This is Paul's final blog post. This week he discusses bringing the play to the Globe stage in tech week, the experience of performing on the Globe stage and interacting with the audience.
Transcript of Podcast
Once we moved on to the Globe stage, I think certain things changed physically; choices that you’d made in the rehearsal room somehow had to change in the space, in terms of where you were in relation to other performers. I suppose that even without an audience in – although you get the guided tours coming through – the size of everybody’s performance grew as well. I don’t mean that you’re always having to be big, but more in the sense of having a size and a clarity about what you’re doing, so it doesn’t look fluffy. I’d say those were the main differences. You adjust the entrances and exits, going down those ramps from the set into the yard, the timing of various things; you suddenly realise there is a different timing, and so you have to refine the moment slightly. And of course, you’re wearing costumes for the first time, so moments you did in rehearsal don’t quite work in the same way.
The costumes are brilliant. The whole design of the show is great, but I think everybody’s costume is really right for what they’re playing. I liked the fact that the designer’s and director’s idea wasn’t to put this huge head on me, but just to extend my own features. There is a certain human element to that, and people seemed to enjoy that moment of transformation. I was slightly worried about the donkey teeth, because they were fitted to my own teeth. I didn’t want it to be that people couldn’t quite hear what I was saying, but they couldn’t have been better really!
The effect of tour groups
I really liked the fact that throughout the day, at regular intervals, there were people in the theatre [on tours as part of the Globe Exhibition] who you could direct things to and play things to. You go from the rehearsal room to the theatre and only have a week on stage for tech week, before audiences come in, so I found that very useful. Sometimes the director would bring them down into the yard if we were doing particular moments. Inevitably, they were seeing it completely out of context – they don’t know exactly what is going on – so as long as you don’t get worried about that, that it’s not a performance, it’s a useful tool to have.
There was quite a lot of adrenaline. I think everyone in the company was ready to do it; often in shows you think, ‘I can’t believe we’re doing it in front of an audience!’, but I think everyone was ready – the show was ready. But I don’t think we were quite prepared for such an incredible response. At the first preview, it was completely packed and that slightly overwhelmed us and caught us off-guard. it certainly felt like a lot of the choices that had been made, the audience were responding to; they were enjoying the moments of comedy, so it was a great beginning.
Changes during previews
There is a rehearsal period when you learn it one way, but you don’t know the show until its in front of an audience. You realise simple things about not waiting for something to end but instead overlapping, which I think is important in that space. As soon as someone stops speaking, the next person should be on. That keeps it dynamic, as an audience if you don’t have that you start to go into dips; you’ve got to constantly not let the audience go. Of course you can’t ride over the laughs – you need to be sensitive enough to control the audience, particularly in that space. If you’re not careful when they are a particularly wild audience (which is great, particularly with the groundlings) they will dictate the rhythm of the play. Early on in preview we had to make sure we were in control because as soon as they are in control you’re in trouble! For example, when we’re doing the Pyramus and Thisbe scene and I’m trying to kiss through the ‘chink’ in the wall, which gets a lot of laughter, I’ve discovered it really helps if I carry straight on into my next lines speaking through the wall. As soon as I do that, it’s like an indication that we’re about to carry on, and the laughter dies down – I think the audience don’t want to miss something!
Predicting the audience reaction
You can never be complacent or predict what will happen, but you can sort of map where those big laughs come. I think it would be alarming, now that we know it quite well, if we missed some of those big laughs completely – something would seriously have to go wrong with the rhythm to not get a laugh at some parts, and it would be down to us, not the audience. But then you have to be spontaneous with it. You can’t just churn it out. It has to feel like you’re doing it for the first time.
Differences within the audience
It tends to be more adults in the evening I suppose, but in the afternoons during the week, I’ve been aware of quite a lot of school parties, which is great. I’ve been surprised by some of the young children, wondering if they’re going to cope with two and three quarter hours of Shakespeare, but there seems to be an amazing engagement between them and this production.. The other great thing is that there is an incredible range of nationalities in the audience. I really like it, when you look down from the stage and see there are people from all over the world in the audience.
Playing to individuals within the audience
Certainly as Bottom, there are key moments when I speak directly to an individual. I think that it’s quite important to find moments like that, because if it’s done in the right way, and in the right place, the rest of the audience hone in on me and that person, and the audience enjoy that because it’s very direct. A good example is the moment when I try to reassure the ladies in the audience that the lion’s not going to be quite so terrifying. Suddenly in performance, I realised I should do this to one woman in the audience and engage her very directly. I’m sure that happens to others in the show – sometimes you’re playing to the whole audience, or a certain section, or one individual. You have to learn how to play the space.
The psychology of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
It seems to me that what works best in that space is not an attempt to recreate reality, but a level of artifice – something that I would say is bigger than life anyway. If you attempt to be realistic in the Globe space, I think it looks silly, because the play has an emotional heart to an audience anyway. When you play with artifice, you declare that that’s what the space forces you to do – like when I’m dressing up pretending to play Bottom as a donkey, the audience still know it’s me and I’m looking at you and you both agree about what’s going on. That, for me, is what theatre is about. It’s about the knowledge and the enjoyment of the artifice. That’s why the Globe space is brilliant. You ignore it at your peril.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.