Shakespeare's Globe

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This is Harry's sixth blog entry for the 2005 production of Pericles in which he discusses the first performance, continuing character work, and preparing to go on stage, amongst other things.

Transcript of Podcast

First performance

We’ve done our first preview; there was a very nice response and lots of things fell into place as the audience told us what they liked and what needs more work. The storm sequences and the tournament have gone down fantastically every night – it's wonderful to see that after all the hard work that's been put into them. The aerial work really elevates the show and lifts up all the human drama along with it. Although I wasn’t too nervous for our first Preview, I felt my heart racing, really pumping away on the Press night. Of course, the Press were there, but my parents, my wife and some family friends also came to see that performance. Once I got through the first Cleon scene, the nerves disappeared – after that the rest of my lines are relatively conversational and I can enjoy that (touch wood!) We did a strong show and that was very pleasing; the reviews have been very positive.

The first show lasted three and a half hours which was far too long, but at least we got through it! When Mark [Rylance, Artistic Director] talked to us the following day, he said how much he enjoyed it. He liked the elements of the story where Gower and Old Pericles talk to each other in modern English outside the text. He thought that cuts in the first half would increase the focus on Pericles’ journey. After two shows, we cut the first three scenes so they took only half the time; showing Antioch and Tyre as brief episodes seen through the eyes of Old Pericles rather than ‘worlds’ in their own right meant that the storyline became much clearer. The point of the scene is really what it means to Pericles. The cuts meant we arrived at the first storm scene much more quickly. In the first Act we see Pericles with everything, then he's reduced to nothing in the storms – the drama begins when he's washed up half-dead on the beach after the first storm, having lost all his men and possessions. Now the play runs at about three hours including the interval, which is a much better length.

Character work continues…

After the first preview, we had a week of rehearsals during the day and performances in the evening. I think we all improved our characters; playing for an audience helps you realise where you need to make sure you get the story crystal clear… that's what Kathryn [Hunter, Master of Play] is very keen on. Instead of playing all the moments in a scene, we concentrate on our overall objectives, so some of the verse can be spoken in a way that's very heartfelt but also quite light and fast. That makes it easier to listen to, because it's more like natural speech.

I think Cleon's story has become clearer. We cut a lot of his lines: in Act one, scene four, I now give the essence of the trouble that Tarsus is in and then Pericles suddenly arrives with a sack of corn. In the text, there's another page of verse where Cleon learns that a ship has landed and worries whether it's a threat before Pericles’ entrance. The fisherman's scene is fun and that's changed quite a bit too. Instead of being jokey all the time, we’ve gone back to some of the anti-beggar issues raised by the text. Clearly, these hard working fishermen don’t like people who have a free ride (whether they’re beggars or kings), so when they first see Pericles in such a dishevelled state they think he's another beggar. When we realise that he's at death's door, we rush to help him. We keep it jokey, but we’ve been trying to explore some other things alongside the humour.

The Pander is the most difficult character. The menace of those scenes comes across without huge laughs – I think that's the way it's written. My parents came to see it on Press night and enjoyed it, but they thought the brothel scenes were quite grotesque. It's difficult to strike a balance between the jokes and the real threat these men present to Marina. You’ve got to believe that these men would do all the nasty things they want to do to Marina. She has to have that reality otherwise there's no sense of her being saved and she needs that real unpleasantness for her goodness to shine through. We’re still trying different ways to make the conversation between the Bawd and the Pander more natural. We keep changing the way we treat Marina, depending on what we want from her, and we’re very sycophantic with Lysimachus because we want his money.

The brothel scenes are challenging, but I think the Pander is the most fun to play out of my three parts. In those scenes I can use the audience or refer to them – just eye-balling them as if they’re citizens in the Mytilene marketplace. They become actors in the scene. Boult has some fantastic conversations with them as well, because his character's got a licence to do that. He goes into the yard to advertise Marina to potential customers in the yard and gets a great response. I think audiences at the Globe are freer to express and share their feelings: they say what they’re feeling or laugh or get shocked and they can talk to their neighbours and move from one place to another (if they’re groundlings). That buzz comes across: on stage you can see and hear whatever's in their minds or their bodies or their hearts. That's the great advantage of the Globe; the audience is lit up. Their responses are very palpable and this affects our playing to an extent that you don’t find in other theatres. It's definitely a two-way relationship.

Wicked Cleon?

Gower calls Cleon ‘wicked’ at the end of the play, and Marina calls him ‘cruel’ [V.i]. I think he is culpable, even though he didn’t actually plot Marina's murder. He has the chance to go and find her, or at least tell Pericles what has happened. He has a chance to stand up to his wife, but he doesn’t – instead he chooses the safer course of action (not to rock the boat and to keep his government going) and I’m sure he dies spiritually as a result.

In our production, we have a moment where he tries to argue with his wife and make her realise that what she's said and done is awful, but Dionysia has the last word when she says ‘But yet I know you’ll do as I advise.’ [V.iii] She knows that I’ll go along with her. After that line I walk across the stage and put on my jacket, ready for the funeral scene – I’ve agreed to be silent really, to be jacketed – or strait-jacketed – by her. In the last couple of shows, we’ve introduced the idea that our daughter Philoten returns into our scene at that point. It's not written into the scene, but if she appears just as Dionysia says the line ‘But yet I know you’ll do as I advise’, then I can’t protest anymore even if I wanted to. Obviously we can’t let our daughter know the truth. Again, Cleon is constrained by circumstances, but ultimately he chooses not to stand up for Marina so he's guilty. He's given in to evil, so it's justifiable to be called ‘wicked’ and ‘cruel’.

Domestic setting: V.iii

We chose to give the scene between Cleon and Dionysia a domestic setting. In practical terms, it means that we don’t have to move the bed off stage; the scene with Cleon and Dionysia is sandwiched between two brothel scenes, and the main piece of ‘set’ in the brothel is a large double bed with a brass bedstead. Another alternative would have been to leave the bed on and do the scene around the edges of the stage – but that's not a very neat solution. Instead we throw a new cover over the bed and the scene shifts to Tharsus.

The scene works well in a domestic setting because it's between husband and wife, and is very much rooted in family relations – maternal envy spurs Dionysia to get rid of Marina. Kathryn [Hunter, Master of Play] wanted it to be in bathroom or a bedroom, where Dionysia can suddenly tell her husband that she murdered Marina. Cleon is completely stunned: I’m in the middle of getting ready for the big state funeral or memorial service that we’re about to hold for Marina, tie not fully done up and holding one sock, and I have to try and take in what my wife is telling me. Cleon continues to try and get dressed as normal, although his mind is racing about death and the fact that his wife is a killer. The ordinary routine of getting dressed turns into a series of displacement gestures. It's a very nice setting to play.

Forestage

Cleon and Dionysia take the urn with Marina's ashes right down along the forestage at the end of that scene [IV.iii]. Technically, the extended stage gives you a very powerful position because you can go right into the midst of the audience, where you become a focus for everyone on stage as well: they can look at you and still face out into the audience rather than across the stage. That means even if someone on stage is just talking to someone on the forestage, they are still giving the lines out to the audience. It helps stretch the scenes out length-ways into the yard. In our production, the end of the forestage is also a place of loss and desolation – it can feel very exposed and isolated there under the sky. When old Pericles is alone with absolutely nothing, he moves into that area.

Pre-performance preparation

Evening performances start at 7.30pm, so we do a group warm-up at 6.15pm, usually a run-through of the jig or the storm sequences. That takes about 10 minutes but it's nice to do something communal, to get you thinking and working as a team. All the aerialists have to warm up for half an hour, stretching their muscles really carefully, and we have that time to do our own vocal and physical warm-up in the theatre.

As part of my vocal warm-up, I go through some of my lines. Then I shower and change into my costume. (I usually eat at about 5.30pm, two hours before the show – I need to have something to eat!) I drink lots of water during the show because I lost a lot of weight in the first week of previews: you sweat buckets in the fisherman's outfit, and that week was particularly hot! We’re called at 7.25pm to go down to the tiring house, ready for the start of the show.

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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