This is Peter's first blog entry for the 2005 production of The Winter's Tale in which he talks about coming to the Globe, his first impressions of Polixenes and rehearsals so far.
Transcript of Podcast
Coming to the Globe
I was working with Mark [Rylance, Artistic Director] at the end of last year on a film called The Government Inspector which was about the David Kelly affair. Mark played the UN weapons inspector who committed suicide and I played a colleague of his. Towards the end of filming, he mentioned that he was going to recommend me to Siobhan Bracke [Casting Director]. I was delighted when I got a call from my agent to say they wanted to see me for The Winter's Tale. I came in to meet John Dove, the director or Master of Play, and Siobhan; we got on very well, and they asked me to join the Company. Initially they weren’t sure whether they wanted me to play Polixenes or Camillo. In the final event they decided on Polixenes, so that's how I came to be here.
Although I haven’t ever actually seen a play at the Globe, I used to come on the tour quite regularly when they first started building work here. I was intrigued by the structure. I also came to some of the open workshops and staged readings. So I’ve always had an interest in the Globe, but work commitments meant that I haven’t managed to see a show here: I’ve done a few seasons at the open air theatre in Regent's Park, which runs throughout a summer season as well.
First Impressions of the Space
One of the lovely things about the first day of rehearsals was that we didn’t really rehearse! We came in and had a very nice, welcoming day. Mark introduced us to everybody and we were introduced to the space as well; that was very exciting. I think most actors who are interested in Shakespeare are excited at the prospect of playing in this theatre, because it opens up a whole new understanding of the way Shakespeare relates to his audience. Also there's just something thrilling about the shape and feel of the architecture when you’re standing on the stage. The fact that the building is made of oak and natural materials is fantastic, because they give the theatre a great warmth and resonance. On the first day and in our classes with Stewart Pearce [Master of Voice], we talked a lot about the different resonances in different parts of the body (which represent different parts of the psyche). Those resonances are enhanced by the theatre space because it's wooden; speaking on the Globe stage is like playing inside a musical instrument, really. You feel that you are part of the whole structure. I’ve certainly been thinking a lot about to play that space… it's rather like being handed a cello or a double bass, and thinking ‘Ok, I know it has this inbuilt acoustic and I know that it's possible to make wonderful music, but I’m not quite sure how!’
Polixenes – Ideas on Character
The main preparation I did prior to rehearsals was just to read the play. I always like to start from there. I’m not clear about how I’m going to play Polixenes, to be honest. He's a foil to Leontes in some ways; they were very close as boys, and when they meet at the beginning of the play you get the feeling that they haven’t seen each other in years and years. Polixenes uses the image of twinned lambs – ‘We were as twinn’d lambs that did frisk I’th’ sun’ [I.ii] – and there's that image of twins coming together in a lot of Shakespeare, as though these people aren’t fully realised unless they’re together. I think that leads you to think of Leontes and Polixenes as two halves of the same coin. Having said that, in other ways they’re quite different. I get the feeling (just intuition at the moment, from beginning to look at the scenes in context) that Leontes is the jokier of the two at the beginning. In fact the Queen says ‘Was not my lord/ The verier wag o’th’ two?’ [I.ii] when they were boys together and Polixenes protests ‘No, no, we were like each other,’ but I think Polixenes does worry a lot about what's going on in Bohemia whilst he's away.
I see him as one of those people who is quick to cry through joy or pain – his emotions are there on the surface all the time and it's very easy for him to spin off into one extreme or another. That's interesting because when he talks about influence his son Florizel has on his state of mind he says:
He makes a July's day short as December,
And with his varying childness cures in me
Thoughts that would thick my blood.
The weight of responsibility that Polixenes feels as a King of Bohemia is alleviated by his son's playfulness, but I’m beginning to think that maybe those melancholic thoughts are also part of his character. He's easily drawn into emotions that pull him down, and perhaps what he sees in Leontes is another aspect which allows him to be more jovial; I think that's the joy of their coming together. Certainly he's completely lost when Camillo tells him that the king has ordered him to be poisoned and thinks he's having an affair with the Queen. Polixenes has to leave Sicilia and it's as if everything has been taken away from him.
In the Sheep-shearing scene later on in the play [Iv.iv], Polixenes loses his temper with his son because his son wants to marry the shepherdess Perdita. He goes very quickly into that rage, which he then obviously regrets. That's where I got the idea that he's quite volatile emotionally. I feel that Leontes’ passionate jealously, although instantaneous, is slightly different and that's what I’m trying to discover at the moment; what's different about them, because otherwise I think there's a danger of writing Polixenes off as a pale imitation of Leontes (that's obviously much less interesting to play as a role). Basically, I feel that Polixenes develops strong emotional dependencies: he's strongly tied to his son, he's strongly tied to Leontes, and he becomes strongly tied to Camillo and that feeds into his extreme reactions.
Work in Rehearsals
We did a read-through on the first day of proper rehearsal to get a sense of the shape of the story. John [Dove, Master of Play] is very quick as a director. He's full of ideas, so he's been very keen to get it up on its feet as quickly as possible. After the read-through, we’ve been working through the play scene by scene: we sit down and read through a particular scene, discuss it a little and then we’re up and working on our feet pretty much straight away. We do each scene over and over again, with lots of different ideas flying around the room – it's great. Today we’ve been working on the scene where the plot has moved sixteen years on and Polixenes is trying to persuade Camillo to stay in Bohemia [IV.ii]. Camillo is desperate to go back to Sicilia; he's had contact with Leontes in Sicilia, and Leontes has asked him to return. We think there are two things that are going on there – Polixenes is trying to keep Camillo with him, and the way he tries to hook him into staying is to bring up the question of Florizel (Polixenes’ son), who has been absent from Court. The rumour is that Florizel has become involved with the daughter of a shepherd, so Polixenes and Camillo decide to disguise themselves in order to find out more about that.
Polixenes has a very strong need for Camillo to stay; it's not just that Camillo is useful to him – it's more like an emotional dependency. We talked about the close relationship between Camillo and Mamillius (Leontes’ son) at the very beginning of the play. It's almost as if Camillo is Mamillius’ tutor, and we thought maybe this kind of closeness could be mirrored in his relationship with Florizel. So when we looked at how much Camillo knows about Florizel and these shepherdess rumours, we found it's more interesting to play that he does actually know, but doesn’t let on to the king – at least, until the king tells him some of the story and then Camillo can be more open. We identified different points in the scene where one person has a fuller knowledge than the other, and I really think that's lovely – the idea that they both have an agenda – because it brings the scene alive. Camillo wants to get back to Sicilia, but is now emotionally tied to Polixenes and Florizel in the way he was tied to Leontes and Mamillius, and the king plays on that.
Prose and Verse
We also talked a little bit about why that scene [IV.ii] was in prose. Most of The Winter's Tale is in verse. Camillo and Polixenes go back into verse after this scene and up until that point, all my scenes have been in verse, so the shift into prose is interesting. We’re still not sure why that happens – I don’t think anybody is! Giles Block [Master of the Words] tends to think that when characters speak in prose, they’re often speaking rationally, from the head. That can take all sorts of forms: it can be political speech, formal speech, or witty speech. The verse – because of its rhythm and because it has a strong pulse – tends to be much more emotional. It comes from the gut. But the trouble with Shakespeare (and the great thing about him too) is that you can never quite pin him down in that way, so you’ll find elements of prose that are more like verse and vice-versa. In terms of the Polixenes/ Camillo scene, I think that Shakespeare uses prose in contrast to Time's speech in rhyming couplets. Most of the play in blank verse, then there's Time's speech in rhyming couplets, then a prose scene [IV.ii] and the main bit of the Bohemia section is a mixture but a lot of it is in verse. I feel those shifts are probably intended to work subliminally: no doubt Shakespeare shifted easily from one form to another when he was writing, without consciously about why. The Polixenes/ Camillo scene is quite intimate, quite domestic in some ways, and a lot of it is about catching up on plot, so perhaps you could relate the form to the consolidation of plot, or the domesticity or the fact that they’re in disguise when they speak in verse at the sheep-shearing… you can’t make clear rules about it, otherwise you’ll end up shooting yourself in the foot!
Shape of the Play
We looked at how the scene between Camillo and Polixenes fits into the overall shape of the play. Directors often place that scene [IV.ii] after the interval, so at the beginning of the second half, Time comes on and moves the story forward sixteen years, and then you see Polixenes and Camillo having their scene. John has decided that all that will happen before the interval, so the world of the second half of the play ties into the world of the first half. Otherwise the danger is that you have all the scenes in Sicilia then there's a huge jump in the interval: Time comes along and says ‘We’ve moved on sixteen years’, then there's all the Bohemia scenes. The placing of Time's chorus can help us tie the worlds of Sicily and Bohemia together. It's also interesting for the character of Polixenes, because he's in two scenes in Act one and then doesn’t appear again until Act four. I think it's quite nice to see him again before the interval, to be reminded of who he is, and what's happened to him.
We’ve actually been looking at ways of dovetailing the scene [IV.ii] into Time's chorus. The idea at the moment is that Time will come on with Polixenes and Camillo, and he’ll do the first part of his speech as the Old Shepherd and the Clown are just going off, so you’ve got two character just going off and two characters just coming on. Time sort of freezes that moment and talks about the change in time; when he gets to the part about Florizel, we see the beginning of the Polixenes/ Camillo scene and just before the end of that scene, Time steps in and finishes the Chorus by talking about Perdita (which is what the story is moving onto), and then you have the last line of the Polixenes/ Camillo scene ‘My best Camillo! We must disguise ourselves.’ That seems to interweave the two halves of the play very well.
Group sessions are part of our rehearsal process too. We go off in groups to work with specialist ‘Masters’ on their area of expertise: Stewart Pearce is the Master of Voice, Glynn MacDonald is the Master of Movement, and Giles Block is the Master of the Words or Text. Working in small groups, we’re able to take an hour three times a week to explore things other than our play – the way Shakespeare writes in terms of prose and verse, for instance, or how we use our voices, or how we use our physicality – and hopefully all that all feeds back into the rehearsal process. It's a bit like being back at drama school; you rehearse some of the day and some of the day you have classes. It's nice to have all that bubbling away alongside rehearsals, especially when you come to do a Shakespeare play in a space with such specific demands. It's great to feel that you have a support network there to help you can go the distance. It's rather like having an M.O.T and a service before you go on a long journey in a car!
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.