In her penultimate blog post Penny discusses how she found the first performances, the work she is continuing to do on her performance and her thoughts on construction of Leonato's part.
Transcript of Podcast
After Press Night
I’m just relieved that we’ve got the Press Night over with. I think it will be lovely now to go on and play it with an audience, and be alive and spontaneous without feeling pressured. Now we’re settling in to perform it as freshly and as well as we can every night or afternoon. All in all, I think it's gone quite well so far. I mostly remember what I have to say in the right order!
The first scene is quite tricky. It's not a difficult scene for me in terms of character, but I was a bit fluffy last night, and I just tripped over the words. There are lots of little cues, and there are just one or two moments in there where I know that in rehearsals I haven’t been absolutely on cue. So those moments worry me and I go a bit nervous in the first scene. The concentration required is phenomenal. I don’t know if it's my age or what, but I have to go into the play with a certain level of concentration and keep it at that level for three hours. I bag a little break in the middle, but the level of concentration is pretty acute and consistent. You have to be on the ball in any play all the time, but it is a matter of maintaining that level. Mind you, the time goes very fast. I can’t believe it when it's my break for the interval already.
I jumped a line in act five, scene one, last night which I’d done once before – it meant that Don Pedro and Claudio haven’t got the right exit, and I felt terrible. It's the scene where Don Pedro and Claudio come face to face with me after they’ve heard from Borachio that it was all a plot and what was said about Hero wasn’t true; I say to Claudio, ‘If you both tell everybody it wasn’t true, and if you will hang an epitaph on her tomb, etcetera, come tomorrow to my house and marry this child of my brother's unseen.’ He agrees and I say ‘Tomorrow then I will expect your coming; / Tonight I take my leave.’ [V.1.283-4], then I go on to have a bit more chat and I’m supposed to say ‘Goodbye’ again [‘Until tomorrow morning, lords, farewell’ [V.1.313]. In my head, though, I suppose I feel like I’ve already said goodbye to them, so to my mind they should be gone. I forgot to say good bye to them again and I went straight to saying ‘Bring you these fellows on’ [the Prisoners]. We all went offstage, so poor Claudio and the Prince were left without their final lines and without an exit.
They just left with us. We all went off at the same time, though they left by a different exit. That's an awkward position to put your friends in and I felt terrible, but of course I didn’t do it on purpose. I think that's the only major mistake I’ve made. I got my words mixed up a little bit on the press night. When a word doesn’t come into your head and you know what you’ve got to say but you can’t find the right word to say it, it's quite hard. My brain goes into overdrive and I search and in that split second so many choices present themselves. I don’t know how it happens – it's as though my brain is saying ‘Okay, you’ve gone wrong, so what do you do now?’ Should you cut to the next bit that you know, should you try and make up what you’re going say? It's extraordinary what your brain does in a split second. I think I just said some gobbledygook and then went on to the next bit. I think it made sense! But it is scary when there's that word that you’ve said a hundred times before and suddenly it just isn’t there. I expect it’ll stop happening soon!
The fountain has been quite fun. The technical people have been working very hard to get the fountain to spout its water at the right moments without splashing on the seats – the costumes are all made of the most beautiful fabrics, a great deal of silk, so it can’t get wet because it will stain it and ruin it. Great care is taken that we don’t get the costumes wet. The fountain had been splashing a little on the seat, so precautionary measures have been taken that the seats get wiped at one point before people sit on them. That has to be done, and just make sure that people keep away from the splashing water when it's splashing. All these little problems are fixable, it just takes time, and now we’ve sorted it.
No more rehearsals
In a way, it's better without rehearsals because, although I enjoy them, I feel there's another stage you get to when you’re brain is involved with other things during the day. You come to the show in the evening, and you do your warm-up, your jig rehearsal, and there are a couple of speeches that I just do before the show at six o’clock, but then it's like you come to the show completely fresh. For the most part, you’re saying those words for the first time that day, and it feels as though you’re coming to them sideways – you’ve got the solid security of the rehearsals and the other performances, and you can just look at the words afresh every night. I quite like that your perspective is broadened somehow.
I don’t think about the fact that we’ll be running until September. Every day a whole new set of people are watching the play, and I’ve got a whole new chance to work on the little bits that don’t feel quite right. There's one move I’ve got, one little bit I’ve got that I’m still trying to improve. I haven’t quite got a solution yet, but I’m working away at it. It's the bit in the wedding scene [IV.1] when Hero says to me ‘I really, really, really didn’t do it.’ I am so moved by her that I am absolutely prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt. I don’t understand how the situation has come about or why she's been accused if she didn’t do it – especially that the prince has said it – but she's my daughter. The way she protests her innocence is very touching, and I think Leonato is swayed by her plea for him to believe her. On our stage, I’m right down in the downstage left corner and Hero comes and kneels to me, by the pillar.
I’ve tried lots of ways of doing the speech that comes next ‘I know not. If they speak but truth of her…’ but none of them have completely worked for me, and then I decided that what I’d like to do is I’d like to move out of the corner and just walk into the stage, saying it directly to the other people on the stage, and then take it out to the audience, who we’ve set up as the people of Messina. The audience have been to the wedding, they’re like guests, townsfolk at the wedding, and it makes sense to take that speech out to them as well. This leaves me with a bit of a predicament, though, because then I end up just stage right of Hero and the way we’ve rehearsed it, it's necessary for me to end up on the other side of her.
I made this decision very late in our rehearsals, so we never really had a chance to rehearse that small change as a company. It's just something that I just rehearsed on my own more or less and told people I’m going to do it. I haven’t found the right moment or the right way to get back to the other side of Hero because the Friar has a long, very important speech when he's giving advice to Leonato about what to do next, and I don’t want to cause a distraction by moving during the Friar's speech. Jules [Melvin, the Friar] does it very delicately, very truthfully and simply, and it's quite easy to lose focus when someone else's moving on the Globe stage. I’m worried that in my need to get to the other side of Hero, I’m going to be distracting. It's just finding the right moment to do it, so that's the little problem I’m trying to solve at the moment. I don’t expect anyone else will notice, but for me it's important.
I’m working away particularly at the speeches in the wedding scene [IV.1] because I want to make sure that I’m in complete control of what I’m doing and not just shouting away. And that everything I say in the wedding scene is pertinent, directed, and there's a purpose behind it; that it's not just a rant. That requires continual fine-tuning.
Again, I want to concentrate on making sure that I’ve got the level right all the way through that street scene with Don Pedro and Claudio [V.1], just making sure that I don’t peak too soon, that I don’t get too far too soon. I need to keep absolutely in control of what I’m doing all the way through. I’m working towards making sure that it's powerful and real, but in control. Even though Leonato may appear to be out of control, as an actor I should always in control. It isn’t a rant, and just sometimes I just tip over the edge - it's a matter of constantly working away at it and trying to build it up in the right way. That's my challenge at the moment.
As I’m running it more and more, I find that Leonato's part is beautifully constructed because you start very gently with the first scene and then the Prince arrives [I.1]. Next there's revelling, a little bit more banter with Beatrice, then the engagement and the gulling, and then the payoff of the gulling scene, and then it's the interval. So there's a lovely first half from my point of view: a few jokes, a bit of banter, a bit of tetchiness with Beatrice for being so difficult about getting married… it's very nicely constructed. Then there's the interval – I’d better sit down, maybe a cup of tea. After that, there's a great scene with Dogberry [III.5] and then into the wedding, which starts off as the happiest day of my life. My beautiful daughter is getting married to this wonderful Count and the Prince is going to be at the wedding, and it's going to be heaven… but then it goes completely pear-shaped. The big wedding scene is followed by another long-ish speech for me in the next scene with Antonio [V.1], which is quite a philosophical speech really, so again that takes the temperature down. That builds again to the bit where I challenge Claudio, and then it starts to be resolved in the next scene. So it's a beautifully constructed part I think. The same tone is never repeated from scene to scene. Each scene has its own character and you just move through them. The wedding scene is the most emotional part of the play, really, and then the scene that follows is quite emotional at the end, I suppose. Then it moves into pure comedy. It's such a clever play; there are so many different shades to it.
One of the nicest things about the Globe is that you can see the audiences react. There are times when you can look around. The Prince, Claudio and I enter in act two, scene three (just before the gulling of Benedick) and we go to the front of the stage for the lines ‘How still the evening is, / As hushed on purpose to grace harmony!’ [II.3.36-7]. Those lines give you a chance to look up at all the people in the balconies, as though you are admiring the lovely evening, and to see these beaming faces is just delightful. It's a joy and you don’t get it in most theatres.
Other highlights this week? I do have one other highlight. I got the most lovely good luck card from my adoptees in Florida. That was wonderful. Generally, from my point of view, everything's going really well with
Much Ado About Nothing and it's a joy to think I’ve got till September to explore it more. The job is never done!
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.