In his final blog post, Mark discusses the risks involved in playing Measure for Measure as a comedy, the lengths to which the production has tried to make the story clear to the audience, and how he now feels about Act V.
Transcript of Podcast
On first night, our opening night, I was quite nervous. There were a number of people in the Company who had not played the Globe before, and they were nervous too. As a result, we were a little static and careful, but nevertheless the audience still laughed a lot and enjoyed the performance. Playing Measure for Measure as a comedy was a bit of a risk; over the last fifty years, the play's tragedy has been emphasised more frequently than the humour, but we thought ‘It's been written down as a comedy, so maybe we should just trust that that's what Shakespeare wanted it to be.’ So in our production Isabella doesn’t slap the Duke or storm out angrily at the end, which is something that happens quite often now. Instead we tried to play the story as a thriller, full of well-laid plans that go slightly awry but come good eventually. The audience enjoyed the comedy on first night and they’ve carried on enjoying it. Once we got such a positive response from them, we felt more confident to carry on down the path we had set out on. I think that confidence has helped us improve since the first night.
Making the story clear
We rehearse in a vacuum, separate from any kind of audience. Everyone in the rehearsal room is familiar with what's happening in the story, so there's no element of surprise. When we get out in front of an audience, they teach us where we need to make corrections and changes. Their reaction will let us know when we’re telling the story well and when we’re not being clear enough. For example, there was a moment in the Duke's second scene [I.3] when the audience didn’t understand what was happening. Vincentio turns up at Friar Thomas's monastery and asks for secret harbour: to be kept secretly, to be given a friar's outfit and instruction on how to behave like a friar, so he can go out into the world and watch what happens there. I had the idea that the Duke might have hidden himself in a laundry basket to escape from the Court to Friar Thomas – that way people wouldn’t know that he never went to Poland (as he said he would). So a basket was brought onstage and Friar Thomas opened it, then I got out from the laundry. The first thing I have to say is:
No; holy father, throw away that thought
Believe not that the dribbling dart of love
Can pierce a complete bosom. [I.3.1-2]
So what's the Duke saying there? He's saying that the Friar assumes that he's come to the monastery because of some problem with love: that ‘the dribbling dart of love’ has pierced his bosom so he's gone into hiding. That's why we chose the basket particularly: in The Merry Wives of Windsor, a character called Falstaff hides in a laundry basket to prevent getting caught with another man's wife when her husband comes home. We hoped that the basket might prompt the connection with love and intrigue, and my getting out of the basket would suggest to the audience that, no, the Duke wasn’t coming to the Friar because ‘the dribbling dart of love’ had got me into a sticky situation. However, that didn’t read very clearly onstage; I thought we could make it clearer if I had more underwear – corsets and women's underwear – in the basket with me, and I threw these down when I got out of the basket. The Friar could look at the underwear, then he would look at me, and I would say the ‘No; holy father’ lines.
We tried that and the audience laughed. They understood what the lines meant, but it was difficult to know whether they would or not until we actually tried it out with them. That's the kind of detail that we’ve been adjusting during the previews and we’ll keep on making little changes until we’re sure that the audience understands the particular things we do.
Last time I spoke with you, I wasn’t at all happy with the last Act. I didn’t know my lines. When I got on top of the lines, things seemed much easier. The Duke is like a juggler who has to keep eight or nine plates spinning through Act V, and all kinds of things could go wrong. It was very important for me to know my lines and to play them very quickly, as quickly as possible, jumping from one plate to another and keeping them all in the air. There were lots of moments where I kept thinking ‘Oh, that person must say something’ in response to the Duke's revelations, but there just isn’t chance for that if one's going at great speed. People are so surprised – the last act is like an explosion of fireworks. That idea helped me a lot. I was also struggling with the particular problem of asking Isabella for her hand in marriage in front of everybody: we came upon the idea of that question being an aside, a private question. If one asks a woman to be one's wife in public, in front of a lot of people, it's very embarrassing for the woman to say yes or no because everyone is watching. That, as I saw it, was the main difficulty; if I took Isabella aside privately and just said ‘Will you be mine?’ then that moment felt much better. We tried playing it that way, and it worked very well.
I’m enjoying the dances. There is a short jig between each of the first three acts, in the style of the ‘passagio’ which Sian [Williams, Master of Dance] tells us is a form of promenade dance related to fool's capers, antimasque dances and the Greek choric tradition. They’re fun and they also help to tell the story. They describe the world in which the play is taking place and comment on the action as it unfolds. The last dance at the end of Act V is especially useful because Isabella and I get to dance together and gradually to move towards a sense of enjoyment. We don’t answer questions about whether Isabella accepts the Duke's proposal of marriage (I don’t know the answer either), but the audience does see the two of them dancing with each other at least, in a formal way, and enjoying that. After the ‘dance of love’, the music speeds up and we dive into the final jig.
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.