This is Tom's first blog entry for the 2004 production of Romeo and Juliet, in which he talks about auditioning for the role, first impressions of his character and rehearsals so far, amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
I auditioned for last season and didn’t get in, so when I came back for Romeo and Juliet, last year suddenly seemed like a preliminary audition! I came in feeling more confident because I’d already met Tim [Carroll, Master of Play] and I knew he liked what I did. Altogether there were four auditions; in the first set I was quite nervous, but in the second set I read the balcony scene with Mark [Rylance, Artisitic Director] playing Juliet and it was just such fun that I almost forgot it was an audition. Tim, Siobhan [Bracke, Casting Director] and Mark's wife Claire [Van Kampen, Master of Music and Artistic Advisor] were also there. I just remember coming out of it feeling so happy! The same thing happened in the last audition with Kananu [Kirimi, Juliet]. I think I had a stupid grin on my face the whole time which I just couldn’t get rid of. Partly that was because they said ‘Really do the speech to us’, which you’re not always asked to do in a audition, and it suddenly felt like I wasn’t trying to say ‘This is how good I am’ – I was just in a room telling a bit of a story for some people.
Experiences of Shakespeare
I remember going to see Mark Rylance in Much Ado About Nothing whilst I was at school: I got so caught up in it that I persuaded my school to pick Much Ado About Nothing as our Shakespeare play for that year. We studied it, but I really didn’t start to think about Shakespeare in performance until drama school when I played Caliban in The Tempest. This is the first professional Shakespeare play I’ve done; I can’t quite believe it.
Romeo: Preparation, First Impressions
I was incredibly excited when I heard I got the part; I’ve wanted to play Romeo for a long time, which I think is quite unusual – I know a lot of guys my age who would rather play Mercutio, Benvolio, or Tybalt. Some people feel that Romeo's a bit soft, but I don’t believe that. Although I was thrilled at getting the part, there were a couple of weeks where I didn’t want to look at the script; I knew it would make me nervous rather than excited. I gradually began to take it piece by piece, though there were certain bits which I just thought, ‘there's no way I’m looking at that’ because they were just too big to tackle in advance – mostly in the second half of the play.
The speech I chose to do at the first audition was the ‘banished’ speech [III.3 ‘There is no word without Verona walls’] and it fundamentally summed up why I wanted to play Romeo. He's a person who is extremely prone to falling in love; you could say that at the beginning of the play, he's in love with the idea of being in love, but then this fiery, angry young man emerges who would rather face death than life without the person he loves. That was a side of it that really made it interesting for me as a character. I found that was the side that came to the forefront in the second half of the play which I avoided thinking about in depth before rehearsals. I read through the whole play, and obviously I’ve looked at the second half several times, but I haven’t actually started working it through in my head as much as the other bits. The second half of the play is when the tragedy really starts.
I didn’t learn my lines before we started; I find that when you’ve rehearsed a scene a few times, they’re so much easier to learn than if you just try and learn them straight off the script. You learn them as responses to the other people more easily than you can if you learn them alone by rote.
We were given prompt copies of the script, which means you only have your lines and a cue, which is usually the last few lines from the character who speaks before you. It made me really listen to what other people were saying because you couldn’t just look for your cue and go ‘Okay, it's me now.’ We got up it up on it's feet straightaway and walked through the first act with these prompt copies. It was completely chaotic, and half the time the person you were talking to had forgotten to come on or you had missed your cue. But it was fun. We’ve spent the first few days laying foundations, and Tim has an approach which I really enjoy as an actor: he stays open to different possibilities and different ways to do something, which allows you a greater freedom to feed ideas into the process. The last thing he wants to do is set things on the first day by saying ‘This will be played like this…’ In one sense, that freedom can be intimidating, but then I think that it's more fun as well.
Working with the Text
We’ve also begun to do some rhythm work with the text, which is new to me – I don’t know how I’ve managed without it! I’d always imagined that working closely with the iambic pentameter would feel a bit restrictive, but it has actually had the opposite effect and opened up more possibilities. We did this thing where you beat out the iambic rhythm as you’re doing it. Half the time, you’re thinking ‘This sounds so unreal,’ and then suddenly it will release one sentence: you put the stress or emphasis in a certain place and the line makes sense. It's surprising that if you don’t pay attention to the rhythm, you can instinctively place stress in exactly the wrong place, where Shakespeare didn’t want it, and then spend ages not knowing why the line isn’t working. I was saying
Tis torture and not mercy. Heaven is here
Where Juliet is…
and then you suddenly realise, "Oh, but the iambic rhythm means it's ‘Tis torture…’" and the line suddenly sounds better and you just go, ‘Well, why didn’t I think of that?’
I was doing the first Friar scene [II.3] with John McEnery and we did an exercise where we repeated whichever word in the line had inspired our reaction. It's what happens in real life – you hear a certain word and that's what goes in. And it really makes you think about where the line's coming from in relation to the other character, not just in relation to your own journey.
Thinking about Romeo
When I was reading the play before we started rehearsal, I kept on thinking that the first scene where he parries Benvolio's questions is really very witty, and he is a very witty person. He's one of those people who, although they’re upset, still manages to make fun of it – even if it doesn’t make him feel better, just to ease the conversation he's having. I suppose it must be to make themselves feel better as well. He would be very annoying if he came on and just moaned.
I saw the Baz Luhrmann film , and I remember coming out of the cinema feeling wired and thinking ‘Wow!’ I don’t know if it moved me exactly, but it was a great film in terms of pace: one of the reasons it worked on an entertainment level was because it was so fast. I’m very pleased that the only other times I’ve seen the play have been some rather bad productions. I found myself watching and thinking ‘How would you do that scene?’ But then you read it and realise that actually it can work in a very simple way. For instance, in one production Romeo came on in the first scene and he was just so miserable that after five minutes you wanted him to shut up. I’m quite glad I’ve seen those productions, because it makes me feel more confident about what I want to do.
Costumes: Original Practices
I’ve also been having costume fittings. They’re amazing actually; the production is original practices so I’ll be wearing really fitted doublets and they do something to the way you stand. Most of time I’m a terrible sloucher and I sit in the most awful positions, so I’ve always got a sort of tightness in the top of my chest. After I’ve worn one of the doublets for an hour or two, I feel like I’ve had an Alexander session or been to the osteopath. It's really weird. I can almost feel little bones clicking into the right place.
Another thing about original practices is the sense is makes of certain lines. Whenever you’re doing a modern dress production, there are certain lines you have to fudge a bit because they don’t make sense: if Lord Montague calls for his long sword and he is presented with a gun, there's a discrepancy and you have to work hard to get round it. Similarly, there are so many references to what people are wearing in Shakespeare's plays; with original practices productions you suddenly don’t have to worry about that because you can say a line about French slops and point to somebody's hose instead of either cutting it or sort of going ‘Uh… French slops,’ and pretending it's not there. It's one less thing to worry about and the costumes themselves are looking great.
This will be my first time at the Globe and I’m expecting a different relationship with the audience simply because here everybody can see each other. I’m looking forward to it a lot because I think it will really help the scenes, particularly with this play. When I’ve seen this play performed and it hasn’t worked, it's been because the audience was in complete darkness. The balcony scene, for instance: I feel that scene [II.2] really needs to start with Romeo sharing something with the audience ‘He jests at scars that never felt a wound’ – and whenever I’ve seen it before in a theatre, it's been somebody staring into space, pretending that they’re really on their own. It doesn’t engage the audience so that they follow the scene where it goes. I’m actually feeling extremely empowered by the idea that I can see people, though I can imagine it’ll make first night more nerve-wrecking.
All in all, I've had a great week. I just had a movement session with Glynn [MacDonald, Master of Movement] and I feel that I’ve stretched for the first time in ages; my body just feels so much better. Maybe that sounds pathetic but I must have been really tense all week; now I feel ready to go again.
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.