This is Laura's first blog entry for the 2005 production of Pericles in which she talks about first impressions of her character, coming to the Globe and the first day of rehearsals, amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
Coming to the Globe
I had my first audition back in December. I was playing Ophelia in Hamlet at the time and Siobhan Bracke, the casting director at Globe, put my name forward for Pericles so I came in for Kathryn [Hunter, Master of Play]. I always get really nervous at auditions, but I was especially nervous this time because I’ve been interested in Kathryn's work and Theatre de Complicite since I was at drama school. Our first meeting felt more like an informal chat than an audition – Siobhan and Kathryn put me at my ease. We talked a lot about the importance of having a connection or a personal affinity with the roles that you play; I find that personal experience feeds through into my performance a lot, so we left the meeting by saying that I’d think about whether Marina would be a role that would be right for me to play now.
I didn’t hear anything for ages and just thought ‘Oh well, I didn’t get it’ so I was surprised to get a call from the Globe in the New Year. They invited me back for another meeting. Altogether I had five meetings that became increasingly practical and involved more and more people, including the Globe Masters of Voice and Movement, and John Dove, the director for The Winter's Tale. By the time I came to the last meeting, I wanted the part so badly! When I got the call offering me the part of Marina, I was so happy that I cried and called my mum to let her know. Eight weeks later here we are.
I first saw the play a couple of years ago: Ninagawa's production at the National Theatre. What struck me was the incredible beauty of the images in the story. I didn’t want to look away at the subtitles (the production was in Japanese) because the images were so amazing: big samurai, beautiful ladies, everyone moving in an incredible way. So I didn’t have a clue what anybody was saying, but you could follow the story through the images that the performers were creating.
Later Ninagawa told me that there was one bit in the production where the girl playing Marina (who also played Thaisa: both mother and daughter) had a quick change, so a man came on as Marina. He was all dressed in white, with a white painted face and I don’t think anyone noticed that just then Marina was a beautiful man. The transformations were like magic. I don’t think I really understood the details of the story but the overwhelming impression was of a story that was visually humongous: a beautiful, epic journey.
Having read the play several times, those are things that I think still stand out. The journey in Pericles feels very different from the journeys in other Shakespeare plays, in that it's quite simple; Pericles doesn’t have big psychological discussions with the audience about what he thinks or feels… he travels around six different countries, from one place to the next, with a kind of directness and clarity. He's here, then he's shipwrecked and he ends up here… the action is so fast as the story travels around the world. I think the journey can be seen as a kind of self-discovery without losing that simplicity.
First impressions of Marina
Marina is Pericles’ daughter. When I first read the play before the auditions, I asked myself ‘Why do I want to play this character? How can I identify with her?’ Other characters in the play talk about Marina as a perfect, beautiful, talented girl who sings and weaves and sews and dances… so I had this image of a girl who sits singing nice songs and doing nice embroidery: nothing like most girls nowadays, nothing like me. Marina was so nice that I didn’t actually like her very much; I’m often attracted to characters with a bit of evil in them, like the bawd in Pericles.
So I went to my first audition thinking ‘I’ve got to try and like her, but I don’t really.’ Once I’d talked to Kathryn about the part and thought about it some more, interesting questions started to pop up – how can Marina be kind of stronger than that wimpy image? A lot of Marina's actions are very gutsy. After I started to look for the strength in the character, it became much easier. She's very close to nature and very instinctive. She's in tune with people and she sees people's strengths all the time. Even when Leonine attempts to murder her (at the order of her foster-mother Dionyza), she looks to him and says ‘I can see you’re a good person.’ A more hysterical reaction like ‘Oh, don’t murder me!’ would have been more predictable but she sees the good in him even at that moment:
You are well-favoured, and your looks foreshow
You have a gentle heart
That takes some guts. So although my first impression was that she was a bit of a wimp by modern standards, now I’m trying to discover ways for her to be a strong modern woman. She's almost got a sixth sense, and some kind of healing powers – she's not a doctor, but she's a sort of alternative, spiritual healer perhaps. She knows about plants and nature, she's earthy… all these things are coming into my head just now. But really, as far as impressions go, it's just a bit of a jumble sale at the moment!
First day of rehearsals
We spent the first day meeting everybody at the Globe. I’ve never worked here before so it felt amazing just to walk out onto that stage. I spent a few minutes imagining what the theatre would be like full of people… people down there in the yard and people up there in the galleries and people all round there as well! And we’ll be able to see all these people in the audience, because the whole theatre is open to natural light. What's that going to be like? The sense of wonder and awe made it difficult to concentrate on anything else!
The Globe feels like a very active, communal space. Audiences are so used to going to modern theatres with comfortable seats and the auditorium lights going down: everyone sits quite passively in the dark. At the Globe, there’ll be about six hundred people standing and moving round the yard, and because we can all see each other the relationship between the actor and the audience will be very alive. I’m really excited about playing here. The most special thing we did on the first day was to make a gift to the spirits and gods in the theatre (like Venus, Mars, Apollo). We asked them to allow us to be in this space, which has lots of similarities with sacred architecture and feels very spiritual. It was an experience like no other.
The White Company isn’t rehearsing Pericles at the Globe; we’re rehearsing at studios in Bromley-by-Bow, which is about 30 minutes from Bankside by tube. Our production will have aerialists in the show to help us physically realise the movement of the sea and the Bow studios have enough space for them to rehearse. Normally on the first day of rehearsals, a company reads through the play together and the director shows everyone a model of the stage design. We haven’t done that. Instead, Kathryn has been using activities to help us work together as a group. We’ll have to work together as a Chorus to create the sea: a very important element in Pericles (Marcello [Magni] describes it as ‘an agent’ in the story). One of our big questions at the moment is ‘How are we going to create the sea in the Globe?’ All we have is us – the sounds of our voices and the shapes our bodies can make, and the way we can combine those voices and shapes. It takes time to work to be able to together like that so we’ve been doing about an hour of group work on the sea each day.
Moving like the sea
We started with some very simple exercises as a group; just walking forward three paces and then walking back for two paces. But if you think of the sea, it doesn’t move in one uniform wave: there's a wave from here and another wave about to burst from over there, and then there's another dying out in a different area, so moving like the sea is actually more difficult than it seems at first. How can we show that with our bodies? Just before lunch we did an exercise where we closed our eyes and imagined our pelvises to be full of water. It might sound daft but if you actually use your imagination and invest in the visual images, then you’ll find yourselves moving as a group in extraordinary ways. The play isn’t just about the words; Pericles is a massive journey and our physical images will help tell that story.
We’ve been doing lots of improvisation work. Kathryn or Marcello will set up a situation – for example, ‘Ok, you are eight years old…’ Initially that situation seems to have nothing to do with the play, but all of a sudden we’ll reach a point in the improvisation where we realise that we have actually started the play – we’re exploring the feelings and situations in the play before diving into Shakespeare's text. We did an improvisation the other day where we all pretended to gang up on Jude who is the first tyrannical leader that we meet in Pericles. We all bullied him and shouted abuse, and then the tables turned and he was given power over all of us: he could make us do whatever he liked. His (mis)use of that power was informed by his experience of being bullied; there was a reason why he behaved so cruelly towards others. Jude will be able to draw on that when we get to Shakespeare's actual text.
Training sessions are part of the rehearsal process here too. You don’t normally get that in a theatre so that's something else that's been in this first week a real ‘wow!’ Our weekly group sessions on Movement, Voice and Words really help to tune your body and your voice to the space; that's important because the Globe has such particular requirements. For example, we had a Voice session with Stewart [Pearce, Master of Voice] at the Globe this morning. At first, it was a bit too cold to work on stage (it wouldn’t have been conducive to opening up the vocal cords) so instead we talked about peoples’ experiences of the space. Several members of the White company have worked here before and they shared what they had learnt – how you might react when it rains (it's loud so you have to adjust vocally and you have to take into account the unsettling affect the weather can have on the audience), or when helicopters hover over the theatre or when people faint and we’re up on stage trying to give the play. Those things will be challenges, but that fact that they can happen and that the space is constantly changing is what makes it so special!
After our talk, we did some practical work that concentrated on the breath. Stewart describes breath as the inspiration for life. When you have an idea, you breathe in first and then it comes out. It's the first thing we do when we’re born. We did exercises that allowed our breath to come to us naturally so we could use it to its optimum effect. As actors, we need all that breath to get to the end of line and to speak so that our words will reach everyone in the theatre. It sounds obvious, but it's very easy to run out of steam (try counting to see how long you can breathe out). Basically there's a whirlwind of things happening every day; I just want to be as open as possible to the idea of ‘play’ rather than ‘the Play’.
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.