This is Juliet's third blog entry for the 2005 production of The Winter's Tale in which she talks about Perdita and her other roles, movement in the production and continuing rehearsals.
Transcript of Podcast
Playing the situation
What have we been doing? We’ve started to run acts of the play together, and we’re getting a sense of the through-line through sections of the play. I realised how quickly my character needs to shift from one emotional state to another.
Before the sheep-shearing begins [IV.iv], Florizel and Perdita come on and talk together. David [Florizel] and I had been playing that as lovers, in the state of lovers, but when we put the whole scene together we realised it became much stronger if we focussed on playing the actual situation. No one knows Florizel is a prince (apart from Perdita) and if they’re found out, the consequences will be devastating. So that dialogue isn’t just about love, there's anxiety and reluctance there too; Perdita doesn’t want to be the hostess, at the centre of attention. That makes the moment when Polixenes unveils himself much more powerful: Florizel and Perdita have been discovered, and all her worst fears have been realised.
‘Playing the situation’ sounds obvious but you realise how many tiny character shifts are involved when you run whole sections together. And characters or people respond to situations on different levels: there's always something going on at a gut-level and at heart level and at a head level – there are lots of different layers. We don’t think everything through in a rational, intellectual way and we don’t always react on gut-instinct. Once you’ve found those three different levels within a situation, you can play one more strongly than the other. I think I’ve been playing Perdita ‘all heart’ or ‘all head’ and this week I’ve started to find a better balance.
Glynn [Macdonald, Master of Movement] does a lot of work on the elements (earth, fire, air, water). You can embody each of those in your physicality; ‘Earth’ is a very grounded way of moving, for example, whilst ‘Water’ is much more fluid. Those physical states reflect qualities in a person or character. I’ve been playing Perdita as a really earthy character, but I’ve realised there's a lot of fire in her too – her reaction to Polixenes’ outburst has that kind of energy:
I was not much afeard; for once or twice
I was about to speak, and tell him plainly
The self-same sun that shines upon his court
Hides not his visage from our cottage, but
Looks on alike.
So I’m trying to bring that in right from the beginning, rather than it suddenly coming up out of nowhere.
My ideas about Perdita have changed quite a lot in the last couple of weeks. I found it difficult to place her; it's easy to fall into the trap of ‘young, ingénue-type heroine’ with Shakespeare but I’ve actually got quite a strong characterization of Perdita now. I’m basing her a lot on the young Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia, because Perdita has this innate sense of nobility. Underlying everything, she's a princess. From what I’ve read of Princess Elizabeth, she and Perdita seem to share a similar sense of honesty and a belief in the importance of being true to yourself. Both characters are opinionated and fiery, hot-tempered and quick-witted. I was also looking at all the references to flowers in the sheep-shearing scene… I pieced together that my Perdita doesn’t spend as much time in the fields with the sheep as her dad would like! She's fascinated by nature and I imagine that she grows all sorts of different flowers and herbs in a small allotment by the Old Shepherd's house. I think she spends a lot of time there – so she's very earthy from that point of view.
I’ve built up my own picture of what our part of Bohemia looks like. I imagine it's very near Heidelberg castle. That still exists today – I looked it up on the internet and found some amazing pictures of how it would have looked when Shakespeare was writing The Winter's Tale, in around 1611. There's a wonderful picture with two big hills on either side of the castle; I think Perdita would have wondered off a lot to sit on the top of those hills and look down on this castle. There was a lot going on in Bohemia at the beginning of the seventeenth century: Frederick V, King of Bohemia, married Princess Elizabeth (eldest daughter of James I of England) in 1613. It became known as ‘The Chemical Wedding’ after a pamphlet published in 1616. Frederick is actually called the ‘Winter King’ and the play is called The Winter's Tale… perhaps everyone knew he was making preparations to marry someone? That's one of the great things about this play – little things keep clicking into place. It would certainly have been a very lively time in Bohemia. On top of that, the old shepherd in our story has a quite prominent position in the village (he's holding the sheep-shearing after all), so I think Perdita's world would have been very rich and full.
Really, that's what this week has been about for me: I suddenly realised that if I’m going to play this character for five months, I’d like to really know where I come from and what my world is like to the extent that it will support me throughout the time. This week I leapt into research, staying till 10pm every night searching the internet!
Perdita comes in half way through the play. Before the interval I play two more characters; Hermione's second lady-in-waiting and the king's messenger. In the beginning I thought it would be easy ‘I just go on, say a few lines and then come off!’ But of course that's not the case; I’ve got to make these characters real as well. So my messenger's a bit of a suck-up! He likes to think of himself as top-dog but he's not at all – he's very young and eager to please. I come on as the lady-in-waiting in Act Two, scene one, and we’re developing a nice story there as well; I’m very close to the young prince Mamillius and we all go ice-skating together. When I next come on, I’m this messenger who is completely ready to do anything the king wants at any given moment. After that I come on as Perdita: it will be lovely to get to the interval when I can concentrate on Perdita but it's also great to have the messenger and the lady-in-waiting to help get me into the story and become present in the world of the play.
We’re now waiting for ice-skates to arrive! A man is making us ice-skates with a double edge that we can fit onto the bottom of our shoes so we’ll be able to mime skating. I’ll probably end up sliding off the stage on my first entrance! Hopefully we’ll be able to practise tomorrow. John [Dove, Master of Play] has set our scene on ice – it's very cold in Sicily, winter time – and I think that's brilliant. It gives Sicily a very different feel; we’re all having fun on ice-skates and then the accusation of Hermione takes place on the ice too. It's a great metaphor for the accusations and the situation at court; unstable, precarious, literally ‘resting on thin ice.’ Things could break up at any moment. On the other hand, when we arrive in Bohemia it's the middle of summer – everything is in blossom and the world is full of love and life and festivities. I love the fact that the worlds of Sicily and Bohemia are so different, but they mirror each other so closely. The same sequence of events occurs: another child is disowned. Polixenes feels that Florizel has betrayed him and so he's banished. Leontes casts off Perdita (and in a way, Hermione). There's a great symmetry in the play's structure.
In our Movement sessions with Glynn, we explored Laban Efforts. There are a number of different ‘States’ of movement – floating, slashing, flicking and dabbing, for example – and we’ve been thinking about that in terms of our bodies. What might it be like to ‘float’ through a particular scene? Once you think about it in terms of movement, it becomes really simple to start use the same ‘States’ in the lines; suddenly you can flick or dab or slash somebody with a word. It gives you such a good tool to carry out your objectives. I’m also using it to help me make Perdita fierier, so that's been fantastic.
And for Voice, I’ve been working with Stewart [Pearce, Master of Voice] on the four different centres of voice: the head, the throat, the heart and the gut. The different centres relate to a character's motivation for speaking: if you’re trying to soothe somebody, you might speak from the throat whereas if something hits you hard emotionally then you might use the ‘Gut’ voice. It's got very complicated this week, trying to marry all the work on Voice and Movement into the character: my head feels like it's going to explode!
We had a Voice session on the stage as a company, but I had a costume fitting so I missed it. I am feeling quite… not apprehensive, but keen to get on stage soon. That's one of the things I’m looking forward to next week. I’m also looking forward to running the whole play, because that will help the through-line of the play slot together. At least I’m hoping that's what will happen!
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.