Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 3

This is Peter's third blog entry for the 2005 production of The Winter's Tale, in which he talks about the jig, 'Laban Efforts' and working with the Tudor Group, amongst other things.

Transcript of Podcast

This is Peter's third blog entry for the 2005 production of The Winter's Tale, in which he talks about the jig, 'Laban Efforts' and working with the Tudor Group, amongst other things.

‘Go for what is simplest’

Last week we reached the end of the play and now we’re back at the beginning again – this time we’ll go through and layer in more detail as people become more confident and become more familiar with their scenes. John [Dove, Master of Play] keeps reminding us to ‘go for what is simplest.’ The aim is that what the audience will watch the characters in the story and never know what's going to happen next. They won’t be able to remember what happened five minutes ago, because they’ll be caught up in a story that's very much in the present and full of suspense.

We’ve also been careful not to fall into the trap of ‘Shakespearean’ acting (or ‘churchy’ Shakespeare, as John calls it), meaning the reverential tone people fall into with Shakespeare when they generalise what they’re playing. Sometimes it's difficult not to take a formal, stately tone: I play a King and my first lines in the play are:

Nine changes of the wat’ry star hath been
The shepherd's note since we have left our throne
Without a burthen. Time as long again
Would be fill’d up, my brother, with our thanks […]
[I.i]

It does sounds very formal and very kingly. John has been urging me to play against that because the lines are spoken in the context of Leontes’ court at the beginning of the play: Polixenes and Leontes have rediscovered their youth and friendship, and there's a very playful element in that first scene [I.i]. It's a very relaxed and happy atmosphere, which means that it's a complete shock to the audience when Leontes turns out of the scene and says ‘Too hot, too hot!’ that suspicion comes out of absolutely nowhere. If you play that Polixenes might be involved with Hermione, then somehow the power of Leontes’ madness is lost - and Hermione must be beyond all doubt for the miracle at the end to work. By establishing the Sicilian Court as a place full of light and love and fun at the very beginning, we set up an atmosphere that the audience and characters alike can fall in love with. Hopefully that means they’ll experience a greater sense of loss when Leontes’ jealousy destroys it.

Something else that struck me in that scene was the danger of nostalgia when Polixenes talks about his boyhood with Leontes – I think John's right when he says that needs to be about the present rather the past. Although Polixenes is recollecting the past, the important thing is what that means in a present context now, rather than a sort of nostalgic longing for days gone by. That emphasis keeps the scene very active and present; the thrust always ‘What happens next?’

Polixenes and Hermione

It's very difficult to establish what triggers Leontes’ ‘Too hot, too hot!’ There's not much there to go on in the text. Leontes says all that stuff about leaning cheek to cheek, whispering, stopping the career of laughter with a sigh, kissing with inside lip, paddling palms [II.i] – so you really have to decide whether you think that's all in his imagination or whether there is something about the closeness between Hermione and Polixenes that opens a little crack where Leontes’ jealousy can get a foothold.

The last time we rehearsed the scene, we tried taking Hermione and Polixenes off stage whilst Leontes talks about them, then bringing them back on before taking them away again… they were present for specific moments but not throughout the whole section, because we found that if they are present throughout the whole thing, it seems very much as if Leontes is describing what they’re actually doing. I think it's more likely that he's projecting his own interpretation onto their behaviour and that's a behaviour Leontes himself has encouraged:

Hermione,
How thou lov’st us, show in our brother's welcome;
Let what is dear in Sicily be cheap.
[I.ii]

As jealous people do, Leontes forces his partner into a situation where they are friendly to somebody, and then he twists everything so that the situation he created in the first place provides evidence to condemn his partner. ‘You were friendly to him and that means that you must be having an affair.’

Hermione is quite bewitching in the sense that she's very witty and has a relaxed manner with Polixenes. She seems to be gently teasing as she persuades him to stay. Her argument cleverly plays on all the key points of Polixenes’ argument: she identifies that he's longing to see his son (‘To tell he longs to see his son were strong’) and that he feels duty-bound to go back to his kingdom. I think it's very human that Polixenes would find Hermione attractive on some level: Polixenes and Leontes are old, good friends who are very alike and haven’t seen each other in a long time – when they get together, I’m sure Polixenes sees some of the things in Hermione that Leontes does. I think the closeness that has developed between Polixenes and Hermione during his nine months’ visit is very much to do with their mutual love for Leontes; he connects them. Obviously, Leontes misinterprets the nature of the closeness and he has a kind of mental breakdown. It's a madness that infects him, and it's only with Paulina's help that he recovers. That's what we’ve latched on to in rehearsals.

Tactile?

In the same scenes, we experimented with how tactile Polixenes and Hermione are with each other. At the moment, we’re doing a lot of hand-holding and there's the body language of two people who are intimate friends, without it being at all suggestive. For example, one person will quite happily grab the other person's hand and say ‘Come on, lets go in the garden’ [I.ii.178]. We wanted there to be enough there for Leontes to misinterpret on some level, and that misinterpretation then spirals out of control. That might change, of course. I think it's a really difficult scene [I.ii] because there's so much to establish at the beginning of the play: who everybody is, what their relationships are, and what the atmosphere in the Sicilian court is like. We’ve started to bring those characters on and into a dance, so there's a sort of party atmosphere… the dance is all about trying to keep Polixenes at Court – don’t let him go home. It starts quite formally, but that's disrupted when Leontes brings on a bagpiper and takes things up a gear: they do a slightly more Bohemian dance for Polixenes’ benefit – as if to say ‘Look how much fun we’re having! You can’t possibly go – this is a home from home!’ That helps to establish an atmosphere and relationships very quickly in the opening scenes. As I said, it also creates a festive feel that everyone will be sad to lose (hopefully, depending on how good our dancing is!)

Tudor Group

We had two hours with two people from the Tudor Group, who spend part of the year living a Tudor lifestyle, as far as possible. They told us all about the social etiquette of the time – how people bowed and so on – and that will feed into our work as an ‘original practices’ company. At the same time, John has been urging us not to be hide-bound by that formality; we’ve tried to free up the relationships at the beginning of the play so that they’re really very informal. He's also encouraged the lords at Court to be part of the game of trying to keep Polixenes there, so everybody's involved and you get the sense that while there is a hierarchy (Leontes and Hermione are obviously the king and queen and there are various different levels of courtiers), that they’re all part of the one world. Whilst the king is happy and friendly, then everyone else can be happy and friendly and informal too… but the minute he changes the mood, then everybody has to behave in a different way. That's what happens when you get into the next act. One of the things we found out in the fascinating session with the people from the Tudor Group was to do with wearing swords: when you wore a sword and when you didn’t. As a gentleman, you would have been entitled to wear a sword. We discussed it and all agreed that in the first court scene, they’re probably not wearing swords because it's a happy and relaxed place, but maybe as soon as Camillo and Polixenes leave and Leontes thinks that somebody's out to get him, then he might wear a sword. His trusted people might also wear swords but perhaps others would not be allowed to carry a weapon. So we’ve been exploring that whole language in the clothing and weaponry that reflects the changes in atmosphere.

Hermione Comes Back To Life: Final Scene

Last week we did the scene where Hermione comes back to life for the first time [V.iii]. That was extraordinary… it's a big set piece scene, so I expected our first time through would be all about finding our places on stage and working out the shape of it. What was remarkable was that, although we were really shuffling through the scene and reading the lines, it was extraordinarily moving. Several people cried at various points in the rehearsal. That made me realise how powerful those words are and the power of those themes of redemption, reunion and forgiveness. It's a huge scene in that sense, but that was brought out by the simplicity of the reading and the staging. I think that's something that we need to hang onto, a very simple resolution of the whole story.

Laban Efforts

We had an interesting session with Glynn [MacDonald, Master of Movement] on Laban Efforts for actors – a system of archetypal movement in acting to do with types of movement and types of characters. The system sets out a series of ‘Efforts’ which are like physical traits that delineate character – ‘flicking’, ‘dabbing’ and ‘floating’ are some of the lighter movements – and you can combine them to have a ‘floating flicker’ or a ‘dabbing floater’. I suppose the idea is that it's a kind of aide memoire as you try to work out what the energy of a character and how they operate – so a ‘floater’ could be a very dreamy and romantic character if the rhythm of the floating is slow, but if the rhythm of the floating is fast then they would be slightly scattier. We ended with little improvisations where people took on different characteristics, so you’d have a ‘glider’ and ‘floater’ and a ‘flicker’ together in a situation. Once you start thinking about moving in that way, it's easier to think about doing similar things with the words – you might ‘dab’ or ‘flick’ someone with a line. It was great fun. We also had a text class on Cymbeline with Giles [Block, Master of the Words] this week, looking at how punctuation informs emphasis and clarity of communication … we looked at the opening scene of Cymbeline where one gentleman explains the situation at King Cymbeline's court to another person. There's a lot of information in the scene, and we looked at how you can use the punctuation to emphasise the preceding thought, instead of thinking ‘This is a break or a breath.’ That helps convey thoughts as a sequence which gives a clearer structure to the information that's being communicated.

Jig

The jig is really coming along now: we’ve been doing a lot of jigging! I think it's going to be fantastic. It's great fun learning the steps – Sian [Williams, Master of Dance] is a brilliant teacher and makes it seem as if it's all a variation on walking! I quite like dancing, although I’m not a dancer. I find it really uplifting. I went to see The Tempest last week; when they did the jig at the end, I just thought ‘What a great way to lift people out of the story.’ The cast did it with a great sense of joie de vive and the cheering from the audience was incredible… I’m looking forward to doing that, especially for our very first performance - I should've got over the nerves and be enjoying myself by the time we get to the jig!

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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