Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 4

This week Liam discusses approaches to different scenes in the play: inter splicing the England scene with other scenes, Lady Macduff's death scene and his part in the play' opening sequence.

Transcript of Podcast

Becoming Macduff

I suppose that I don’t feel hugely further forward for myself, but that's OK I think. I think it's not really about making big strides in terms of finding this person over the course of the rehearsal period. It's not about saying, ‘I’m now seventy percent this person as opposed to the sixty percent I was last week.’ I just feel I’m kind-of cooking I suppose. I think about Macduff all the time.

Inter splicing scenes

We did the England scene a couple of times and that's helpful because it's a substantial scene. I like Tim's [Carroll, Master of Play] idea of inter splicing it with another scene. We have changed the scenes when Lady Macduff and Young Macduff are murdered and Macduff receives the news. The scene where he receives the news is quite a big scene because he gets the news at the end of the scene. Now we are playing the Macduff murder scene in the middle of that scene. I’ll be the adult Macduff for three quarters of the scene, then child Macduff being murdered, then playing the adult again receiving the news of the murder. I’m in other scenes outside of all that, but it's like a little story within the story. It feels quite substantial, which is good.

We start off the England scene with Malcolm and myself. I’ve gone off to England to try and convince Malcolm to come back to Scotland. Malcolm and I have this long conversation in which he tests me to find out if I’m actually being genuine and that it's not some trick by Macbeth. This conversation goes on for quite a long time, and then at the end of the scene Ross comes in and tells me the news of my family. What Tim's done is start with Macbeth going back to the Witches to get more information. He's given warnings about things. He will be safe and secure unless one of three things happens. One of which is to beware of Macduff, the other is Birnam wood rising and coming to Dunsinane, and the third is to beware of any man who is not born of woman. Then we cut to a bit of Malcolm and Macduff, then back to Macbeth getting the second of these warnings, then back, etc., until Macduff receives the news from Ross.

Tim mentioned the idea of inter splicing scenes before we started rehearsal. I had checked with him that he was going to leave the England scene intact, because it sometimes gets chopped a lot. I wanted to ensure that wasn’t going to happen before I took the job. Tim said he didn’t want to cut it, but he did want to try this inter cutting that he had tried in another production. This idea bothered me at the time, but when we actually did it for the first time, something felt really good. I instinctively liked it. At the moment, I hope we keep it. I think the reason I liked it is because it gives a bit more air to the conversation between Malcolm and Macduff. In the sense what happens is, in trying to test Macduff, Malcolm throws something at Macduff with which he has to cope. Then Malcolm comes up with another thing. What the inter cutting seemed to do was pointed that up and focus different things more.

It parallels Macbeth's fortunes. As he's hearing about all these supposedly impossible things that are the only way things might go wrong for him, his fortunes are rising, and at the same time his fortunes are rising because of Malcolm's and Macduff's argument. It looks as though they’re going to walk away from each other and no one will come back to Scotland to challenge Macbeth. Then as Macbeth sees the line of Banquo's kings, it's a real blow and his fortunes fall. At the same moment Malcolm and Macduff are coming together. It's good because I’ve heard people say that sometimes it's not clear at the beginning of the England scene. They’re not sure what they’re supposed to think in terms of whether Malcolm is really like that. I guess that's what Shakespeare intended. I guess it's OK for people not to know what to think, because we don’t really know much of Malcolm.

Lady Macduff

We’ve also been working on the Lady Macduff scene. Like all the murders in this production, it's completely bloodless and symbolic. I think done well, people feigning death and blood bags can be very harrowing, but I also think that Tim's idea, if it works, can be harrowing. At the moment, a stone represents life. Everyone has a stone and that stone represents your soul or life-force. As Young Macduff my stone is taken from me in a gentle, playful way, and dropped in a bucket. That's me dying. I have a line, ‘He has killed me mother,’ and at that moment I’m playing it once the murderer has my stone in his hand, before he drops it into the bucket. It's the equivalent of having a fatal wound.

We’ve also been playing with the idea of Lady Macduff hiding me, as Young Macduff, in the audience within the ‘groundling’ area. I think it's a brilliant idea. I suppose it's obvious, but because I hadn’t been to the Globe before, it hadn’t occurred to me. I can see that we might have to be quite careful with it, but I hope we stick with that, or at least try it at previews. It might be tricky in that – if everything was working brilliantly, the audience might not want to return me. Obviously they have to, for the story to continue. I suppose that's idealistic, but I just might end up beside someone who gets particularly carried away. I think the fact of the matter is that people do know the story and although they might get more involved as the Globe than they would elsewhere, they’re not actually going to do something that would make the play grind to a halt.

The opening sequence

We’ve done a lot of group work with the opening sequence. We’ve looked at the banquet scene and at the discovery of Duncan's body. Both scenes involve everyone. The discovery of Duncan's body is a hard one for me. One of the difficult things about Macduff is that every scene is huge, in the sense that the stakes are huge. The first time he walks on stage and is actually identified, saying a few lines, he almost immediately has to make this big discovery and react accordingly. That's just always difficult. The first few times you do something like that, there's an obvious pitch because it's a big moment. He's discovered the murdered body of the King. His job then is to rouse the sleeping castle to this earth-shattering fact. As an actor you feel horrible and phoney diving in and shouting basically. You can either mess around with that or get over the horribleness and dive in and shout to get over that moment, which is what I did the first time we did it. It's a horrible moment of decision. I came on not knowing which way to go or what to do. In a moment like that, you also know that everyone else is watching, curious as to what you’ll do. Like any of those moments, you’ve got to get over the scariness of it and just try it.

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 change frequently as the rehearsal process progresses.

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