In his final blog post, Liam discusses how rehearsals have progressed, his opinions on another portrayal of Angelo, and how his own interpretation of the part has grown.
Transcript of Podcast
We were just about to get to the end of the play last time I spoke to you. However, the actor playing Escalus got injured and he's been unable to come back into rehearsals. His replacement started at the beginning of the week, so we went back over some scenes to help that actor settle in. I don’t think Angelo's relationship with Escalus is particularly close – actually he gives Escalus quite a hard time in the scene with Elbow and the Provost [II.1]. I suppose they're thrown together when the Duke leaves - under very strange circumstances.
Going back over those early scenes slightly delayed our getting to the end of the play, but yesterday we got to the end for the first time. Measure for Measure reminds me of Twelfth Night in that it has a big act five with almost everyone on stage – so many things are revealed and sorted out, the guilty people are punished and the good people are rewarded. Angelo is married to Marianna and sentenced to death, then the sentence is revoked and Claudio appears, alive. It would be too much for Angelo and Marianna to become close straightaway at the end of the play. Hilary [Tones, Marianna] and I discussed it, and we think we’ll keep some distance there. Angelo and Marianna get to dance together in the jig at the end of the play (like the Duke and Isabella), so hopefully that will give a sense of their togetherness without finally resolving what happens next.
Simply getting everyone onstage at the right moment in Act five is rather confusing, but at we’ve made a start on it now. At least you really can spread people around on the Globe stage. I feel good about getting to the end of the play; I’ve got a better sense of the shape of the story and the character's journey. I haven’t learnt all my lines for Act five (not many people have), so that will be the next thing to do. Getting ‘off book’ gives you more freedom to experiment which is exciting.
We’re in week four of rehearsal. We still have another two weeks. We’ve worked on all the other scenes at least two or three times, we still have two weeks of rehearsal and a technical week as well… so yes, I'm not worried about where we're at!
The Company knows one another now, and a comfortable familiarity certainly helps when you have to play big intense scenes. People don’t necessarily know each other at the start of rehearsals. Soon you’re playing big intense scenes where your character is in love with someone, or you’re married, or you hate a person and you want to kill them; that's quite difficult when the person for whom you’re meant to have such strong feelings is a total stranger! To get to the point where I play a scene truthfully or convincingly, I have to spend some time with the person. The way you love or hate somebody is completely tied up with the fact that it is that particular person – that face, that body, that voice. I don’t think there is any substitute for time passing, which is why it's nice to have six weeks of rehearsal at the Globe.
Measure for Measure is the final show of the season and that's quite strange for me, as I’ve always been in the first show to open. There are two plays up and running so when we have our week of technical rehearsals, we’ll have to stop at about half past five because there will be a performance that evening. It's nice to know that when I need a little break and I want to think about something other than the part, I can just go and watch one of the other shows. Watching is still helpful because the actors on that stage, they are doing Shakespeare, they’re wearing similar clothes to the ones we’ll be wearing... hopefully your brain is doing a little bit of homework as well.
I’ve got a fair idea of what I am going to look like now I’ve had several fittings. I’m predominantly in black – black doublet and hose – but I have cream-coloured sleeves. That feels right for Angelo's austere, sombre side. Some of the cast have been wearing shoes or corsets in rehearsal, to get used to the feel of these things. If you haven’t worn original practices clothing before, it can seem awkward at first. I haven’t worn my shoes in rehearsal this time, but I hope that will be ok because I have worn the same kind of shoes in previous seasons. As all the clothing at the Globe is recycled from season to season, I might have even worn bits of Angelo's costume before, though I wouldn’t recognise them: they’re cleverly disguised to look different. Mark [Rylance, Duke Vincentio] had the idea that the Duke should leave his Court in the middle of the night; he does an unexpected thing at an unexpected hour. If we play it that way, Escalus and I will come on in the Elizabethan equivalent of our night clothes so there’ll be some costume changes too.
For me, a character comes gradually – I don’t tend to make big discoveries. It's more to do with saying the words and becoming familiar with the scene. I think that's probably healthier than reading a play and starting rehearsals, then getting hit by a major realisation, discovering something that you hadn’t seen before. I think that would worry me, actually. So it sounds a bit un-dramatic, but you hope to be on the right track from early on.
I went to see another production of Measure for Measure recently, which was interesting. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t like the way Angelo was portrayed. What I felt he was that he was the creepiest guy in the world, and maybe the character gets played that way quite often. As I watched, I thought hang on a minute. Angelo is celibate. Initially that's what makes him stand out in the world of the play – his celibacy. In Elizabethan times, it would be enough to be known as a celibate for no other reason than your own personal choice, for people to say things like ‘Oh, his blood's ice.’ The play goes on and he does do something appalling, but it seems to me that this is much more interesting if he's made as real and normal as possible.
Of course, you have to stay within the bounds of what actually happens in the play; you have to do what the play tells you to do and ultimately Angelo does something appalling. However, this part is a bit like Macbeth… it's written well enough for you to recognise that the character is an appalling person but at the same time there's a part of you that understands. I think great writers remind us that we do all have a dark side. If you portray a character as very creepy and odd, then the audience is let off the hook. We can feel safe because the character does just seem so weird and horrible that they’re on another planet. There's no chance of a tiny glimmer of recognition.
The portrayal I saw was very tortured and angst-ridden. It was possible to have sympathy but you could never think ‘I once knew someone a bit like that’ or even ‘I might one day meet someone like that.’
Angelo has a soliloquy where he tells the audience how he is feeling after his first meeting with Isabella and he turns round to the audience and literally asks ‘What's this? What's this?’ [II.2.163]. He's talking about the way he's feeling; this is the first time he's been blown away by someone, and he's experiencing lust. I think that's the crucial moment, really. Angelo's experience isn’t normal but there must be a way of making it credible and real. We don’t know at that moment that he will present her with an appalling ultimatum.
Regret and redemption
I think Angelo does regret his actions. He says he's very repentant at the end of the play. Of course, that's when he realises that he hasn’t gotten away with it – the Duke knows everything – but the way the lines are written does make me think that his repentance is genuine. I also think it is genuine because sleeping with Isabella doesn’t help him in the way he expects (even before he knows Marianna took Isabella's place). He thought this was going to make him complete and it hasn’t. I think there might even be a sense of relief and release when he confesses at the end, and says ‘No, put me to death, because that's what I deserve.’ He's let off by the Duke, though, and told to marry his betrothed (whom he had sort of jilted before he ever met Isabella). I suppose his journey involves a kind of redemption. He's very honest if nothing else; he's very honest with the audience and very, very direct. Even when that's uncomfortable, he tells us exactly what's going on.
It will be interesting to see how the audiences respond to the character, because if I had a penny for every time somebody said to me ‘Oh, you’re playing the baddie’ I would be rich! It's a responsibility to play someone and you can’t afford to think of it in such shallow terms as ‘goodie’ and ‘baddie’; you’ve got to try to make the person credibly well-rounded and human. To say ‘Oh he's a baddie…’ seems so black and white, but I think an audience who know the play might be inclined to approach the character that way.
Angelo asks a lot of questions in the soliloquies. That's always a bit scary at the Globe because there will be times when someone in the audience actually gives the character an answer. I’ll have to think about that because I’ll probably get some responses – after all, what Angelo does is so extreme and he does invite responses. For instance, after my first encounter with Isabella, she goes off and I turn to the audience and say, ‘What's this, what's this?’ [II.2.163] and then immediately after that, I say ‘Is this her fault or mine?’ Now, I think there will to be times when the audience respond there. The next line is another question: ‘The tempter or the tempted, who sins most?’ Then there's a one word – ‘Ha?’ That has another question mark. It's almost as if he's persevering until someone does help him with an answer. After the questions, he answers himself and says ‘Not she, nor doth she tempt; but it is I.’ [II.2.165] I don’t think it is right to make up responses to what the audience say, but I think we can get away with kind of tweaking the next lines in the script as a kind of response. That's not cheating too much.
That moment in the soliloquy is brilliant. Angelo is a great part and the two scenes with Isabella make it; they’re the substance of the part. In terms of the pattern of time on stage, Angelo is very like Orsino [Twelfth Night], who I played at the Globe a couple of Seasons ago. The ‘good stuff,’ as it were, is in the first half. He's off for three quarters of the second half then comes back at the end in a big Act five: exactly the same pattern as Orsino. It's a hard part too, but everyone thinks that about the character they have to play.
Scenes with Isabella
Before I got to know the play I thought Angelo was alone with Isabella in both their scenes, but there are other people on stage when they first meet [II.2] and these people say the odd line too. In the second scene it's an empty stage. Isabella and Angelo are alone and that progression feels right, but it's tricky. I want the first scene to feel as intimate as the second, but a state of frustration in the first scene is right; Angelo may very well want to be on his own with Isabella, but he isn’t – it's been written that way, and the choice seems important. I don’t want to fight it. The fact that they aren’t alone in the first scene increases the passion in the second scene too. The whole relationship is upped a gear because in the first scene he's in a state of shock; either by the beginning of the second scene or in the course of the second scene, he actually makes the decision to proposition her. To imagine that thought was in his head in the first scene would be jumping too far ahead. I don’t think Angelo would act differently in Act two, scene two, if the onlookers weren’t there. He would probably conduct himself in the same way – it would be too soon for anything else to happen. I’d say there isn’t a rift between the public and private man in him until he meets Isabella – then he experiences a massive turn-around. He strikes me as someone who spends a lot of time on his own… that's interesting because I think that's the way Mark [Rylance, Vincentio] feels about the Duke too. In some ways the Duke and Angelo are balanced against each other.
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.