In his second blog post, Paul discusses rehearsals for the banquet scene (Act III, Scene IV), playing his different characters, and the difficulties involved in peforming the Porter scene.
Transcript of Podcast
Rehearsing the banquet scene
In rehearsals we have been experimenting with new ideas and techniques. This afternoon we were looking at the ‘banquet’ scene, when Banquo’s ghost appears to Macbeth. In order to create a strange world on the stage, to fit in with the ghost’s appearance, we explored using stylised movements. The guests of the banquet were first spaced randomly around the stage. They began adopting strange body forms, firstly using the chairs that they were sitting on and then only using their body, creating a series of tableaux. The stylised movements ran as follows: the guests’ heads looking down, up, at Macbeth, twisting around and then suddenly snapping back to reality. It seemed to create an almost surreal and unnatural atmosphere.
We then tried seating the guests around the back wall up-stage, creating a six-foot gap between them and the dinner table. This was to see the reaction of the guests to Macbeth’s outburst at the appearance of Banquo. The guests in our improvisation seemed afraid to make eye contact with Macbeth.
I would like the students to consider the appearance of Banquo. How should he appear? We are considering flying him on to the stage upside-down – a bit like a carcass in a butcher’s shop.
Playing the Porter
I am enjoying exploring the different possibilities for playing the Porter. It is interesting as we are trying different configurations of his character and the scene. I’ve tried the scene in lots of different ways, for example as a surgeon delivering a lecture about anatomy to the audience. I asked Jasper [Britton] to play Macbeth as if he was my patient, or case study, simply sitting in a chair. As I delivered my ‘lecture’, I lifted up the different parts of Macbeth that I was talking about. I manipulated his movements; lifting him when I wanted him to walk and tapping his shoulder, when he tried to get up, to make him fall back into his chair. It was very funny; his attempts to stand up grew more frequent as I kept pushing him down.
I think that the purpose of the scene between the Porter and Macbeth is to show what is going on in Macbeth’s mind, the Porter seems to take the role of Macbeth’s interrogator. We explored this idea in a physical way, using chairs on stage to work around and use as props. I chased Macbeth around these chairs, and eventually he became trapped in a ‘corridor’ of chairs. It was tormenting for him as every-time he found an opening between the chairs I would appear. The chairs were like his mind, and I was his conscience, which he could not escape.
Playing a Witch
I am also playing a Witch. I want the witches to be fully integrated into the play, rather than being subsidiary to the plot. We have been experimenting with different ways to play the witches and exploring the ways in which we can make them strange, without trying to force the ‘strangeness’. The way that the witches speak, both individually and as a group, is important. During rehearsals, we created an exercise to explore this idea (and to experiment with unconventional openings for the play). The witches came forward on the stage to make an announcement, which might usually be written and shown on placards at the beginning of a performance: Welcome to the Globe. No flash photography and please make sure that mobile phones are SWITCHED OFF! The three witches all stood together, and we split up the words to the announcement so that each witch, in turn, said a syllable. It was a simple way of creating a very strange effect.
In rehearsals, we have also been working on an unusual representation of the ‘battle’ scene. The witches were on stage, sitting on chairs, and jazz music began. We began to click our fingers in time to the music, and without speaking; we began making movements and gestures. Finally, we started saying our lines, and the music carried on once we stopped. The actual representation of the battle was when the rest of the cast began rushing forward on stage, screaming. Waving their arms, carrying stones in their hands. This image was juxtaposed with the witches who sat still on their chairs, despite the commotion. The witches then stood up each carrying a bucket and began walking around the other characters. Together we chanted “When shall we three meet again, In thunder, lightning or in rain, When the hurley burley’s done…” Then, each witch spoke a line, e.g. “Where the place?” and took a stone from a person from the battle and dropped it into their bucket. The stones in our production represent life and each time someone dies in the play a stone will be dropped into a bucket. After the next line was said, another stone was dropped in a bucket. Slowly, all of the people in the ‘battle’ were killed.
The idea of such a representation stemmed from wanting to work in a non-literal way, to expose the audience to something they do not expect. Another idea is that the witches will wear big National Health Service spectacles and tuxedos. (NB: National Health Service spectacles are those given free by the state to those who need them. Traditionally these spectacles have been regarded as unattractive, although in recent years they have acquired a certain ironic cult status – think Clark Kent!) The cast is all wearing either black ties or black cocktail dresses!
The company is still trying to develop the style of the production. We want the whole play to develop in the same way as I have described the opening and battle scenes. It is an unusual way of working, but it is simply a matter of getting used to this style, and letting go of preconceived ideas.
The Porter scene
I think that one way to play the Porter is as a stand-up comedian, in the way that he is often played. However, why is he simply played like this if there is a spooky and sinister side to the character and scene? There is comedy, but the scene is also dark and brooding. This scene seems to be out of place and time in relation to the rest of the play. I do not think that he is simply the Porter standing in the castle; I think he is the Porter to the gates of hell. It is important to consider what Hell is. Is Hell a place or a state of mind? If it is a state of mind, then maybe it could be a representation of Macbeth’s state of mind.
At the moment we are leaving that scene ambiguous to provide the company with space to develop the idea in a broader way. This also takes the pressure off me, as an actor, to force the character of the Porter to be humorous. Even though the role is small, the expectation that the speech will be funny does make the role very difficult. Actors often try too hard to make it comic. I do not want to force the humour. I think the scene can be interpreted in other ways. However, it must contain a degree of humour, otherwise the language is not being done any served, as I believe one of the aims of the writing was to make the scene humorous.
The Porter scene is an example of the boldness of Shakespeare’s writing - he juxtaposes moments of humour with moments of tragedy. It is important to make this scene flow with the rest of the play, as it is an important scene at a key moment in the action.
Macbeth as a whole has many comical moments. One in particular is the Banquet scene, where there is a surprising potential for comedy. Macbeth goes berserk when he sees the ghost of Banquo. The guests are all watching him, and Lady Macbeth is getting anxious. Macbeth realises this, and is desperately trying to gain his composure despite all of the angst he is feeling. It can be quite humorous when the scene is played in this way.
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 may change frequently as the rehearsal process progresses.