Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 4

This is Peter's fourth blog entry for The Winter's Tale in which he talks about voice work, performing on the Globe stage, and continuing rehearsals.

Transcript of Podcast

Reports and Reunions

This week we put some scenes together and worked through larger sections of the play; we’re getting a real sense of the arc of the story. We’ve done lots of work on the last scene too, when Hermione's statue comes back to life. That scene [V.iii] has everybody in it, so the stage suddenly feels very crowded! It's quite tricky to do when we’re all stumbling over our lines, but it's a lovely end to the play.

I realised how much ‘tying up’ of the story is done off stage. It's extraordinary. Three gentlemen report the reunion of Perdita and Leontes, and the reconciliation of Leontes, Polixenes and Florizel in the penultimate scene. Although the third gentleman starts off by saying that the sight was ‘to be seen, cannot be spoken of’, he continues to tell how everyone cried and hugged each other in such great detail that it's easy to imagine that you have seen what he's describing.

Maybe Shakespeare uses reportage because staging those reunions would make the play far too long… it's a deliberate choice to report certain events and Shakespeare uses the technique more than once in The Winter's Tale: in the very first scene, the conversation between Camillo and Archidamus fills us in on the relationship between Polixenes and Leontes, and in the scene where the old shepherd finds baby Perdita, the Clown tells him all about the storm, the shipwreck, the nobleman being eaten by a bear! Staging the death of Antigonus would be difficult to say the least, but audiences can use the reports to imagine it: they almost stage the scene themselves.

To a large extent the story and the relationships have been tied up – the last scene focuses on Hermione and Perdita and Leontes. In our production, it starts with a festive atmosphere because they’ve been celebrating all the reunions and now they’ve come to see the statue. Polixenes is very much part of that because he has so much invested in Florizel and Perdita, and in his relationship with Leontes.

Also, Polixenes hasn’t seen Hermione since he ran away from court because the king suspected them of infidelity. So there's a lot at stake for everybody in the final resolution, when Hermione comes back to life. Without actually creating an extra moment, I want it to be clear to the audience that Polixenes and Florizel have reached some kind of resolution. The last thing I say to Perdita before the final scene is ‘I will devise a death as cruel to thee as thou art tender to it’ and the next time you see us, suddenly it's all ‘happy families’: there's a huge journey there that we don’t get to play, so we just need to imply it in a way that informs the relationships in the last scene.

You have to bear in mind that all the problems have been resolved and your relationships have moved on a long way in a very short space of time, just as they do at the beginning of the play. The speed of the action struck me when we ran the first two scenes of the play earlier today; they take you from the joyful reunion of Leontes and Polixenes, right through to Polixenes’ flight from court because the King has ordered his murder in a jealous fit. The whole situation is turned on its head very quickly. It's like the image of Time turning over the hour glass in the Chorus [IV.i]. Although the third gentleman starts off by saying that the sight was ‘to be seen, cannot be spoken of’, he continues to tell how everyone cried and hugged each other in such great detail that it's easy to imagine that you have seen what he's describing. Time says: ‘I turn my glass’ and sixteen years passes. Those huge shifts give the play a phenomenal momentum.

Sheep Shearing

The other big scene we worked on this week was the sheep-shearing [IV.iv]. It feels like we’re jigging every five minutes, because as well as the dance at the end of the play, there are all sorts of extra dances going on at the Shepherd's feast. There's juggling with plates and fruit. Sam and Tom are doing that (the young shepherd and his servant) and it's very impressive, I have to say. Actually it's amazing what people learn in order to do a play – Colin is playing Autolycus and he's never played a guitar or a stringed instrument before. He's learning how to play a seventeenth century cithern, and doing a great job. I feel quite boring because I just come on and talk!

John [Dove, Master of Play] is gradually feeding in ideas which help inform the situation and the story for each group of characters in the scene. One of the brilliant things about the sheep-shearing is there are several stories going on at once. There's the Florizel/ Perdita romance and the fact that he's disguised as a shepherd. There's Autolycus who picked the young Shepherd's pocket, and turns up at the sheep shearing to try his luck again. Autolycus becomes the focus for the rivalry between Mopsa and Dorcas (who are both in love with the young shepherd). Then you’ve got Polixenes and Camillo who arrive in the middle of all this, to try and find out what's going on as far as the rumours about Florizel and a shepherdess are concerned. There are lots of layers and the elements we’re adding (like the dances and the juggling) enhance the story. The juggling, for instance, is the young shepherd's way of encouraging Perdita to get involved; she's meant to be mistress of the feast but she's a bit shy. Like the dances, it's part of an attempt to get the party going and to get Perdita involved. Even the plate throwing helps to set up the idea of a community: these people are part of the family unit with relationships and rivalries. It fleshes the situation out and makes it all the more human.

The fun also brings out the contrast with what's gone before – from the moment Leontes says ‘Too hot, too hot,’ the atmosphere in Sicilia becomes increasingly dark and nightmarish. It's only after the action moves to Bohemia and Perdita is discovered that the sun comes out: there's a huge contrast between the storms and darkness in the first half of the play, and the bright sunshine of the sheep-shearing. Of course that's undercut when Polixenes reveals his identity in the middle of the feast and threatens to bar Florizel from succession, to have the old Shepherd hung and to have Perdita tormented. At that point, the atmosphere turns again. These zig-zags are really important to the story telling: you think the story's heading one way, and then it turns on a sixpence.

Voice Session on Stage

We had a good voice session last night. We were in the theatre and looked at different levels of sound – experimenting with how far the voice reaches at different pitches and volumes. We tried speaking some lines whilst standing on the ‘god spot’ which is a point right in the middle of the stage at the downstage edge. That's the centre of the Globe circle and your voice gains a fantastic resonance when you speak there because the sound ripples out and bounces back to you from every surface. It's a wonderfully powerful position on the stage. I’d like to do more voice work in the theatre, to just keep exploring… coming to a new space is a bit like learning to drive a new car; you know the basics remain the same, but everything's in a slightly different place, so you have to make adjustments. Actually, the session was very encouraging because the space didn’t feel daunting at all.

Work on Stage

I’ve performed in the open air before (at Regent's Park) so I’m not too worried about being heard outdoors. The Globe is different in that the theatre focuses attention in such a way that you’re not as aware of what's going on outside as you might be if you played in an open space. For example, if an aeroplane goes over the Globe, you’re not really aware of it until it's right over the theatre: it's really, really loud for a moment and then it's gone. Regent's Park is a much more open space and we could almost hear the planes as they took off from Heathrow! I remember playing Antipholus of Ephesus in Comedy of Errors and every night when I got to his long speech at the end, I could hear the roar of engines getting louder and louder as Concorde came in over London! I would hear it in the distance as I was getting to my speech, and always thought ‘Do I rush through it or do I get louder and louder to compete with it?’ Things are slightly different here because the theatre focuses energy and sound. As you’ve got the groundlings so close and the audience on three levels almost coming in on top of you, I think we’ll be more aware of distractions within the theatre – everyone moving all the time. We’ll see when we get to our week of technical rehearsals…

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.

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