” to cut him off. But what I’m trying to do is play it that so that Mercutio stops himself, that he just loses faith and he sees the pointlessness of everything. After this amazing journey of Queen Mab, he stops dead, because he’s lost and he’s got nothing and he’s depressed and he’s losing his friends. So I’ve been trying to think about it in those kind of terms … but who know what it’ll end up like? It could be completely different!

Fight Rehearsals

Pretty much every single day so far we’ve been rehearsing the fighting. Fight rehearsals are like the choreography for dance, but obviously it has to build up to become a believable violent act. In order to do that, you have to learn them quite early on and bit by bit you build it up over the course of weeks, so that by the time we open the show, it will be ready.

In terms of the rehearsals, Malcolm [Ranson, fight director] knows the story and knows the characters, but doesn’t know us as actors, so he waits to see how we move as people and then creates a fight organically out of that to match us. So in the duel between Mercutio and Tybalt, we’ve worked out lots of touches that work with the characters. Tybalt is mocked by me all the way through the play for his fighting. Although he has a reputation as a fighter, he’s part of this new Italian school of fighting based in Saviolo’s teachings, which Mercutio hates, because he hates anything that is new. (He has this amazing contradiction, one of his many contradictions, that he’s got such a free way of thinking, such a free imagination and untainted unbound spirit, but yet at the same time he just wants everything to stay the same and hates that people are always looking to speak differently and talk differently and fight differently). So there’s a moment where I begin the fight, mocking his moves, and instead of fighting with the swords, I immediately land him with a huge punch with the hilt of the sword, completely changing the rules. This forces Tybalt to grab his dagger so that he’s now fighting with a rapier and a dagger.

The obvious thing to do on my part would be to grab my dagger too, but I thought that it would be better if I deliberately chose not to get my dagger. As Mercutio, I think I can take Tybalt with just my sword, whereas he needs another dagger. So we have one phrase of fighting like that, and it all goes disastrously wrong of course, because Mercutio is like that – he almost gets killed, and Benvolio is running round trying to give me the dagger. And eventually, after I almost get my head chopped off, I grab the dagger and the fight continues.

So it’s great; again, as with the choreography, it’s finding character and discovering things through the alternative means of voice and dance and fighting. And we’re having a great time. And getting paid to swing swords round and fight!

These comments are the actor's thoughts and ideas about the part as he goes through the rehearsal process - they are simply his own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsals progress.

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