In his penultimate blog post, Mo discusses press night and reviews, performing to a visible audience and the highs and lows of performing in a theatre with an open roof.
Transcript of Podcast
I think the first nights are not necessarily a reflection of how the work will develop and mature, or the work you have already done. But I think people liked it, but the proof is in the audiences we get throughout the season. The show got good reviews, Dominic got good reviews, individual actors even got good reviews, but then conversely, a lot of us got bad reviews, and we’ve seen that happen with Titus Andronicus too. It's just so arbitrary.
This one was a bit special because it was the first night of a new regime – Dominic Dromgoole's first season as Artistic Director - , so we were all willing Dominic and the new regime to be welcomed in and to be favoured. And I think for the most part they were.
One of the papers did a composite review, a review of all the reviews that have been written in all of the papers. I’m told that overall the show got a composite mark of something like 7/10 or 8/10 which is pretty good I think. I try not to read any reviews. I read them all afterwards, when it is too late to do anything. I think I learnt this from an older actor, because he told me that you play the reviews whether they are good or bad, so when someone said ‘I loved that thing that you did’ you take it to heart and you play it up and it becomes distorted; your performance is no longer in balance. And conversely, if they say something bad about what you have done, that is really upsetting if you don’t have a very thick skin. I think many actors have quite a thin skin because we are ‘open’ and it does affect you.
During our technical rehearsals we had a great experience because there were various school tours going round the theatre as we rehearsed and at points Dominic would grab a group and say ‘Can you be the groundlings please?’ So I thought that the first night would be easy because we had been used to having all these people watching. But it is actually very different! We had a full house so there were lots and lots of faces but what was great about it was that they just wanted us to succeed. I was actually very nervous but everything I did, they clapped!
I love it being able to see the audience and make eye contact. I was very lucky to do a show in the round called Oedipus at the Arcola Theatre. The play was told in a similar way to African story telling and that is very much the same technique as you use with the Globe. We had our version of the groundlings, but we had rush matting all around, and people sat on that with cushions. That was for a 6 week run of Oedipus and that was great preparation. It was good to have done that because walking out into a packed Globe Theatre wasn’t as much of a shock as it would have been.
I find it great to be able to see the audience because there are lines that you can specifically direct at the audience. There is one moment when Coriolanus comes to Aufidius’ house and says, ‘Look, I’ll fight for you if you’ll have me, if not, kill me.’ And I say something like ‘it's great to have you.’ And there is one line when I am mock warning him, I tell him ‘Why thou Mars! I tell thee/ We have a power on foot…' and the power on foot seems to me to be the groundlings and so when I say that line I look into the yard. It is almost as if it was written just for them! So it is actually great because you can use the audience to direct your actions.
The poor cast of Titus Andronicus have had rain during almost every performance. We’ve been fairly lucky and have had lots of fair weather. One night, however, the weather became part of the performance! At one point, Coriolanus takes his mum's hand when she comes to beg him not to raze Rome to the ground and he says ‘Oh mother, what have you done? Behold the heavens do ope’. And at that exact moment it started to rain! The audience laughed of course. I think there is something really magical about acting with an open roof. There's loads of stuff that Aufidius says to Coriolanus ‘Look at yonder cloud…’ or ‘The moon…’ and so on, and at various performances you can see the moon or you can see the clouds. It's just really 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.