This is Harry's fifth blog entry for the 2005 production of Pericles in which he discusses technical rehearsals, clothing and design, amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
We’re now in tech week and we seem to have got through the whole play in two and a half days. That’s good because it means we can stop the play during a run if we hit any major mishaps… if the bed (for the brothel scenes) doesn’t get pulled off stage in time, or if we all run on the wrong way. We’ve got time to stop and amend bits and pieces. For the most part, we know where we should be entering from, what costume we should be wearing and where we should be standing on stage.
So far we’ve spent a lot of time setting our positions; where we stood on stage was fairly indeterminate during rehearsals. But now we’ve got to mark out the action because when you play in the round, you’re always obscuring some of the audience from the main action. At the Globe, there are also two pillars to watch out for. If you’re not important to the story in a particular scene, you have to make sure you’re not obscuring anybody else who is important - and if you are important, then you have to make sure you can be seen. You really have to find the good places to stand on the stage.
It’s good to work with the music cues too. People who give musical cues at the end of their lines have to make sure that they give that line loud and clear so the musicians in the gallery above the stage can hear the cue. Or if you’re speaking after loud music, you know that as soon as the music dies down at a certain point, you’ve got to come in with your line. A nice sense of certainty comes out of that.
Clothing and design
All the costumes are fantastic… it’s great to see what other people are wearing. You know what your own costumes are going to be like (and it’s nice to see other people’s reactions), but seeing other people’s costumes and wigs gives you a sense of the look of the whole show. Marcello [Magni] has a great wig, like Harpo Marx when he was in his fifties! That’s for King Simonides and it fits his flamboyant character perfectly.
And for my Pandar, we’ve gone for very tight trousers with slip-on shoes; very lecherous, very lounge-lizard. On top, I’ve got a very unpleasant shirt that keeps revealing my midriff, as if my coat’s not quite big enough to cover me properly. An awful orange panama hat finishes off his sleazy look! Jules’ outfit for the bawd is similarly over-the-top, loud and lavish. She had a very big wig in rehearsal, but she’s decided that isn’t helpful anymore; it pushes her towards pantomime, towards something totally unreal.
As the characters in the brothel are slightly fantastic, they have to be earthed in the real world – very menacing and unpleasant – otherwise you don’t really believe the predicament in which Marina finds herself.
Old and new
Liz [Cooke, Master of Clothing] hasn’t held back from using broad colours; the world of the play is extreme and I think that will work well on the Globe stage. Apart from the actors and some props, the stage itself is actually quite bare – I don’t think there’ll be a mismatch between Elizabethan decoration inside the space and the modern look of our production. Elizabethan clothing (including costumes worn by actors on stage) was all about catching the eye: that’s just what our costumes do. The Elizabethan decoration is also quite gaudy; the wooden pillars are painted to look like marble, and there’s clever trompe l’oeil painting everywhere… it’s a space that can take people wearing loud, extravagant colours. I don’t think you stand out if you wear neutral colours – of course, that may be a good thing if you don’t want to stand out!
And as the Chorus, we wear white shirts and black trousers. Little groups of us can be quite statuesque whilst wearing that: it helps you to blend into the background if you keep still, and so focus moves to the important figures on stage. But the same outfit can also be very striking when we move as a group. For example, when we become the starving mothers of Tharsus, and offer up our dead babies for burial. The ‘babies’ are actually the suit jackets worn by the politicians of Tyre; the Chorus set a new scene by taking off our jackets and rolling them up, holding them like children. If there’s ten people on stage all dressed exactly the same and repeating the same ritualized movement, it can be very powerful. Clothing really helps with those transformations between places and characters. A jacket and tie mark out the lords of Tyre; when I take those off and put on a naval commander’s cap, that’s a sign that I’ve become Cleon.
Clothing: Diana’s temple [V.iii]
At some points in the play, people do change whole costumes. Yesterday we discussed whether the language of the piece is actually that you put on one thing and you’re somebody else, even though underneath you’ve got the black and the white. The production begins like that but whole new costumes appear more frequently later in the play. In the last scene at Ephesus [V.iii], we wear the basic black and white Chorus outfit with an orange sarong to be the temple guardians. We’re not quite sure what that looks like. We thought about trying a new costume, a sarong with a white t-shirt perhaps, because it felt a bit strange at the end to go back to black and white with a sarong – having built up the basic outfit to the point where we lost the black and white (unless you’re a Chorus member listening to Gower the story-teller). It’ll be interesting to see what happens.
There a few moves in the brothel scenes that I’m keen to work on; we’re not quite sure where we should be standing. We need a little rehearsal time to set things really, until all four of us (the Bawd, the Pandar, Boult and Marina) know exactly what we’re doing. It’s hopeless if three of us do one thing and the fourth person does something else. We can improvise something, but it’s much better if we all know what we’re doing so that we can be very clear. The overall idea is to keep the lines flowing as we do these bits of business; the business isn’t a distraction, it’s placed in between the lines as punctuation. We don’t hold up the lines to do huge amounts of comedy business… sometimes the story does slow for physical images, but in terms of the little things in the brothel scenes, it’s nice if they always complement the lines and allow the story to drive on. If the story didn’t push on, the play would run forever! We’re running at three hours now, and hopefully we’ll take off at least another twenty minutes after our first week of previews. By then, we’ll have a better idea about what’s essential and what can just be cut away.
In the brothel scenes, we’ve got to strike a tricky balance between comedy and the reality of Marina’s situation. Marcello Magni [Boult] is on the groundlings’ wavelength and they’ll pick up anything he is doing, which is great. We need to balance that by making sure that comes at the right time as regards telling the story and hearing the text. The Pandar, for instance, is very lascivious and you should be able to read from his behaviour that he’s completely debauched. I have to play those bits of business (like itching because of his venereal disease) on my lines. If the audience laugh within your line, then you can control it – you can say the next bit and pass the baton on to the next person: the focus shifts. Lighting often gives and takes focus in modern theatres, but everyone shares the same natural light at the Globe so it’s really up to the actors to make those handovers work. I think that’s the key to the balance in those scenes: you’ve got the focus and you provide the laugh or the emotion then pass it on to somebody else – they grab it and take it forward like a relay race.