Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Performance Notes 1

This is Jules' fourth and final blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard III, in which she talks about performances, character alterations, swords and celebrity audience members!

Transcript of Podcast

Performances

The performances are going really well. It's amazing how a play grows on you once you get it up and running. Collaboration is fundamental to the rehearsal process – as an actor you are part of a team that includes a designer, a Master of Play, a choreographer, Masters of Verse, Music, and Movement… everyone is aiming to produce a wonderful end product and lots of people feed into the rehearsals, supporting us with help and advice. Now the show is running, I’m enjoying the actor's freedom of the stage. I feel like this is my time to play with all the things I’ve taken on board and learnt during rehearsals. There is space to bring everything together in your own mind, and really enjoy playing the part. At the moment, I think of every performance as a gift.

Each performance is slightly different. This is especially true at the Globe for two reasons: firstly, you can see everybody in the audience and, secondly, the theatre is open-air. You notice your audience and slightly alter your performance as a result. Or rather you perform with a different energy. For example, if I notice that an audience is full of school children or tourists – people who might not know the play so well – I make a real effort to play as clearly as possible. If the audience is very quick and we feel that perhaps they’re getting too far ahead, we can pick up the pace and drive them faster than the audience who was less familiar with the story. You heat them up or cool them down: keeping them engaged is essential. The weather makes a big difference. Of course, it's a huge generalisation to talk about the audience as having a uniform response as everyone will respond in different ways, but in the pouring rain, or on a very hot day, I think people do need a different energy to help them engage with the play instead of feeling ‘I’m too hot’ or ‘I’m soaking’! I feel that in these circumstances during a run, you really start to play as an actor. We look at individual scenes in rehearsals and then later in the process, maybe two or three scenes together. Even the run-throughs in production week are punctuated by stopping and starting for different things, like when to put in music queues or who should open doors. Now we’re doing performances everyday, my ideas about the play as a whole are becoming clearer and more unified. Most performances throw up new ideas; I think ‘Oh, that character just gave me a different look. How should I respond?’ We’ve been used to doing our scenes in a certain way, then someone might lift an eyebrow at a different point and it works, so we’ll keep it in. The play is constantly evolving.

Character Alterations

I’ve been making most alterations to the character of Rivers. He's tricky because he's a politician and a diplomat and he has a very definite agenda of his own at the beginning of the play. His relationships with the Woodville faction are strained. I imagine it's rather like sitting down to negotiations with a terrorist group; you want peace, but at the same time you can’t forget the conflicts that mark your shared history. I had a firm idea of my character at the beginning of the run, but with each performance, I realised there were other dimensions to Rivers that I hadn’t given enough weight. Quite often he acts as a calming influence and defuses volatile situations, but he also has a lot of power behind him and I feel that he is very angry inside. I tried playing him with a lot of suppressed power and frustration. As I’ve become more comfortable with both the part and the space, I’ve found there are different ways to achieve that idea of power without making him overtly cross. I’m much happier playing him now, but I must admit I always relax a bit after he's dead. The other parts have their own challenges, but he's trickiest. Despite this I don’t dislike him; the difficulty is good for me!

Swords

When Rivers dies, I’m also quite pleased that I can get rid of his sword! They’re awkward to wear, especially for women. We’re not just being girly… it's my theory that because our thighs are curvier than men’s, the swords don’t lie flat against our legs as easily. Instead they have a tendency to bang into your leg then fling out again, so you have to be especially aware of the space around you. Now I put my hand on my sword belt to keep it steady. You’re not supposed to put your hand on the hilt of the sword unless you mean to be aggressive (the Tudors saw the gesture as a challenge), but it's ok to have your hand on the leather piece. The costume for Rivers has several layers and I’ve been very hot during the recent heat wave; that's another reason I like moving on! I love playing Tyrrel. I get more and more out the character every time I play him – he's really my favourite and the speech about the murder of the princes is just beautiful. There's also a neatness to his part. We see him only twice; in the first scene, Richard asks him if he will undertake the murder, and in the second scene, the princes have been murdered. He's a great character to play.

Celebrity Audience Members

We’ve had some VIPs in to see the show recently. It's funny because the tiring house doors have small grills in them, so you can see the audience from backstage. Normally we have a look to check whether our friends are there and where they’re sat, but when someone famous comes in we get as excited as anybody else. Alan Rickman, Kevin Spacey and Tony Blair have all been to see us. The Prime Minister was especially good fun to have in the audience because we could direct certain lines at him, and he took it all in good part. Natural lighting means that all the audience members can see each other, so when a celebrity comes in you have to work extra hard to get everyone to focus on the play instead of the celebrity, but I think we did alright!

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