Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal 1

“This Nightingale singing, trying to recapture his voice, that’s who they asked to sing in the lullaby in this song. And behind every word there’s this dense mythic stuff.”
Michelle in her second interview talks about how rich the play is, working on ‘expressive movement’, and the relationships between her characters.

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Time: 11 minutes 35 seconds

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Transcript of Podcast

Phil Brooks:

So if you could talk us through what you’ve been doing in rehearsals so far?

Michelle Terry:

We have been doing rough drafts of each scene, so none of us have seen – it’s been quite episodic at the moment- so none of us have seen anybody else’s stuff. We’re not quite sure what we’re in as a whole, but we certainly know what we’re doing in our own scenes. But I guess it’s quite like how it would have been done when you were just handed the cue sheets and didn’t know what came before or after you. So yeah that’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve gone through the entire play once, just roughly sketching where, what’s going on and where people are going to be and the relationships [with] each other. And now we’re starting to go back and just do a bit more interrogating of all that stuff…

PB:

Of all the text and the lines…

MT:

Yeah well of course the more you do it, and the more research you do outside suddenly you come back with- the play is so dense.  And even finding out there’s a- often the songs get overlooked in Shakespeare and there’s this brilliant lullaby that the fairies sing to Titania. And there’s a line that says “Philomel with melody, Sing in our sweet lullaby”. And you could just, you know sing it very beautifully and it’s a four part harmony and it’s all very seductive. But suddenly you go ‘Philomel, ok, who’s Philomel?’ Oh Philomel was the sister of – she basically got raped by her sister’s husband, and he said to her ‘keep your mouth shut’. She said ‘no I’m going to tell everybody’. He said ‘no you’re not, I’m going to cut out your tongue so you can’t’. She then learnt how to weave a tapestry and did a tapestry of the rape, showed her father, and then to escape her husband-in-law, she prayed to the gods to turn her and her sister into birds. And her sister got turned into a Swallow and she got turned into a Nightingale. And I know that they say it’s only the male species of the Nightingale that can sing, but this Nightingale singing, trying to recapture his voice, and that’s who they asked to sing in the lullaby in this song. And behind every word there’s this dense mythic stuff. So that’s the stuff that I guess individually people are doing their own research and they bring whatevers useful. But whatever is useful you bring into the room and that’s where we’re at now.

PB:

Wow so discovering all these new things about the play…

MT:

All this stuff yeah. The Titania Oberon stuff slightly, it doesn’t take care of itself. You have to work it. But it’s a much more recognisable relationship than the Hippolyta Theseus stuff.  So that’s just taken slightly more research to go ok who are these people, why has he framed this entire play with these mythic characters? And why did he choose for that first scene – almost beyond a joke – Theseus bangs on about the patriarchy, sort of ‘the man doth protest too much’, he goes on and on about it. So why did he feel the need to conquer the most powerful woman who was the leader of an all-female tribe. Shakespeare could have picked any woman, and you can rewrite the myth- so he kept rewriting them all the time so why did he pick that story to frame it? He never explains the myth in the play, so he doesn’t answer the question so neither should we attempt to. We can put the questions out there but you have to know what the question is in order to set it up. And even finding out again in that last song that Titania and Oberon sing, when they say we will bless this house and bless this bed “And the issue there create ever shall be fortunate”. But in the myth the issue that Hippolyta and Theseus create is Hippolytus who is an incredibly doomed child, and ends up being killed by his father. And all these things that are just seeded in there that if the audience is lucky enough to know the myth – I guess as in the same way with an Elizabethan audience – if you know that myth about Hippolyta and Theseus then you’ve got some knowledge. I don’t think you need the knowledge to understand to understand the play, but it’s such – it’s like a little Sherlock Holmes cryptic cross where you go that means that. . .

PB:

It’s unravelling all the mysteries.

MT:

Exactly, it’s just so dense.

PB:

You mentioned Oberon, have you started developing those relationships, and which relationships are important to your character and why?

MT:

There are the obvious relationships, the obvious Oberon-Titania relationship – what’s their history?; the fact that that they’ve probably been together for ever; they will be together forever; What does that do to your psyche, if you’re going to live forever? I can’t quite get my head around that. But if you are, you have to constantly do things to keep making life interesting I suppose. So where are they at in that? If you’re living forever, the idea that fairies can’t have children, what does that mean? Titania is a woman, or a fairy, of a particular age – is she of a particular age? She certainly talks about children a lot and it matters to her about having this child. So their relationship is obviously important, and they’re two people who know each other incredibly well. And then there’s Hippolyta and Theseus that don’t know each other at all, and what does that mean. Hippolyta is a foreigner, so in the scenes with Hippolyta , she looks around this room and doesn’t know anyone in that first scene, she doesn’t know anyone in that first scene. She doesn’t know Egeus, she doesn’t know Hermia, she doesn’t know Demetrius and Lysander. But of course the next time they come back, she’s seen them in the first scene and now all the things that were talked about in that first scene  . . . something is different the second time she sees them. Where are you looking and who are you looking at and what do you know about each of those people? The Titania-First Fairy relationship is quite interesting, because the First Fairy is slightly Titania’s Puck in a way, and we’re just looking at who knows what about the love juice. Textually we know that Oberon and Puck devise that, but betrayal is such a big theme in the play, you could argue that Hippolyta has betrayed her all-female tribe by getting married. Marriage is an incredibly patriarchal, ‘male’ institution or construct, and has she betrayed her tribe by getting married? Hermia betrays Helena, Oberon betrays Titania, is the First Fairy in cahoots with Oberon and Puck? Does he betray her? So there’s all that stuff.

PB:

So many different relationships going on! What scenes or moments are particularly significant to the interpretation of your character? 

MT:

I guess the Hipployta-Theseus relationship, that’s where my head is at the moment, figuring out – do they go on a journey? They get married, so that does something to them, and then they hear this incredible story about the lovers in the forest. And the scene where Theseus talks about imagination and ‘there’s more to heaven and earth’ – these very pragmatic, military people suddenly being faced with the idea of something supernatural and other, and what that does to their psyche and what that does to their relationship. Their minds suddenly transfigure together and is there a possibility they could grow to something of great constancy, as opposed to people who are at war with each other? So there’s something that happens after the marriage. There’s that incredible speech about the lovers and the poets and the madmen, something happens there, I don’t know if I know what yet, and I may never know, and I guess the joy is that we’ve got till October to keep trying to find out.  But something happens there, and then for a woman that hasn’t really spoken much throughout the whole play, you can’t really shut her up when the play is going on. None of the other women speak and suddenly here she is being incredibly vocal, so something has shifted. As to what that is, we’re still in discovery – a work in progress!           

PB:

And you’ve touched on talking about the text and the language. Have you noticed anything specific about the language your character uses? 

MT:

I suppose there’s the not necessarily obvious things, but we talk about the couplets quite a lot. So when the people fall in love they start to talk in the language of love. And when Titania wakes up she’s still in blank verse and then gradually starts to speak in couplets, so there’s this gradual falling in love with Bottom, that’s interesting. And Titania [Hippolyta] doesn’t ever speak in couplets, it’s incredibly poetic and it’s in verse, but it’s not the language of new love like the young lovers or Titania with Bottom.  But it is the Hippolyta stuff because always, always the answer will be in the text, or what Shakespeare wants you to figure out will be in the text. And again there is something about that very first scene – what she talks about is: ‘Four days will quickly steep themselves in night, / Four nights will quickly dream away the time’. This is language of the future. And then the next time you see here she says: ‘I was with Hercules and Cadmus once’ –the language of the past. And then there’s that scene post the lovers telling them what’s happened and being married, and suddenly she says, ‘‘Tis strange, my Theseus, that these lovers speak of’ – she’s very much in the present. So something’s happening just in the tenses she uses where she’s at. Something goes on which makes her very in the moment as opposed to ‘gosh where is my life headed?’, ‘where has my life been?’ and then: ‘this is my life now?’ So, yes, always something!

PB:

Going from positive thinking, to reflective, and switching between them?

MT:

Exactly, yeah.

PB:

Have you done much specific work looking at movement?

MT:

There’s lots of dance . . . Is it dance? . . . Yes, there’s some dance, I’d say ‘expressive movement’, maybe!  I can’t really dance so I wouldn’t want to say dance. There has to be, human beings can never be static, so there’s lots of movement. And there’s whatever that roundel is that we do with the fairies, that’s being worked on. You can learn set moves, which is fine, and the things we learnt in week one – we know those steps. But suddenly you go – it’s not really telling the story that we need to tell. And again, the play is going to open, it’s not just going to start with the text, there will an attempt to physically tell the myth of Hippolyta and Theseus. So we learnt that battle in week one, but suddenly you go, ‘hang on, what about the girdle? Is there a moment of love?’ We’re sort of blurring the myths of Achilles and Penthesilea where they fall in love with each other. And again, the more you acquire knowledge, those things that are set pieces suddenly have to be much more fluid and malleable as you go, ‘hang on, what physical story are we trying to tell through this dance-movement thing’.  They can’t operate in isolation; they have to be necessary to the narrative in a way.

PB:

And finally, what have the highs and lows been of the first few weeks of rehearsals?

MT:

I think I said this last week, but it’s a play you think you know, and the high for me is discovering how dense it is, what an incredibly detailed weave and tapestry this play is. And the low is, there’s so much to discover, the low is how are we going to do that, but then equally that’s the joy, because we’ll hopefully keep discovering till October, but it’s so rich. Because everyone knows the story, the easy option would be to simplify it, to sugar-coat questions we can’t immediately answer.  Like Hippolyta and Theseus, there’s a very simple way of making that relationship palatable, but I’m not sure that’s what he’s written. I think it’s a very confused relationship and a quite impenetrable relationship, and I don’t think necessarily you should try and fix that. That is a problem and should be allowed to stay a problem. It might not make it very funny, and the expectation is A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy, but that’s all right, you can just let the play be what it is.

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