This is Penny's final bulletin, about the performances of Romeo and Juliet. She discusses the audience response to the play, to her character and to Shakespeare's humour.
Transcript of Podcast
It’s really exciting getting your first preview audience. Dominic [Dromgoole, director] was very funny about them, saying it would be like a party of eight year olds that have had far too much sugar! They are the Globe fans who all really want to be there because not only is it the first preview but it is also the opening night of the season. So there is a lot of anticipation and a very positive energy in the building. The audience want it to be great – there’s a real willingness there.
Keeping the momentum
There is obviously a shift from the rehearsal room to the stage and we did a lot of stitching together in terms of timing and tightening things up. You can really enjoy yourself on that stage and it’s very easy to decide to really take your time – but actually you can’t. The story rockets forward – masses of things happen in a short space of time and it’s brilliantly written for that. So in preview week it all sped up; we were taking the air out of stuff where it doesn’t need to be.Saying that, I think some of that has crept back in. We get an announcement about the timing at the end of every show saying the lengths of the first half, the interval, the second half and the overall running time. We’ve put a few minutes back on, so when Dominic comes back I’m sure his biggest note will be, “Speed up! Speed up! You can’t pause there! Stop enjoying yourselves so much and start talking before those other people have left the stage!”
The audience adds a completely different element to the show, especially in the comedy bits in the first half of the show for example. I never realised Romeo and Juliet was quite so funny … although that’s all the fault of Philip Cumbus, who is playing Mercutio – he’s terribly, terribly rude. Whenever you rehearse comedy, whether it’s contemporary or classical, you are always missing a character – the audience – because you have to have their reaction for the comedy to work. The Globe audience is particularly unique in this respect because you can see them: moving, talking …yawning! I think it’s brilliant although obviously I think it’s less brilliant when I catch somebody yawning, or not paying attention or leaving! I think you have a much more honest relationship with the audience when you can see them.
Jan, [Haydn-Rowles, voice] described it as “an incredibly honest space” and I think that’s one of the best ways to sum up what it’s like playing the Globe. You just have to be honest because they suss you immediately if you’re not. You can’t bluff it here, and there’s nowhere to hide onstage. So I don’t think it’s a disadvantage. Sometimes you’ll get a school party and English isn’t their first language, it’s a big ask to make them stand in the yard for over an hour and a half, and pay attention. So sometimes they’re leaning on the stage, having a full-blown conversation, which drives you up the wall! I don’t mind if they’re whispering, and you hope they’re at least talking about the play, explaining to each other what’s going on. You do get quite a lot of translating, which is fair enough.
For the first time, we find out how funny things really are – people either laugh or they don’t. But people laugh at the weirdest things! In yesterday afternoon’s show the audience laughed during Romeo’s last bit, just before he died. I asked Adetomiwa [Edun, Romeo] why and he said he had no idea. But actually, I bet it was a pigeon on stage – they are so bold! They don’t come on stage during the evening but during the matinee they are like, “This is our house. What are you doing? Get out, you people in your funny clothes and with your funny language!
Equally though, I’ve had a couple of tumbleweed moments where there’s been no laughter. In the scene with Romeo where I say, “Dost not rosemary and Romeo begin both with a letter?” (2.5.202), she nearly says a rude word in front of a gentleman; she stops herself but because of that, she gets a bit discombobulated and gets her words wrong. It hasn’t been getting a lot of laughs, so I said to the director that my fear was that the audience think me-as-the-actress is the one getting it wrong and not the Nurse. But Dominic told me he loved that so I’m stuck with it. Every now and again somebody will have a little giggle – not a belly-laugh, more, “Oh, bless, the Nurse is getting her words muddled.!” Fergal [Fergal McElherron, Balthazar/Peter], and I come off and he always says “It always gets me. I love it. I really laugh.” So I’m just doing it for him now. If nobody else gets it and there’s tumbleweed throughout the yard, that’s fine because Fergal will enjoy it every time anyway!
Open air at the Globe
It’s interesting being in the open air because we get planes flying overhead. I’ve had performances when it feels like they appear every time I’m onstage – it’s ridiculous! There was even one day where we had a military flyover from Greenwich, with six or seven big huge helicopters. They were so loud, so I stopped and looked up at them because I couldn’t speak over them. It was a light-hearted scene so it was forgivable because the audience all looked up too, and then I carried on. But poor Ellie [Kendrick, Juliet] had the same thing happen during the scene where she learns Romeo has been banished. She had just launched into her long tragic speech, “Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband?” (3.2.97), when three of the military helicopters came in flying low. But she couldn’t stop and look at them – you can’t if you’re doing a tragedy scene, you have to just push through. It’s something you have to contend with.
Press night is about keeping your head. There is an awful lot of hype – everybody’s agents are coming and some people’s families are here (though I ban my partner from coming to press night because I think it’s really hard not to feel excluded if you’re not part of the company). Also, I had two agents in with a casting director so you’re doing business meetings as well. So, you have to try to stay calm for press night … even though we actually had press in way before press night anyway; critics came in before and critics came after. We kept reminding ourselves of that, and decided to view it more as a time to celebrate the show, to really embrace it … and to have a great big party afterwards!I think everybody did quite extensive warm ups and tried to be calm. Flowers arrive in the dressing room and chocolates and bouquets and everyone’s giving out cards. We had a whole card phenomenon going on in our dressing room. The stage management team were very intrigued about what we were doing because we kept going in to them asking, “Can we borrow some glue? Can we borrow some scissors?” That was fun!
These comments are the actor's thoughts and ideas about the part as s / he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his / her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsals progress.