Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Performance Notes 1

This is Marcello's fifth blog entry for the 2005 production of Pericles in which he discusses the first performance, audiences at the Globe and adlibbing in Shakespeare, amongst other things.

Transcript of Podcast

First performance

The first show seems a long time ago! I think we were not as open to the laughter and to the space as we could have been. The rehearsal process was very organic and then in the fifth week we had to put everything together. The work continued through our tech week – we concentrated on finding the pattern and structure of the play within the scenes, and making sure that the different elements of the scenes flowed together… the aerial work, the dances, the music, the physical images, entrances, exits – so many things! The energy we put into those two weeks was enormous and time flew by. Suddenly after four days of tech, we had to play. We arrived at first night like a tornado, so perhaps that's why we were a bit tense. The theatre can be quite scary if you’ve never played here before and this was the first time for quite a few of our cast. Our second show had a different sprit; suddenly there was a lot of playfulness. We allowed laughter and pleasure into the performance, and the characters blossomed because we were open. We went from being very good students to inhabiting the story.

What I love about the Globe is that people in the audience really become part of the plays. The stories matter to them. A few nights ago, after the tournament when Thaisa put the medal on Pericles’ chest, this wonderful applause burst out of nothing. Why did they clap? For love – they lived the love story and it matters to them. It's as if they’re part of this royal event and there's a wonderful feeling that we’re telling the story together. Doing it together is important – as Patrice (our Gower) reminds everyone at the beginning of the second half of the play. Another wonderful thing is the way the audience celebrate the world of the aerialists as part of the play; they really love that dimension. In the first storm, the aerial work is integrated with the boat built by the chorus. It's quite sculptural. For the knights’ tournament, the aerialists put on an Olympian display and it's wonderful to see how they inhabit those characters.

A lot of us feel more and more that the story has become our own. The journey of Pericles feels especially poignant now because of Corin's illness. He had to be taken to hospital and is away from us. In a way, the play has become the journey of Corin. Mark [Rylance] is playing Pericles at the moment and when he lies asleep on the bed after being reunited with Marina, it's very emotional. It's all pertinent, a part of the journey. Somehow the play has been liberated by the events – it has become our own.


During the tech I discovered a new dimension to Simonides when I put a wig on my head! The hair is curly and almost white-blonde, very long and wavy with sort of floppy quiff that falls across the right side of my face. At first it was difficult when it covered my face entirely, but I learned to play with it and now it's a feature! I’m learning to play with Simonides’ sense of responsibility as an honourable host. He's very much the honourable gentleman who wants to invite the entire Globe to his party. I’ve not yet achieved that confidence that everyone is there at my party… some nights I have it and it's a wonderful feeling. That's Simonides’ journey and his challenge; to invite the entire Globe to his party and entertain them.

Simonides has a fight with Pericles when he's pretending to be angry about his daughter's choice of husband. As a father from the South, he thinks honour is very important, especially where my daughter is concerned. The stakes are very high and sometimes the challenges of young men have to be settled in a duel. We improvised on that idea in rehearsals and everybody laughed, so we thought we would keep it. Little by little Robbie [young Pericles] and I have been developing the routine. At the moment we also include Patrice [Gower] who becomes like our referee, counting the seconds that we hold each other, or the number of punches landed. It's wonderful because it shows you their situation: an upset father and his young would-be son-in-law have to fight for the girl. Simonides is fighting to give her to Pericles, who is fighting to take her away. Simonides loves his daughter and although the fight is fun, it is hard for him to give her away. I try to show that in the moment when they’re dancing at the wedding. I hold onto her scarf and I’m trying to say, ‘She's going to go, she's going to live in another house, she's going to go abroad and I don’t know I will never see her again.’ She's my daughter and I love her so much that at the same time I’m pleased that she will go and start a new life with a family. It's a mix of joy and pain.

Audience connection

Boult has quite a wild, interactive relationship with the audience. In the Globe, that kind of involvement is immediately received with pleasure. When the fishermen start to fish a groundling from the audience, that person becomes part of the play – they become an actor, a fish, and it's a joy. Today when Patrice (our Gower) asked the audience where we left the ‘woeful queen’ [Chorus, Act four], a lady sitting far back in the lower gallery said ‘Ephesus’ in a very clear voice. She was the only one in the auditorium that knew where the queen had been left and Patrice invited her on stage. So I ran down and guided her up onto our jetty [forestage]. She came on stage, gave an extraordinary bow and said the line ‘His woeful queen we leave at Ephesus.’ The audience gave her a huge cheer and she was over the moon; the story became all-embracing.

Boult does a bit of that interaction all the time. He tries to sell prostitutes and buy new girls… straightaway there's a dialogue with the yard. Kathryn [Master of Play] is encouraging us to play with the audience. I’m convinced the play is there in the lines, then of course the brothel scenes get darker and we threaten Marina: I feel the audience somehow step back. From being the naughty, anarchic servant doorkeeper, Boult becomes ugly and horrible. The audience go ‘Well, we don’t know if we like him.’ But now we are developing the contract between Marina and Boult, I feel that the audience swings back to my character. It's not just the money that convinces him to help Marina; he recognises her special quality. From being charming and naughty, he's threatening and then sees a bit of light in his neutral life. There's a nice moment when Marina thanks him for promising to help; I pat her shoulder in an awkward, embarrassed way and she gives me a kiss – he's surprised and embarrassed, but in a good way. That's an interesting journey.

As Boult, I try to stir up the lewdly inclined in the audience! Kathryn has built a lovely bit of play into the beginning of the brothel scene [IV.ii] which gives Boult the chance to have a great dialogue with them. We arrive in Mytilene as part of a funeral procession (it's the funeral of the Transylvanian who died of a disease he caught at the brothel) and as the burial service goes on, I try to sell prostitutes to the groundlings. I’m bartering with them, stopping now and again to join in with the ‘Amens’! He's trying to sell the prostitute. He's trying to find the girl for the brothel. He's trying to find business… at the end of the service I say ‘Come on, sir don’t be shy! Don’t be shy – any price any price. Come on, any buyer? Meet me outside on the piazza!’ It's very much part of the Globe.


In a way, adlibbing is more dangerous because you know that's not part of Shakespeare, but new lines ‘grow up’ in many productions. We’re treating the text as an evolution. I worked a lot with Theatre d’Complicite and of course we devised our shows; when we did text, instead of thinking ‘This is a text,’ we thought ‘This is a story. How can we tell it so that it's clear and present?’ Often you have to add something. As Kathryn chose to have a young Pericles and an old Pericles, we really needed to make that journey as clear as possible and the ad-libbing is part of that. It's not to destroy Shakespeare. Some people get very uptight ‘This is not Shakespeare!’ but I think we have the right as artists to express new angles on the text. We shouldn’t be scared of change. Shakespeare was writing his plays at a time when adlibbing would have been quite normal, and I bet one night's performance was always different from the next. He borrowed the material from plays and poems and then elaborated on it. We’re taking another little step.


The last of my three characters is Helicanus. Since Mark has started playing Pericles, Helicanus has become funny in a way that I didn’t expect. There's a strange sense of Pericles being very naughty and anarchic, therefore Helicanus almost shares in that ... it's like two clowns. At one moment, my character seems to doubt that Pericles can hear music. I’m trying to listen to the music that Pericles says he can hear, but I don’t hear it so I’m perplexed. Pericles hears it and looks at me – seeing that I can’t hear anything, he says ‘O Helicanus that still seems to doubt.’ Mark whacked me on the forehead just then and made everyone laugh! That cheekiness is wonderful.

Wide awake

Before a performance, I almost have to make myself nervous. And by nervous, I mean that I have to feel how important it is to tell this story. We sometimes have to change from one character to another in the time it takes to change costume, so it's very important to be wide awake and ready to go. My nervousness is more like alertness. If you are not totally geared up in your head, things can go wrong: like today, I said ‘But shall I go and search the market?’ and left the stage… suddenly there is the Pandar saying ‘Oh the poor Transylvanian, is dead that lay with the little baggage.’ I was off stage and realised ‘Oh!’ then ran on to say ‘Ay, she quickly poop’d him, she made him roast meat for worms!’ [IV.ii] So I think nervousness happens when you haven’t rehearsed enough. But there is a good nervous energy that's to do with being geared up and ready, being alert like a cat. I like to be in that state.


To get ready for a show, I run for 40 minutes and do stretching exercises. Then I do all the text with my tongue stuck out and make certain sounds to warm up the voice. We all play a kind of volleyball together in the theatre yard; we use our feet and the aim is to try to keep the ball up, passing to each other as many times as we can. You really have to concentrate so it helps to wake up your mind as well as your body. I do lots of vocal exercises because my articulation is Italian. I repeat sounds ‘the the the tha tha tha thee thee thee they they they thu thu thu’ and say tongue twisters so I can articulate words quickly and clearly. One Italian tongue-twister I use is: ‘tigre contro tigre, tigre contro tigre.’ [Tiger against tiger] I use some English ones too: ‘She sells seashells on the sea shore, she sells seashells on the seashore’ and ‘Red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather’ (then ‘Red lorry, yellow lorry, red lorry, yellow lorry, red lorry, yellow leather, red lorry, yellow leather’!) It also helps to massage the muscle between the cheek bone and the jaw; this is one of the strongest muscles that we have, and it's important to relax it. Saying the text with your tongue stuck out means you have to make a real effort to make as every single word as clear as possible. To end the warm-up, we all go through the dance, the jig at the end of the play. It's like when you get ready to play a football match: you warm up and there's suddenly a different kind of energy.


The show was far too long when we opened so we had to make a lot of adjustments during the previews. We rehearsed in the day and performed in the evening – I think we cut something about 25 minutes off the running time. Certain sections were lost, some passages came quicker (the speeches at the beginning of the first Tharsus scene, for example). The show got very fast – running at three hours. Now we’re getting a bit long again… we need to keep it short. That process keeps us on our toes; the text is clearer after rehearsing during the day. You gather your energy and really concentrate on the show. It's like training for a sports event; if you train often, your body can react faster, jump higher, run quicker. After a rest period, muscles go dormant. So I like to rehearse in the day – in a funny way, you are reminded of your task. Another element that's very important is that it's not you by yourself: we’re in a collective and this show is very much about working as a collective. As a team we have to work with the same pulse – if we don’t warm-up together before the show, how can you find the communal pulse? When we run through scenes before the show, it's easier to remember, ah, this is how I fit into the rhythm of the scene and the rhythm of the other actors.

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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