This is Alex's first blog post. This week he discusses how he came to be performing at the Globe, his impression of Claudio and the first week of rehearsals.
Transcript of Podcast
Coming to the Globe
John [Dove, Master of Play] and I worked together on Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman up in Edinburgh, at the Royal Lyceum. That finished just over a month ago and John said afterwards that he thought I might be right for the part of Claudio. It's a funny chain of events actually: I only got the part of Happy [Death of a Salesman] because I did another job at the Lyceum, and I only got that job because they saw me in a play at the Edinburgh Festival, so it shows that “from small things come great things”! John thought I might be right so I came in to audition for John, Mark [Rylance, Artistic Director] and Siobhan [Bracke, Casting Director]. The audition was quite relaxed – I did a bit of Hamlet because that was something that I’ve worked on, and I had to read through all of Claudio's lines. I wasn’t outrageously prepared because I’d just finished doing another play at the time… I’d read through Measure for Measure once before auditioning, but I wasn’t familiar with the play beforehand and I didn’t ‘have’ a Claudio when I went in. I still don’t actually. I was very, very pleased to be offered the part; this is my first time at the Globe and my first time doing Shakespeare professionally since leaving drama school in 2002. Recently I’ve done quite a lot of theatre, but before that I’d been mainly doing TV and film. I’m very pleased to be doing more theatre work, especially in a venue like this.
I was part of the Globe's William Poel festival in my third year at Central [School of Speech and Drama]. It's a festival they have here every year. Two third year students from each drama school perform a duologue, usually by Shakespeare or one of his contemporaries. I did that for my drama school in 2002 and from then on I’ve just loved the Globe – it's such a wonderful space to act in, especially Shakespeare's plays. They were written for this space and I’m excited to see how they’ll come alive in it. Theatre-wise, this is my first time performing outside (apart from the speeches at the William Poel festival). Filming is sometimes outside, but that's so different. I’m looking forward to being able to see the audience and communicating with them in a more direct way than is normally possible. The Globe doesn’t have the disadvantages of playing in a park where you’re completely exposed to the elements and the energy of the performance can just dissipate into nothing. This space is enclosed with an open roof, so there are elements of unpredictability, but energy is contained and comes back to you. I’m also excited about the fact that it's going to be summer and you get to act outside in the sun – that will be fantastic! I would also say I’m rather nervous about starting work here: I went along to see the Globe production of Cymbeline performed at a friend's drama school (a kind of warm-up before they went on tour). I thought Mark Rylance was fantastic so getting to work with him and John, in London on Shakespeare … well, there's always a certain amount of trepidation coming into a job and this time there's a bit extra.
I think the part is fantastic. Claudio is a young gentleman of Vienna who's from a noble family – at least, his father was noble. Basically, he's imprisoned by Angelo, the Duke's deputy. From my character's point of view, the Duke has just disappeared – I don’t have an explanation. Angelo imprisons me because he's found out that my fiancée Juliet is pregnant and we’re not yet officially married. Sex outside marriage was a crime and a sin so I’m put in prison and await execution – today that penalty seems even more disproportionate. It seems that Claudio's imprisonment is a catalyst for the story's interrogation of justice - at least, it leads to the situation between Angelo and Isabella. A new regime is making an example of me. I don’t think it's unfair to call it a regime. Angelo is extremely strict and is imposing new standards: ‘If you commit sins and crimes, a harsh penalty will be paid’. Obviously, I don’t want to die so I get Lucio, one of my friends, to go and ask my sister to plead with Angelo on my behalf. She's joining a convent and is going to become a nun, today, by a strange coincidence! I think she’ll be good at this because she's virtuous and very good with words and also has a quality about her that men generally seem responsive to:
Implore her in my voice that she make friends
To the strict deputy. Bid herself assay him.
I have great hope in that, for in her youth
There is a prone and speechless dialect
Such as move men; beside, she hath prosperous art
When she will play with reason and discourse,
And well she can persuade. [I.2.168-74]
There's lots of winding parts to the story, but I remain in prison for most of the play: Claudio's imminent execution is a constant pressure on other characters even when he's not onstage. This is pressure is applied most directly when he asks his sister to save his life and sleep with Angelo – that relationship between brother and sister is going to be very interesting.
Before I came into rehearsal, I read Measure for Measure a good number of times. I think it's very important to have an idea of where your character fits in relation to the whole play, not just your scenes. I also read a fair amount of background on the play – looking at the time period, the setting and the language. Things like that. Then I tried to get some thoughts together about my character and his relationships with other people but I didn’t do too much really – as I said, I didn’t come in with a complete or definite idea about what my Claudio will be like. Sometimes I’ll do lots of preparatory work beforehand, but it depends on the play and with this one I felt that a lot of my character would come out of rehearsal, and that perhaps it would be best to leave it till then. I didn’t want to peak too soon!
To be shown around the Globe and introduced to everyone at the Meet and Greet was extremely exciting. It felt very welcoming and caring – there's a good atmosphere. What struck me about the place was that everyone really, really wants to be here and they’re very excited about working here and the projects that are going on. Everyone seems to love what they do and so it feels like you’re being welcomed into a family. It was nice to see how our rehearsals and classes will be organised, and the kind of things we’ll be going in the sessions on voice, verse, movement and dance. Getting familiar with the routine helps you to find your feet.
We didn’t do a read-through of the play with all the cast members. I’ve had a read-through for every other play I’ve done so I found the decision interesting. Instead we talked about the play a little then got it up on its feet. I’ve done plays where we sat around and talked about things for a fortnight and then started, whereas this time we started to make things physical almost straight away. For my first scene [I.2], we read through it to make sure we understood what's happening – the progression of the characters, really – then we just got up and started to try and do it. I don’t particularly know what my character will be like yet; standing up and feeling your way around is useful but scary, because you do feel a little naked at first. You just have to concentrate on making the story as clear and dramatic as possible.
In my first scene [I.2], I’m led onstage and presented to the public by the Provost. I’m tied in handcuffs and led out to the very front of the stage then forced to my knees. Basically, I’m in a very vulnerable situation, and we’ve compared it to my being in Trafalgar Square with the press and paparazzi everywhere. There are lots and lots of people: the scene is set in a very public place and the great thing about the Globe is that we can involve the audience to express that. When I’m presented to the public, I’m taken downstage and presented to the audience. I’m very shocked and bewildered by what's happening, that I’m being led away to be punished so harshly. The laws haven’t been used in years: Claudio compares them to ‘unscoured armour, hung by th’ wall/ So long that fourteen zodiacs have gone round, / And none of them been worn’ [I.2.155-7]. The arrest must be a real shock. Even if I understand and accept the arrest, the manner in which I’m taken to prison – humiliated in front of so many people – seems entirely unfair. That's what I’m trying to express at the moment. I also understand that the Provost is only doing his job, and that I’ve got to try and fill Lucio in on the situation so hopefully he can help me: I haven’t completely resigned myself to the punishment.
We’ve been going through speeches with Giles [Block, Master of the Word]. Most of them are by Shakespeare, but none of them are from Measure for Measure. I think it's important that we don’t work on parts of the play directly in those sessions because that might interfere with rehearsals. We’ve been picking apart the verse, looking for any clues embedded in it and learning how to make it sound like natural speech – how to make it full of variety, colour, twists and turns. I’d come across some of the ideas in drama school but it's always good to go over things like that. I think it's fair to say that Giles represents the way that verse is spoken at the Globe, so it's good to try and get on the same page. I’m trying to apply everything I’ve learnt to all my lines, which can be rather complicated and difficult. But that's what the job is about, isn’t it? Getting to grips with the words so you can tell the story…
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.