Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 6

This is Che's sixth and final blog entry for the 2007 procution of Othello in which he discusses preview week.

Transcript of Podcast

Preview week

This is the fifth night of preview week. The first night was the strangest experience I have ever had on stage. The audience were so unruly, they move around, they chat, they talk about you, they go out and get a drink, they come back, they hissed Iago at certain points and went ‘woooo’ when Othello and Desdemona kissed. It was so much fun! I don’t think I have ever had as much fun on stage. It was brilliant. It was very interesting because you could see them! I am used to modern theatres where they shine a light on you and the audience are in the dark. You can kind of perceive shapes and you sort of notice glinting glasses sometimes, but at the Globe they are just there! There is nothing between you. It is so democratic.

The effect it had on me was that it was so easy to be distracted, that I had to really lock on to the other actors, twice as hard, focus on what they are saying and really make sure I am in the moment. It was very adrenilizing. It was incredibly warm and just really exciting. I learnt a lot about Shakespeare.

When I teach Shakespeare, the kids hate Shakespeare; their previous experiences are overwhelmingly negative. Shakespeare has been used to bludgeon them over the head, to tell them two things: one, that England is great, and two, that they are not clever enough to understand it. It makes me very angry and I have always said to my students that Shakespeare would be furious if he knew. Shakespeare is supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be exciting, and it’s supposed to be muscular. And now I feel completely vindicated, because it is clear that the audience understand everything that happens on that stage and the fact that they are so visceral and vocal in their response to the play, to me, proves it! The fact that close to a thousand people, many of whom are standing all the way through, and yeah they might go to the loo or go and get a drink, but they are not leaving in big droves, means that they understand it, it means that it is clear. This experience has been very inspiring.

And then you have these really dizzy dizzying moments where you suddenly think this is near enough what it must have been like in Shakespeare’s day. It’s an amazing experience.


The previews have highlighted some problems. The show is too long. We’ve worked hard to find a lot of cuts. We’ve cut nearly forty minutes from the show. Some of which, because I love this play, break my heart. The lines are so beautiful, but Wilson [the director] has had to be very ruthless.

We did a brilliant workshop with Patsy Rodenberg about picking up each others cues and without ever gabbling it or rushing it, just how to be urgent with it. She said a wonderful thing: ‘the characters speak to survive and they fully expect that their words will change the world.’ I am trying to keep that in the forefront of my mind whilst I am on stage.

We have re-blocked certain bits. Wilson has cut the bed canopy. In the murder scene Desdemona is wheeled on, on this bed, and this 25 foot canopy drops down from above over the bed. Othello comes in and chases her round and knocks and her down and grabs the sheet and pulls it, it flutters in the night air as it comes down, and he uses it to strangle her, but now it has been cut. But, it takes too long. Cutting the canopy has saved us five minutes and it was an unreliable prop that caused problems. I agree with Wilson’s reasoning which is that the whole point about that incredible space is that it is about actors and language. Up until that point in the play the set consists of a table, a bed, and two stools and that is it. The canopy didn’t quite fit.

The pyrotechnics can be problematic. The first show they didn’t go off. They are in my scene. The canon cues my line. On Friday I was standing there wondering ‘when is the canon going to go off?’ We covered for it, but it keeps you on your toes! Last night they were fine though.

The first couple of shows you just have this adrenaline rush but now I am starting to realise we have to do this show eighty times! It is very athletic, I don’t know how Eamonn [Othello] and Tim [Iago] must feel? I have noticed that both have them have dropped weight and it’s not because they are working out. It is the muscularity of having to speak that much and breathe that much. I have noticed we have all started to maintain our bodies. We are all keeping fit and making sure that we are warmed up before going on stage. This is for real! We are doing this till August and we can’t have a night off!

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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