This is Kananu's third blog entry for the 2004 production of Romeo and Juliet, where she talks about Juliet's relationship with her parents and with the nurse, costumes and kissing, amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
This week we’ve been doing more exercises all together as a group. My favourite was the one where everyone stood in a circle and each person in turn had to say their character's name, followed by their relationship to every other person in the circle and something that you wanted from them. For instance, I might say to Melanie [Jessop, Lady Capulet] ‘I am Juliet. I am your daughter. I want you to give me my space and let me make my own decisions.’ That helped us to understand the different relationships between characters and their motivations.
We’ve also gone through the scenes with lots of people in them, like the opening scene and the party scene [I.1 and I.5]. Tim is keen to highlight that we always speak for a reason, we don’t just talk. He told us that before we were allowed to speak to another character, we had to add a fact about ourselves. When I said to Romeo ‘Good pilgrim you do wrong your hand too much’, my fact was ‘I am rich… ’ Putting that reminder of Juliet's high status before the ‘Good pilgrim’ lines helps to explain why she says what she does. ‘Good Pilgrim … palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss’ – maybe she's thinking a kiss would be improper for a young lady in her position. Touching hands would have been more appropriate. The exercise encouraged us to find interesting reasons for speaking that we wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
Later on in the party scene I said ‘I am your employer's daughter’ to Bette [Bourne, the Nurse] before my lines ‘A rhyme I learnt even now/ Of one I danced withal.’ Adding that little fact made me concentrate on what's going on between Juliet and the Nurse; she's been nosy and asked what I’m saying to myself. Although Juliet is young, she has a certain power over the Nurse as Capulet's daughter and it's very human to say things that put people in their places. ‘A rhyme a learnt even now when I danced withal’ suddenly sounded more like ‘Mind your own business!’ than a quick response to shrug off the Nurse's question. We won’t necessarily play it that way, but it was useful to recognise the complexity of the power balance in their relationship. People often speak for reasons that are often quite subtle and that might sound like quite a basic fact but sometimes you can get so caught up in the arty stuff (you know, what your character's favourite colour would be [laughs]) that you forget those solid things. Juliet is fourteen. She is rich. She is in love... and so on. Also the group exercises are interesting to watch because we’ve been working on our own particular scenes for a little while now; it's nice to come back together as a company and see how the world of the play is coming together.
Today Bette and I have been doing Act three, scene two: the scene where the Nurse tells Juliet that Tybalt is dead and Romeo has been banished. I came in this morning and Bette said ‘we’re doing our weeping and wailing this morning, aren’t we?’ It's a very dramatic scene and we’ve been trying hard to figure out what's going on behind from the hysterics. It's surprisingly hard to just act ‘hysterical’. As Bette said after our rehearsal, its very useful having something to actually concentrate on doing, rather than just pouring out your grief (which you could do I suppose, that seems to be the way it was written). Instead of just going ‘Ay me, ay me’, Tim asked us to try and to think about what the Nurse is doing by expressing herself in this way: is there anything in addition to her grief? How does she want to affect me – what is it that she wants from Juliet? It might seem like wailing on the surface but maybe she wants to make me feel bad, or to change my mind and make me realise that marrying Romeo was a terrible decision. Perhaps she's thinking about the dangerous situation she's put herself in.
For Juliet, that scene may be a case of simply hearing the news and doing nothing but reacting with a denial: that's what I started out playing, as though I was just saying ‘No. NO. NOO.’ Then Tim suggested that when you get bad news, you don’t just deny it – instead you often try to change it, and make it better somehow: if you told me ‘Your whole family is dead’, I might say ‘What? You mean my mother, my father, my sister, my brother… ’ You try to undo or modify what the other person has said. If you confront the other person with what they have said, they might actually have to rephrase it: ‘Well, no, your whole family isn’t dead… ’ Thinking in this way helped me become more active and involved in the scene – it wouldn’t be very interesting if I simply thought ‘poor me, poor me’ from beginning to end!
My ideas about Juliet are moving on pretty much as I expected. You start off thinking of Juliet as a little girl who's very sweet and unknowing. I suppose I’m remembering that at that age you’re quite into boys and that it's not such a big surprise for someone to like you because you’re a woman. Juliet might have imagined what a husband would be like; that's a fairly new thought for her. She's sweet but she also might be aware of desire. When her mother asks ‘How stands your disposition to be married?’ and Juliet responds ‘It is an honour that I dream not of’ [I.3.67-7], she might be holding back. When we’re confronted with a question and we’re not sure where it's going to lead, we’re often quite reserved. We fit our answer to suit the person who asked the question. You might say to me ‘You do love travelling, don’t you?’ and although I might love travelling, I’ll be cautious because I’m not sure where this is going: ‘Well, yes, travelling is great but I wouldn’t do it all the time’ – you might be planning for us to move to Spain or something like that… I don’t know what you’re thinking, but everyone says things for reasons. The lines aren’t necessarily true or based on genuine feelings, and it helps to remember that because although it seems obvious, when you read that scene you automatically think – well, that's what she means ‘It's an honour that I dream not of’. She hasn’t thought about getting married. But maybe she says that because that's what she thinks it's what her mum wants to hear or because she's not sure where this conversation is going.
Relationship with Nurse
The relationship with the Nurse, well, it's funny. We ran the first scene [I.3] in front of the company and everyone laughed so much at what Bette [Bourne, the Nurse] did that I had to really think to myself – ‘Right. Don’t pay attention. What are you meant to be doing now?’ It felt very right because that's what the Nurse's character is like – she's so big and loud that she seems to provoke a reaction as a matter of course. She just encompasses people and you have to try quite hard to figure out what you want while all of that is going on. The Nurse sort of hijacks that scene with her story ‘Thou wilt fall backward’ and that's almost what happened with Bette and the room full of people. It was as if the audience was already there. I’ve done more scenes with Bette than anyone else, apart from Tom [Burke, Romeo], so our relationship feels like it's developing well. It's important that Juliet does share a very close relationship with the Nurse; as Bette and I spend more time together on our scenes, our relationship will get closer.
This afternoon Tom [Burke, Romeo] and I have been working on Act two, scene six, which involves some kissing so that's been pleasant! The scene is tiny: Juliet meets Romeo at the church to be married by Friar Lawrence but the actual wedding happens offstage. I suppose we’re finding out that although Romeo and Juliet is a famous story and both Tom and I know that the characters are in love all along the way, they would have moments of anxiety – it's okay for us to have moments where we’re unsure. Juliet arrives at the church and this is the first time she's seen Romeo in daylight. This is the first time she's been able to touch him properly. Everything is new to them. At first I thought ‘Oh no! We’re meant to be so passionate and to know what we’re doing, but I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing at all yet!’ Then Tim mentioned that, at this point in the play, Romeo and Juliet don’t really know what they’re doing either. That was very reassuring.
The story might be well known but we’re discovering there's a lot of freedom there too. Even the stage directions in the play are flexible… apparently a lot of the stage directions in various Shakespeare editions are interpretations from the editor rather than a definite instruction ‘this is how you do it’. In my text there's a direction in that little scene [II.6]: ‘She enters somewhat fast and embraces Romeo’ so when we came to rehearse it, I came running in and embracing Romeo. Tim asked why did I embrace Romeo just then? It doesn’t have to happen right there – the direction just gives a general description of what goes on. It's quite like the prologue in a way (that's going to be cut, I think) The prologue isn’t actually in the Folio of Romeo and Juliet but it's included in most editions so you think ‘that's the way the play should be’ – though maybe it would be more exciting if you didn’t give your audience the story in a nutshell just then. I’m realising there is the huge potential to be surprised: it's easy to forget because the characters are part of such a famous story, but really there's so much that's unknown and so many choices … when Tim says ‘Oh you don’t have to hug him just then’, you suddenly remember there's an awful lot of freedom in Shakespeare!
Cuts, Groundlings and Ideas on Aeroplanes
There have been some cuts to Juliet's part: it's inevitable with the running time to think about. It's not that we’ve taken out the hard bits; a good indicator about whether something can be cut is to try and imagine how the words could come out of you and represent something that is truthful for us now… if the lines don’t read, even after a lot of work, then it's probably okay to for them to go. Ultimately that's the Master of Play's decision. Juliet comes out with a huge string of oxymorons when the Nurse tells her Romeo has killed Tybalt [III.2, begins ‘O serpent heart hid with a flowering face’]: quite a few of those rhetorical figures have been cut and at first I thought ‘well, I could have come out with that and made it sound realistic if you gave me enough time!’ but now I’m quite relieved. I think the context of the time makes a difference: rhetoric was something that would have been part of a grammar school education for the Elizabethans and wordplay was really important. Perhaps a modern equivalent would be rap culture. If you were around people who rapped all the time then you would treat words in a different way.
What I find amazing is that most of the play does still read today. I’ve been thinking about how I might do the ‘Gallop apace’ soliloquy in that scene too [III.2]: at the Globe you’re not ever really talking to yourself because you can see everybody right there. It's not something that I’ve explored a lot yet, but there is a bit where Juliet asks night to bring Romeo here and make it dark so that he can leap to these arms ‘untalked of and unseen’: Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night, That runaway's eyes may wink, and Romeo Leap to these arms untalked of and unseen. [III.2.5-7] I suddenly thought that you have the groundlings so close that they could almost leap up onto the stage – if they jumped onto the stage, they would be in your arms… perhaps I could stretch out my arms to the audience.
The closeness of people will have a huge affect on how I play things; I was on a plane going home for Easter and I was thinking of all these things I could do with different lines, but then I literally came back to earth and I realised ‘Oh my gosh, that's so contrived, I’ll forget all about that and see what actually happens!’ The things that you can use are so present – you can mention runaways [see above, line 6] and there are people there to point to. We rehearsed the balcony scene [I.5] on the Globe stage on Friday. When I went to say ‘How did you jump over these walls?’ I suddenly noticed that there ARE the walls of the theatre surrounding you – it seemed so obvious and perfect – how did you jump into the Globe?! All of a sudden, the impossibility of what Romeo is supposed to have done just hit me.
Lord and Lady Capulet
Tomorrow we’re going to look at the scene where Lord Capulet disowns Juliet [III.4] and I expect that's going to be intense. Her father is strong figure in her life – I’m Capulet's only heir and there's probably a lot of responsibility tied up in that. When we went through the scene [III.4] for the first time, I was surprised to find that I’d already set myself up for a confrontation with Lord and Lady Capulet. I expected them to be against me as soon as they came in but of course Juliet doesn’t know that they’re going to say ‘marry Paris’ from the outset. There's no reason to suppose that I don’t love and get on with my parents. Tybalt is dead and Romeo is gone; perhaps I’d look to my parents for a cuddle and a bit of comfort. It's only when they tell me that I'm to marry Paris that I start to think ‘Oh lord…’
Juliet's relationship with her mother is probably the one that I’m finding really interesting just now. You can never hate your mother – even if she was to be terrible to you, deep down you would still want a loving relationship. I think Lady Capulet is often played as an unsympathetic character, but in Juliet's mind she can’t ever be a ‘baddie’. I think I probably did think of her like that before I started rehearsals, but since then I see that whatever Lady Capulet says, well, she will always be Juliet's mother. I was telling Tim about the time I went on holiday on my own: I was fifteen and I didn’t tell my parents. I had a plan that meant my mum wouldn’t find out, but she did and when I got back off the train she went absolutely berserk. You don’t think ‘Bad person’ if your mum or dad shouts at you – instead you just think ‘Oh NO!’ It's complicated; often they react so strongly because they love you. Both Lord and Lady Capulet do have a really fiery streak in them – Lady Capulet has an incredibly violent reaction to Tybalt's death and Lord Capulet completely flies off the handle when Juliet refuses to marry Paris. I think that's something in Juliet too; she's got the same passionate strength of character. Perhaps if things had ended differently, Juliet's disobedience would have been something they reminisced over and laughed about together: ‘I was just the same when I was your age…’ I like imagining different ways it could have ended.
We’ve been trying out wigs over the last week. Originally I was going to have a straight wig but I thought ‘I’ve got afro hair, I want an afro wig.’ I’m also thinking about whether or not I should put make-up on. I don’t know… I think Juliet will have some lipstick. Jenny [Tiramani, Master of Clothing] and I discuss these things: I’ve got a big fitting later on today, so lots will get decided then. Jenny picks out such gorgeous things and has done such meticulous research; it's quite a lovely feeling to know that something comes from such in-depth knowledge – it all fits together beautifully. She has lots of different pictures so there's space to say ‘I prefer that one rather than that one’. It's an amazing situation to be in!
It doesn’t look like I’m going to have any quick costumes changes. I’ve got my red dress with an orangey-red corset and a petticoat – when Romeo's leaving in the morning I’ll probably just have my petticoat, so that's a kind of a change, but I don’t have a full change until I’m dead! Then I get to wear my best clothes – not that I’m in a fit state to appreciate it very much!
Work on the jig with Sian [Williams, Master of Dance] is progressing. Actually I’m really enjoying it, which I wasn’t expecting because I’m not the most co-ordinated person in the world and when I saw everyone jigging in other Original Practices productions here, it always looked so complicated. Sian is a great teacher though – she breaks every step down into very small bits so you hardly realise you’re doing the dance and then you’re surprised when she says ‘We’re finished!’
Shift from Comedy to Tragedy?
We’re just getting to the shifting point where events take a turn for the worse. I’m noticing more and more that the tragedy starts mid-way through the play. I don’t think that's going to involve my taking a different approach to the second half as such, but I do get the sense that Juliet grows up very fast as she faces all these challenges: I know it's been said over and over again but it's true. She has to keep more secrets: maybe she learns how to be duplicitous – when the Nurse advises her to marry Paris, Juliet seems to accept that advice but really she's appalled. She has to manage a double life; that's the main difference in the second half. I know Bette was thinking this morning about whether the Nurse's advice to Juliet is actually a betrayal – she wanted to check that the Nurse was effectively advising Juliet into a bigamous marriage. It does seem too terrible, certainly much worse than her initial advice to marry Romeo, so Bette was trying to figure that out. I imagine the Nurse is trying to do the best she can for Juliet; maybe the Nurse has an inkling that the situation is going to get utterly out of control.
Such momentous things do happen that you really start to feel that fate is the only explanation. Although the lines about 'fickle fortune' have been cut, feelings of precariousness and changeability pervade the whole of play. I think another big change for Juliet in the second half of the play is that she feels an impulse to ask ‘why is this happening to me?’ At least, that's what I want to ask. You don’t really question your circumstances until big things happen to you and lend a different perspective. We’ll have to see what next week brings.
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.