Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 3

This is Jules' third blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard III in which she talks about the challenges of performing at the Globe, adding the final touches to scenes and character work, amongst other things.

Transcript of Podcast

Final Touches

This is the fifth week of rehearsals and we’re adding the final touches to scenes. After getting to grips with the broad shape of the play, now we’re concentrating on the details – like being foot-perfect in the jig and practising our singing. We’ve been working especially hard at the transitions between singing and speaking, because how you slot song into the play is very important… you can’t look at it as a separate episode or the action gets disjointed. It's all part of the same enterprise, as it would have been for Shakespeare's company. Practical things like fitting singing practice into our rehearsal schedule are proving to be a bit of a challenge. I enjoy singing, but if you’re right in the middle of a tense scene or about to make a breakthrough with a difficult scene, it can be frustrating to break off and sing or jig for an hour! You need to completely switch from one mindset to another. However it is absolutely necessary to practice the things that will make the production look polished. I feel that the song and jig have to be especially precise because the Corsican music is so beautiful – it strengthens the whole piece – and I know the rhythm helps my physical movement. At the same time, I’m still working on Tyrrel and Rivers. We have to try and be as flexible as possible with rehearsals, and just to go with the schedule.

Acting at the Globe

Training for the season has been intensive. You have to be very fit to perform in the Globe space; it's so big and in the open air. Your voice has to be able to compete with all the noise outside the theatre as well as whatever might be going on amongst the audience. You also have to move around a lot on a stage that's about 40ft by 25ft! Working at the Globe, you definitely need a more energy and a more physical style of acting than you would use in a normal ‘black box’ theatre. In addition, you’ve got to be able to sustain your performance all the way through the season. This is why we train three times a week with the Masters of Voice, Verse and Movement – to ensure our words and movements are as clear and strong as possible right the way through the season. The great thing about these classes is the way they feed into the production. It's not like you’re working on your character then suddenly you have to stop and head off for a Maths class or something; there isn’t that division at all. For instance, today we were exploring a particularly strong movement with Glynn [MacDonald, Master of Movement]; we stood very straight with one arm very high up in the air, pointing to the heavens but remaining very strongly rooted on the floor as well. I found that very, very helpful for a scene that I have as Lord Rivers. Just before his execution, he makes this amazing stand and speaks in an incredibly strong way about Queen Margaret's curse though he must be frightened:

[…] O, remember, God,
To hear her prayer for them, as now for us!
And for my sister and her princely sons,
Be satisfied, dear God, with our true blood,
Which, as Thou know’st, unjustly must be spilt.
(III.3.18-22)

Emotionally during that scene, Rivers goes through three phases; he starts off basically acknowledging ‘o.k., I’m going to die but I’m going to make sure everyone knows why’. I feel he's incredibly chivalrous and proud at this point. In the next section, I’ve decided he starts accusing everybody who's watching the execution. I think of the audience as the crowd of 1700 people have come to watch Rivers and Grey have their heads chopped off. The walls of the theatre sort of become the ‘bloody walls’ of Pomfret Castle. Then I think it finally starts to sink in that he is actually going to die as he starts to remember Margaret's curse. That train of thought brings him to an image of God whom he implores to ‘remember’ and ‘be satisfied’ – as though he's grabbing hold of this image to stop himself breaking down. I think of him as a religious man anyway, but at that point his faith becomes very important to him. The arm movement I practised with Glynn helps to take these lines right up and out. I won’t stand with one hand in the air, but the feeling of being tall and strong, like a sword reaching up to heaven… that's how strong Rivers has to be at that point and I’m sure the movement work will inform the way I play the scene.

Character Work

The class work helps keep things fresh. At this stage in rehearsal, I get so hung up about certain scenes that I want to do them over and over and over again until I’m satisfied. It gets slightly obsessive but at least there's no danger of one character blending into another or becoming stale, because it feels like I’m only just beginning to think ‘Right. I’ve got a complete picture of this person and their journey.’ I find that when I’m creating a character, I start off with fledgling ideas that can be quite disorganised, then I spend the first couple of weeks in rehearsal in ‘free-fall’, exploring these ideas. Nothing is blocked at this stage – instead it's a case of going wherever you want. After that initial experimentation, you have to begin to refine your character. The director or Master of Play is crucial because they’ve got an overview of the whole play's structure and physicality: they can guide those refinements and really pull things together with precise directions for your character: ‘You’ve got to be at that point so you can turn your head at that point’. The third stage, which is where I’m at now, is that you know your lines, you know where you’re supposed to be, you’ve refined your movements, and you’re no longer asking questions about relationships and things. Then you start to find the real inner-life of the character. I’ve really pleased that I’ve started listening to other characters as Rivers and Tyrrel. I know my cues and things, but I’m not anticipating them or thinking ‘Oh, it's me next, and these lines are coming up and this is what I’m going to say.’ Now I’m more familiar with the play, I’m less anxious about letting the momentum of a scene lapse or forgetting my lines. That security lets you genuinely listen to other characters and react. I find this helps start a train of thought: you’re doing the thinking behind the lines. I’ve also become more comfortable with silences, because I’ve started to understand what is actually going on in those silences for my character. I’d say after initial ideas and refinement, characterisation ideally becomes something that you don’t have to think about. Rivers is starting to come naturally, which is nice.

Playing out history

Originally I was daunted by the fact that Richard III is so heavily embedded in history, but I’ve fallen deeply in love with the play. I’ve enjoyed doing the research and discovering the background for these characters, as well as the world they lived in. There's so much information you can use and I just looked everywhere for answers – in books, paintings, from all the people around us… the Tudor Group came in and advised us on Elizabethan etiquette which was great. I found asking questions was a good way to tackle the research because even finding a place to start can be daunting with so much material. I tried to answer the questions that came to mind first and things just grew from there. It's been a struggle but it feels more rewarding once you do get those answers, because you have tried so hard for them.

Challenges

Tyrrel has probably been the biggest challenge of the season so far. He has a long soliloquy at the beginning of Act IV scene 3, when he describes killing the princes in the Tower. He begins ‘The tyrannous and bloody act is done’ and the murder of the princes really is the most awful act in the whole play. I think it's interesting that Shakespeare chooses Tyrrel, the very man who organised the murder, to report what happened rather than actually show it onstage; perhaps because Tyrrel's pity for the Princes has a greater impact – even the man who organised the murder is appalled. I found this difficult to tackle because Tyrrel almost comes out of nowhere. We put him in some additional scenes to give him a kind of history within the court, and that's been useful because it lent the part a greater continuity. I’ve been working on that speech [IV.3] in isolation and trying not to over-rehearse it – I feel there's the danger that it might become a set piece which lacks spontaneity. Of course, it is important to know which emotion you’re trying to present, and which words you need to emphasise in order to communicate that, but you do have to watch the balance. Anyway, I’d thought Tyrrel was invigorated by the murder in quite a sick way, as if he was on an adrenaline high and his heart's thumping and beating and he knows he has actually done this awful thing. But research provided me with a big clue: historically, he was shown the bodies of the princes because he had decided that they should be smothered rather than stabbed to death, and he does choose two other people to carry out the murder. Perhaps he's not a monstrous man after all; he's ambitious and he's given a terrible thing to do. I’m looking forward to finding out where this takes me. We’ll have to see…

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