Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Production Notes

This is Phil's final bulletin, he discusses performing at the Globe: opening night, press night, audiences and decisions he makes onstage.

Transcript of Podcast

Opening Night

Opening night is incredible – absolutely difficult to describe. You’ve done all that work in tech week so your adrenaline and excitement builds and builds and builds, then you have the first night which we knew was completely sold out. My memory from doing The Merchant of Venice was that first previews here are slightly bonkers because the audience that come are the same crowd that come to every first preview. They are a particular audience who love that opening excitement. So before we first went on Dominic [Dromgoole, director] described to us that the audience was going to be a bit like a lot of 8 year old children who have had too much sugar!

I knew opening night would be the warmest audience; they are up for having fun and really support what we’ve created, even if it all goes horribly wrong! It was amazing because a lot of my stuff is bawdy comedy, and it just went down a storm in a way that I didn’t quite expect. For example, in my first scene I’m … well, I’m having a slash against the side wall and I turn around to Romeo and tell him he needs to come to the party. I’ve always had my flies undone for that bit, it was a bit of a joke which I’d always done in rehearsal. Then on opening night, because I hadn’t quite worked out my costume, my trousers completely fell down and I though ‘Brilliant – that’ll do.’ So I just kept them down, walked forward and let the audience see it. That was a discovery in the moment and I kept that in.

The Audience

The play is full of moments when you do something and the reaction from the audience suddenly excites you and inspires you to play with it or to play with the audience as much as you can. The most exciting thing, and the most difficult, is working out how much to use the audience. So when I was last here playing Bassanio I had a very open relationship with the audience. I was very free and I used to do a lot of stuff with them. In particular speeches I would use particular members of the audience.

I was looking forward to doing that again, but discovered in the first few performances here that, although there are moments where I open out, a lot of Mercutio’s stuff is happening internally. His melancholy, his depression and his frustration make me very inward. After a few shows, Dominic [Dromgoole, director] said to me that I needed to give 30% or 40% more out to the audience if I could. That’s been really exciting to play with because it was very hard to begin with. But then as soon as I opened out to invite people in from the upper gallery and the groundlings, to include them in his wit and his language I was actually losing some of his own selfishness that I had discovered. It suddenly felt very difficult to marry his inward quality that was quite useful in rehearsal with the giving out of his language and his personality.

Having said that, the Globe encourages it and you get so much back from that relationship with the audience if you open yourself up to it, so it’s been really exciting. I’ve found a way of making them part of his world, and part of his insecurities without losing anything. So it’s been a fantastic, exciting thing to play with but it hasn’t been as easy as I imagined it would be because of who Mercutio is. It took me a while to equal the balance to the point where I could include them but not lose what I’d worked on in rehearsal.

Interacting

There are moments in rehearsal when we’ll say, “This is the point where we walk through the yard, through the audience and come out the other side” which you can’t really rehearse until you’ve got the audience, so then you just launch yourself into it. The first time we did that bit we almost got completely lost – you don’t realise how full it is (and most people are much taller than I am)! We had to head from one side of the stage to the other. You get mid-way through and think “I don’t know where we are anymore!” We just couldn’t get our act together and we were almost late for our entrance. You have to realise those things and re-work them during preview week.

Now I’ve just started to talk all the way around which is probably terrible, maybe I shouldn’t do it but I just chat to the audience as I’m walking through because we are kind of drunk anyway. I say things like, “We’re lost! Where are we?” I tell Benvolio off for touching people. Then if I see groups of girls I try and invite them to the party. Just little things like that make that journey more than a bunch of actors walking from one side of the stage to the other. The audience are there, so you might as well include them. It makes a scene in itself. The whole journey suddenly becomes really helpful to get us in the mood for the party and also to create the reality of that journey which is what they do in the play but you don’t often see it.

Changes

We still had rehearsals during previews. The director is watching every single show in the evenings and he takes notes and we are given the notes the next day, then he’ll choose particular sections that he wants to look at and tweak.

I think the bulk of changes that were made were about rhythm and speed and clarity and energy of thought. The Globe itself – this is what Dominic says – is a space that embraces intelligence of wit and speed, mischievousness, cheekiness and naughtiness. If you embrace the speed of these characters’ thoughts, actually the audience get far more than if you try to labour things or try to explain things to them. We were encouraged to trust that if we keep those trains of thought alive, fast and intelligent then the audience will come with us. Not only will we knock time off the show, but we will actually improve the audiences’ experience. So that was very useful because Mercutio is like that – he can just turn on a dime in an instant and launch into a whole other realm of thought. So it is really helpful to be told to trust that I can do that at speed and the audience won’t lose anything.

I would very much like to think the play will change, I think the best thing about this theatre, is that it kind of ‘gives back’ - the Globe itself and the audience give back whatever you give them. So if you give them playfulness they can see in your eyes that you are enjoying your experience on the stage, and they take that on board. Scenes can change and alter and so their reactions can change and alter. That encourages you to keep it fresh and keep playing around with it, and Mercutio is so like that anyway so he never stops playing. I have great scope to keep it naughty which I am striving to do, to keep things alive, try to keep blocking fluidly not always be in the same spaces on the same lines, saying them in the same way. So the Queen Mab speech has been a moveable feast; I just go with my instincts a little bit and connect with people in the audience; sometimes that will be helpful and sometimes its not. You have good ideas and bad ideas.

Good idea …

There are moments in rehearsal when we’ll say, “This is the point where we walk through the yard, through the audience and come out the other side” which you can’t really rehearse until you’ve got the audience, so then you just launch yourself into it. The first time we did that bit we almost got completely lost – you don’t realise how full it is (and most people are much taller than I am)! We had to head from one side of the stage to the other. You get mid-way through and think “I don’t know where we are anymore!” We just couldn’t get our act together and we were almost late for our entrance. You have to realise those things and re-work them during preview week.

Now I’ve just started to talk all the way around which is probably terrible, maybe I shouldn’t do it but I just chat to the audience as I’m walking through because we are kind of drunk anyway. I say things like, “We’re lost! Where are we?” I tell Benvolio off for touching people. Then if I see groups of girls I try and invite them to the party. Just little things like that make that journey more than a bunch of actors walking from one side of the stage to the other. The audience are there, so you might as well include them. It makes a scene in itself. The whole journey suddenly becomes really helpful to get us in the mood for the party and also to create the reality of that journey which is what they do in the play but you don’t often see it.

… Bad idea

The other day for the first time I found myself really down at the front of the stage and I was saying the line in the Queen Mab speech about how “she come with the tithe- pig’s tail tickling a parson’s nose” (1.4.79-80). There was somebody’s nose right in front of me, so I pretended to tickle it in front of the groundlings, and instantly my brain just kind of went “No that was a bad idea! A bad idea! Abort! Abort! Abort!” I don’t know why I felt so uncomfortable about doing it, but something about my commitment to it didn’t quite pull it off. It came as an instant idea so I tried it out, it didn’t quite satisfy what I wanted from it, so I realised that maybe that wasn’t the right line to do that, or maybe connecting with the audience in a speech that is exploring such a self-created world is not appropriate – it breaks that rhythm and that poetic through line he has created. Some things work and some things don’t, but it’s exciting to be able to have the option to get things wrong.

Press Night

I hate press nights! I shouldn’t say that but I think press nights are just horrible. I don’t know how to describe it. The audiences are lovely but I think what it does to my actor’s brain is not very helpful. The best performances here are the ones when you feel free and playful and cheeky and mischievous, which this place embraces. There is nothing to impede one’s playfulness more than knowing you’re being judged from the audience, which is what press nights are all about. So I felt quite impeded I suppose, which made me feel like it wasn’t the greatest show in the world. But the good thing is that if your rehearsals have built a strong core, a strong base of performance as a company, then even if you feel terrible everything is still there regardless of how you feel about it.

The more shows we’ve done the more I’ve realised that actually when I think it’s gone really badly, you speak to people and they say “No, that was better than before.” You realise that your own little third eye that judges yourself isn’t very reliable, which is good to feel because then you just have to trust and have fun. As well as the press we had amazing people in the audience from the building who were really supportive, so the atmosphere was great and everyone was really pleased. It felt very much like we had to get it over with. I feel like that anyway – that you have to get press nights over with and then you can really fly.

Reviews

I try not to read reviews, but my mum likes to thrust the reviews in my face, and she’s been letting me know that they have been good generally, which is nice. The good thing about the Globe is that you get so much more response from the audience themselves than you do in a normal theatre. Actually something about the space makes people feel like they get to know you a bit better because you connect with them more. By the end of seeing a show here they have formed a relationship and feel like they know you, so after the show you get lots of people coming up to you saying well done. Those people are the ones who are the most exciting to talk to because they say things like “I hated Shakespeare but seeing the show has made me realise that it is actually really fun”, or “I’ve never understood the Queen Mab speech before and suddenly I understood it for the first time”. Things like that really make you feel great and fulfil what it is we are doing, so actually the reviews to me are kind of immaterial, but I’m sure to the rest of the building they are very important. But it’s nice to know that actually you’ve got a good show and people enjoy it.

It makes people think of Shakespeare in a different way … people don’t realise it’s so rude! My parents came on the second preview, and the first thing my mum said to me was “You are so rude!” It’s my character – he’s filthy and a few of the reviewers have mentioned the bawdiness and the fact that it works in relief to the love that Romeo and Juliet have, in the same way that Romeo and Mercutio work in relief to each other. You have these two polar opposites: ideas of what love and lust are, and they work really well against each other. I think our production really brings that out and the Globe audience bring that out, it’s what is in their heads that makes the bawdiness work. Nothing to do with me at all!

 

These comments are the actor's thoughts and ideas about the part as s / he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his / her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsals progress.

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