Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 4

In her penultimate blog post Yolanda discusses the techniques she uses to get into character, working on her lines and different approaches to the "female's scene" (Act III, scene 4).

Transcript of Podcast

Beatrice

I don’t believe now that she's trying to hide something; it's just that she's not showing everything about herself. Rather than hiding, she's not showing the full extent of who she is. She's a bit of clown; she's the person who entertains the household, I think. She is very entertaining and very funny and quick-witted, but underneath all that there is someone who is quite lonely, who possibly misses her parents. She's in a household that is not her own – she lives with her uncle, Leonato. My take on it is that I think her mother died when she was born and her father died when she was in her mid-teens. Then she went to live with her uncle, so she's been living there since she was maybe fifteen, sixteen. But they’re not her real family. Her comedy, her lightness – it's her survival tactic. I have to say that there's absolutely no textual evidence of that – this is just me reading between the lines and looking at her reactions to what happens in the play. Initially I was trying very hard to show the different layers of what she might be going through or what might be happening, but I’ve come to the conclusion that one actually can’t do that. What you have to do is fill up your imagination with the life of the person that this character is, and play whatever the scene is asking you to play: then all the undercurrents will take care of themselves.

Getting into character

I have used character props in the past, for instance when we did The Taming of the Shrew last year and I played Hortensio; I really wanted to figure out this character, this person, and who he was. I couldn’t quite get to it, and eventually I realised that he might be a bit of a dandy but he was not very good with women. I started to bring in things like cowboy boots and tight trousers – because I was playing a man, I brought in things that made me feel quite manly and a bit like a male Spanish dancer or a male bullfighter, things that had a certain amount of restrictiveness within them. So my props were a pair of cowboy boots, a pair of trousers and a shirt, and that helped in rehearsal. For Beatrice, however, I don’t have anything in particular in terms of character props. I don’t have anything physical that I have worked on for her.

Whenever I think of things one could do outside the rehearsal room, I never know what I’m actually going to do until it takes my fancy! I have written a biography of the character, and I tried to take it back to the beginning, answering questions about where she was born, what she did in her childhood, when exactly her mother died, when her father died, how did she get to Leonato's house, how long has she been there, and what does she discover about Hero? I just work imaginatively on all that to give myself some kind of background note on the character. None of this is going to be of any use to an audience, it's just going to be of use to me in my feelings for the other characters onstage with me. Nobody needs to know about it, it's absolutely for me and my imagination.

Lines

At the moment I’m working on lines, and I’m working with a ball, which I throw up against a wall whenever I think an operative word in a line comes up. It's good to work with the ball because it comes back at you straightaway and you can use it quite quickly again – there might be more than one operative word within a sentence. I’m doing that to give emphasis because Beatrice is a character who is quite ‘in her head’ – that's where wit comes from. She's all prose rather than blank verse because all the time she's using her intellect to try and get a jab back. It's not meant to be connected to her heart; it's just witty words and repartee. Of course within that, there will be a lot that's heartfelt, but the challenge is how to show that in a way that comes out as a joke in order to actually disguise what's going on underneath. When I’m working with something like that, I tend to go up a chord voice-wise, so I’m working on keeping my voice centred and supported, as well as fast and fluid.

Gender issues

You know what? I haven’t thought about playing opposite a female Benedick. As far as I’m concerned, I’m playing against a male. I don’t look at Josie [Lawrence, who plays Benedick] and think ‘She's a female, how in the world am I going to do that?’ I just play the character and the scene.

This week

We’ve been working on the scene just before the masked ball and the scene with all the females just before the wedding. The females’ scene [III.4] I find really, really hard. And I don’t think that we’ve quite caught the essence of it yet, so I really look forward to getting back to that quite quickly and trying all the different ideas I have at the moment for Beatrice in that scene. She says that she is ill, but I don’t understand why she should be ill, so I think she's love-sick. She's either love-sick or hiding something, or both those things at once. The way I want to play it at the moment is that she's made herself look very, very feminine with make-up and she's hiding that from the rest of the women, perhaps with a handkerchief, by pretending to be ill. Then they find out. That's what I want to work on, but I don’t know if it’ll work. It's what I’m trying at the moment, and it sort-of works, but we still have to get it to gel to together. If we don’t, there are other areas to go with. It's tricky.

I’ve done the play so little that, to tell you the truth, I couldn’t say which bit is my favourite. We’re still working through it. When I first read Much Ado About Nothing, I really liked the scene in the church between Beatrice and Benedick after Hero has been wronged. And I quite like all the scenes where she's having a bit of a go at some poor, unsuspecting person, like the first scene with the messenger [I.1]. She really has a go at the messenger, and the poor man doesn’t know where it's coming from or what to do with it! She does it just out of badness.

We have another week in the rehearsal room, so altogether we’ve got a week and a half before we go on the stage. I’m very scared: nervous, scared, unprepared! I don’t know all my lines yet. Well, yes I do, but they haven’t really sunk in yet, so it is scary.

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.

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