This is Paul's first blog entry for the 2002 production of Twelfth Night in which he talks about rehearsals, playing Maria, and working with the Tudor Group.
Transcript of Podcast
Although I played Maria when the Globe Theatre Company performed this Twelfth Night at Middle Temple Hall, the production now feels totally different. This is partly because out of a cast of 13, only 5 actors remain from the original company. Apart from Mark [Rylance] who plays Olivia, all of the actors in my scenes are new. That means that part of my job now we’re in rehearsal is to forget about what we did in January, be open to what the other actors suggest about the scenes and re-discover the characters with them. That's not to say that I should throw away all I learnt then about playing Maria – much of it was very good and I am enjoying exploring it further, but at the same time it is fascinating to approach the character a different way.
It's important to understand Maria's status. She is often played as a serving-woman, a wench, but in fact she is referred to as a "gentlewoman" and a "chambermaid". She might not have much money, but she is Olivia's lady in waiting and therefore must be a member of the gentry. At the moment, we’re exploring the scenario that both her parents are deceased, and because she had very little money (even though her father was a knight), Olivia's family took her under her wing.
This production is exploring the play whilst staying as true to the Elizabethan period as possible, and the characters each belong to a clearly defined level of society. Status was very important in that time; for example, if anyone other than a member of the nobility wore expensive (often gold or purple) clothes in public, they would be beaten and possibly put in prison. These social levels are the starting point for my characterisation of Maria. For instance, Malvolio's threats do not scare her because they are social equals. She is rude to him because she sees him as a joyless Puritan who has a draining influence on Olivia and her household.
The Tudor Group
The other day, we had a visit by the Tudor Group, which was fantastic. There seems to be two strands to their work: one is to research Tudor life and how people lived from day to day, and the other is to actually try it out using recreated clothing and household items. Because this production is an original practices production, the cast have to learn the formal manners and behaviour of the time which are very important for the world of the play. This world is controlled, or at least defined, by a strong social structure that starts to weaken as the play unfolds and the characters begin to reveal their true selves. As they become increasingly ruled by their emotions and desires, they begin to flaunt social conventions, but we, the actors, need to know what the proper conventions were before we can do this! For example, a woman was only meant to remove her hat and reveal her hair in the company of her husband, so to remove my hat is quite a sexy gesture and would add a certain quality to a scene.
Tim [Carroll, Master of Play] is away at the moment, but he’ll be back very soon. In the meantime, Mark [Rylance, Olivia and the Artistic Director] is taking rehearsals. At the moment, we have just finished doing basic character work. Each member of the cast made three lists of lines from the play: lists of what our character says about themselves, what our character says about other characters, and what they say about us. Mark is encouraging us to make discoveries for ourselves, and we all discuss each character in turn, throwing ideas back and forth. We are all working together to help each other make discoveries about our 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.