Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 2

This is Tim's second blog entry for the 2002 production of Twelfth Night in which he talks about moving onto the stage, his character, peforming a soliliquy and addressing the audience at the Globe.

Transcript of Podcast

Moving to the Stage

We’re starting to take some scenes into the theatre now. Going onto the stage has really made me appreciate the possibilities for an actor on the Globe stage. Having said that, it's going to take practice because the space is so unique, especially with the yard and then three galleries stretching all or most of the way round. It's much harder to find a focus there, using the character's intentions to decide how to play the scene.

Malvolio's Soliliquy

Today, I tried the ‘box tree’ scene (Act ii. scene 5) on stage, but without any of the other characters on stage. It's an unusual scene for the actor playing Malvolio, because his speech is not a straightforward soliloquy; it's an interrupted monologue. Technically, it's very challenging because the actor has to ‘catch’ other actors’ lines and judge their timing accordingly, but at the same time their character cannot appear to hear those same lines. On option is to play it as an interior monologue for Malvolio (almost like a stream of consciousness exercise) but there is so much happening onstage in that scene that you need to think of the speech having a structure; this will help you to keep the audience's attention. Also, when you are playing to a large public audience, it is difficult to pretend that Malvolio is only speaking to himself, that the speech is totally private. I was dissatisfied with how I initially played this scene on stage, as I felt I was breaking up the scene too much; there was no structure. It is a luxury to try to play each line as an individual unit with its own individual meaning, but to make sure the audience fully understands Malvolio's desires and intentions, I will have to make the speech flow more, thinking of it in terms of blocks of text rather than single lines.

Addressing the Audience

After a while, I hope I’ll find a way for me the actor, but also for Malvolio the character, to ‘divide the space’ and address different sections of the audience. Although you are communicating with the whole space when you speak a line on that stage, I know that sometimes I will deliver a line to a particular area of the auditorium. The challenge for the actor is to find a marriage between which lines your character might say to different parts of the audience, and what is technically possible on the stage. This is particularly the case for the class-conscious Malvolio. Malvolio would want to deliver his speech to the most important people in the theatre, those who pay the most money and sit in the Lords Rooms, as he is an aspiring social climber. He may also address the tradesmen who are in the OK seats, because they still have social priority over the absolute scum who would be standing in the yard (the groundlings). However, I will make a different decision about who in the theatre I want to speak to in every performance. This decision will change according to the way an audience reacts to me.

Malvolio's Character

I have been thinking about Malvolio's pre-stage history and his social status. He is a very self-contradictory character. He's seems to have a hidden agenda, due to which he is constantly striving for social promotion, an agenda which to a certain extent gets exposed by the play. He could come from a middling kind of class; his father could also have been a steward. Equally, however, his father could have been a servant and Malvolio could have bought his way out of that lower class by working very hard. Malvolio desperately wants to become a gentleman and he certainly considers himself to be of that class. It's a common thing; many people feel aware of their low social status whilst at the same time having a powerful sense of their own self-worth. There are lots of give-away lines in the play that reveal Malvolio's lack of learning: Maria calls him an “undigested ass that cons state without book and utters it by great swathes…” His lack of understanding is because he wouldn’t have had a university education to help him understand what can find out without one. He has a great appetite for knowledge, and going to university would probably be one of his dreams. I believe that Malvolio would work overtime to disguise the humbleness of his origins, and people who do so are usually very accomplished at it!

What Malvolio learns during the course of the play is widely open to interpretation. He learns that people often treat you very, very badly. He learns that he's a fool to have hoped for Olivia's love and to have believed that was possible. He learns that he can’t become part of the social elite. I’m not sure he learns much about himself. Instead, he learns how cruel other people are. He learns how society overtakes you when it wants to get on. So what would that teach you? I don’t know. And we’ll never know because that's another play! The thing is, that he's a survivor. At the end of the play, Malvolio seems to be to be asking a question: “Why does this happen to me?” and the answer could be any number of things. But the fact that he can get to the question itself is important. Malvolio lives within the confines of his own ego, but at the same time there's a tenderness and a vulnerability about him. That's the power of the role, what makes him a tragi-comic character. I suppose you could play him as a fully tragic character because of what the others do to him. To be exposed to such humiliation – who knows what that would do to someone? People have said that Malvolio is going off to kill himself when he leaves in Act V, Scene i. He might be, but I don’t think so. All sorts of things could happen to him afterwards – but no production can really tell you what they are.

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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