Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 1

This is Penny's first blog entry for the 2005 production of The Winter's Tale, in which she talks about returning to perform at the Globe, her first impressions of the character and use of the jig in the production, amongst other things.

Transcript of Podcast

Coming back to the Globe

When I learnt that John Dove was going to direct The Winter's Tale this season, I was very keen to be considered for the play. There were some other possibilities of work at the same time, so I came to Mark and said that of all the possibilities in the air as it were, the Globe was where my heart was and I very much wanted to come back. John saw me twice; very early on, and then later when he was ready to cast. I came back for an audition and we talked for ages; so much of what he said about the play seemed right and fresh. For instance, we looked at the scene at the end of the trial [III.ii] where Hermione has been given news that her son has died and King Leontes refuses to accept what the Oracle says. Hermione faints and at the moment I think that Paulina really does think she's dead. Having taken Hermione off, Paulina comes back on quite quickly: she says that Hermione is dead, and she's furious with the King. There's a little speech towards the end of the scene where she apologises for speaking in Hermione's defence ‘Oh, I’m sorry; if I’ve done something wrong, I’m sorry.’ You could play those lines as if she really does feel sorry for the King and she's now repentant: ‘Oh, poor you, I shouldn’t have said anything, the queen is dead and your son is dead, this is just awful, I’m so sorry.’ But you could also play it another way – perhaps Paulina feels that being sorry just isn’t enough: ‘Oh, sorry! I’ve upset you? Are you really upset? All these terrible things have happened to you (and it's your own fault), but I shouldn’t say anything… I shouldn’t remind you of the fact you’ve killed your queen, you’ve killed your son, and you’ve killed my husband as well.’ I really liked that take on it, and that's how I’m hoping to approach it. After our meeting, John asked me to play Paulina. I was absolutely thrilled and delighted and here I am, still thrilled and delighted!

Preparation

I read the play a lot before I came into rehearsals and just tried to get rid of any preconceived ideas about it, really. I’ve been in The Winter's Tale twice: I walked on in a production whilst I was at drama school, but I wasn’t in rehearsals very much. We were mainly in the big country scene [IV.iv]. Then I played Emilia and Mopsa at Liverpool Playhouse, which was my first job all those years ago. So I would have listened to the play in those rehearsals, although I don’t remember Paulina much. Sometimes you can listen to plays or see them done by other companies and come away without using your own brain, without really thinking: ‘How would I do it?’ So for me, preparation is a matter of looking at the play afresh, without any baggage at all. That's what I try to do.

First Impressions of Paulina

As a character, I think she's quite difficult: she's not going to put up with any nonsense. As always, I’m looking to chart her journey through the play. In her first scene [II.ii], she arrives at the jail hoping to see Hermione and ends up taking the baby to the King, to try and soften his heart. I think at that point she's quite optimistic; she just thinks this is all a terrible mistake. When she arrives at the jail, the jailer says he's not allowed to let her see Hermione and she seems to accept that - she isn’t going to push that yet, because she doesn’t need to. She's going to try another tactic:

Is’t lawful, pray you to see her women?
Any of them? Emilia?
[II.ii]

‘Well, c’mon, surely I can see one of the women?’ And he does let her, provided that he's present. So we’re getting there. But then he gets very worried about her taking the baby because he's pretty sure that's not allowed. Again, she persuades him ‘Look, don’t worry. I’m going to make sure that it will all be fine’. She achieves what she wants, so the jailer must have some confidence in her, but I think basically she's one of those people who are very difficult to say ‘no’ to!

Leontes and the Baby

In the next scene [II.iii], Paulina goes to see the King. I think she goes in with her mind made up: she's going to do it, she's going to go in and to say to the King ‘Here's your baby, your lovely baby, look!’ And the king is going to soften when he sees his child. What she isn’t ready for is the fact that this man has gone completely mad. A few times in my life, I’ve gone into situations and expected the outcome to be absolutely fine, because the people are reasonable; of course they’ll respond to a reasonable argument and there can be no problem. But sometimes (and it happened to me quite recently) you meet a mind that cannot encompass your reason. In the end you have to sort of agree to differ, I suppose, because there can be no meeting of minds and that's exactly what happens with Paulina and Leontes. What's difficult for Paulina is leaving the baby in that room with Leontes. I don’t know what else she can do, really. I suppose she could take it back to Hermione, but would it be any safer there? I’m not sure. Paulina takes the decision to leave the baby, and that turns out to be a bad choice – or so we think.

This morning we’ve been rehearsing the trial scene [III.ii]. I wonder whether Paulina feels any responsibility when Hermione talks about her baby being ‘Haled out to murder’. It must weigh on her mind… it's really tricky. That's as far as we’ve got in terms of charting a journey for Paulina: the first scene is very optimistic, the second scene is determined, and then the trial scene – I’m going to try and approach it as someone going in there to deal with a situation in a pragmatic way, but things become more emotional when Paulina thinks the Queen is dead. Then her heart starts to rule her head, and perhaps her anger with the king drives that scene. We’re going to carry on rehearsing this afternoon and I might change my mind. We’ll see… that's what rehearsals are for, to change your mind.

Rehearsal Process

I love having the maximum amount of time to investigate the text. If you have problems with a scene, then improvisations and specifically targeted games can be absolutely brilliant. I suppose I’m a bit old-fashioned, but I do just love getting stuck into the scenes with the rest of the company. These different minds meld together and come up with really inventive ideas. Perhaps it's a very traditional way of working, but as part of that ‘traditional’ process you’re always looking for original and fresh ways of doing the play. Actually – having said that I really like improvising. I think it's very useful in allowing you a freedom to be truly inventive.

Similarly, our production is ‘Original Practices’ so we’ll be exploring the settings and clothing available to Shakespeare's company in the Globe of 1599, but of course we’re still looking for what keeps the scenes alive – what stops them being predictable for an audience. Sometimes I think what's really interesting on stage is when you have a group of people who all play something different because each person has a different ways of reacting to things and different expectations from a situation, different ways of changing a situation. Like the trial scene, for example; it's possible for all of us to come on with a sort of hushed grandeur, waiting for the king to make his pronouncements, but I think the difference makes scenes interesting and real. We don’t want to conform to some kind of preconceived idea of courtly behaviour: we don’t want to put a ‘Shakespearean’ wash on it!

Humour

The Winter's Tale is one of the Comedies but it does have lots of dark patches. I just think Shakespeare's great at balancing light and dark. Paulina very sharp. In Act two, scene two, the jailer says to her:

Madam, if't please the queen to send the babe,
I know not what I shall incur to pass it,
Having no warrant.
[II.ii]

Basically ‘I’m not allowed to give you the baby’, and she responds:

You need not fear it, sir:
This child was prisoner to the womb and is
By law and process of great nature thence
Freed and enfranchised, not a party to
The anger of the king nor guilty of,
If any be, the trespass of the queen.
[II.ii]

She draws a witty distinction to persuade and reassure him that it will all be fine! Of course it isn’t. So she keeps her wits about her and her humour is always there, even as her plan to soften Leontes’ heart with the baby goes awry: Paulina says to her husband, Antigonus:

For ever
Unvenerable be thy hands, if thou
Takest up the princess by that forced baseness
Which he has put upon't!
Leontes mocks Antigonus with the line, ‘He dreads his wife’ but Paulina is back quick as a flash:
So I would you did; then 'twere past all doubt
You'ld call your children yours.
[II.iii]

I get the feeling that Paulina and Leontes know each other very well, but also that Paulina's known throughout the Court as the sort of person who goes around saying ‘Tie your shoelaces up! Stand up straight! Behave!’ Leontes knows that she’ll come to him when she hears about Hermione, so Paulina's reputation rides before her, I think.

She's kind and generous too, but the injustice that she sees is beyond the pale. When she snaps back at Leontes, she doesn’t care if he is King: he's not going to get away with this if she can help it. She doesn’t pussy foot around him like a lot of people do, and even tells the other courtiers that they’ll never do him good, creeping around him and ‘sighing at his needless heavings.’ Of course, that's not actually doing him any good at all, so Paulina's full of common sense as well. It's early days, but that's how I see her.

Starting to Jig

So, we’ve been having lots of discussions about the scenes, and we’ve also worked with Glynn [MacDonald, Master of Movement], who keeps me well-oiled, and Giles [Block, Master of Words] who helps us to get the most out of the text. We’ve had sessions as a Company so far, but later today I’m going to have a session in a smaller group. Later we’ll have individual sessions to iron out bits and pieces. There are quite a few lines in the play where I’m not quite sure where the stresses come, so hopefully he’ll help me clarify that.

We’ve also started to learn the dances and I haven’t completely fallen apart yet! I’m actually managing to keep up with everyone else (although I went a bit pear-shaped today but I expect I’ll get the hang of it). The way that Sian [Williams, Master of Dance] teaches us to jig is so clever: she introduces things slowly and builds up the steps, so you start off with something that isn’t at all frightening and make it more complicated as you’re more able to take more complication!

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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