This is Juliet's fifth blog entry for the 2005 production of The Winter's Tale in which she talks about the first performance, previews, and starting the company's next project- Troilus and Cressida.
Transcript of Podcast
What was it like? It was the most incredible thing I have ever experienced! Just the fact that we’ve been rehearsing this play for six weeks – trying out different things with Movement and Voice, putting the show together in the rehearsal room – then suddenly you get into the theatre and you have that audience… 1600 people become characters in the play. You can see them and they can see you and they’re completely involved in the story. At one point I went over to the corner of the stage and I was crying (at the end of the sheep-shearing scene). A lady put her hand on my foot and said ‘Oh no, don’t cry.’ You can’t ignore it; you have to respond, as you would in normal life. I turned around and took her hand, just held her hand.
I was pretty nervous before I went on stage, very nervous. But I do a little preparation where I take my character out of its box and put it on (at the end of the show I do the same thing and put it back in the box). I was nervous until I put Perdita on in the tiring house and then it was fine. It felt really organic and alive. The lovely thing about that space is that you’re really able to be in the moment and inhabit the world of the play; that gave me so many things to think about that I didn’t have much room to be nervous on stage. Although we did the same show that we rehearsed, it immediately took on a completely different aspect. For example, I realized that the audience have already created their Perdita by the time they meet her in the second half of the play (perhaps that's true of the Globe more than a theatre where everybody sits in the dark). They’ve seen Perdita as a baby in the first half and they’ve imagined her living with the shepherds. That gives a background to what I bring to the character; in a sense, they’ve already decided what I’m going to be like and they can almost help me through; you can turn around to look at someone in the audience and ask them ‘What should I do? What should I do here? They look back at you and it's like a conversation: you think ‘Oh well, I’ll do this’. It's an incredible feeling. You’re not isolated from the audience – in a normal theatre you could go on, do your Perdita and then leave whereas here you listen and respond to the audience. They’re different every night so the play is slightly different every night. We did a matinee last week for an elderly audience. They were so warm and utterly involved, so quiet and attentive. If you had dropped a pin on the front of the stage, they would have heard it. The play took on a slightly different edge: it was a little bit more it was more thoughtful and profound pace (whereas sometimes when we have lots of very young people in the crowd it can become a bit of a riot!). I think the audience really does have an effect on the play. You never know what's going to happen!
To have as many previews as we had was fantastic. Suddenly having the audience there meant the play took on quite a different shape after about a week. It got a lot faster and we adapted to the space… I think everyone started to try to embody the story more fully. We re-blocked whole pieces too; Florizel and Perdita's entrance at the beginning of Act 4, Scene 4 felt like very kind of stylized when we first tried it on stage. John, David and I all felt that it should be more organic. It worked in the rehearsal room but the second we put it on the stage it felt awkward. Now we’re using diagonals and curved lines or ‘bow lines’ for that entrance; never walk in a straight line unless you really want to make a point of it. We looked at the stage and thought a sort of figure of eight pattern might work - we sort of go around one pillar then the other and keep crossing each other. That seems to work much better.
I don’t know what it is about space but when you walk across it in a straight line it feels like you’re trying to ‘act’, making a very conscious statement, whilst a curved line feels more natural… for example, when Polixenes throws Perdita off her guard by saying ‘Well you fit our ages with flow’rs of winter’ [IV.iv]. Perdita turns around and says:
Sir, the year growing ancient,
Not yet on summer's death, nor on the birth
Of trembling winter, the fairest flow’rs o’th’ season
Are our carnations and streak’d gillyvors
She's trying to think up an answer as she goes along – she doesn’t start off knowing exactly what she's going to say. If you try saying that and walking along a straight line, it doesn’t work… she's not so sure of her direction. But if you use curved lines and take it away, it's almost as if you’re thinking up a response on the spur of the moment. Those movements also allow you to take in more of the audience. I hadn’t really thought about that before – it started to come to light in the first week of previews. Another discovery was the fact that you can turn out to the audience without it looking like a pantomime: there's a more intimate, subtle connection between actors and the audience which is never the same. Sometimes the audience protests at Polixenes’ tirade near the end of the sheep-shearing, and at other times I notice people nodding as if to say ‘Yes, I understand why he's angry.’ The space does have that edge: if the audience are of a certain type, then they will jump in and take sides. I like never being quite sure whether I’ll be supported that night!
Another thing I’ve learnt this week is that the work never stops! I stepped on stage the other night and felt that I had got a bit used to everybody being there. I felt that I hardly looked at the old shepherd until the very end of Act 4, scene 4. So I need to keep focussed; look people in the eye and react to what they’re doing because we each do slightly different things each night. We have to keep working on the relationships between characters to keep them fresh. What's lovely is that those relationships are there, definitely there; when I see Sam [Young Shepherd], my brother, you know he's my brother.
Troilus & Cressida begins
We’ve just started rehearsals for our second play, Troilus and Cressida in Original Pronunciation. It feels like we haven’t quite caught up with opening The Winters Tale (we only had a Press Night last week) and yesterday we met for our first Troilus rehearsal. I’m playing Cressida, Andromache and a figure in armour! David Crystal spent a whole day with us, going through the differences between Original Pronunciation and Received Pronunciation. The scripts for OP are incredible - we have all the lines on one side and the phonetics for the lines on the opposite page. I haven’t done phonetics for years so I can’t remember the sounds for half of the symbols! I didn’t see the Original Pronunciation performances of Romeo and Juliet last season - I wasn’t in the country at the time. I’m going to watch the video in the archive. I have heard the audio recording and it does seem to ground everybody's voices in a way that RP doesn’t. It's quite daunting – the play in itself is such a wordy play – but Giles [Block, Master of Play] is marvellous so I’m sure it’ll all be fine. My biggest fear is I’m going to walk on in The Winters Tale and start doing OP in the middle of the flower scene! Yes, I’m excited but there are butterflies in my stomach…
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.