This is Penny's seventh blog entry for the 2005 production of The Winter's Tale in which she talks about previews, press night and a modern audience's reaction to the magical nature of the final scene.
Transcript of Podcast
We opened and I’m pleased to say the play is going well… tonight is our last preview. We’ve been fiddling about with moves, just trying to find the right places on stage and really that means trying not to get in anybody's way! We have to make sure we’re using the depth of the stage to its full advantage; if people play in a line along the front of the stage, scenes get flat and you end up blocking the audience's view (especially in these enormous frocks). If the person in the centre of a line moves upstage above the pillars to form a triangle shape then more of the audience will be able to see more of the scene. So I’m just experimenting with where I want to be on stage at different moments. I think the best place to be for a really big scene is just above the trapdoor in the centre of the stage, but I also like the downstage corners (facing upstage on a diagonal line). It's not really where you stand so much as your position in relation to the other characters – that's why the diagonals are particularly useful. We’re all aware of each other's positions and what things like distance say about the relationships between characters; as you try different positions, you find patterns that work. The other important thing is to keep moving without being ‘busy,’ so everybody in the audience gets a chance to see somebody's face for some of the time. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the face of the person who's talking: I realised that during Paulina's big speeches at the end of the trial [3.2], it's Leontes you want to be looking at, not Paulina. It's the effect her words have on him that's important to the story.
We also tried out my new take on the end of the trial scene with Leontes. There's a real sense of reconciliation that we didn’t have at the beginning of rehearsals. Now I’m quite sure the scene is written so that Paulina absolutely takes pity on the king; she understands how upset he is and tries to help him. Originally we thought she could remain angry with Leontes until the end of that scene, but now I’m absolutely certain that reconciliation is important because it signals the start of Leontes’ healing. And the relationship between Paulina and Leontes prior to his jealousy is too strong for her to simply abandon him. She's all he's got left in a way. As I said, I think the focus of the scene is Leontes’ reaction… Paulina's got the lines but I’m certain the scene focuses on Leontes’ reaction to the news that his son has died, his realisation that it's all his fault, and his reaction to Paulina's anger. It's all about what's happening to him at that point. I think the more compassionate Paulina is in the final part of the scene, the more you understand just how upset Leontes is, because only that would calm her anger. It's the extremity of his reaction to the realisation of what he's done which touches Paulina and makes her compassionate. Her response helps you see how deeply he repents, and that prepares you for sixteen years’ penance and resolution at the end. At least that's what I’m hoping! The more we play the scene, the more that approach seems right.
Our audiences have responded very well to the statue coming to life – those that know the play know that the statue isn’t a statue, of course. Sometimes there's a bit of a titter here and there to begin with, but I play the line ‘It is required that you do awake your faith’ quite strongly. Within the play, I’m saying it to the courtiers and everybody on stage, but I think it also includes the audience: as a member of the audience, if somebody on stage says ‘It is required that you do awake your faith,’ you’re going to go along with it and say ‘Ok, I’m going to enter into this.’ That scene is very cleverly written – Paulina asks her audience ‘Ok, you’ve just got to believe’ and at the Globe they do enter into the spirit of it. It makes all the reconciliations and reunions at the end more joyous.
I get terribly nervous, but I hope I won’t tomorrow… I expect I will, but I try to treat it like any other night. You just pray it isn’t going to rain so you don’t end up shouting everything! The forecast is good, so fingers crossed. You hope that on a night when you’re judged by people who may or may not persuade other people to come and see it, that they’re going to see it in the best circumstances without too many planes or helicopters or driving rain – but you want that for every audience.
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.