This is Frank's third blog post. This week he discusses how rehearsals have continued, working on the text, and the relationship between him and the actor who plays Brutus.
Transcript of Podcast
More on Rehearsals
We’ve been going through the play scene by scene and ‘putting it on the floor’ so it's called. We’re just looking at the physical shape of the play. The next stage will be to discuss what's going on not just in the lines but to take it out of the written word and to really look at what's happening in each scene. By doing so, we’ll give each scene an arch, a shape, and not just look at what's happening on the line but also beneath, below and around the line; people's relationships and people's intention within the scenes.
What's been the best moment of this week? The worst one would be easier! I think the worst is the feeling when you’ve finished rehearsals. Yesterday, Margot [Leicester who plays Volumnia] and I both went and had a glass of wine and both started pulling our hair out and saying ‘What are we doing? Do we know what we’re doing?’ Actors give that comfort to each other when we have self-doubt, when we’re wondering if we are ever going to put any shape into a production. Of course you do eventually, but at the moment we’re going through that period when there's been a lot of demands made, a lot of decisions made very quickly which may be undone next week and we’re sort of wondering what the shape of it will be – how it will spin out. And along the way there's always good moments - there's always fun, there's always a laugh.
I had a session with Giles Block this week and it was great since he is so precise and very clear about the beats and the pentameter. It really reveals stuff to you about things that you’re not too sure about.
There's the scene where the two tribunes, Sicinius and Brutus, are manipulating the crowd. It's Act 2 Scene 3 and Sicinius and Brutus aren’t too happy because it looks as if Coriolanus has gained the support of the citizens but they know that the game is not up because all they have to do is ‘put into colour’ – if they can make Coriolanus angry then it will expose his pomposity and his disdain of the citizens.
There's one moment in the scene – and here we have a slight edit which may not appear in all versions of the play – when we’re talking to the citizens and basically saying ‘You have made a mistake. If you’re telling us that he patronised and scorned you then what are you doing? This is crazy. You must stop this’ and then Sicinius says:
Say you chose him
More after our commandment than as guided
By your own true affections; and that your minds
Pre-occupied with what you must rather do,
Than what you should, made you against the grain
To voice him consul. Lay the fault on us.
Then Brutus goes onto say:
We read lectures to you
How youngly he began to serve his country,
How long continued, and what stock he springs of
The noble house o’th’ Martians: from whence came
That Ancus Martius, Numa's daughter's son.
He's basically giving the whole family lineage and telling them about all the great things these people have done. We’ve cut out everything Brutus says next and then I come in – “One thus descended”. Giles helped me with this line because I say:
One thus descended
That hath beside well in his person wrought,
To be set high in place, we did commend
To your remembrances.
Now I find that line difficult. I understood ‘One thus descended’: he's a posh person. But this line – ‘That hath beside well in person wrought/ To be set high in place we did commend/ To your remembrances’ – I just wasn’t getting it. The meaning is that as well as being descended from these wonderful people, he also, in his own person, in his own right , deserves to be put in a high place: so as well have having a high lineage, he also earned the right himself for all that he has done.
I knew what it meant, but I didn’t quite know where to put the stress to bring the meaning across. Giles helped by saying to me that the word ‘person’ must be hit. By emphasising ‘hath’ you eventually find that ‘person’ is where the hit is. Just little things like that - you find it suddenly becomes clear. So that's an example of how Giles helped me this week – one of many. Every time I come to say that line I think ‘Oooh here it comes’ – but I’m kind of over it now!
Working with the actor who plays Brutus
I’ll let you into a secret; the best work we’ve done this week was in the pub last night! After rehearsals, we went to the pub for a drink and we talked and talked. We’ve actually discovered some things. You know, you’re working with another actor in rehearsal but you’re working from the text and you’re working towards learning lines. You are trying to sort of be aware of each other's rhythms and beats and nuances whatever and last night we discovered where we want to go together because Sicinius and Brutus are kind of a double act - as anybody studying this text will know. They are individuals but they operate as a double act so it's important that we both feel as actors that we’re heading towards the same goal.
Differences between Sicinius and Brutus
We’ve yet really to discover exactly what they are. We’re jabbing at it. At times, it seems that Sicinius is more politic, more cautious and meticulous and so on, and then at other times it's Brutus. I suppose it's up to the actor to decide what the nature of the person is. We’re very much playing them as people from the political world. They’re both politicians and they’re both heading towards the same goal. They do consider the interests of the people but more crucially there's a lot of personal ego so it's possible to discover in the text and in the performance moments when they sometimes even try to outdo each other in very subtle ways. In some ways, they’re like Gordon Brown and Tony Blair in this country. We only get to see Brutus and Sicinius in public most of the time and in private they kind of shift about each other and it's possible to show some conflict but neither of them exposes any personal ambition or anything like that yet.
For example, when news comes that Aufidius and Coriolanus are coming to sack Rome, we rehearsed that scene this morning and how each of them responds. There's only one line. They don’t speak. Cominius comes in and Menenius is already there and they’re saying to us ‘This is up to you. You’ve done this. This is your fault’ and they keep on going on and on about it and we are obviously very scared because we know we have effectively brought this about ourselves. Two minutes previously Sicinius and Brutus have been boasting and feeling quite smug that everything's going so nicely. So now they’re both terrified.
There's only one line we say from all the haranguing that we’re getting from Cominius and Menenius and this one line we both say is ‘Say not we brought it’. Interestingly John [Dougall who plays Brutus] said it very quietly whereas I barked it, really defensive. Those are things that come out as much from your own personality or your own choice of what you feel you might do if you were in that situation, they just come from your own instincts and sometimes they’re right and sometimes the director will suggest ways of developing it. It's part of our challenge to make Sicinius and Brutus seem like they’re dynamic in themselves. That's part of the challenge and we’ll see how that goes.
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.