This is Dickon's fourth blog entry for the 2007 production of Othello in which he talks about his main scenes and continuing rehearsals amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
Lodovico's main scenes
What we have found working Act 4 Scene 1, which has been going on for quite a while before my entrance, is that I have to bring a great deal of energy into the scene, to avoid bringing it down. I need to drive it forward with my energy and my intention. You can’t come in, stop the scene, and say hello, I’m Lodovico. You come in with the intention of giving him the letters and taking him back, so there is a real urgency of intention. The idea that he has come straight of the boat, and gone straight to Othello. I know that he is being recalled to Venice, and that, in our version, he is being called back because of the family has been working against him back in Venice, because of his marriage to Desdemona. The scene becomes quite anarchic once he arrives. Seeing Othello hit Desdemona – in a way it is good for Lodovico, it is an awful thing to witness, but it is further evidence that can be used against Othello. Politically it isn’t good, in that Cassio has disgraced himself, and he is to be the Lord Governor. I don’t have the power to stop Cassio becoming governor, but maybe I’ll go back and tell the Doge about what Cassio has done. This is the scene where the pace of the play really begins to pick up. The story telling is speeding up, and I have to give it the energy it needs. I have met Iago briefly in the senate scene, where Othello refers to him as: 'A man he is of honesty and trust.' [I,3,285] He is not a man I know socially, he is a step down the hierarchy, but I have seen Othello entrust Desdemona to his care. So when Othello goes I interview Iago about what has been going on, and he draws me into his world of deceit. I have a great ironic line about Othello: 'I am sorry that I am deceived in him' [IV,1,282]whereas, of course, I’m actually being deceived by Iago. It is an interesting encounter. I’m asking him so many questions and he is very evasive. He just doesn’t give you a straight answer, which is very clever. He fuels the situation by implying that things aren’t great, but he can’t quite say what is going on. I am completely taken in. This is an honest, straightforward soldier, who wouldn’t lie, and certainly wouldn’t lie to Lodovico.
We also re-establish the family thing. The fight director has put in a back handed slap when Othello hits Desdemona. He is a big man and she is a small woman, this is the sort of blow that could do her serious damage. She falls to the floor, and I go and pick her up which re-establishes the family bond which we can build on in Act Four Scene Three. That scene starts with my line: 'I do beseech you, sir, trouble yourself no further.' [IV,3,1] This really shows the antagonism between Lodovico and Othello. There is a tension which follows through into this scene. It is a humiliating thing for Othello to be recalled, and he sees me as a representative of the family who has been intriguing against him. I’ve seen Othello act irrationally, in hitting his wife, and Othello has little left to lose, because he is being recalled. I don’t feel a threat because Lodovico is a representative of Venice, and it would be inconceivable for Othello to attack me.
In Act Five Scene One Lodovico starts by saying a few things and then steps back and quite cautiously observes what is going on in a town at war. There is almost a sense of civil unrest. He is like a war correspondent who will take back to Venice the story of what was going on. It can be part of the case against Othello, that I’m able to say that under his rule tings were not good. Offstage then I think he starts on the political handover.
In Act Five Scene Two it is important to get the colours of his journey right. There is the personal; Desdemona, my kinswoman, is dead. Then there is the political; dealing with Iago, who I also have a personal grudge against because he let me down. So I have quite a lot to deal with there. We don’t have it all nailed down yet, but I’m sure we will. At the end of the scene Lodovico has installed Cassio as governor and I’m straight back to Venice:
Myself will straight aboard, and to the state
This heavy act, with heavy heart relate.
I’ve not been able to bring back Othello or Desdemona. That final couplet, I think, is one of Shakespeare’s moments where he is saying to the audience to go off and to keep the story going: to tell their friends that these sorts of things can happen, that jealousy is a monster. We haven’t done enough work on this scene yet. Because of where it comes in the play we always get to it late in the week, or late in the day, when you aren’t at your freshest.
The last week
We did a full run on Saturday, which went well, though it is a little long at the moment. We haven’t cut much, Othello is a long play, and it is often played with about 400-500 lines cut out of about 3,500. It is a big play, you could easily spend eight weeks rehearsing it. There is so much happening in the play, that with modern acting techniques, applying the psychology to it, and the research we need to do, as opposed to the first Elizabethans who we think had very little rehearsal time. Theirs must have been a different type of acting. They had the advantage of Shakespeare in the company as well, no need to puzzle out what it might mean when he was there.
So we are looking for ways to speed up. Once Iago and Othello really get on the front foot with it will speed up. It is a normal thing in any production that it gets quicker from the first run though. There may well be some laughs though, particularly in Iago’s soliloquies – he has such a fantastic relationship with the audience that I think there may well be some laughs. These are moments of almost comic relief, as opposed to the clown. The clown himself isn’t particularly funny. I think Shakespeare by 1602-3, tired of those guys who were playing the clowns, so he puts in one who isn’t particularly funny, one who is very moody and quite aggressive in our production. He is saying – here is a clown – but not what you think. This may be a clown who hasn’t got too many bookings in the next few weeks; who has fallen on some lean times in Cyprus.
Between now and the tech the main challenge is to get clear the through line – the story telling – and to completely settle our ownership of the language, and, personally, my ownership of the stage. I don’t have time to establish it slowly. I have to walk on and command things, particularly in Act Five Scene Two. Even when I stand between Othello and Iago, everybody has to realise I have the highest status there. When you play a king the people around you have to play the status for you, and it like that really, which is quite a challenge. I’ve played this type of role three or four times before, you have to be ‘the play finisher’.
We have had one jig call. Wilson is very clear he doesn’t want it to be a traditional Globe jig, so it is very laid back – freestyle really.
The highpoint of the week was doing a run through – seeing the world of Othello on its feet. The low point might have been too much celebrating of Shakespeare’s birthday on Monday, or Tuesday morning as a result. We had a lot of fun for dear Bill’s birthday.
My costume reflects my status. A very good cut, largely black, with handmade buttons, which are very elegant and a peasecod tummy [a projecting lower part of the stomach, so called because it looked a bit like the end of a pea pod]. The trousers are being made for me, I haven’t had a fitting for those yet. Hopefully we will be getting our beards sculpted at some point. We will be in costume all through the tech week of course. I’m just starting to think about the weather forecasts, and I will be outside and in costume most of the day. I have a very heavy costume, so a June heat wave will be uncomfortable – but we will have to suffer for our art!
During tech week the tours will still be coming through the theatre. We have had a jig call on stage, and the tours were coming through, and because you are concentrating you forget they are there. They should be helpful in reminding you there will be an audience. One thing that came out of the jig call yesterday, and I’m not sure why this happens, is how much smaller the stage felt than the rehearsal room [which has the exact area marked out, and pillars in the correct place.] Partly the pillars seem bigger, and perhaps the stage canopy affects you.
We are due to have a dress rehearsal on the Friday afternoon, before the first preview in the evening. That will be a very special show, the sheer adrenaline of the first time you do it with an audience can never be repeated, it is always something very special.
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.