This is Alex's penultimate blog post. This week he discusses how the first performances went, his perspective on reviews, and performing in the rain.
Transcript of Podcast
I think it went really well. The audience was very excited and enthusiastic. First night audiences here are often real Globe fans. They laughed at absolutely everything though, which I found slightly disconcerting. I assumed we had one play in the rehearsal room and I felt we had a completely different play onstage. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; it was just very surprising and amusing. I realised the audience made it a completely different experience. Like I said, they laughed a lot, even at moments that I thought were serious, like my first line of the 'Ay, but to die' speech [III.1.121]. They laughed and I had to try and pull them back, to say that this speech is actually very serious. Overall it was a really intriguing evening. The play went really well and everyone was pleased, but as I said the audience responded in unexpected ways. The second night was absolutely different again; once again, the audience was very involved but a little calmer.
Again, there was lots of laughter in unexpected places, but not to the same extent as the previous night. It's strange… almost every audience so far has been completely different. That's been the case for every play I’ve done, but not to the extreme extent that I’ve experienced here. Each audience seems to be on a completely different wavelength. It's odd. I think these differences are much more noticeable because of the space; we’re completely in touch with them somehow.
To go out onstage for my first scene [I.2] and see one thousand five hundred people was amazing, absolutely fantastic. I wasn’t nervous, nor have I been nervous yet, which is strange – I don’t usually get that nervous but I really thought I was going to be. I wasn’t, though; I was just excited. It's so exciting just to be faced by this massive block of people. You share the same space with them in a very unique way, because everyone can see each other. It's great to be able to use them sometimes, although we’ve decided that it's probably better for my character not to use the audience as much as other characters in Act one, scene two. John [Dove, Master of Play] says the character is the heart and centre of the scene, so perhaps it's more tense and interesting for the audience to feel that they’re not to be a part of you in quite the same way that they’re part of other characters at that point. With Claudio, there is a little more distance interposed. Obviously I do address some things in my speeches to the audience, especially in the 'Ay, but to die' speech [III.1], but really I think they should be seeing things in me rather than my seeing things in them.
I made some big changes a few performances in, mainly because I had a conversation with my sister, and she said that she wasn’t sure that she liked Claudio; he was arrogant. I thought about that, and I think there is a slight arrogance about him, but I don’t want that to be an overwhelming feature of his; I want him to be liked. So we talked about where that arrogance came from, and we thought it could be the result of over-emphasising the importance of Claudio's pride. Inside, he's a big ball of emotions, but I was covering that up a bit too much – the audience didn’t get to see how I was actually feeling on the inside to the extent that they perhaps should have done. In addition, my costume, my hair and my beard are all very severe, and my physicality is very straight and proud, so that it seems slightly impenetrable. It's important to play across that costume, we thought. I need to try and undercut the clothes with my character, rather than play on top of the costume. I want the audience to see that Claudio is really ruffled by what is happening to him, so we’ve brought the vulnerability and the uncertainty up a lot more, and taken the pride away. I’m acting less, in that I’ve realised I can let Claudio be a bit more like me than perhaps I was, and use my nature and vulnerabilities in that way – for the moment, at least – rather than getting in the way of it with some kind of characterisation which might not be necessary. Not that I was doing a massive metamorphosis before...
The Press came for three nights in the end, because of the tube strike. To be honest, it didn’t really make a difference to me. I’d like to be reviewed well but I didn’t change my performance in any way because they were in. I still tried new things, and in fact that was probably one of the first nights when we played with this new vulnerability idea.
The Press Night audience weren’t really any more or less different in their reactions to our other audiences. There was still a big 'normal' audience, and they were very fast and very intelligent, and they really enjoyed it. I’d obviously very much like the show to be well-liked and have everyone think it's amazing, but the audience are really enjoying it, and I think that's the most important thing, really. I’m not reading reviews until we’ve finished the run. I know they’ve been mixed, but I’m not going to read them because I would find it difficult if I was personally rubbished. Also, if people say: ‘Alex Hassell played Claudio like this’ and I don’t agree with that interpretation, I’d go on stage thinking about the review and then maybe I'd mess it up… so that's why I generally think it's best to steer clear of reviews.
Discoveries from the first week
I discovered that you can see very clearly when people in the audience aren’t paying attention - if you’ve lost them, or if they’re getting bored. As soon as you notice that, you have to try and entice them again. I’m much more alert to how they’re taking things. My energy as a performer also seems different: it dissipates in a different way at the Globe, but I haven’t quite figured out how or why or what that means yet! I’m also learning about practical things, like what to do if a helicopter goes over: just recently a helicopter went over during my main speech, so I just had to change it. Basically I got downstage and tried to be as loud as possible – without yelling, of course. I just concentrated on keeping the audience's focus and attention so that they could follow what I was saying. They’re willing to follow; you know they want to follow and they don’t want to be put off, so that makes my task easier. I’m learning a lot by watching the other actors too; watching Mark [Rylance, Artistic Director & Vincentio in Measure for Measure] or being onstage with him in Act five, when he uses the audience in such a stupendous way (I couldn’t get away with anything like that in my character anyway). I really admire the way that he uses the audience and the text in such a way that they feel included in the play, yet not so included that their involvement detracts from the power of the story. It's a special balance.
We’ve done a whole performance in the rain, and there have been several others when there were showers. We don’t get wet because of the canopy over the stage, and generally the audience in the yard stay there, but sometimes I find more energy is needed just to keep the groundlings focused. Sometimes, if lines seem about the weather, or even if they’re not, even if they’re just about how terrible things are, you can use it. For example, my lines in the ‘Ay, but to die’ speech:
To be imprisoned in the viewless winds
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world. [III.1.127-9]
I can use that, it's a wonderful thing to have that. And the show feels so different in a matinee as opposed to the evening because the light is different, the weather's different, and it's hotter or colder depending on when you’re performing. An evening show starts off sunny and ends up dark, and it gets colder. It's strange, but I’m getting used to that; it's interesting to decide whether to use it, or not use it, or play against.
The groundlings certainly are something special because they’re leaning at our feet or walking around the yard, which is crazy! Not at all like other theatres. Having people so close, I can’t cheat. I can’t fake things or hide things because that stage is utterly exposing. I think that might be why I’ve felt a bit funny coming off stage a couple of times. Somehow it's just me and the audience; at one level, there's no pretence – although at other levels, of course there is.
Even when I’m onstage without any lines, when I’m not in the immediate focus of the story, I still feel exposed. Also, as Claudio is largely an emotional character (as opposed to a humorous or intellectual character), I don’t get to use laughs to gauge how things are going as other characters might be able to do. It's sometimes difficult to know where you are. Exposing so much in front of all those people does make you feel vulnerable. That's how Claudio should be, but it's strange if people don’t pay attention or if they look bored. Then I feel like saying ‘Oh, come on, I’m working my heart out here.’ It's certainly a different kind of experience.
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.