This is Harry's fourth blog entry for the 2005 production of Pericles in which he discusses music and dance in the production, voice work and costume, amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
Three weeks left...
Three weeks to go, and we’ve got very physical; there's been lots of work on the storm sequences and also a lot of the chorus work on linking the scenes together (when we transform one city into another). Often the transitions are the last bits you piece together – in technical rehearsals you might find yourself thinking ‘Oh my goodness, how do we get from this well rehearsed scene to that well rehearsed scene?’ – but in fact we’ve worked out a lot of the transitions already, because it's important that story flows even whilst the action is jumping from place to place. The storm sequences have a very definite shape now; they need to be polished, but I think they’ve got the right momentums and changes of pace. We’re ready to settle ourselves on the actual text of the scenes now, because we’ve only touched on them once or twice. I think we’re heading towards that.
Music and dance
There's also been a lot of work on the choreography for our dances; we’ve got the jig at the end of the play sorted out which is nice. Kathryn also wants a very celebratory Greek dance at the end of the games in Pentapolis, which is where Thaisa and Pericles meet for the first time: we’re all going to do the dance in the background (holding arms in a sort of chain, lots of crossing steps and little flicks of the heels) whilst they dance more closely downstage. That's going on madly whilst Pericles and Thaisa fall in love, and when we stop at the end of the dance, they carry on dancing by themselves until her father Simonides tells them to stop. That should be a nice moment but we haven’t quite got the pace of those dances yet – they’re a bit too slow – so Eva [Magyar, Master of Dance] will help us get those up to speed. Our music has been composed especially for us by Stephen Warbeck, with the same Greek influences in mind. The instruments in themselves are quite amazing – some of them have been specially built. Amongst other things, there's a damnoni (an instrument with a large mouthpiece attached to a tube, first developed in Southern Crete), a bowed brass lyre, a strung instrument, hanging steel plates cut by Wills [Paul Williams, Tiring House Manager], an adapted violin that is tuned an octave lower than normal violins and a Turkish G clarinet! There are also several drums and other percussion.
We created a ceremony to begin the scene at Diana's temple. It was based on some video that Kathryn and Marcello had taken of a fire ceremony whilst they were in India; there were five priests who rhythmically waved incense and had lots of small bells that rang. Kathryn asked us to use that movement as part of the ceremony at Diana's temple in Ephesus; the idea is that the five women in the company, led by Thaisa, will enact a ceremony as Diana's priestesses, and Pericles will appear in the middle of it to declare his story (as the goddess Diana instructed him). When we made up some music to accompany the ceremony, we used whatever came to hand to create a beat. Stephen was drumming an up-turned water cooler and I had a bucket and spade. Somebody else was using a big banner. The music there really developed alongside the action. Music plays an important part in the storytelling from the beginning of the production. Patrice [Naiambana] who plays Gower (the narrator of the play) uses lots of African chants and rhythms to set various scenes. He's drawing on the tradition of ‘griot’ storytelling; the griot is an oral historian, story-teller and musician in West African culture, who keeps the history of communities and great families alive by sharing stories. His chants summon the Chorus together as storytellers, and summon the audience to listen. I think Stephen [Warbeck] might incorporate some of the melodies from those songs as well. There's a real mix of influences and a sense of collaboration.
As a group we’ve started to make sense of the brothel scenes in Mytilene. I’m realising how much of the second half of the play does takes place there, and there are some great set pieces where Marina has to convince everybody to reform their ways in order to protect her virginity. Whether it's the gentlemen in Act four, scene five, or Lysimachus or Boult, she manages to find a key to lock up their passions (or to divert them) and make them better people as a result whilst saving her honour. So we’ve been working on that, talking through those ‘conversions.’ My character is happily lecherous throughout, and desperate to get the money, really. He's desperate to get a good price for Marina, and then he's very angry when the plan doesn’t work – he becomes very threatening. So there are lots of different things to play. We’re going to have a session this afternoon with the Chorus as village people, just to make sure the scenes flow smoothly and to help put the brothel in the context of the little community on Mytilene. The improvisations we did in the first three weeks got us into the scenes and now we’re focussing on the scenes themselves.
As we’ve been focussing on the Mytilene scenes this week, I’ve been speaking more prose than verse. That means making sure you’ve got enough breath; whether it's three lines of Shakespeare or just one line, you’ve got to have enough breath to get straight through without going too fast. I like to have enough breath for each thought – sometimes there are several thoughts in one sentence so you can’t get through them all in one breath, but if there's one overriding thought, then it's good to have enough breath to see you through that. My maximum is about three lines in the Globe space and two lines feels very comfortable. At the Globe, you really have to speak out – sometimes over planes and weather, or groundlings moving around the yard – so you can’t run out of breath! I had a sore throat at the end of last week, because we shouted a lot in some improvisations and the studio has quite an echo. I ended up pushing my voice a bit, so I’ve concentrated on fully supporting my voice and that's helped.
We had costume fittings this week and decided on a basic black suit with a white shirt (open neck, no tie) for the Chorus. We can add things to that basic outfit when we become specific characters, so I can add a jacket for Cleon – or perhaps a dressing gown, because it's as if Cleon and his wife are woken up in the middle of the night when Pericles arrives to gives us baby Marina [III.iii]. I think if I come on doing up a dressing gown and looking a bit dishevelled, then that would suggest it's the middle of the night and it would be a good image that I could carry through into the final scene when we’re getting ready for the mock funeral and Dionysia tells me that she arranged Marina's murder [IV.iii]. If he's wearing the dressing gown there, that would help people recognise the character and get straight into the scene as they hear those first words.
I don’t know what Liz [Cooke, Master of Design] is going to come up with for the Fisherman's costume – something rough and ready, I think: heavy waterproof trousers and a hat perhaps. We had the idea that the Pandar is trying to be an English gentleman abroad, so he's got a panama hat, a little cravat, a jacket… a failed attempt at dressing as though he's ‘old school’. I think the trousers will be elasticated and light beige in colour, so they’re a bit tight and you can see all these stains on them.
I find that being in costume really helps with a character. We have a lot of rehearsal costumes that you can just throw on during a scene; you can become somebody else immediately. Simply by putting on a jacket or a hat, you hold yourself differently and you can find things that are useful in that: ‘Oh yes, that way of moving feels right for this character.’ So I’m pleased to find out what I’m going to be wearing.
Also, I’m wondering whether to grow my beard. I think that might help me look gaunt and dishevelled as Cleon – as if he hasn’t had time to shave or maybe he hasn’t got the shaving equipment. A beard also makes me look older, and that suits the Pandar because he's between fifty and fifty-five years old and I’m in my forties… that it might be good for adding to his old lecherousness. As for the fisherman – well, fisherman always can have beards, I feel!
I hope we’ll do a full run by the end of next week, because there's so much to remember in all the different sequences. When we put them together, it's got to be as smooth as ice; the way you do that is by practicing again and again and again.
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.