This is Tom's third blog entry for the 2004 production of Romeo and Juliet, in which he talks about character building, difficulties and continuing rehearsals, amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
We ran the first act at the beginning of this week but this time we had to use non-verbal sounds at the start of each line. Benvolio would say ‘oh good morrow, cousin’ and I’d reply ‘huh is the day so young?’ then he would say ‘hmm but new struck nine.’ [I.2.159-61] I don’t know what that exercise released, but it did release something. You spend a long time searching for the right noise and it's more like how one searches for the right words in everyday conversation. You always know which lines are coming next, but having to articulate the right noise before each line brought a certain energy of frustration to the verse. The words sounded more like natural speech. Benvolio and I worked on Act one, scene two again after lunch, and this time we tried it lots of different ways: during the first run we had to move as many objects as we could from one side of the rehearsal room to the other, and the second time round we had to complete three set tasks at some point during the scene. They could be completed in any order… the three tasks I was given were: take your shoes off, turn all the lights out, and threaten the other person with a fire extinguisher. Benvolio was given three different things. It might sound odd but inevitably the tasks feed into the way you play the scene. I don’t know if it gives one ideas or if it takes one's attention away from trying to have ideas, but once you have activities to perform so it's almost like you’ve just let the scene happen by itself whilst your concentration is immediately occupied elsewhere. That was all very helpful.
Later in the week we did a group exercise where we all stood in a circle and talked about ourselves and each character in the play: for each person in turn, I’d say: ‘I’m Romeo’ and they might say ‘I’m Lady Capulet’ or whoever, and you state your relationship to that person at a certain point in the play: ‘I am your enemy's son’ or ‘I am your daughter's husband’ and they do a similar thing as well. Then you say ‘I want you to… ’ It has to be something that you can play in the scene, so it's harder to do with some characters than others because you’re not onstage with some people, let alone talking to them. You have to think ‘Yes, but do I try and affect that character through somebody else who I do speak to'. I want the way I speak to the Nurse in Act two, scene four, to have an affect on Juliet, for instance. Mercutio makes fun of the Nurse [in II.4] but I'm quite polite and I tip her for carrying the message; I need to stay in her good graces if I'm to meet Juliet and I want her to speak well of me. Even if you don’t speak directly to somebody onstage in a specific scene, there are still things you want from them which influences the way you play that scene. All that information about each other's intentions will be really useful as we continue working on specific scenes – our relationship with a person obviously affects how we go about getting what we want from them, whether we coax or command, so it was great to clarify where everyone stood in relation to everybody else.
Today we’ve been interrupting each other. The idea is that you can’t let the person who speaks before you finish their lines, and the person who speaks after you won’t let you finish what you’ve got to say either. That gave the lines some of the energy of natural speech: you have to try to finish your lines in order to make yourself understood, as opposed to just politely taking turns. It's also quite frustrating when you are cut off. Bette [Bourne, the Nurse] likened it to being inside a washing machine and it does feel rather chaotic, but it also stops you consciously ‘acting’ or trying to convey certain emotions or moods. Your task is to get your words in and the rest just happens whilst you’re pursuing that.
We’ve been doing these wonderful exercises, which are there to be exploited for what they can feed into the text and the play… there's so much information and you take as much of it on board as you can. But it's hard to get stuff out of it if you’re not clear on the text. I would say I’ve got a good grasp of my lines now, and I feel secure about that, but there's one or two passages that I don’t feel so fluent in, probably just because we haven’t run them as many times. They’re not rolling out without my thinking about it and so my concentration's on that; I don’t feel one can fully commit to the exercise when you’re anxious about the text. I’m looking forward to some more work with Giles [Block, Master of the Words] to get to the bottom of these passages.
I’m also finding the scene in the middle of the dance [I.5] a bit difficult at the moment. It's when I speak to Juliet for the first time and because it's written like a sonnet and it's such a famous scene, it's very hard to get out of this harmonious rhythm ‘Thus from my lips by thine my sin is purged.’ It can seem rather smug and we’ve really trying to find the inner desperation one feels when you’re trying to impress somebody, to chat them up and the awkwardness of that, even if they are speaking this wonderful language… probably if one could say those things and be calm, one would impress anybody. I suppose it's a matter of finding the inner difficulty of saying all those things, because they’re young and in love and it seems more truthful that it should be a little awkward.
I’m starting to find the humour in Romeo. During that non-verbal sounds run, it felt like there was something wild in him which just gave me a real key in. It was a slightly anarchic quality which felt very right and I don’t know where that will be up yet. It's just something I wasn’t really expecting. I suppose it connects to the more playful aspect I’ve found just recently in Romeo's relationship with the Friar. I’d always thought of that as a very serious relationship because they talk about serious things but actually a serious subject doesn’t always go with a serious tone. There was just a little bit of mischief there today which I liked. John [McEnery, Friar Lawrence] was talking to me, asking ‘Have you been up late? What have you been up to?’ [II.3] and I was just enjoying the fact that he doesn’t know where I’ve been and the mystery that gives me. Also I enjoyed the fact that I have something to tell him; he knows that I have something to tell him and wouldn't I just tell him straightaway? I don’t tell him very clearly – I say:
I have been feasting with mine enemy,
Where on a sudden one hath wounded me
That's by me wounded.
He says ‘Just please be plain.’
The more I put myself into this, the more it seems to work. There's always a tendency to take the edges off one's own personality and any personal behaviour patterns because you don’t want to impose anything on a part. I didn’t want to impose anything on it for the first two weeks, but actually you kind of have to allow all those little strange parts of yourself out, and a lot of them are right and work. You realise ‘Oh yes, well that's not just part of Tom; that's part of lots of people. Why shouldn’t that be part of Romeo?’ For instance, sometimes when people are talking to me, whatever they want me to do or be I’ll get this perverse urge to do the opposite. A sort of rebellious thing, I suppose: if somebody starts saying ‘Now Tom, we need to talk seriously,’ I immediately want to do something silly. I didn’t think that was right for Romeo, but I’m beginning to think maybe it is right for my physical life onstage.
I’m starting to think about the fight in different ways. I think that's what you have to do: find your own way into something. When you think of a fight you always tend to think of it in very staccato terms, at least I do. I always think of violence as coming in short, sharp bursts but if you can find the flow of the movements, how one goes from one position into another then that will help the whole sequence. Little things like the way I stand can make a big difference in that respect: earlier in rehearsals it seemed we had to stand in a very angular way, but just this morning I tried imagining a big circle between my legs, and suddenly lunging was easier. The fight's getting better but there's still a lot of work to be done.
As far as costume is concerned, I want to wear clothes like that in real life! They feel so right on your body; it's alarming how much you’re supported. I’m sure it has a bit to do with the fact that it's completely tailored to my measurements, but truth be told I think there are other clothes that probably look more flattering on me that aren’t tailored. I think it's more to do with the way the doublet holds me up. Normally I find it quite hard to stand up straight without overdoing it. I find it quite hard to just stand in a position that's neutral but at the same time is good posture. These clothes seem to do it for you. Also, I’ve finally got some shoes. They haven’t got grips on yet, and that's one of the main problems I’ve been having with the fight. I can’t stop my back foot sliding around: it should be planted in a lunge, but it sort of drifts off after the first one. Obviously wearing shoes with no grips is not going to help that at all.
One of the best things about the last week was probably the run with non-verbal sounds, but this morning's movement session was also fantastic. That's what got me thinking about the fight, the lunges. We just did a series of things to help the spine elongate. Funny how, when you’ve done a movement session, you feel you can cross the stage just like that – you can walk very quickly and very effortlessly when your body is doing the right things. Generally I’m feeling very positive about things at this point. I think I need a bit of fruit, though. I’ve been eating a lot of fruit to keep my energy levels up, and today I’ve just had coffee and chocolate and lunch...
I’m honestly not sure what comes next. Tim tends to keep us guessing and I like that. If somebody told me we would be doing a run at the end of this week, one's first impulse is to go ‘Oh well it's going to be terrible,’ so before you’ve even done it you’ve decided how it will turn out. It's wrong to think that - you never know what might happen. It could be the best run you ever do, so it's important to commit to things as they arise, and I think that's it's easier if someone just says we’re going to do a run now.
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.