This is the fourth bulletin from Mercutio (Phil Cumbus). It covers Phil's third week of rehearsals, focusing particularly on his work with voice and movement and his thoughts on the death of Mercutio.
Transcript of Podcast
Returning to Scenes
This week we were working back through the play for the second or even the third time, going back to the beginning and working on stuff that wasn’t quite clear, or finding and discovering new things, or fine-tuning what we’d discovered first time round. I was far happier this time. First time is always a bit of a minefield; you have all these ideas and either they don’t quite work, or if they do, you’re not quite sure how they fit in with the rest of the play. When you’ve been through once, it becomes slightly easier to piece it all together and you have more of a sense of the whole of the character and their journey.
Whenever you’re rehearsing any part, it takes a while before you find the hook, a way in for you to discover how to be the character. I think I’ve got more of a grasp on Mercutio now and am discovering things along the way. We open two weeks on Thursday, so time has just vanished! I’m really looking forward to running the entire play though, because we’ve been working in such isolation; my scenes are all with Tybalt, Benvolio and Romeo, so I haven’t seen any of Juliet’s scenes, or the Capulet world, so it will be lovely to start linking things together to get a flow.
There is quite a split between the man Mercutio would like to be and feels happiest being, and the one he has to be most of the time who is feels slightly alienated from everyone else. Through sessions with and Jan [Haydn-Rowles, voice] and Glyn [MacDonald, movement], I’ve been discovering, not just the psychological differences but also how to express that best.
More Voice Work
My recent voice session with Jan was great. We talked about Jan’s behaviour theory about dog and cat people. As Philip, I am naturally a very dog-like person. Dog-people let other people know how they feel all the time; for example, in a conversation they “umm” and “aah” along the way and use lots of nodding, to constantly let people know how they feel, that they’re safe.
But cat-people are far more reserved and private; you don’t necessarily know what they’re thinking all the time. We decided that Mercutio is definitely a cat-person. He doesn’t make the effort to let people know what he’s feeling. He is quite happy to be in his own world, to not care what other people are thinking, not care what they think he might be thinking. A situation or a conversation might come out, but only when he chooses. So that was quite interesting.
Glynn is a wonderful woman. The session itself was an Alexander session, which is all about posture. So you go and it’s about being made aware of how to use your body and lengthen the spine, because it affects voice and movement. It’s so important to be in tune with your body and your voice on the Globe stage.
It was actually through a discussion with Glynn that I discovered the idea of Mercutio’s split personality, and through the movement, I want to discover his contradictions. Glynn had this idea of ‘twisting’, that when he chooses to be alert to something, or he chooses to grab hold of an idea, he suddenly has an amazing quickness that is not evident in his character most of the time. We’ve found that his mode, or his rhythm changes. When he’s just dealing with everyday things, he is one man with a very slightly stilted movement, and his energy seems to be drawn much more from the ground. But when he chooses to, he can just switch and turn and twist his energy levels upward.
To explore this idea, Glynn took me through a few exercises so I can take that idea into the rehearsal room. We also talked about other actors who have worked here, who maybe captured something similar, like Mark Rylance, when he played Hamlet in 2000. I didn’t see it, but I heard how amazing it was. He managed to make incredibly famous speeches feel like he was just making them up as he went along, which is what I wanted to capture with Mercutio. It is so clever if you think someone is pulling images and stories from thin air, not just reciting a speech.
I’ve been having difficulty with my own energy. When I worked here before, my energy was very much outward; I bounced around the stage, running everywhere, to give everyone my focus. Whereas I don’t think I can do that for Mercutio – he is far more selfish. He lets other people come to him and he draws the audience in to him. So I’m trying to trust that that is possible, that you don’t have to force anything as long as you’re keyed in to the imagery and the psychology of who you are. Hopefully I’ll be able to bring the atmosphere in the audience in, but at the moment it feels quite far away.
Mercutio’s Death: Choreographing the Fatal Fight
We’re trying to find a fresh way of telling that very famous story and make it more exciting to perform. The convention of Mercutio’s death is:
- Mercutio and Tybalt exchange words;
- they fight;
- Romeo warns that the Prince has forbidden it and gets in between to break up the fight;
- Mercutio is famously hurt underneath Romeo’s arm, stabbed by Tybalt.
We wanted to try something a bit different and to make this moment as exciting as possible, because people know this play so well. So we have Romeo involved in the fight earlier on, trying to stop us. There’s a point right at the beginning where Romeo disarms me, so I immediately take his sword and throw him out of the way to get back into the fight. At one point, Tybalt even ends up fighting me and Romeo at the same time! There’s mayhem – it’s not just a duel between Mercutio and Tybalt, others get involved too: it affects everybody. So the audience won’t know when the famous death is going to come.
Then, there is the famous moment when Mercutio has been fatally wounded and he is on the point of death. Tybalt knows exactly what he has done, but Benvolio and Romeo don’t know what’s wrong. You need to play that in a particular way so that it’s clear for the audience but everyone else has somehow missed it. It’s an interesting one to try to piece together.
Mercutio’s Death: His Final Words
Last week, I talked about the Queen Mab speech, and how so much of it lived up in the echelons with the spirits. This dynamic reappears particularly in his final speeches, where Mercutio is desperate not to let anyone see that he’s injured. In these final speeches, he keeps getting up there for just a second – he is determined to leave this earth, and arrive at the upper levels – but then he gets dragged back down, by the fact that his injury is so severe. So that was a nice discovery, even if I abandon it later on. For now, I might play around with all the lines that I think are earth-bound and emotive, really giving those some weight and then, by contrast, really swinging all of the imaginative lines upwards. If you set yourself explorations like that, you can discard as much or as little as you want. But it’s nice to fully investigate something and then tweak it along the way.
I was struggling with the “plague both your houses” section after the fight, where I die because it’s quite a disjointed section of speech. Obviously he is at the point of death so his imagery and his language are jumping to and fro. But because we rehearsed the fight separately, we also had this difficulty when we were rehearsing that scene that we would cut to the end of the fight, and I had to pick up that emotional journey out of nothing – I felt like a bit of a fake. I was struggling with that so I took it in to discuss with Jan.
We just went through it and talked a bit about why the language is shaped as it is in his final speeches. I showed Jan where the injury was, which was the lower part of my torso on the left hand side, and Jan said “Oh, that would have gone through the diaphragm” … of course! So she actually did a little drawing of what this wound would have done to him, and we had a very morbid conversation about what’s happening internally: how it would have pierced the diaphragm (which is where all the breathing power comes from), and how it would have punctured the lung, so he eventually dies from suffocation as his lung is filling up with blood. We talked about the physical logistics and how that would be affecting voice and breath and sound.
I used that information alongside my idea that Mercutio enters the imaginary zone for a few seconds, gets a little taste of something clever and witty that he wants to leave the world with and then he gets dragged back down by the pain of the injuries.
I made another discovery with Jan. One of the final lines Mercutio says as he is leaving the stage is “A pox on both your houses” (3.1.108). My natural instinct, and the way I’ve seen it done a lot, is that it comes up like a victory; he screams at the houses, venomous. But actually, thinking about this imaginary world that Mercutio can enter, I thought it would be far more ominous if by that point in the speech he has almost given up on his injury, he has almost entered this other, Queen Mab realm. In his brain, he’s up with the souls in the upper architecture of the Globe. So “A pox on your houses” is far more effective if it’s given by someone who has left this earth; it’s matter-of-fact, almost as if he has seen it somewhere. He is so close to death that he has given up fighting about it; he has fought and fought and then there is a moment of release, when we see him exist in the place where he always wanted to be, which was away from the earth and up with the spirits in the imagination.
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.