Shakespeare's Globe

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This is Liam's seventh blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard II in which he talks about juggling performances and rehearsals of Richard II and Edward II, performing at the Globe and the progress of Edward II rehearsals so far.

Transcript of Podcast

Juggling Richard II and Edward II

We start rehearsing Edward II on Tuesday and Richard II opened on Sunday night, so it feels a bit like a play factory at the moment. But I know Richard II is going well. It's settled down and it's strong and people seem to be enjoying it. The audiences are picking up; we were a little quiet to begin with, but I suppose the weather doesn’t help – there's been a lot of rain. The press has been very good, for what it's worth. Sometimes I think I’d like to be one of those actors who don’t read reviews, but my curiosity just gets the better of me. It really is just curiosity. You have to stay balanced about it; by and large this time they seemed to like what I was doing.

The first night back at the Globe was a good show. We have just come back after a week's break from performing Richard II before we made the transition from Middle Temple Hall to the Globe Theatre. Hopefully anyone coming to see Richard II at the Globe would appreciate it as a Globe show without realising it had been in Middle Temple Hall and we were adjusting. This has been the first time I’ve done a Globe show somewhere else, but the change between venues has been pretty smooth and I don’t think there's any way around that transitional period. Now Richard II at Middle Temple Hall is becoming a memory: those performances are merging with Richard II at the Globe.

At some points in the play – as a result of the transition – I’ve developed my direct relationship with the audience. Mark Rylance is certainly using the facility in some of his big speeches. Though he hasn’t fundamentally changed what he does, whenever he addresses the public he's allowing for the fact that he has hundreds of listeners who sometimes laugh or disapprove or give some kind of reaction. To a lesser extent the same is true for me; I sometimes speak to people in a public way, but as Bolingbroke I’m never looking for the same kind of reaction. Richard is often seeking help from the audience, whereas Bolingbroke is not. There's definitely the feeling that you get something back from the audience when you’re confronted with the sight of hundreds of people listening to you: you can see them and you know what they’re thinking. And as the play goes on, you know they’re taking sides.

Bolingbroke and Richard

Shakespeare manages cleverly an absolute reversal of fortune for us both [Bolingbroke and Richard]. Richard does not become more likeable, because that's completely subjective, but it's obviously easier to feel sympathetic towards him as the play progresses. I’m the other way round, treated shoddily at the beginning then there's the reversal and Richard is alone with his thoughts in a dungeon while I have power and status. However badly he behaved earlier, you are confronted with a human being in adversity – lonely, hungry, cold – who speaks to us very directly about what he feels like. The audience have to negotiate that change. This morning I read a description of Bolingbroke as ‘opaque, solid and impossible to read’ and I think that's absolutely true; he never has a soliloquy or private conversation that lets us know what he's thinking. People have very, very different ideas about whether he's cautiously reacting to things as they happen or whether he's driven and has set on his goals early on. That's purely an audience member's decision. In a way it doesn’t matter what's in my head to a certain extent because I don’t tell the audience and I don’t show them. My actions are so staggered over the play that it's very difficult to decide whether Bolingbroke is reacting to situations or has planned everything. It's up for grabs and that gives a lot of scope for audience reaction.

Edward II

I’ve been thinking about Edward II, reading and discussing things with Tim Walker [Master of Play, Edward II]. We’ve got Sunday and Monday off, and I don’t think we’ll have two days off again for a long time – in fact I know we won’t – so I’ve organised myself a little trip to Gloucester to look at the Cathedral and on Monday I’ll go to Berkley Castle where Edward was imprisoned and killed. I thought it might be a good thing just to have a little blast of it before starting rehearsals on Tuesday. That sort of background helps you feel immersed. There's nothing I can do with it onstage – I’m not just going to tell the audience that I went to Gloucester and looked at his tomb for half an hour – but it feels like it helps in some way. Onstage I will feel stronger and more comfortable for having done that. It gives me a sense of connection. Somebody – I can’t remember who – said that research is nothing to do with your performance; in a way it's all about confidence. And that makes sense to me. Research helps me to feel that at that moment in time no actor has any more right to stand and play that part.

While I learnt most of my lines for Bolingbroke early on, I haven’t learnt any lines yet for Edward II. It wasn’t particularly useful for Bolingbroke, and I had to give him headspace for a bit longer than I expected. When I thought about starting to learn lines for Edward, maybe two, three weeks ago, it just didn’t feel right. I felt instinctively that I still had to keep my head with Bolingbroke in terms of lines, so I’ve decided to go with that. I know there are lot of lines for Edward and it's extremely hard to learn, but you get there – you always do. I’ll have to be learning lines every free minute but that's fine.

I think working with Tim Walker [Master of Play, Edward II] will be good. He played Malvolio in Twelfth Night last year, and it's interesting to be directed by an actor who knows the stage. We discussed characters, but one of the good things about being directed by an actor is that he understands in a sense there's nothing to speak about yet – this Edward II will be coming together from the lines on the page for me over a six or seven week rehearsal period. That's when there's a character; at the moment there's just black marks on a white page. But we did talk about the history - period attitudes to homosexuality, the power of the church and ideas about kingship about eighty years before the reign of Richard II. And Edward II is very different, in terms of period and the sort of things we’ve been dealing with in Richard II. I guess a hundred years is a long time in the development of institutions – just look at how perceptions of the Royal Family have changed in the past decade.

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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