Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Production Notes 2

In his final blog post Alex talks about taking the play to Hampton Court Palace: what changes had to be made, the different performing space, and how the running time changed.

Transcript of Podcast

Hampton Court Palace

We had a really good time. The other casts found it quite difficult, but I think word had gotten round that the shows were good by the time we moved, so our audiences were larger. Also, Measure for Measure was the last show there, so more people came to our performances for that reason and we had full houses. We found that we learnt quite a lot about the play by putting it into a smaller space. The Great Hall was completely different from the Globe, like a more conventional theatre space. I found the most startling thing was the silence. There weren’t any planes or boats or wind or birds – sometimes there wasn't much laughter, for that matter. I found I could hold a moment in a very different way; at the Globe, I feel the need to drive things through because if I pause for too long, the energy doesn’t hang in the air in the same way. The audience start to get distracted, then move about and distract each other. At Hampton Court Palace, members of the audience couldn’t see each other so they were all just focussing on us. You can’t really see the audience in the same way, at least if it's night time, because when the sky gets darker, the lighting isn’t the same as it is at the Globe. I think the Hall was a more intimate space, which made for more intimate acting somehow… things would hold in a very different way, in a way that I don’t think they ever could here at the Globe. We did things there that we can’t do here. It was great to try new things, but it was also useful to bring the show back here [the Globe] and find out how those new ideas worked (or didn’t work) in the Globe space.

For example, there was one performance at Hampton Court when I really took a lot of time making my decisions in the scene with Isabella [III.1]. I just let pauses and thoughts hold for a long time, because I thought ‘Well, it's an opportunity to try something in this space which I can’t try at the Globe. I might as well see how it works.’ I don’t know if it did work… I think it did. I felt that I could just float the ‘Ay, but to die’ speech out into the silence, whereas here [at the Globe] I find that harder to do. There, I was almost floating it out into a dark space and it became more to do myself, the character, as opposed to the audience. Then again, I chose to use the audience a lot more in the same speech yesterday [at the Globe]. I moved right in front of the stage as far as I could go. Someone laughed, so I ‘jumped’ on them and tried to use that. Those two ways of doing it are so different and completely site-specific.

People walked by our dressing stands coming in, and I didn’t mind that at all. That was fine. We did a sort of promenade as well at the beginning, to really chat to the audience and to relax them – I think the reason was to encourage audience response. It was a pity that the comic aspects of the play didn’t get as many reactions at Hampton Court Palace. The play did get a bit of a different edge there. The audience still laughed, though, and at the end they were still warm and responsive. They just didn’t get whipped up into the same sort of strange frenzy that they do at the Globe sometimes. Here, at the end of Act five, the audiences go crazy sometimes, whereas they didn’t at Hampton Court Palace. At the Globe, some of the jokes that are quite funny, without being ‘Bring the house down’ funny, do bring the house down. At Hampton Court Palace, they were just quite funny, because the audience hadn’t been whipped up in the same way. That was okay, though – I think it meant that other layers of the play became more important.

Changes for Hampton Court Palace

The jigs changed, but not hugely so. It was mostly a case of reworking the way we brought things like the table on and off. We had a smaller table. Nothing major changed. In terms of spacing, we had a big aisle down the middle of the audience, and that was slightly weird because we were there on stage, and in front of us was this big aisle with nothing in it. All the audience was banked on the side, so we could use that spot as a good place to talk to someone, because you aren’t blocking anyone. We did one technical rehearsal in the space, but we didn’t really do much more, so the playing was always rather spontaneous. Everyone knows how to use a conventional space anyway, so it didn’t feel all that difficult.

The space

The ceiling in the Great Hall is very, very high and echo-y; if we got too loud, the sound lost clarity, because it echoed all around. It just meant we had to act in a certain way: not too loud, but clear. Diction and enunciation were very important. I had to be extra-careful to put consonants in clearly so that they are understandable in the space. The position of the audience and their different distances from the stage made finding the right volume an interesting challenge: there were people very close to the stage and down the sides, effectively right next to us, and there were people absolutely miles away, right at the back. I had to be loud enough so that the people far away could hear, without being too loud for the people close by.

Having audience members along the sides of the Hall was strange because there were so few of them, just two rows. Those rows did make the space feel more ‘in the round’, but all in all I think it was more important to give the show to the main body of people. I played to the people at the sides less than I normally do at the Globe. In the Great Hall, I mostly played to that main frontal section.

Running time

The show was considerably longer while we were playing there, and I think it was for the reason that I mentioned earlier – we were able to hold pauses for longer. I didn’t think that additional length was necessarily a bad thing, and it was much longer! Although, having said that, we had our longest show ever two days ago, at the Globe! We didn’t intend to do that. I don’t think things sagged at Hampton Court; it certainly didn’t feel like a desperately slow show. It just took a really long time and I think that's because we bounced off the space… there were new things that we could put in.

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.

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