This is Paul's first blog post. This week he discusses his two roles of a Witch and the Porter, how Shakespeare juxtaposes comedy and tragedy, and how to bring a sense of the supernatural to the Globe stage.
Transcript of Podcast
Before rehearsals started, I talked to Tim [Carroll, Master of Play] about the idea of actors playing two characters. I think that the Porter is somehow linked to the witches, in this case the Second Witch. Similarly, the other witches could be linked quite intelligently to other characters throughout the play. I thought we could develop that idea.
The driving force behind my ideas for the witches has been to create a supernatural atmosphere, or a ‘spooky’ feeling, without the aid of lights dimming and darkness. [None of which are available in the daylight playing conditions of the Globe]. We had to find a ‘strangeness’. We thought that it would be interesting to explore the idea of the witches being able to become different characters throughout the various stages of the play. The links between the characters of witches and the other characters they play might be ambiguous, so that the audience wonders if the Porter is really the Witch, or if the Third Witch is really the Captain. Alternatively this link could be made explicit. The witches seem to be the base characters, from which other characters develop.
We are not completely sure what the witches will be like, but they are not going to be cackling crones. They might be rather seductive and comical! I think it will be our instincts and feelings in rehearsal rather than lots of research that will guide the development of the witches. We are not going to try to make the witches realistic or work out their historical bases. The importance of the witches lies in the atmosphere they create; the affect they have on other characters and the purpose they serve in the play.
The Porter’s scene is very strange. I had reservations about accepting the part. So often the Porter is played as the cheeky cockney ‘chap’, who appears in the middle of an intense tragedy. This is fine; it is one way of playing the role. However, so often it seems that the Porter is desperately trying to make old jokes funny. The jokes might have been funny when the play was written, and some of it is still funny now. However, I think that more than the comic aspects the ‘strangeness’ is the most interesting element of the scene.
In the middle of the action, the Porter appears and starts talking about hell and damnation. He stands alone and delivers a soliloquy to the audience, which I think is very spooky. He is almost like the Porter of the gates of hell. I wanted to explore the idea that it is as easy for him to be a real Porter as it is for him to represent Macbeth’s state of mind at that moment in the play. Macbeth has just committed the murder of Duncan and pressure is on him to disguise this fact. The actor playing Macbeth also needs to change his clothes and wash his hands - on a practical level the Porter’s speech gives the actor time to do this.
The murder has been committed and suddenly the Porter comes along. Shakespeare put him there for a reason, not just for comic relief; but also to throw into relief the themes of the play. I don’t think Shakespeare puts ‘comic scenes’ in a play without thinking about it, and this particular scene is in a very strange place. In the scene, everything seems to be very out of space and time. On one level the Porter can be seen to represent the state of Macbeth’s mind, his imagination. When Macduff and the others appear on the stage, the Porter seems to go back to being a ‘regular’ porter. The things he is talking about do give you the feeling that you are in the mind of Macbeth. I also want to explore the effect of the appearance of the Porter on Macbeth. I feel that the spookiness and strangeness of the Porter coming in at that particular point in the play is something to be explored. I think that this could link in well with the idea of the Porter also being one of the witches.
Playing the Witches
We are working closely with Sian Williams [Choreographer]. I think that the physical style of this production will inform everything, including the witches. We were looking at using ‘slinky’ music at certain points. An audience who go to see Macbeth so often see the lights going low, the dry ice starting followed by ‘howling’ sound effects when the witches are about to appear. I think that audiences can sometimes feel that the witches are not part of the story but more of a side-show.
Rather than the audience sitting back and thinking about how the witches’ scene has been done, I would like to produce scenes that instantly grab their attention and engage them. One way to do this is with movement and dance. I would like the audience to feel excited each time the witches appear.
Tragedy and Comedy
I have always thought that Shakespeare juxtaposes very dark comedy with tragedy, and that quite often the two are indistinguishable. The tragedy is thrown into sharp relief by the so-called comedy and the balance between the two can change at any moment. This was what The Two Noble Kinsmen (which I appeared in last season) was like. One moment you were laughing, then feeling sad, and then in the middle of another sad moment you would find yourself laughing again! That was very good. There was a lot of ‘gallows’ humour. I think the Porter is the embodiment of that kind of humour. He almost acts in the same way as the fool in King Lear. They are like external voices talking to the audience, bringing everything to a universal level in an extremely bizarre but brilliant way.
The supernatural on the Globe stage
We have got to find something effective for the supernatural element of Macbeth. I have an idea about ‘normal’ people becoming strange. You see this in horror films like The Exorcist and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (in which seemingly ‘normal’ people turn out to be involved in demonic practices). This appearance of ‘normality’ is what makes these films so disturbing. Everything the people do is laden with import and meaning. It would be interesting if we could explore and capture that effect for our witches.
We are considering using the yard in the first witches scene. Would you know if a witch were standing beside you? If someone you thought ‘normal’ was revealed to be a witch would you find this more frightening than if they had always appeared to be strange? The witches might be amongst the audience, indistinguishable in the crowd, or they may simply appear in some manner from the stage.
My main concerns, then, at the moment are:
• to find a company style and to develop a ‘physical vocabulary’
• to explore the link or thread between the Porter and the witches
• to find some effective method of communicating the supernatural nature of witches’ characters to the audience.
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 may change frequently as the rehearsal process progresses.