Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 2

This is the second bulletin from the Nurse (Panny Layden). It covers Penny's first week of rehearsals, her developing sense of the Nurse's key relationships and dance rehearsals.

Transcript of Podcast

First week: Table sessions

The rehearsal process has very much been in steps, so it’s actually really easy to describe. With this process, the first time you look at the scene you do a ‘table session’, which is where all the characters in the scene sit down with Dominic [Dromgoole, director] and Giles [Block, textual adviser] and you basically go through the text and translate it into your own words. So, for example, we’ve just done a scene where I’ve said, “Well, there’s a clean smock under your pillow” (4.3.6), so I translated that as “I’ve put a clean nightie under your pillow”. Although it’s very simple, and not pressured at all, Dominic is very good at making you be very specific about things. If you have an ‘Ah weladay’ at the start of that sentence, he doesn’t let you just skip it! So it’s great to think about it that closely; it’s not just about me knowing what I’m saying but also about everybody in the scene knowing exactly what we’re talking about, because that’s the immediate context.

Key Relationships

Obviously she is very close to Juliet; she wet-nursed her, brought her up, and has really mothered her. I was given a bit of research from the Library at the Globe, called ‘Quarrelling with the Dug’, which is all about wet-nursing. That was really fascinating, and it has made me think that all the Nurse’s power comes from the fact that Lady Capulet needs her; because of the wet-nursing, her bond with Juliet and with the family is intrinsically there.

Because of that, the Nurse’s relationship to Juliet’s mother is really interesting. Miranda [Foster] is giving Lady Capulet this poise and class and spikiness that the Nurse doesn’t really have (that’s not to say the Nurse can’t spike when she wants to), but as a result, the Nurse is much easier and closer with Juliet. And she shows Lady Capulet this all the time by claiming Juliet as her own in front of her. There’s an awful lot of claiming language; the Nurse is constantly emphasising “when I nursed her, when she tasted my nipple, when she was on my dug, when I did this.” The way in which we play the scenes with the three characters is also showing that physically, the Nurse and Juliet very comfortable and easy with each other whereas it’s much more formal between Lady Capulet.

We’ve explored the relationship with Lord Capulet a bit less, but that seems to have come quite naturally in the rehearsal process. I think we have quite an honest relationship, and at times, it can be quite jokey; later on, when they’re getting ready the night before the wedding, she says to Capulet “Go, you cot-quean, go. / Get you to bed. Faith, you’ll be sick tomorrow,” (4.4.6-7), which is quite maternal, but also a bit cheeky. It’s that cheekiness that means he sometimes has to remind her of what her status is, like in the scene where Juliet refuses to marry Paris.

And then, lastly, there’s her manservant Peter. We have this kind of tetchy relationship where she lauds it over him. We found that particularly at the end of the scene where she goes to find Romeo for Juliet; her lines are: “Peter, take my fan and go before at a pace”, and originally I had played it quite straight. But Dominic told me to stay where I was and make Peter come to me, so that he has to fetch the fan. It’s like a play for Romeo, for him to see how important I am. She’s got to show off to somebody. There are really nice touches, but it’s those that make good story-telling.

Voice work with Jan Haydn-Rowles

This week I’ve also had a voice work session with Jan [Haydn-Rowles] who is the voice coach at the Globe on this production. We talked a lot about using my Yorkshire voice for the Nurse, and Jan’s incredibly knowledgeable about accent placement and the associations with different voices. She said that she thought Yorkshire was a really good choice, because it’s very direct; it doesn’t go up at the end, waiting for the listener to agree with it – it calls a spade a spade! I was worried at first that I would be too broad, but Dominic reassured me that even though it can be quite strong, I can still be subtle and bring out lots of different flavours in it.

At first, Jan and I talked about the first line in her long speech in the first scene:

Even or odd, of all days in the year,
Come Lammas-eve at night shall she be fourteen.
Susan and she--God rest all Christian souls!—
Were of an age: well, Susan is with God;
She was too good for me: but, as I said,
On Lammas-eve at night shall she be fourteen;
That shall she, marry; I remember it well.
'Tis since the earthquake now eleven years;
And she was wean'd,--I never shall forget it,--
Of all the days of the year, upon that day:
For I had then laid wormwood to my dug,
Sitting in the sun under the dove-house wall;
My lord and you were then at Mantua:--
Nay, I do bear a brain:--but, as I said,
When it did taste the wormwood on the nipple
Of my dug and felt it bitter, pretty fool,
To see it tetchy and fall out with the dug!


Right from the first three words, you get these hard consonant sounds married with long vowel sounds; it’s almost a percussive accent where you can be quite musical with it (although obviously not singing it)!

The Yorkshire accent is also going to be very useful in that it relishes the sounds that you make. When you’ve got emotional speeches, the vowels tend to carry the emotion. When I had my session with Jan I asked if we could look at the scene where she thinks Juliet is dead. The Nurse has got whole speeches when she thinks Juliet’s dead, like “O, woe! Oh woeful, woeful, woeful day.” (4.5.49), and we talked a lot about this “O” sound, which is so primal and so full of grief. The way those sounds are carried on this accent seems to pack more of a punch somehow.

Dancing – the Masked Ball

We’ve been dancing a lot! In the first week, the full company had a session with Sîan [Williams, choreographer] for the masked ball, where we just touched on very simple partner work dances, using rhythms and lots of percussion: stamping and clapping and so on. And today, we’ve just had another session this afternoon, which has been looking at the dancing for the masked ball – the Nurse will definitely be having dancing at the party … with Benvolio!

It’s interesting that even something like the dancing can inform your character. When everyone enters into the party, old Capulet is so drunk that he falls over, so originally we were just going to have the Nurse pick him up and then get stuck with him. But now that the Nurse has been paired with Benvolio, I’m able to tell more of a story with the character. So when she picks up Capulet, I want her to be looking round, trying to find who she’ll have her next dance with.

These comments are the actor's thoughts and ideas about the part as he goes through the rehearsal process - they are simply his own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsals progress.

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