Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 1

This is Harry's first blog entry for the 2005 production of Pericles, in which he discusses coming back to the Globe, rehearsals so far and first ideas on character.

Transcript of Podcast

Back to the Globe: a workshop in December

I was lucky to be offered the parts straightaway! I’d worked with Kathryn Hunter [Master of Play] on The Comedy of Errors at the Globe in 1999. At the beginning of December she invited me to a workshop on Pericles where she tested the idea of having both an old Pericles and a young Pericles – just to see if it made sense to have the older Pericles watching his younger self go through the play. We worked with a script that Kathryn had adapted by cutting and pasting together bits of pieces: some of the younger Pericles’ speeches in the first half of the play were given to the older Pericles, so he could talk whilst he's watching the actions of his younger self. I’m not sure that Old Pericles will speak those lines now (it's all being discussed), but we have got an Old and a Young Pericles.

In our production, we meet Pericles when he's old and depressed and grief-stricken, having realised that his daughter Marina has died [IV.iv]. By looking at his past life, we can try to understand his grief: maybe he should have made some better choices, maybe he can learn from his mistakes then to be a better person, father, man. We see his past life in the actions of Young Pericles, and then finally catch up with the present as it were: we again reach that point in the story where he's in long hair after fourteen years of trying to come to terms with his wife's death, and then he finds out his daughter's death and then we pick up the story with Old Pericles again. Anyway, I enjoyed the workshop and then two days before Christmas I got a call from my agent who said that Kathryn would like me to be in the project and play the parts of Cleon, the Pandar, and the Fisherman. I have to say that was one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever had!

Preparation

I’ve been very busy working in the months between getting the part and starting rehearsals, so I haven’t given it as much consideration as I should have. I’ve been reading the play a lot, looking at Kathryn's adapted text and the Oxford edition to compare and see which lines have been changed or cut out or reassigned to different characters. Mostly I’ve just been imagining the world of these characters because it's such as fantastic fairytale of a story, and there are so many different worlds – from Tharsus, a city where everyone is starving, to the world of the Pandar which is the most liberal society ever. Even the governor turns up at the brothel; it's a world where anything goes, really, so we’ll have to explore that. I started to learn my lines this week. I used to think that you shouldn’t really learn lines until you were a couple of weeks into rehearsal (this is if you have the luxury of six weeks’ rehearsal period) because it's nice to learn lines as you’re going along; you understand them better, and they seem to go in more easily. But I’ve just finished playing Jack in The Importance of Being Earnest and I learnt that part before we turned up to rehearsal, because it's so much easier to rehearse without the book in your hand and you also have the confidence that comes with knowing the lines. You can still be versatile and develop them and say them in different ways. I’ve half-learned the lines from the bit in Tharsus which I think we’re doing next, so I won’t have to look at the book.

Rehearsals: physical work

We’ve done a lot of physical work this week. There's going to be a lot of imagery connected with the sea and storms and boats, because they’re recurring motifs in the play and all our wonderful aerialists have been off to practice swinging around the Globe! They’ll create images of people being thrashed about on a storm or being on a boat holding onto the rigging, whilst we’ve been working on the more land-based effects of the sea. Yesterday nine of us in a group used our bodies together to become the sea. We moved forward slowly, then back, and then a bit further forward as the waves built up. Slowly we got a sense of that motion of the sea within our bodies and that picture of us moving back and forth on the stage will hopefully give the audience an image that informs the action – whilst, say, another character is speaking or when people are pretending to be on the boat.

Improvisations

We also worked a bit of the first scene, in Antioch. I missed out on that because I had to do a matinee of The Importance of Being Earnest, but I gather it was quite lewd; a pretend situation was set up where everyone verbally and physically abused the King of Antioch and as a result of the abuse that he receives, he becomes an abuser himself (even of his own daughter). That improvisation in rehearsal tried to help the actor playing the part of King Antiochus to get a sense of that circle of abuse so that even though he doesn’t actually abuse anybody on stage, he's got it inside him; he carries those feelings with him when he's on stage, and it makes the situation in the first scene all the more dangerous, because we know that though he's being nice to his daughter and even offering her up for marriage, what he really wants is to keep her for himself.

Next we worked on the scene in Tyre, when Pericles has returned from Antioch. We improvised a little scene where we were all senior politicians and statesmen trying to advise Pericles, our new prince, on how to behave. We said things like ‘look, this is what your father was famous for’, and we had pictures of the father being very regal – pictures of him eating lots of food, and surrounded by servants, and hunting, and being a great conquering warrior. We created frozen tableaux, like photographs of those images, and realised that our pictures were a bit too old fashioned for Pericles. We told him ‘You need to be a man of the people, more like Tony Blair!’ and then we created another set of images of him preparing healthy food for his children, and there was an image of him saving the seals in Canada instead of hunting (standing between the club and the little seal a bit like a superhero!) Next all the advisors worked out a speech that Pericles should give to reassure his people that although his adventures in Antioch were slightly misplaced, he will be a great leader; he promises all sorts of tax-cuts and reforms and great things for the people. The second half of the improvisation was that we were all waiting at a big luncheon for Pericles to give this speech, but he turns up singing as though he's drunk. As his advisors, we realised how immature he is; he's not ready to rule yet, he's just a wayward prince. Both of those first scenes were to improvise because it helped us get to the feeling of the scenes before we come to the dialogue of Shakespeare. I think we are going to go on to Tharsus today so heaven knows what Kathryn has got lined up!

First ideas on character

I haven’t thought too much about what I’m going to do with my characters yet. I think Kathryn's idea is that Cleon is a First World political leader whose country is suddenly devastated, perhaps by famine or a nuclear bomb. It's as if a Blair or a Chirac is trying to keep his State from falling apart: for heaven's sake this is a first world country and it can’t just fall to pieces. So those are some ideas we’ll follow through.

At the beginning of the play, Cleon has two big speeches about the awful situation in his country. I don’t want them to be one long note of misery; I’m sure Kathryn has ideas about how we can make them active speeches. There is a lot of self-reproach in his speeches which must be touched upon, but they must be contrasted with an active desire to make things better.

For the fisherman, we’ll see what we create out of that as a collective. It's difficult to make one decision about a character in isolation when there are three of us involved (there are three fishermen in those scenes). Then the Pandar: we’ve talked about him a little in rehearsals, and we’ve also done little biographies of our characters, including information about our age, our parentage, and our education. You have to make up most of that, although you get as much as you can from the text. The Pandar is married to the Bawd and I imagine that he ran away from home; he probably was quite well-educated and had quite religious parents, but he ran away and has just been enjoying sex for the last forty years. He's probably done everything under the sun, but is reaching the end of that wild period of his life. Now he just needs money to set himself up for retirement and also to atone in some way; he always talks about conscience, and that you should always do things properly. I think that must come from some sort of religious sensibility that he's pushed aside for forty-odd years, but when we meet him, he's at a point in his life where he's going to try to reclaim it a bit and have a nice settled retirement.

Voice session

We had a Voice session with Stewart [Pearce, Master of Voice] this morning. We were up in the Globe attic [above the stage] because it was bitterly cold down in the theatre and that wouldn’t have been very conducive to opening up the vocal chords. I think we’ll do more work at the Globe as rehearsals continue (at the moment we’re rehearsing in Bow, about 45 minutes away from Bankside). I feel more confident about the stage because I’ve worked there before, but as a Company we’re blessed with Marcello [Magni] and Kathryn because they have a very good knowledge of space. They have a great sense of how important physical imagery is in terms of telling a story; they know that the whole image on stage is very important to the Globe audience and that it has to be seen from all over the place – so they use strong diagonal moves and often keep a distance between actors so that there's lots of space for the audience to enter in. As an audience member, you can feel excluded if you see two actors standing close together, talking to each other. Standing close together can be effective but it has to be used effectively. At the Globe, effective use of space is the key thing: that's why everyone in the audience feels so connected to the characters.

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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