In her second blog post Michelle discusses this week's rehearsals, her further thoughts on Portia, vocal work and her costume.
Transcript of Podcast
We’re on our feet now in the rehearsal room. This changes all kinds of things you have thought about whilst sitting down and discussing the play. You find that once you’re on your feet, some things you wanted to do don’t work - so it completely changes the way you look at things. The court room scene makes far more sense when you’re moving it because things that sound similar in terms of argument suddenly become very different. We’ve now blocked the whole scene – it obviously needs lots of work, but we’ve done the skeleton of it. We’ve done all the scenes but I don’t think I’ve managed to find a through line yet, so the next stage will be working out Portia’s journey.
I’m trying to work out where the mercy in her lies because although she doesn’t represent mercy in the court room – she stands for justice - I think she has to have an element of mercy in her character. I’m just trying to work out where that is! She has to have a sympathetic aspect in some way.
The scenes with the Prince of Aragon and Morocco are absolutely hilarious. The Prince of Aragon is a Spanish prince and says ‘mar-i-age’ in a bad Spanish accent instead of ‘marriage’! Both suitors are very very funny.
Portia doesn’t want to marry either of them even slightly! In a modern context she could be vaguely amused by them both, but the stakes are very very high in terms of her possibly having to marry one of them. I think she’s desperately repulsed by both of them and doesn’t want to go near them. I find this quite hard to play as an actress because they are very funny scenes. They can’t be too light however, because there is something quite terrible at stake - she has no choice but to marry them if they chose the right casket.
Act 3 Scene 2
Portia goes through quite an emotional journey in this scene. I think this a scene where the audience could sympathise with her because she does have quite an eccentric and imaginative side. She uses incredible imagery:
Now he goes
With no less presence, but with much more love
Than young Alcides, when he did redeem
The Virgin tribune, paid by howling Troy
To the sea-monster: I stand for sacrifice,
The rest aloof are the Dardanian wives,
With bleared visages come forth to view
The issue of th’ exploit
She is suddenly letting out all these feelings that are quite romantic and passionate and you’ve never really seen that from her before. This, to me, seems like the real her and in a lot of the other scenes she’s masked. It’s lovely that here she wears her heart on her sleeve, for example, when she says:
You see me lord Bassanio where I stand,
Such as I am; though for myself alone
I would not be ambitious in my wish
To wish myself much better, yet for you,
I would be trebled twenty times myself
We haven’t made too many decisions about how to play this. The director has said that she doesn’t want it to seem like Portia’s having a crisis of confidence for example:
I might in virtues, beauties, livings, friends
Exceed account: but the full sum of me
Is sum of something: which to term in gross,
Is an unlesson’d girl, unschool’d, unpractised,
Do we really think she’s an ‘unschooled, unpractised’ girl? I’m still not sure about that yet.
Bassanio and the Caskets
The caskets in our production are a bit like football trophies. My portrait will be a type of Barbie doll that pops up! We’ve decided that as soon as Bassanio sees this he falls in love with her. Up until then he’s really only been interested in her money and then he sees this doll from the casket and thinks ‘wow’. Something magical happens. Every time the caskets open something magical happens and that’s his moment - from that point he loves her.
Portia and Jessica
I think she feels very sad for Jessica. Portia’s lost her father so on a human level she must know how terrible it is to be without her father. I feel she would feel really sympathetic. She doesn’t like her; she doesn’t necessarily want to be friends with her because of the religious differences and their status. But I don’t think she would be a human if she didn’t feel some kind of empathy towards her. We’ve done this bit at the end of the court scene where Shylock throws his Jewish hat on the floor and I’d like to pick it up and give it to Jessica in the last scene – not as a main point - but just as an unsaid thing to Jessica, telling her to put this to rest. I don’t think the director is thinking about that as a point to communicate, so I don’t think she’d like me to do it - but we’ll see what happens.
The Theme of Contracts
The business with the ring in Act 5 Scene 1 is really just another contract. If you think about it, all the casket scenes are about making a contract; about obeying a contract her father has made. Bassanio makes a contract with Antonio and as a result is bound to a contract with Shylock. The court scene is all about contracts and then the rings are about making a new contract because Bassanio has broken the wedding contract by giving away the ring. He has broken the agreement and so its about re-enforcing the wedding vows and reviewing the contract in order to continue the next phase. If it’s a new contract, it actually makes sense because they couldn’t really leave it where he just gives away the ring. Portia needs to make another contract because that’s what she’s all about – things that legally bind.
I’ve been doing lots of voice work with the production’s voice director. When I speak lines from the heart, my voice goes quite high so I need it to stay down and concentrate on using lower registers which is quite difficult. I won’t be playing Portia with my natural accent (Scottish). She will have an English RP accent.
It’s looking amazing! Absolutely beautiful. I have platform shoes so I’ll be much taller than Bassanio! My dress is this huge shimmering gold gown of greeny gold with this huge skirt and then a shiny blue- green sparkly peacock layer at the back, which is lovely.
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.