This is Meredith's sixth and final blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard III in which she talks about pre-performance nerves, the audience at the Globe, and beginning rehearsals for the next production of the season- The Taming of the Shrew.
Transcript of Podcast
I was white with terror before the opening performance. Totally terrified. I think there were lots of reasons for this: the fear, the excitement, and wanting to do well in a theatre where I’ve wanted to work for so long. Plus, on top of that, I had to make my first entrance through a yard full of people, which I’d never actually done before. It was raining a lot during the tech, and it had been decided that whenever it was raining, I would make my first entrance through the tiring house so that my costume didn’t get ruined. But the weather was perfect for the first performance, so I made my entrance through the yard. This made me very nervous; what if they didn’t move and I had to push my way through them? As it turned out, that wasn’t a problem; the doors opened, we started to walk inside and the crowds immediately parted to make way for us; just like that.
My first scene as Lady Anne changed instantly when we had an audience to play to. For the first two performances, I think I was playing the scene too forcefully; trying to hold a personal conversation with everybody in the entire theatre, and simply trying too hard to make them understand what the character is going through. Now, I’ve realised that the key is simply to take more time over everything, to have a conversation with fewer people and take the time to really ask them for their help, to ask them ‘Do you understand my side of the story? Really?’ Each audience is incredibly energised; you can see them really paying attention, and just by looking at them, holding their gaze, you suddenly feel energised yourself. Not every member of the audience is happy to be spoken to directly; sometimes they’ll look at the ground or turn away when you speak to them, but that's a great help as well because it presents a challenge; I feel I have to persuade them to overcome their reluctance and look at me. Every performance is totally different to any other, because audience reactions play so large a part in what we, the company, are doing on stage. We’re working twelve hour days at the moment, rehearsing Shrew whilst performing Richard, and the energy the audience gives you during each performance is the only thing that is keeping us going!
Audience reactions are especially important in my first scene as Lady Anne. It's suddenly become very apparent that the audience will usually be on Richard's side during that scene and have little sympathy for Lady Anne. I suppose that's what Shakespeare intended, after all, the audience has been introduced to Richard at the very beginning of the play, but they know nothing about Lady Anne. In many ways, the scene between them is simply an illustration of Richard's charisma, to show how good he is at bending people to his wishes. In the Globe space, there is no way that the scene can be played as a private meeting between two people; the fact that you can see 1,600 people watching you makes it impossible to pretend that you’re alone; the scene becomes like a boxing match. The key is to embrace this, and make sure that Lady Anne gives as good as she gets, for as long as she can, and often the audience will respond to her as she does this. At one point, Richard declares that he didn’t kill her husband, and Lady Anne responds sarcastically; ‘Why then he is alive.’
Suddenly, an audience warms to Lady Anne in a way they haven’t done previously. In the end, I always have to lose that fight with Richard, but, for each performance, my objective is to show the audience that, despite the fact that she is highly distraught and confused, it is believable for her to accept Richard as her husband; it is not impossible to see how they could work together as a couple.
The Taming of the Shrew
Now Richard III has opened, we’ve started rehearsals for The Taming of the Shrew, in which I am playing Lucentio. It's fantastic to be playing such different parts in the two plays; whereas Lady Anne is really quite tragic, Lucentio is a very comedic character. We decided very early on that there was a lot of potential for rough, raw physical, almost slapstick comedy in Shrew, and so we as a company asked for some workshops with an expert in physical theatre. As a result, we’ve been working with Marcello Magni [Marcello appeared in the 1998 Globe Theatre Season and is an expert in Commedia del’Arte, an improvisational and highly physical style of theatre], who is fantastic! We started with some simple exercises just to get us to think about how we move and how we physically react to certain situations. For example, we started by playing a game of tag. We all found a space in the rehearsal room, one of us was told that we were ‘it’ and would have to try and ‘tag’ the others, and Marcello told us that he would start the game by saying ‘ready, steady, go.’ When everyone was ready, he said ‘ready… steady…’ and just when we were waiting for him to say ‘go’, when everyone's bodies were extremely tense and everyone was aware of everyone else in the room, he suddenly said, ‘that's what relationships feel like’. And it's true! There is often that same sense of nervousness and anticipation about relationships that we were all feeling as we waited to start the game. We spent a lot of time with Marcello exploring how our characters could physically respond and react to what is happening to them, and how what we’re feeling is often subconsciously reflected in our movements, our physicality.
At the moment, I am just starting to explore the character of Lucentio. He is a scholar who has come a great distance to Padua in order to study, something I have a great empathy with as I have come a great distance to work in London! Lucentio is always looking to his servants, especially Tranio, to help him; he's not good at giving orders, but he's very good at receiving them.
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.