Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 1

This is Marcello's first blog entry for the 2005 production of Pericles in which he discusses returning to the Globe, his first thoughts on the play and rehearsals so far, amongst other things.

Transcript of Podcast

Coming back to the Globe

I did two seasons here at the Globe; The Merchant in Venice in 1998 and The Comedy of Errors in 1999. I loved my time there so much that since then I’ve been waiting to come back! Mark Rylance [Artistic Director, Shakespeare's Globe] felt that Kathryn Hunter was the right director for Pericles because of the physicality that she had brought to the Globe on stage, and he thought I was a good complementary presence for the Company that Kathryn needed. In my previous seasons at the Globe, I explored how stories could be told using physical as well as verbal eloquence on that stage, and that was work I wanted to continue.

So Mark invited me to be an actor in the production and also to help the Company with theatrical solutions in terms of physical imagery. Glynn MacDonald is Master of Movement at the Globe and she prepares our bodies for natural movement in the first instance. I’ll build on that work and physicalise a theatrical solution – how to we might express the imagery of the play and the personality of the characters with our bodies. Of course, Kathryn will do a great deal of this work; my role will be to complement her.

I read Pericles and found I’d been offered some wonderful parts: Helicanus, Simonides and Bolt – a minister, a good king, and a pimp – there was a good spectrum of life there, so I accepted. At the same time, Mark thought that my skills in commedia dell’ Arte and masks would be helpful for Man Falling Down (that's the other play the White Company are doing this season). So I was brought in as an actor for both Pericles and Man Falling Down and as a physical expert and performer whose experience would complement the work.

First thoughts on Pericles

Well, it's a wonderful story. It's a journey, an odyssey, like Dante's journey into the Inferno, through Purgatory, and then out into Paradise. It's complicated too because there are so many stages in the journey: in some the productions of Pericles that I’ve seen, everybody got lost in the descriptions of these countries.

Kathryn wants to explore the emotional impact of Pericles’ experiences in Antioch, where he goes to purchase a bride – a strange concept – but discovers the King of Antioch's dark secret instead. His mind and his emotions are disturbed as a result and he has to go through a journey of healing in order to become a balanced, eloquent, wise and very human king. Pericles was actually a fantastic leader during the Golden Age of Athens at the time when democracy was invented; he was known to the Elizabethans as a figure of great wisdom. In Pericles, Shakespeare tells the story of a king who is dominated by his emotions, so in the beginning he's not at all like his ancient predecessor. The journey becomes a realization of your own real responsibilities and emotions. I think it's a journey of growth through loss in order to gain wisdom.

First day

We had a fantastic first day. Meeting everybody at the ‘Meet and Greet’ made us feel that we were part of a Company of actors, but also part of the building. Lots of people from different departments at the Globe spoke about their work with a very clear sense of aim and focus. We found out more about how the ‘acting’ Theatre part of the Globe sits alongside the Exhibition and Education departments: they are fundamental in developing contact with audiences and people of all ages who want to explore Shakespeare's plays. That contact is really important: one of the pleasures of performing at the Globe is the direct relationship you have with the people who come to see the plays. As actors onstage, we see people in the audience and sometimes we fall in love or we have an aggressor or someone shouts out to us… the theatre participates with you in what's happening onstage. The audiences are totally involved: they cheer, they boo, they gasp, and they hold their breath when we hold our breath. Onstage we’re very much aware of their eyes and their feelings; you can tell if they’re tired because they move around, or when they get wet with the rain. Very often we use the audience as part of our cast, as a large court or the people of Athens, and they become people within the story instead of people watching a play.

Creating the sea

The sea is very important in Pericles. It can be at once a very calming element and a very powerful, dangerous element. There are two storms that progressively strip Pericles of all his possessions; he loses material things in the first storm – a boat and all his property – whilst in the second storm he loses his beloved ones. He loses his wife, Thaisa, at sea then leaves his new-born daughter Marina in the custody of a nurse. The sea is like an agent in the play and Kathryn's idea is to create the sea using six aerialsts as well as the performers onstage. The aerialists’ actions in the air all around the balconies will almost lead them amongst the audience: our wish is to make the Globe move as the sea. That's one aim. Another aim is that we’ll be able to represent each different society that Pericles travels through by using different physicalities. Pericles goes through many, many countries – Antioch, Tharsus, Tyre, Pentapolis, Ephesus and Mytilene – so we’ll try to use our bodies to become politicians or bodyguards or starving people in a famine or stall holders.

Rehearsals

On the first day we began exploring how we could create a country and how to move between the different groups of people in the play. We are going quite slowly. We want to integrate Gower into the story as a fundamental character. Gower was a poet like Dante, and a very moral writer. He brings the story of Pericles to us to show us how to be good, how to be responsible, how to act wisely. What Kathryn wants to do is to introduce the cast as puppets or the animated people of this story whom the storyteller Gower will call upon. If he calls upon you as Antioch, then you will become Antioch, and you will need a daughter and a court… so everyone drops into a role. So we’ve spent the first week exploring the first four or five scenes of the play and how the language makes clear that Gower is telling a story to heal Pericles. The story starts, for Kathryn, with Pericles on the tomb of his daughter [IV.iv]. Then she wants to jump back, so that the story teller shows this elder Pericles what happened and the mistakes he made, for him to go through it again as if in a dream in order to come out healed at the end.

We have done wonderful Voice work with Stewart [Pearce, Master of Voice] and we also had a session with Giles [Block, Master of the Words]. With Giles, we looked at how Shakespeare's verse had changed and developed during his life. He gave us examples of verse that was rigid in a funny way; every thought was completed at the end of each line, so somehow in the reading of it you feel that it's self-contained and quite square. Shakespeare started to break up the lines and you can hear that the speech becomes livelier, like when you interject in a normal conversation. Although the line of verse isn’t finished, you enter and the other person speaks. That creates an extraordinary excitement, because the people aren’t speaking as archetypal figures anymore; they’re speaking with more natural patterns of speech. Then Giles helped us understand the distribution of thoughts in a speech: the way the thought builds in the entire speech was very dynamic. We used an example from The Merchant of Venice which was very beautiful:

Gentle lady,
When I did first impart my love to you,
I freely told you, all the wealth I had
Ran in my veins, I was a gentleman;
And then I told you true: and yet, dear lady,
Rating myself at nothing, you shall see
How much I was a braggart. When I told you
My state was nothing, I should then have told you
That I was worse than nothing; for, indeed,
I have engaged myself to a dear friend,
Engaged my friend to his mere enemy,
To feed my means.
[III.ii]

It's like the entire thought leads up to that point. And then Bassanio continues:

Here is a letter, lady;
The paper as the body of my friend,
And every word in it a gaping wound,
Issuing life-blood.

The entire speech is an emotional build-up for an emotional release. Other dramatists wrote speeches that related the death but without the same sense of a character discussing their inner trouble – from the beginning to the end of the play a character might not change the way they speak regardless of their situation. There was a kind of composed regularity in the verse. Shakespeare's verse became much more something that people were living in a sense: what's going to happen next? It's like a very dynamic quarrel as opposed to a very formal interview: in the latter, you ask me ‘What do you think?’ And I answer ‘So and so’, and I have so much time! But imagine when someone starts to argue like in television talk-shows ‘I think, no, you shouldn’t…’ They interrupt each other and start talking before the other person has finished: ‘I want to tell you how much I need. No you shouldn’t say that!’ We feel that difference between formal composure and dynamic urgency in very practical situations such as live television programmes, and Shakespeare was bringing that variation into his verse structure.

Modern contexts & improvisations

Kathryn has been working with us very much in situations that liberate our characters in a modern context. She always creates a parallel between a situation in the play and something very direct and immediate. She asks us to work on liberating a true situation between people because she wants us to speak truly to each other, with energy and rhythm. Improvisations help create that kind of parallel.

We did some improvisation to make us feel the dark landscape to Antioch, the first place Pericles arrives at on his journey. During the improvisation, we as a group bullied Jude [Akuwudike], who plays King Antiochus. We shouted awful abuse at him. Then a new situation was set up in which the power balance shifted: Jude suddenly had complete power over the group that had ridiculed him. He was the ruler of our country and could make us do whatever he wanted. He made us abuse each other and, because we were scared for own lives, we almost became even more violent than he was; we knew that was the twisted game that he wanted to play. When the king has so much power that no moral code can be imposed, even within his own family relationships, then he can take anything he wants, even his own daughter. He needs to make me sure that there is no question about who is in control here, so at that point the group became as violent as the King himself. That exercise gave Jude things to draw on as Antiochus and it helped us create the landscape of Antioch: a violent place full of fear.

In another improvisation, Kathryn helped us explore a very formal situation in a post-war country where we were all political advisors about to discuss matters of government with our Prime Minister. Everyone expected our PM to come out and give a certain type of speech and we really felt that we were part of an enormous team waiting in the wings to help him make important decisions. When we presented our plans to the PM during the improvisation, we had the expectation that he would behave like a modern political leader, but Robert [Lucksay, Young Pericles] sung a Hungarian song instead of giving a speech, and he had a little toy rabbit, and kept saying ‘Cheeky, cheeky, cheeky, naughty rabbit; cheeky, cheeky, cheeky, naughty rabbit!’ He misbehaved totally.

When that situation occurs in the play and Prince Pericles comes out to meet his advisors [I.ii], he doesn’t give a speech as the Lords probably expect. After returning from Antioch, he actually sends everyone away ‘Let none disturb us’. It's like he doesn’t want to rule – he doesn’t do the appropriate things (as if in today's world, he hadn’t appeared defending seals or planting new trees). So Kathryn helped us to understand the truth of the situation and how we behave in that context before we start to act the Shakespearian situation. We know now that, as ministers, we expect and deserve a certain social decorum, a certain formality; we don’t approach the scene from the point of view that we’re a king or a knight, instead it's situated in a modern context, and I find that very useful.

Characters

I play three characters: Helicanus, Simonides, and Boult. I’ve just started to touch on Helicanus this week. Kathryn asked us all to fill out questionnaires as our characters – there were questions about age, parentage, schools, skills, our moral status, our religious beliefs, our ethical and social standards. The questionnaire asked us to describe our relationships to water, food, sex, drink; what was our life motto; what was our deepest need or desire. We did it for every character that we played so I answered one for Helicanus, one for Boult and one for Simonides. Every time we came on stage, she put us on the spot with a little five minute interview and we discussed the character in that character's voice; that all helps to liberate a picture of the person. Ideally we should draw the person too.

I took my motto for Helicanus from the text:

To bear with patience
Such griefs as you yourself do lay upon yourself.
[I.ii]

And I put down another one too:

‘To stir our country and find that our leader could be happy and healthy in his own spirit’

As Helicanus, I find all the time that my leader is troubled; at the beginning because he's both very shocked by the incest and he's shocked by his own desires (which seem to mirror those of King Antiochus), then later in the play he's in total despair after the death of his wife and has vowed never to speak again. So I’m dealing with a person who has not handled responsibility and challenges; he collapses and falls on himself. I want the best for our country and I love Pericles, so the motto is really about protecting him. My answer for the ‘greatest need’ question was to help Pericles, to advise him and to protect him, the king of Tyre, and to bring peace to the world. Helicanus wants Pericles to be remembered as the best leader ever, like Pericles the Greek King.

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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