This is Margot's final blog post. This week she discusses performing in a long run, reading reviews and the relationship between the stage and the audience.
Transcript of Podcast
Performing in a long run
You hope for each performance to be newly coined or invented every time, for the performance to be all about the other actors and how they are playing it, and your reactions and how you interact with them. You shouldn’t think, “Oh, I did it like this the last time and it worked so I’ll just do that again” because that is always deathly. Playing your ‘best’ bits or your ‘effective’ bits and thinking, “I used to get upset there, I’ll do that again” is always tempting, but always deadly. Some nights you have to do that because you can’t find a way to ‘hack’ your way back into the emotional centre of the play.
During one performance, I had a really hard time getting into the play and I actually didn’t really get into the part until Volumnia's last, long scene. I was sat there feeling tense and miserable before going on, and it was just spitting with rain, and it just wet my ears with little drops of rain and one rain drop filled up the little cup of my ear which made me remember when I was expecting my first baby which was a little boy, and I lay on my back as you do in an examination and the nurse said, ‘Do you want to hear the baby's heartbeat?’ I had no idea you could do this, but said yes, not actually having any idea what that would be like. So she put the stethoscope in my ear and the end on my tummy and I heard this very fast and high beep, beep, beep, beep…it was like having a little sub-mariner in there or something! I was so astounded. I didn’t even know I was moved but I must have immediately sprung tears, because they sprung out of the corners of my eyes and ran down the sides of my face and filled up my ears and then spilled out of my ears because there were so many! And when I put my head up, sitting outside there in the dark, before going on to talk to Coriolanus, I must have triggered off a memory or an image in my head of that moment which was so useful. That revived a set of intense feelings and images about my little baby-boy-to-be. It helped me to open myself up to my pretend son on stage.
You have to stay open to those things coming at you. Maybe you’ll have read something in the paper and it will make you look at the play again. But you have to keep on turning it over so that you don’t do some sort of ‘karaoke’ acting. It is quite hard to do. You bore yourself. It's about how to be fully present, how to be really, really there and not just acting. It's funny because acting is what you do, but you need to stay with it. Just repeating; that is what makes audiences go to sleep and say that Shakespeare is boring. If everyone is only half there then you are all united in this thing which has absolutely no point and you might as well have all stayed at home rather than travel in all this way to ‘recite’ bits of dead blank verse.
I do read reviews, not because I wish to do so but because I would rather know what is out there for good or bad. It's rather like when you have the test and the doctor knows whether it is a boy or a girl and you can choose to know or not, and some people decide not to know. And I thought why? Why should all these doctors and nurses know whether I’m having a boy or a girl and I’ve decided not to? So I would always want to know what was said, even though I know how absolutely barking it is, from responses to other productions I have been in, I know how wide of the market it is, but it still unfortunately has most of us by the throat because it will form the public perception of what you are doing whether it is good or bad. So we are all in thrall to it.
I’m not sure whether reviews affect my performance. I think a very bad review would affect my confidence a great deal. I think the reviews have been mainly positive. I think they can have a very bad affect. Sometimes they can have a settling effect; I think the actors in Titus Andronicus are feeling massive relief and happiness because they have had such an endorsement from the papers. So reviews can have a positive effect but they can also be one of the more destructive aspects of the work.
Each review is only a perception, but it is a very significant perception that is going to hold more weight than Joe Bloggs’ perception. People rightly, sweetly and sometimes misguidedly scan the papers to find out what's good. They actually think that they can trust some of these peculiar middle aged men who are theatre reviewers who are telling them what to think and where to go.
I think that audience contact is amazing, especially with this play the Globe, and it can tell you a lot about how the play is being received. The audience like it, they feel part of the event, more included in the event, and a little bit exposed. It's also good to have one's friends’ and family's reactions alongside the critical reviews because you need to test out reviews and compare and contrast. Often people lie about what they think about the actual theatre. I find that people think of Shakespeare as similar to going to church; ‘It's good to be bored’ or, ‘It's good for your soul’ and it is a ‘worthy’ thing to do, like going to the opera. It's as if because it's high culture then it must be good for you, even if it is completely incomprehensible twaddle. I think most people's experience of theatre when they are teenagers is mind-numbingly boring stuff and it often takes a particular production to wake them up to what theatre can be.
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.