This is Zoe's fourth blog entry for the 2007 production of Othello. In it she discusses the final week of rehearsals, costume, research, and the jig.
Transcript of Podcast
The last week of Rehearsals
Last week I said we were at the stage of tentatively setting things in concrete. Things are still changing so I’m not sure how much setting in concrete we have done. We have done a lot more of running large chunks of the play, so we get a better idea of the arc of the play, or the arc of the first or second half, which is giving us more of a sense of where we are, at what place, and at what time. This is helping us make firm decisions. A lot of it is becoming much clearer, and the story is coming through more strongly. We did a full run on Saturday, which was great to do. We realised that the first half is pretty much exposition in terms of setting the scene and setting the relationships. The second half almost deals with itself – it is all movement and action; all unravelling at its own speed. So our big challenge now is to get more pace in the first bit – it is running at about two hours now. There is so much information that you are torn between wanting to keep the pace up, and respecting the language. It isn’t the sort of language you can just rush through. We need to make sure it is very clear – there is a distinction between a proper pace and just rushing which is very important. The Director isn’t keen on cutting anything – though that is what is normally done with Othello. He is keen to keep it all in, which is lovely, but perhaps we will need to cut. We need to keep running it and keep making it slick. Two hours is a long time when many of the audience are standing. When we get to the previews (9 days away), it will probably help us decide. There is so much information, and so much beautiful language, in the scenes between Iago and Othello that it would be a shame to cut some of it; but, at the same time, I didn’t see how we will get the running time down without a few small snips! Of course nobody wants to see their good bits cut, but I think Iago and Othello would both be quite happy to lose some of their lines.
After the first run on Saturday we have started back at Act One Scene One, working at the detail, and then running it. Then moving on to Act One Scene Two and so on. So much of the first Act is Iago and Othello that we have had to do some other things to give them a break, but we are really trying to be fairly chronological so we are all clear where we are in the play, rather than jumping from scene to scene. We started the week all in the rehearsal room pretty much all of the time, but today we have moved on to just being called when we are needed – so there is a lot of sitting round in the Green Room.
I am completely sure we will be ready for the first preview, but we shouldn’t put to much pressure on ourselves. It will be one of the first times we have run it on the stage, and things will change – that is what previews are about anyway – for us to evolve and experience what it is like with an audience. So we will be in the right place by next Friday [the first preview], but there is quite a lot to do. We are working until 10 every night next week, long days through to the evenings. During the day the tours still come through the theatre while we are working, so the only time we have the theatre completely to ourselves is in the evening.
The other things we have been doing this week are learning the jig, which is vaguely hilarious, and the fight stuff has come together. The boys have had fight calls most morning this week, because they have their big fight scenes, and I’ve been working with Othello the final scene. I’m just going to be smothered now, we had started of thinking about strangling as well. I say just smothered, but it is a pretty horrible way to die. I think there are going to be a few bruises. He is dragging me round quite a lot – and I give as good as I get. It is one thing doing it in rehearsal when you are doing it fairly slowly, but as soon as some adrenaline comes in, you don’t even realise if you have hurt yourself. You go for it, and it is only afterwards you see the bruises. The fight is ok – I have a signal to give him, just in case he really is smothering me. I think it will look good, and the scene preceding the moment when he does it is really electric. We found while we were blocking it the other day that I’m almost like prey, stuck in the middle in the bed, and he is circling me. So even if I wanted to escape it would be difficult for me to do so. That was really powerful and felt really intimidating and scary. So I’m pleased with how that scene is going – it will be really dramatic.
We started thinking about the strangling before the fight director arrived because even the way we are speaking will change because of what we are doing physically. So we had marked through a basic choreography of how we wanted to be when we end up. The fight director then comes along, and the first thing he does is make sure you are doing it safely – so Othello doesn’t really smother me, but that it does look real, and that the audience won’t be able to see any gaps you might leave – like making special provisions for me to breathe. I haven’t yet worked out how I’m not going to breathe when I’m dead at the end; that is the one bit we haven’t rehearsed yet. It is just a combination of working through the scene, making sure our intentions are right for each line, adding the physical movements and then slowly doing them until we are used to them, then making sure we are doing them safely, then adding all the realistic thrashing around and all the rest, that makes it seem so brutal. It is not the sort of fight scene that we will have to do each day before the show. It just has to happen. You can rehearse it and rehearse it and rehearse it, but the adrenaline will change it. It mustn’t look rehearsed – it must look on the spur of the moment, rough and brutal. On the other hand it has got to be safe – I haven’t got an understudy.
We have this Sunday and Monday off, then we move on to Tuesday to Sunday weeks for the rest of the run. It is a bit scary to have Monday off, which means we have just got three days to tech it, but everybody is exhausted and I think we all need the break.
The costumes are really taking shape, and they are so beautiful. What I particularly like about mine is that there is a distinct difference between what she wears in Venice and what she wears in Cyprus. The Venice one is very dark and formal – a very heavy brown velvet – almost Puritan in effect. In Cyprus I have a corn-blue dress, with very intricate embroidery on the corset, all sorts of little gold trims and beads. It is really romantic and pretty and summary. They are gorgeous, but they will be boiling hot. I have a special little nightdress to wear in the death scene. Having just rehearsed it I am a bit worried about it riding right up over my head during the course of the fight – I need to get myself some bloomers. The costumes are all hand made. I also have these great big thick platforms, which look a bit Vivienne Westwoodish. They are not too bad to walk in. The original design they showed me copied a shoe from the period which had a large platform on the front but no heel, so you would have had to keep all your weight on the front of your foot. They only were able to wear them at the time because they would have had their maids with them, to hold them up if they started to go backwards. My shoes now have a platform which goes all the way back to the heel. As I’m quite short I’m glad of the platforms – with all these tall men around.
Bearing in mind I was only cast two days before rehearsals started, I didn’t do a lot of research before the first day. One of the joys of working at the Globe is that it is all at your fingertips. There is an amazing research team, and what I could do was to say to them, these are the specific things I’d like to know about, like
- What sort of education would she have had.
- What sort of relationship would a daughter and her father have – would he have been away a lot and would they have spent much time together. How much contact would she have had with him as a child?
- What was the process by which I got a suitor or a potential husband.
The research team then put together little packs with all the information we asked for. They also came in and gave us some brilliant talks about what Venice and Cyprus would have been like at that time, so they have really backed us up brilliantly.
I’ve seen plays at the Globe, so I know how they finish with the jig. It does feel a bit weird. We haven’t actually gone from the last scene straight into the jig yet, but I think it could feel very strange, having just gone from the drama of the ending, and for me being killed, into a jolly dance. It is a really tragic play, and I think it is a lovely way to bring us all out again. We show ourselves as performers to the audience. At the end of a tragedy people may really want it – some lightness at the end of something which is so dark. We are trying to avoid anything too silly; we don’t want to detract from the impact of the play in any way. Because at the end of the play Othello, Desdemona and Emilia are all dead on or around the bed, there is a type of funeral march that will be played, and the bed is ceremoniously taken of during this sombre music. Then the Clown will come out – he is the one bit of comedy though the whole play – he seems to say enough of all that, now it is my turn, and he just starts tapping his foot, then the music joins in, then we all join in. It is not too courtly – it will be quite fun. The Director describes it as Skaa music. It is very beat driven. Patsy Rodenberg, who is our voice teacher, has worked with a number of other Desdemonas, and she says it is a hard part because there is no redemption in it, which can get to you playing it night after night. So the jig could help and give me some release at the end. I can go away at the end of the day, thinking I’ve put that away until tomorrow.
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.