Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes

Toby will play Portia, the wife of Brutus, as well as Octavius Caesar, who with Mark Antony leads an army against the conspirators.

Transcript of Podcast

Toby will play Portia, the wife of Brutus, as well as Octavius Caesar, who with Mark Antony leads an army against the conspirators. These roles are clearly very different and will make diverse demands on Toby's acting skills. Both are substantial roles and as rehearsals begin present Toby with an exciting challenge.

At the beginning of the rehearsal process, research plays a very important role in Toby's work – he tries to find out as much as possible about the characters he will play. Toby has been reading historical information regarding Portia and has made several discoveries which he feels will be helpful in his interpretation of the role. He has discovered that at the time the play commences, Portia has only been married to Brutus for a few weeks; she is considerably younger than Brutus. Portia's father, Cato, is Brutus’ uncle (when Portia tries to persuade Brutus to confide in her in Act 2 Scene 1 she tells him that she is "…a woman well reputed, Cato's daughter.") Portia's father fought with Pompey against Caesar in the Civil War, where he committed suicide rather than admit defeat. Brutus, Cassius and Metellus Cimber fought with Cato and were pardoned by Caesar to return to Rome as Senators. This historical knowledge provides insights into Portia's background and can help Toby when he considers what motivates Portia's actions in the play.

One of Toby's favourite methods of research is to create a profile of his character, rather like a CV – he lists his/her title or status, education, and family background or history. Toby also likes to map the character's journey through the play – tracing how his character starts the play, evaluating how each moment effects the way in which s/he behaves. As part of this exercise, Toby would also think about his character at the end of the play and evaluate how s/he has grown or developed. Toby feels that Portia's journey is very clear – she begins the play as a young wife and ends by committing suicide – although this is reported rather than seen on stage. Portia has few scenes, but is central to the scenes in which she appears. Toby finds it useful to think about the scenes which are reported in the play but are not seen on stage – scenes such as Portia's suicide, or the moment in which Brutus revels to Portia the real reason for his behaviour. Ideally, he will improvise these scenes with the other actors in the company. Toby feels that these scenes play a crucial part in the story even though they do not form part of the text. Toby likes to carry the memory of acting these improvised off stage scenes in his head when he is playing the actual scenes that Shakespeare wrote for the play.

Toby feels that telling the story of the play is central to an actor's interpretation or understanding of a play or role. Most of the work in the first week of rehearsal has centred around ways of telling the story of the play to the audience. During the first week of rehearsal, the company also focused on how the actors and characters in the play relate to each other. Like Toby, each actor will have an idea of his/her own character's journey – but through rehearsal they must explore how these ideas fit together.

At this early stage in the rehearsal process, Toby is careful not to play scenes using knowledge that he would only have later in the play. It is essential to remember that the moment he is playing is happening to his character for the first time and that s/he has no idea how the situation will develop.

At this stage in rehearsal, Toby finds it useful to improvise each scene of the play without looking at the text - this can even be reduced to a condensed improvisation of each act. Often the director asks the actors to read a scene and then improvise that scene, remembering it in as much detail as possible.

At the moment, Toby has been working on Portia's scenes: he has yet to rehearse as Octavius because the company have only reached the half way point of the play and Octavius does not appear until Act 4. Toby has made a list of everything Portia says about herself and everything that other characters say about Portia. This helps him to gain a greater insight into her character and her relationship with the other characters in the play. These insights will inform all of the decisions that Toby makes as an actor about his portrayal of Portia.

Toby came to the role thinking that Portia was a ‘proper’ and moralistic character. Since starting rehearsals, however, he has started to review this notion, primarily because of Portia's knowledge of the plot to assassinate Caesar. If Brutus were to gain power, Portia would become the ruler's wife – the most powerful woman in Rome – she could be driven in her actions by personal ambition. At this early stage, Toby can not decide how active Portia is in this situation. At the moment he feels she is not the driving force but supports her husband. Toby feels that in her second scene Portia is ‘beside herself’ because of the possible consequences of Brutus’ actions, but wants her husband to emerge victorious. He believes that Portia wanted Brutus to tell her his secrets but when he does finds she cannot deal with this knowledge.

Portia's death is pivotal to the final act of the play. The news of her death is given at the end of Act 4 – a long while after her last appearance – and is the first of the suicides which end the play. Toby is still grappling with the notion of suicide as it was understood by the Romans – he feels it is a difficult concept to understand as a modern actor and to communicate to an audience. For the Romans suicide was a noble action, a way of maintaining honour in the face of defeat. This is an issue which Toby will explore in greater detail as the rehearsal period progresses.

At the moment, Toby is concentrating on trying to tell the story of his scenes as truthfully as possible. Nothing at this point in the rehearsal process is fixed – anything can change in the coming weeks.

These comments are the actor's thoughts and ideas about the part as s / he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his / her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsals progress.

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