Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 1

This is Jasper's first blog post. This week he discusses rehearsal exercises, his previous experience of Macbeth, and his own ideas concerning playing Macbeth.

Transcript of Podcast

First week of rehearsals

The first week has been fantastic. The Red Company seems to be excited, inspired and energised! The first thing we did was to play a game. Everyone, apart from one person, sat in a chair and swapped seats. The aim was for the person without the seat to find an empty chair by running to a vacated seat before someone else.

The company read through part of the play together. We then started to improvise parts of the play. The only rule for the improvisation was that each cast member had to appear in every scene. It was fantastic! It took us one week. Tim [Carroll, Master of Play] only wanted the improvisation to be on Act I and last twenty minutes. However, as it was going so well, Tim did not stop us! We worked through the first two acts. Many areas of discussion emerged from the improvisation work.

In rehearsal, we created a ‘physical’ chorus: a group of people who give focus or take focus. This group do not illustrate what is going on, they inform or contribute to what is being said or done. The physical chorus may say something completely different to the action taking place. It works quite well in showing the antitheses, the opposites that are so predominant in Macbeth.

Discussions have taken place about how we will be working our way through the play. We have been considering the Globe stage, its architecture, and working without a set. There are many ideas developing, many of which take a symbolic approach to the play. Tim is interested in dropping a stone into a bucket every time someone dies. The stone is meant to represent life, every time someone dies the stone is dropped into the bucket with a ‘crash’.

Previous experience of Macbeth

I have appeared in Macbeth twice before. I played Angus and Banquo. A part of the play that always interests me is when Banquo gives Macbeth the diamond, which the king has given him for Lady Macbeth. Macbeth says, "Mine own internal jewel, which is my soul I have given to the devil." This has always seemed like a strange gesture. Why does the king give the diamond to Lady Macbeth? How big is the diamond? Is it just a rock? Is it cut beautifully? I then thought that the diamond could be a lump of coal instead, as both coal and diamonds come from carbon.

The company is having a great deal of fun in rehearsals. Four members of the cast were in productions at the Globe last year. The mood has been very ‘light’. In previous ‘tragedies’ I have appeared in, some of the actors were very serious; they never cracked a smile.

Playing Macbeth

I think that Macbeth must start off as a charming character. Macbeth has to go on a long ‘journey’ in the play, in the way that his character changes and develops. If he starts off as an evil character, then his character has ‘nowhere to go’; he has nothing to develop and change into.

The question that I have been concentrating on is why Macbeth takes such actions. I think it revolves around the idea of temptation. A director once told me that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth would do anything out of love (for each other). This idea also seemed to be emerging from our improvisations. Their relationship seemed to be very visceral, virile and powerful. They are very attached to each other. However, there is obviously something wrong in their relationship. Eve [Best] who is playing Lady Macbeth is very open; she does not make any judgements or limitations. It is great to be working with her.

The important themes in rehearsal at the moment are love and temptation. Macbeth has to decide whether he will surrender to temptation. What are the consequences of surrendering to temptation? There may be unforeseen consequences.

The witches

I have been thinking about the witches. They tell Macbeth that he will be the "Thane of Cawdor", this is a rather 'random' statement. The witches do not say that Macbeth will be king because Duncan is a bad king. I think that Duncan is a very good king. They do not say it because they feel that the old must make way for the new, in order to create a better world. He interprets what they say. It is his interpretation that is interesting. I think that Lady Macbeth almost blackmails Macbeth, or bullies him. She says to him, "when you durst do it, then you were a man." The balance of masculine and feminine between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth is very strange, as Lady Macbeth is quite dominant.

Rehearsal exercises

We had a movement session with Glynn [Macdonald, Master of Movement]. She asked what it was to be king, and then she opened her eyes very wide. I realised what she meant by that. The king is always watching his subjects. The leader of any group has to be aware of where everybody is. When do you first see Macbeth as king? I think it is at the banquet. The first thing Macbeth does when he becomes the king is to not sit in the throne. Instead he says "here I’ll sit in the midst, and behold our queen keeps her state". It is Lady Macbeth who sits on the throne. How much does Macbeth really want to be king?

Another exercise which I found very useful involved writing. We had to write for three minutes without stopping about the thoughts and feelings of the character we are playing. I wrote half way down a sheet of A4 paper, and the director revealed that we had really been writing for six minutes. It only felt like two! My piece was all about if I [Macbeth] should listen to my wife, why I want to take these actions and how difficult Lady Macbeth is. I finished by contemplating if I should go abroad. The exercise helped me to clarify the idea that Lady Macbeth seems to drive all of Macbeth's actions.

Working on exercises like this prompts ideas. It stops us being too serious and helps us focus not only on our character but also on our relationship to other characters.

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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