In her second blog post Siobhan discusses the past week in rehearsals, her thoughts on her two different characters and becoming 'Barbiezilla' in her costume fitting.
Transcript of Podcast
I’m having lots of fun with my fairies, although I’ve felt very sorry for them this week, because they have had to lift and tote me, and they are quite small – small, but wiry. Titania demands a lullaby, and then she falls asleep, and we had a plan where they passed me round between them, finishing up with me on the floor asleep. Now we have a better plan where my bed comes trundling on. I’m not going to say too much about my bed, because I want people to be pleasantly surprised by it when it arrives.
The whole of the technical rehearsal will be something of a minefield for me, so I have to be as prepared as I can be, and that is why I need to be more proactive now, even with these very passive characters. There are three weeks to go before Tech week, and this is probably the normal trajectory of a role for me.
Because I’m quite chatty, and I’ve got a facility with language, I tend to play people who talk all the time. These two women don’t. They have got lots to say, but they aren’t necessarily telling you their innermost thoughts. Yesterday I was wishing I had more to say, because it would play more to my strengths. But it is good for us, as actors, to play away from our strengths. It gives a great feeling of satisfaction when you realise you can do something that doesn’t come easily to you.
Yesterday I had a tango rehearsal with Paul [Hunter]; I have not had a tango rehearsal for over a week, and I could not remember anything. I lay down on the floor like a two-year old drumming my feet, saying ‘I can’t remember anything’. We have had to change quite a lot of the tango, because, as you know, a lot of the tango is danced backwards, and I simply can’t do that with a long train to my dress.
I know the lines. I didn’t think I’d remembered them from eighteen years ago, but they have come very quickly. It is quite useful in some respects, but I do need to be vigilant about it, because it means I am not necessarily examining them as I say them. There are new ways of saying things, and new ways of approaching it, which I’m not paying attention to because I am just so pleased I can remember the lines. I’m grateful for the headstart it has given me really, but it is not without its potential pitfalls.
Yesterday was an exciting day because I had my costume fitted – it’s a pink frock with an enormous train behind. I looked at myself in it and thought: ‘I’m a bit like a cross between Barbie and Godzilla!’ or Barbiezilla as I’m calling it. I have some quick changes between Hippolyta and Titania. I don’t want to think about that at the moment – indeed I’ve made an executive decision, that it is not my problem. I will stand there like an obedient horse while people work their magic round about me. The first one is from Titania into Hippolyta - the other fairies will be doing a short musical interlude to help at that point. At the end of the play, the same change happens again, and I’ve no idea how that will work yet. That will be fun to work on in Tech week. At the moment it feels like my bower will take three days of Tech week to get right, and my dress the other four.
This morning we had a voice session in the theatre, with the usual parties of people traipsing in and out while we were working. We may as well be doing it in Piccadilly Circus - because people will be constantly in and out of that space, all through Tech week, seeing me throwing myself to the ground and drumming my heels, making a complete ninny of myself. So no chance on holding back on any mystery, it will all be public. Jan [Hayden-Rolls, Voice Coach] was talking about what this space requires, and she said that the space requires a lot of ‘muscularity in the voice.’ So I had to ask, what exactly does that mean? Muscularity has become a bit of a buzzword, and I’m never quite sure what anybody means by it. I’ve worked with voice people who’ve talked about the muscularity of my native (Scottish) accent, when what they mean is it sounds as if I might be lurking round a doorway ready to mug them. That’s not what they tell you when you ask them though. But what Jan means is you need to speak with your whole body; and to be precise about your diction. You don’t necessarily have to speak louder, but you do need to be distinct, and you do need to be aware that there are people all the way around you. Terminology is a good thing to check though, because terms like that can mean as many different things as there are people in the room.
The highlight of the week was seeing the death of Pyramus for the first time; I actually thought I could die laughing. I was watching it through my fingers, with tears streaming down my face. It was truly, truly marvellous. The low point was yesterday having my tantrum because I couldn’t remember any of my tango.
I’m beginning to think that I need to change my tactics with these characters. Neither Hippolyta or Titania is really in a situation where they are in full control of their faculties. Titania is well able to call the shots, but she is drugged for much of the play. So I thought I would be as passive as I could be and see what happened. I’m panicking so I need to make some decisions and talk to Jonathan [Munby, the Director], mainly about Hippolyta. Hippolyta is hardly on the page, so in theory, you could do what you like. Though obviously I want to do what Jonathan likes. I don’t want the costume to do all the work for me, I’d quite like to do some work in the costume, so I need to make some decisions quite quickly.
There are parallels between Hippolyta and Titiania. It is possible to look at them as the same thing, one is the daytime face, and one is the nighttime face. We are not deliberately doing anything to draw people’s attention to that at the moment. There was to be some sort of hint in the costume. Titania is a vision in various shades of candy pink and there were going to be some touches of pink in Hippolyta’s black costume, but that is too startling, so instead we are putting some touches of purple in there. Whether that will just look royal, or make people think there is an echo of Titania, I really don’t know.
A lot of Hippolyta is really undiscovered territory still. I do know she has good manners, but that is really all I know about her so far. I fantasise about playing her as a Danish woman, whose first language is not English, and who has a pop-up map of Athens she keeps looking at, although I don’t think those would be very welcome suggestions.
Tom [Mannion, playing Oberon and Theseus] and I were talking about Hippolyta and Theseus after our dance rehearsal today. We think they aren’t fanciful people, more military tacticians. Clearly, Theseus thinks he is better at it than Hippolyta is, because he had just won this war, and she was the head of the opposing army. I can imagine them having evenings that to me would be screamingly tedious, but they would find fascinating, where they have a billiard table where they have lots of little men they pushed about representing armies, like those films of the war. I think they are quite practical people, but they are not unromantic, and that is an interesting combination. Theseus does not believe in ghosts, bogies, and fairies, and stuff like that, but Hippolyta is a bit more open-minded about it. At the same time, he is very lyrical. It isn’t a love match, it is a political union, but it has the unexpected added bonus that they do actually fancy one another, and they would not have necessarily been expecting that. So that is quite exciting for them, and quite fun to play.
With Titania and Oberon it is much nastier. They definitely fancy each other, but I think their relationship is always going to be fraught, because they are both so awful. In this play, it is a happy ending for them, but you know that the next day there will be another Indian boy or something else. I’m looking forward to meeting my Indian Boys (I’ve got two because of the regulations about the time child actors can work.) He is going to be spending quite a lot of time with me. Normally when you see this play the Indian Boy is referred to, but he isn’t seen much, but my Indian Boy is going to be with me quite a lot of the time, until he gets his little nose put out of joint when Titania falls in love with Bottom. I’ve not seen that done before, and it will be fun to see what the audience makes of seeing the poor child being shut out of the bower.
Titania is queenly, and powerful; and a complete fool for love. We have decided this week that the fairies have got extremely heighted senses. In a way, they are almost in a state of perpetual motion. They are responsive to, receptive to, and aware of, every little change in the atmosphere. There is a fly in the ointment in the beautiful love story between Titania and Bottom, which is, although she loves his singing, she can’t really cope with it when he brays; and he does that fairly regularly, so that sends shock waves through the whole fairy community every time he does that – fairies running about holding their ears.
I think it is important that we aim for a sense of majesty in the first scene where all the fairies meet, so that we have somewhere to fall from later on. I remember when I played these parts before, a friend of mine came to see me in LA and he said to me afterwards, that he thought in that first meeting between Oberon and Titania, that they are warring monarchs and you have to have a sense of the importance of that. But because we played them nearer to animals than spirits in that production, so that was something that we weren’t necessarily concentrating on, and I think it is something that it will be useful for me to concentrate on in the first scene. After that, she is a complete slut.
I’ve done quite a lot of Shakespeare in the past. More comedies than tragedies (though I tend to think I’m better in tragedies), perhaps because comedies are more frequently done. I want to have another go at Much Ado About Nothing before I die, I’m sure I could do better. Tom [Mannion, playing Oberon and Theseus] said he’d love to do it with me yesterday, but it is early days – let’s see how he feels in October – it might be, ‘never darken my door again’.
The thing about Shakespeare, it seems to me, is to not be frightened of saying that you don’t know, when you don’t know. I think it is easy to be frightened of it. It is easy to think, particularly in a situation like this, that everybody else knows, and you don’t, which makes you an altogether inferior kind of being. I just can’t afford to take the risk of treading water – I don’t think any actor can. To me the prospect of going on stage and saying something I don’t understand is much hairier than standing in front of a room full of people and saying, actually I have no idea what this is about. You do have to steel yourself to do it.
Generally, Shakespeare is easier to play than other authors are, because he is better than other authors are; so half the job, at least, is done for you. If you say it accurately, speak the sense of it, and can be heard doing so, that is probably more or less job done. So far working here has not really been different from working with the RSC in Stratford, though it will be when we get onto the stage all the time.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as she goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.