This is Tom's fifth blog entry for the 2004 production of Romeo and Juliet, in which he talks about technical rehearsals, moving from the rehearsal room to the stage, and character relationships, amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
We’ve been talking a lot about honesty over the last week. As we run different bits, I’m realising more and more that in that space you just have to open up and not be afraid that people won’t like you. Everyone can see each other, so if someone just pretends then the audience will pick up on that. You have to be very honest with yourself and play the truth of each moment. Actually I don’t think it's hard to find the truth. The problem is that it's so easy to perform actions onstage in an imitative way. You see somebody else in love, you say ‘That's what somebody in love looks like’ and then you try to copy that. You should really think ‘Hang on – what's my experience of this feeling? What do I do when I’m in love?’ The answers will be different for everyone, and however odd they seem, that's the truth. If you question yourself in that way, I don’t think the truth isn’t hard to find.
We’re in tech week now. It's going well but it's taking a lot longer than I imagined, considering there's just two lights (which are on permanently), no recorded sound and no big of bits scenery being moved around. On the other hand, as Mark Rylance [Artistic Director, Shakespeare's Globe] pointed out the other day, Romeo and Juliet is a very technical play, and we all need to be on top of that. A lot of the scenes are very quick. There are the fight scenes, the climbing up and down from the balcony, props (bottles, apothecary herbs, etc.) and lots of exits and entrances that have to be worked through. You’ve got three basic exits [doors in the centre of the tiring house façade, flanked by doors on the left and right] whereas one usually has lots of choice: you can exit upstage left, downstage left, upstage right, downstage right, middle right, middle left. That means we’ve had to be very careful here about which exits and entrances that people use. It takes time to work out how to get people in and out of the space: we go through a process, running a little bit of the play and then discussing it, running and discussing … and Tim [Carroll, Master of Play] is giving acting notes as well. I always quite enjoy technical rehearsals – the more effort you put into them, the more beneficial they are to your performance. The tech isn’t simply to do with sorting out technology in the theatre; it's also to do with the technical aspects acting in that space.
This is the first time we’ve run the whole show onstage, but a lot of our dancing has been rehearsed on the stage, so it doesn’t feel too strange to be out there. We had our second ever run at the weekend. There was a lot wrong, but I knew why it was wrong and I knew what I needed to do, or rather I knew where I needed to be for it to feel right – even if I didn’t know quite how to get there. It didn’t go terribly well, but no one felt lost afterwards. We all came away with things to work on… the big note for us all was to ‘jump in’ more completely! When I say jump in, I just mean just letting go, letting things happen. That's exactly what I felt – I couldn’t quite jump in because I was concentrating so much on the technical side of it, like where I needed to be at different points. That's a huge distraction – you really need to get that under your belt to feel free. Similarly, to feel confident onstage, you need to feel confident with the objects around you, which is why it's really helpful to have the real props in as early as you can. Knowing the weight of a wineglass so you can put it on a table without it smashing or wobbling, for instance – that sort of thing is important because it gives you the confidence to be spontaneous when you act with and around those objects. We rehearsed with props, but we only got our proper swords about ten days ago. The new sword is longer and heavier than the one I used in rehearsal so it really threw me the first time we ran through a fight scene.
Rehearsal Room to Stage: Changes
In the rehearsal room, there were some lines which always felt awkward when I pitched them out front – ‘It is the east and Juliet is the sun’, for instance. Now we’re in the theatre, they seem much more natural, even when the space completely empty. It feels odd not to pitch them out in that space.
Mark brought up an interesting point after the run: ‘Remember that Romeo loves to fantasise about things. He finds life easier to deal with in terms of fantasies.’ That's the case with Rosaline; she doesn’t love him back but he's perfectly happy with the situation – well, not perfectly happy... but you could say he's decided to just indulge this unrequited love and that almost brings it's own pleasure. He's hardly even met her. A similar thing happens with Juliet. In Act two, scene two, his attention seems to move away from the balcony, which is the real world, and into a fantasy: ‘Oh, it could be Juliet’. Previously I tried to play that scene very much to the balcony because I’m talking about the balcony, but it is actually a complete fantasy… once you realise that, it doesn’t really matter where he's looking. I discovered it feels a lot more natural to look out front.
The costume demands a certain concentration. I realised that, although the costume hold you up, you can stoop if you’re not careful. When you’re tired, you fold into it. Slumping looks even worse in those costumes than it normally does, so I have to be very aware about that. Glynn [MacDonald, Master of Movement] has just given me an exercise to help me open out around the collarbone, which should be very useful.
I wasn’t really part of the discussions about the colour of my doublet and hose, but I was very happy it turned out black. Word came back to me that it was going to be black with bits of pink, which I was pleased about. I like the pink – I just don’t want any more of it! There has been talk of ribbon and various things, and I asked about black ribbons. They had been thinking about cream, and in the end we compromised with ivory… I thought that would have a slight echo of death to it, which is appropriate in the circumstances.
Mercutio and Romeo
I’ve been thinking more about the relationship between Mercutio and Romeo. I always thought that Mercutio was older than Romeo, but Claire van Kampen [Master of Music] recently suggested that Romeo wants to grow up while Mercutio doesn’t want to grow up at all. Maybe that's just Romeo's view – Mercutio might see things differently – but it is an interesting idea. That approach makes their relationship more complex. Questions about maturity and control become more blurred. Whereas before I thought that Mercutio was basically telling Romeo to grow up, now I think that's what Romeo is saying to his friend. Mercutio advises Romeo ‘Grow up, go out with lots of girls and you’ll get over this’ but Romeo has a more mature approach. He wants to find the right person.
Juliet and Romeo
Romeo and Juliet's relationship is really coming alive in the Globe space. Kananu [Kirimi, Juliet] and I really trust each other, and that's the most important thing. That's where chemistry comes from, rather than angst or anything else. My scenes with Juliet feel quite varied now, a joy to play. What strikes me about Romeo and Juliet is that they mean absolutely everything to each other: their relationship is the equivalent of putting all the eggs in one basket. They choose to define themselves in terms of that relationship; it's their meaning and their purpose. When that's gone, that's it. Everything collapses and nothing has meaning. It's not very healthy thing, really. Normally, if a relationship doesn’t work out you can fall back on friends or work or whatever, but they only have each other; there's nothing else beyond that. They are obsessive.
We’ve also done some work on the final scene [V.3] and found a calmer side to it, particularly in terms of Romeo's actions. Once he's in the tomb, he does become strangely calm. It's not easy (to kill himself, that is) and he's got to brace himself to do it, but there is a real determination there which I think gives a sense of calm. I’m going to kiss Juliet and once I’ve kissed her, I can’t go back – it's ‘a dateless bargain to engrossing death.’ [V.3.115]. He has to urge himself on, but there's a weird kind of calmness in the tomb, a rest.
Still to go…
I need to do some more work on the scene with the apothecary [V.1]. When we get to that scene, there seems to be a change in pace… I’m still not quite sure what I’m doing with him at the moment. That's the one I feel I really need to focus on. That's coming gradually though, and I’m looking forward to our first performance. If it was tonight, I wouldn’t be happy. If it was tomorrow or Thursday, I wouldn’t be too comfortable, but I think by Friday we’ll be ready.
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.