This is Tom's second blog entry for the 2004 production of Romeo and Juliet, in which he talks about fight scenes, clothing and dance in the production, amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
This week I’ve started to feel confident enough to experiment with Romeo – at the beginning of rehearsals I was rather nervous about what people would think and that made me tighten up, but I really enjoyed my individual sessions with Giles [Block, Master of Words] and Tim [Carroll, Master of Play] at the end of last week and that has helped me to relax. We talked about character in both sessions, working through the first scene [I.I] and the balcony scene [II.2]. The humour of the first scene just hit me. It could easily turn into one long moan for Romeo, but that's not how it's written if you look closely. Lines like ‘Ay me! Sad hours seem long…’ quickly become part of a very witty repartee full of jokes and wordplay. Focusing on the humour in that scene is going to be the best way to prevent Romeo's speeches sounding whiny. The same sense of discovering fun in the verse cropped up again during the balcony scene. Romeo's speeches give you a picture of somebody who is poetic, but at the same time he's clever and using humour in a gentle way. We’ve been working on that scene as a group too. I’ve been struggling through it, but now I think I’ve found the rhythm; I’ve got a better idea of where the scene starts and finishes and where Romeo has to get to in that scene. At the moment, during rehearsals we’ll work through a scene then do a few games followed by another scene, so you often finish a session on a particular scene and think ‘Can’t we try that again?’ That's certainly how I felt after working on Act II, scene 2. It's good because it leaves you wanting to do more work on the scenes rather than feeling that you’ve bashed the hell out of them.
One of the things Tim did was to ask us to run the scene very quickly: ‘You’ve got to do this in two minutes and we’ll keep doing it until we’ve done it in two minutes’. I don’t think we’ve ever managed it yet, actually. It's funny - when you do something really fast, you almost stop monitoring your thought; you find yourself using your body more freely. Another exercise we did involved only saying one word from each of the lines, so you got a sort of haiku of the scene. All these exercises help though you don’t always know how they’ve helped immediately afterwards. They do plant the seeds of ideas in your head. I often leave rehearsal feeling kind of confused, but actually, when you look back on it, you realise that the exercise has led you to discovery new things or approach a scene in a different way.
Now we’re working on about six scenes a day. Though we’re moving very quickly through the play, nothing is left just papered over. There's no chance of cutting corners with quick-fix definitions ‘that means that’ or ‘that means that’. I like that Tim leaves things unresolved and acknowledges them as such. You don’t start to con yourself into believing you’ve understood something when you haven’t. Whilst I hate the feeling that I haven’t understood a line, the uncertainty is ultimately more productive. Sometimes during rehearsal you can convince yourself that you know what a line means, just because of the momentum that the whole process takes on, but when you step back it's not so clear... it would be awful to get to first night and suddenly realise onstage ‘I never found out what that meant’. Leaving small moments 'open' gives you a lot of freedom, but it can also be quite intimidating when you feel you haven't understood a line. A line that's causing difficulties like that for me right now is in the first scene, when Romeo says to Benvolio ‘Is the day so young?’ [I.1] I don’t think that line is really about feeling – it's more to do with surprise: ‘Hang on, you’re telling me I’ve not been walking round for five hours?’ As soon as you make those kinds of decisions it becomes more believable, but I’m having problems getting that across. I can appreciate Romeo's surprise because I’m dyslexic and that sort of affects my feeling of time, but communicating that emphasis is difficult.
Another small moment that I perhaps thought would be nailed down is when Romeo says to Benvolio:
…Oh me, what fray was here?
Yet tell me not for I have heard it all.
Here's much to-do with hate, but more with love.
Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate,
O everything of nothing first create!
It goes on… I know one could say, well, he's talking about love and the contradictory feelings it involves; you can almost hate the person you are in love with, because how dare they make you feel like this? There's the same blurriness about feeling hate for people. But I’ve still got to work out whether he's talking about the brawl between the Montagues and the Capulets, or his own emotional state, or both. We tried playing it all three ways but nothing had a clear chime of ‘Oh, that's right!’ So those lines have been left open – it's a bit frustrating because you know you’ve got to get something sorted out, but you can’t force it. Sometimes you can work at something for hours and it won’t click, but when you look at it the next day, everything makes much more sense.
We’ve had about three fight sessions now. We’re working on these sequences apart from the text because the lines don’t really overlap with the fight, although I’ve seen it staged like that before. I think it's better not to intersperse the fight sequence with dialogue, because swordsmanship is an art-form in itself. Everything has to be precisely choreographed and the legwork for the duellists is very complex… I’m concentrating on putting my feet in exactly the right place. At the moment I’m shuffling a bit too much – my back foot follows the front foot into the lunges – but my last session with Rodney helped that a lot. Having said that, the movements of the fight are separated from the lines, but the dialogue that frames those movements will of course feed into the way we move. The character still has motivations and intentions that are deeply embedded in the rest of the play. I mean, just knowing that you’re entering into a fight with the intention of killing somebody gives you a very clear idea to where you have to get to emotionally in the scene. It's such a big action and I enjoy that there is a very clear journey here. There are so many ‘big’ actions in Romeo and Juliet and innumerable ways of playing those actions, so the clarity of Romeo's desire to avenge Mercutio's death is quite attractive!
Jenny [Tiramani, Master of Clothing] and I have been talking a bit about costume recently. Before we started rehearsal, Jenny's idea was that my costume was going to be black or blue – dark colours – which I like because it suggests someone who's very serious, almost stupidly so. And I think Kananu's costume is going to be red, so the contrast will look great. I’m having a fitting later today so we’ll see how the costume's coming. We rehearse in our normal clothes but it’ll be helpful to get used to the shoes that I’m going to be wearing onstage, or something similar. I tried on loads of shoes and none of them fitted so I think a pair is being made for me. Another thing about costume: I can’t wait to do the dances wearing hose! The masquers come in and dance during the feast scene [I.5] and I think this will be a lot easier in hose, because the amount of times we have to land on our backsides and roll around on the ground is astonishing – I’m hoping there's some nice cushioning in there! The rolling around may be cut a bit, because our costumes will take some serious punishment during the dance as it stands at the moment.
Actually there are two dances and we’ve been practicing for both of them– a jig to end the play and the pavane which we perform in the party scene [I.5]. We decided the other day that it's not actually a ball we’re going to in Act I scene 5. We’re going to gatecrash a supper that Capulet is holding, and we bring the musicians with us. The rule in Elizabethan times was that you were allowed to invite yourself if you brought along some musicians – gate-crashing with a crate of beer is probably the modern equivalent – so the musicians mean we’re allowed into supper and we do a kind of dance by way of an introduction. There's four of us involved in that: Romeo, Mercutio, Benvolio and a friend of theirs whom we’ve yet to find a name for. I don’t find learning the steps too difficult – right now it's easier than the legwork for the fight, but that's probably because so far we’ve spent more time on the dance, and dancing the more familiar skill in a modern context!
One of the things I’m discovering about Romeo is his strength of character: he's authoritative, which initially seems to clash with the idea of a very young character but sometimes it is children command the most authority. Marcus's character in About a Boy, for instance, is strange and quiet and he commands an odd kind of authority. I think it's partly to do with being completely caught up in your own world, and that has resonance for Romeo's character too. I suddenly realised that he's very much his own person. He's gets persuaded to go to the ball, but if he really hadn’t wanted to go, he wouldn’t have gone. He doesn’t have any qualms about standing apart from the group, which is interesting. I know I never just flatly refuse to go out with friends when I don’t feel like it. Instead I always come up with what I think is a good reason, but Romeo just tells them straight ‘No, sorry, I’m sad. I don’t want to.’ That shows some strength of character.
Romeo and Benvolio
We’ve done a lot of work on the first scene with Benvolio, and Romeo's relationship with him has become much closer. They’re very much like family. The first scene reminds me of brothers or cousins together. When family come to stay, you have a great time together but often you can feel the need for a bit of space – without ignoring each other, you can just touch base every day with strange little conversations that don’t involve an exchange of information: ‘Are you alright?’ / ‘Yeah, no, I’m fine.’ It's a kind of social ritual and maybe a similar thing happens in the conversation between Romeo and Benvolio. Their talk keeps to the surface and that's alright because they are so close. Of course, they do talk about things but essentially the pattern is the same: ‘Are you alright?’ and so on. I’ve started to think about Romeo's relationship with Mercutio as well, but that's still wide open right now. There are so many different ways one could go. I know James has lots of ideas, some of which he’ll share and some of which he probably won’t, which will make the dynamic more interesting.
Since we began rehearsals, more cuts have been added. I’m always a bit surprised when one of my lines goes but I completely understand the need for it. Tim has to get the running time right and you can say in the defence of almost any line in Shakespeare ‘Oh, but it's interesting... ’ Relationships and characters in Shakespeare are constantly evolving so there is the tendency to feel that if you take lines away, you’re missing out on a little bit of that journey. But when you put it in perspective, you see that the journey can happen without those lines. For instance, there's a line of mine that's gone. Benvolio says ‘Tell me in sadness, who is it that you love?’ and Romeo responds:
What, shall I groan and tell thee?
I liked that line; it made me laugh when I read it. I had started thinking about how Romeo might say it, and once you’ve started that it's quite difficult to let a line go. I was surprised it went but obviously cuts are a necessary part of the process.
What's surprising me most is that it's harder than I expected. Sometimes with Shakespeare you get into this wonderful place where it feels like the verse is doing all the work for you. You find your own personal rhythm and that complements the rhythm of the verse. I was explaining to Giles the other day that it's like riding a horse – when you first start riding, you can’t find the rhythm of the horse's paces so keep bouncing around in the saddle. Eventually you find you can sit in time to the rhythm of the horse and it's suddenly very easy. The same is true for verse: I feel like I’m getting to the stage where I can enjoy the rhythm. The individual sessions with Tim and Giles have been useful as reminders that there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ thoughts about a line – just think about whatever each bit of verse means to you personally. The initial reaction to a piece of verse might be ‘Oh God, how do I do that?’ but then you find your own way into it. Suddenly Shakespeare becomes a very accessible writer because you see bits of your own experience in the issues he deals with and that is very exciting. Talking to Giles and Tim, it's easy to get into that frame of mind.
We’ll probably start running the play right through over the next couple of weeks. I’m telling myself that is going to be like the first performance because I’ll get most out of it that way. If you expect the first run to be appalling, well, you don’t approach it in a negative way exactly, but you are cautious. If I’m cautious I probably won’t learn as much from the run – even if that means learning from mistakes – so I’m going to check myself before I start each scene and think ‘What do you want to try now?’ It's good to just go into it very open and see what happens, to relax a bit.
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.