This is Penny's sixth blog entry for the 2005 production of The Winter's Tale in which she talks about the first live performance, pre-performance nerves, how the production is evolving, and the use of the jig.
Transcript of Podcast
Well, the first performance was very scary but funnily enough I was more frightened during the dress rehearsal. I felt as if that was my last chance to get it right, which was silly of me because of course there's never going to be a perfect ‘finished’ play; it changes all the time. Before our first performance I looked out through the tiring house grilles and saw all the people out there – I just thought ‘You can only do your best’ and it was fine. There were lots of things to improve on throughout the play – little problems that make you think ‘Ok, Next time I’ll try this instead.’ A little problem for me cropped up in the second performance when I got stuck vocally in the first two scenes. I think I fell into the trap of trying to play with more volume rather than simply playing the intention of the character. The space does require a very supported voice because it's open air and there are the elements to battle with, as well as planes and helicopters (things Shakespeare's actors didn’t have to worry about!). I’m sure I can be heard most of the time, but there were a couple of moments in our first performance when my lines needed to be a little clearer. I tried to be louder in our next performance and got a bit stuck, but I gave myself a good talking to after the first two scenes and focused on playing what Paulina wants; soon my voice relaxed.
The audience reaction has been fantastic. I feel they like Paulina because she doesn’t take any nonsense at all. She's a hoot and I want to build on that alongside the other aspects of her character – her pity for the king, for example. I’m playing her compassion more and more. After Hermione's trial, the king is distraught and I think Paulina understands that he's a victim of his jealousy too – he loses as much as Hermione and has to cope with the knowledge of what he's done. After her initial anger and the shock of her grief, I think Paulina sees that. Paulina's relationship with Leontes goes back a long way; in my mind, Paulina is almost one of the family, so his jealousy is a tragedy for her too.
Her enormous compassion is the reason why she does what she does, and keeps Hermione hidden for sixteen long years. I suppose if I was in Paulina's position today, involved in a similar marriage crisis, then I’d say ‘Leave them.’ But Paulina thinks that once he's cured of his jealousy, he’ll be able to resume life with Hermione. I think that's what she does during those sixteen years; she heals him and brings him to his senses. He realises that he was wrong and does extreme penance. When we see him in Act five, he's a completely different person; he's generous and loving, ready to be reunited with his family. So I don’t think Paulina is out to punish him by imposing the long separation… I think she's out to heal him. Hermione needs time too – she can’t return to Leontes until Perdita is found.
As you walk out on stage, you see so many faces but you know they’re going to be there and it's a joy to see them. I don’t find that the least bit scary. I’m more worried about messing up my lines in a first performance: there's that terror ‘What if you mess up your lines and that messes up somebody else?!’ I don’t think I’ve done anything too terrible yet, although I did talk some drivel when my lines got muddled in the statue scene. I started off alright:
As every present time doth boast itself
Above a better gone, so must thy grave
Give way to what's seen now!
But then I got the words the wrong way round somehow. I had to keep the rhythm going until I came to a place in the rhythm where I knew what I said next! I don’t know what I said – it was scary but that's live theatre and everybody makes little mistakes. Mostly it's been fine.
During the preview period, we have a rehearsal before each show to go through notes and to tidy up bits and pieces. To a great extent those are technical things – entrances, exits, music cues, how the music fits into the scene. All the music at the Globe is live and being able to see the musicians makes such a difference. Often musicians sit down in the depths of a pit where they can’t be seen. Here they are very much a part of the play. Those are the kind of notes we’ve been working on… and we’ve also looked at how our positions on stage could be stronger. The blocking is pretty flexible so we can try out new things. It's all quite gentle; things will develop and change of their own accord as we play on stage during the previews
Lots of ideas are coming to me on the spur of the moment. It's wonderful when that happens during performance – I don’t mean radical things, it might just be a slightly different way of saying a line. In Paulina's scene with the jailor, for example, I basically say ‘Well, come on, take me to see the queen,’ and he looks at my servant then says ‘Put apart your servant and then I’ll take you.’ I agree ‘Ok, fine, take me then or fetch Emilia.’ The jailor looks at the servant again and I say ‘Withdraw yourself.’ I say that in a way that lets you know Paulina is thinking ‘Oh for goodness’ sake!’ and I recently found a better way of conveying that slight impatience. My intention hasn’t changed at all, but within that I’m finding a slightly earthier way of playing Paulina. She's a member of the nobility of course, but now I’m playing her in a more human way that's easier to identify with: you really know where she stands in that first scene.
I love our jig! It's fantastic to finish the play with a really joyous celebration – for the characters, for the actors, for the audience, and for the musicians. It's traditional to end with a dance that brings everything and everyone together. Last year I found the jig for Much Ado About Nothing tricky and the year before that [Richard III], I didn’t think I’d ever learn the steps, but it seems to be getting easier with practice. Having said that, I went wrong last night and caused a bit of chaos. Hopefully that won’t happen again! When I make a mistake in the jig, I just remember that the characters are people who aren’t dancers and if they go astray, well, so be it! It can add to the sense of fun – of course, I’ll try to get it perfect by the end of the season.
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.