This is Tom's sixth blog entry for the 2004 production of Romeo and Juliet, in which he talks about preview performances, developing the production and original pronunciation.
Transcript of Podcast
First Performance: Preview
The first performance was amazing; the atmosphere in the theatre was incredible. The first half went very well, although we have made changes during the preview period. There were lots of little gags in the first half that have been cut – well, gag isn’t really the right word: it was a case of there being moments when I think we got the wrong the sort of laugh. For instance, in the first balcony scene [II.2], I try to climb up a vine to reach Juliet. The vine falls down and I land back on the floor. That went down very well on the first night and got a big laugh, but it was cut after the third preview. I think Tim [Carroll, Master of Play] is right to make those changes, because if the laughs are too big then you can come to rely on them to carry you through a scene rather than playing your intentions properly. Also, it seems a bit unnecessary to go all the trouble of setting up a vine every night just so I can fall off it in one scene!
Although I thought the first half went well, I was rather unhappy with what I did in the second half [the interval in this production is between III.1 and III.2]. I got anxious about being truthful and honest, which is counter-productive. If I think too much about that word whilst I’m acting, I end up using my truth, which is very different from Romeo's truth because, like most people, I have lots of defence mechanisms, whereas Romeo hardly seems to have any. Deep down, I think Romeo and I are quite similar, but if I start thinking along the lines ‘How would I react to that?’ then I get stuck in something which isn’t particularly helpful. I found it very liberating to think of the surface differences between us rather than the similarities: I’ve starting to make more conscious attempts to change my physicality. One example would be my strides. Normally, as Tom, I take quite small steps. I don’t really stride about, but I’ve been trying to walk like that as Romeo. I just take bigger steps onstage because I think he would. He's a young man in Italy in a particular period, and there's a certain physicality that all young men would have had then – it has a lot to do with bravura. Tim's been very reluctant to try behaving in any sort of stereotypical ‘Italian’ way, but there's an element of that which needs to be acknowledged. That's the main thing I’ve been concentrating on this week.
The show has been growing a lot each night since our first performance. Different things are getting better, though inevitably there will be some days when you feel that you’ve taken a step back in one or two places. That just happens with each moment in the play. On one night you have to re-think a particular moment: ‘Hang on, how can I make this work?’ but on another day, a certain part of the play will just feel great. Then we had the opening, our First Night. I never read reviews but, in my experience, what people have said inevitably filters back. Actually, I did read one review this time: I think the person identified a point where there's room for improvement. He suggested I needed to go further emotionally, in terms of the grief, and that's something I had been thinking about. I’m going to try and work on that.
Basically the first half is fine and I’m still finding the second half problematic. Some people think that's the nature of the play, but I don’t think this is necessarily true. Although the pace of the play is fast and time is a constant pressure for Romeo and Juliet, that shouldn't collapse into a rush. I feel I’ve been rushing the second half a lot. Tim said ‘Let those moments hit you.’ That essentially means you have take time to register what's just happened before you speak your next lines. Allow yourself time to feel. I’ve been a bit reluctant to wait because I worry that nothing's going to come!
In the last act, I get to that moment where I walk on in Mantua and it really feels like twenty seconds later I’m downing poison. It goes so fast. There's no ‘To be or not to be’ speech; it's a case of 'I’m going to kill myself and I’m going to do it like this'. I feel that I’m missing something big at that point and I don’t know what it is. Maybe this is because I’m only playing one intention which is a very clear, strong desire to die… perhaps I need to explore the possibility that Romeo is also afraid of death. I'd like to find something that creates tension in the moment, pulling it in any other way. I suppose the tension could also come from external sources like the Apothecary, or Paris, or Balthazar. At the moment I’m a bit confused, but I’m excited by the play and I’m learning a lot. We've got a long run so there is time to make changes and play around until it feels right.
Period of Rehearsals and Performance
After the first night, we came in and did an exercise where Tim clapped out the beat and we made sure we’re saying lines in rhythm. It was very different, re-rehearsing each day and then performing. We concentrated on different things in rehearsals. The physicality of the balcony scene, for instance; if you’re far away from somebody you love and you can’t get any nearer to them, how does that affect the way you gesture and the way you use your voice? That's been a big thing: we didn’t have the same sense of physical division in the rehearsal room because Kananu [Kirimi] was stood on a chair and I could have reached her if I tried. Things changed when we played the scene in a space that actually puts physical obstacles between us, and that's something we’ve been exploring further. We also looked at my first entrance [I.1]. We’re trying to pull away from playing ‘I’m sad’. I think we’ve come back to the fact that Romeo is basically unafraid of any emotion, to the extent that he's excited by every emotion he feels – even sadness.
Now that there aren’t any more rehearsals, you just have to do the work yourself and then dare to try things out onstage. I probably should have started working by myself earlier on in the process but sometimes you don’t want to take on that responsibility straight away, and it's much easier for the work to be a continuous, as part of a group working with the director. Apart from everything else, I was exhausted each night, so going home and sleeping was about all I wanted to do. I think it's important to have time outside rehearsals to think about things – I’m doing that now, and I’m finding that it can actually be a fun and interesting way to work.
One scene I’ve been thinking about is Act three, scene three: the banished scene. It's very emotional. I had a little block about the emotion in it so I went away and just thought about it in physical terms; at each point, at each moment, how much tension is in my body and how much tension is in my voice? Of course, how much tension there is in your body informs the movements you make. That's given me a good map of the scene and that map has helped me work through the block – I know where I need to get to at each stage. Breaking it down makes it more manageable in a way. I might do that with all my scenes.
The next big thing will be our performances in ‘original pronunciation’. We’ll do three performances in what is believed to be a Tudor accent – we'll speak as Shakespeare's actors might have spoken. We’re going to start work with linguist David Crystal very soon, which will be good. In my heart of hearts, I hope that the experience will unlock meanings that have hitherto gone unnoticed, but right now I suspect it could be hilarious. There will probably be moments of enlightenment and other moments when I’ll want to laugh! I really don’t know how the accent will affect the play because we haven't been told exactly what that accent will be – somebody said that it's a bit like Southern American accent, somebody said Birmingham, and somebody else said Swedish.
Over the last few days, I’ve been thinking about how different accents might influence the play. Will the accent that they come up with make the characters more familiar or will it make the play harder to understand? Initially I wanted to walk on stage and have the audience think ‘I know blokes like that.’ Now I don’t know if that should be one's first impression of Romeo. Maybe one's first impression of him should be ‘I don’t know anyone like that’. You start to wonder why people come to the theatre; I don’t know if it's to see life as we recognise it or to see life as it might be lived… perhaps this type of expectation will affect an audience's reaction to the accent. OP [Original Pronunciation] performances also raise questions about the associations attendant on accents in today's society – I was wondering whether different accents would make the characters seem more domestic, rustic or exotic. It will be interesting to find out over the next couple of weeks.
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.