All entries for Saturday 26 June 2010

June 26, 2010

Double Falsehood Rehearsal Diary: Day Three

Following yesterday's rehearsal, a question was brought up as to whether we should be trying to block so much of the action; we don't want it to look like a "bad" production as opposed to a "good" reading. I think the audience will forgive a lot if my introduction explains we're experimenting a bit and offering them what we can, but it's a very good point. There's a full run tonight (which I can't attend), and if there's too much action, to a point where it's making things more rather than less complex, then we'll rethink those scenes (particularly III.ii, the wedding, where there might be potential to make things a lot simpler, including having Leonora simply faint directly into her chair).

Act 1, Scene 1

In the absence of Josh Cockcroft, we've skipped over rehearsing this short scene for now, and it'll be done at the full run later. The most important aspect of this scene is in establishing Roderick (Sam Sturrock) as embodying some of the Duke's authority by proxy, which he'll carry for the rest of the play.

Act 2, Scene 3

We lacked Lawrence Gibson (Camillo) today, so the closing comic duologue between he and Nick Collins's Don Bernard was omitted from rehearsal. This scene will establish the dynamic between them which is inverted in III.iii following the disappearance of the children.

Henriquez (Simon Neill) begins this scene by picking up the letter discarded by Jo Foakes's Violante at the end of the previous scene. He scrumples it up and throws it away, allowing him to begin the scene with direct reference to Violante as he denies her ever having charms. Simon, as ever, has got Henriquez's mixture of guilt and reckless passion down to a tee, as delivered in his opening soliloquy.

Nick's Don Bernard all but drags in Emma Taylor's Leonora for her meeting wih Henriquez. Bernard is amusingly sycophantic with Henriquez and embarrassed by Leonora's behaviour in not immediately bowing to his authority. Henriquez attempts to kiss her hand at first meeting, which is refused. This is the scene which establishes Leonora's reactions to the new forced marriage, and so Emma struck a pleading tone, first kneeling to her father and then appealing to Henriquez's good nature. The transaction between the men is already completed though, so her woes are brushed aside. Simon drew out a really nice moment of conscience following her complaints, which I'd love to explore further if we had time - is "I was to blame to parley with her thus" meant to be particularly dark, considering he just raped Violante rather than "parley"? Bernard's dismissions are far more galling, including the point where he tells her to change her affections at his behest. Leonora, in the same speech, is continuing her negotiation with her father's authority, which here is far less of a joke than previously.

As Leonora's passions rise, so does she finally appeal to the memory of her mother, which seems to particularly rile Don Bernard, whose commands become far more forceful. It's only after she leaves that we get the comic inversion of the mother story: that Bernard's wife only married him to anger her father. By the end of the scene, everyone is in a state of some anxiety: Bernard of embarrassment, Henriquez of guilt and rejection, and Leonora as she struggles to find a way out of her predicament. The arrival of Camillo, which we still have to rehearse, should hopefully allow the scene to close on a more comic note.

Act 3, Scene 3

The weeping fathers scene, following the aborted wedding. Roderick once more governs the action, and there's a nice tension between him and Camillo that opens the scene - although again, without Lawrence, we've only rehearsed one side of this exchange so far. It gives Sam a great opportunity, though, to establish himself as the character of reason and calm, persuading Camillo to listen to him. Violante hides, though we didn't re-rehearse the closing section of the scene between her and her servant.

We also lacked the Citizen, but his interaction is entirely with Camillo. It's a fitting end to the unnamed but important role to be brushed offstage explicitly without thanks by the grieving father.

The drama of the scene takes off with the arrival of a broken Don Bernard, who stands at the opposite end to Camillo, with Roderick central and upstage - mirroring the later triangle pattern of the final scene, with Roderick in his father's position. As the fathers exchange woes and insults across the stage, Roderick eventually intervenes to interrupt and enforce a handshake (reluctant on Camillo's part). They part in separate directions to begin their search, at which point Violante steps forward to conclude the scene. We decided that an extension to the conceit of chairs being "offstage" would be that actors, when "hiding" onstage, stand behind the chairs.

Act 5, Scene 1

One last short scene, in two halves. Importantly, the actors have to explain at the start what has happened (Leonora has been kidnapped from the nunnery in which she was hiding). Roderick gets up and goes to Leonora's seat, raising her and putting his hand over her eyes. He escorts her downstage left and then takes his hands away from her eyes. Henriquez, meanwhile, stands stage right, in expectation and hope.

This scene was really powerful in action, I thought. Leonora is at first confused and dazed, and Roderick tries to soothe her by telling her the one thing that would scare her more than any other - that she has been liberated in order to marry Henriquez. She turns and sees her persecutor, and immediately rails against Roderick with such force that Roderick is forced to re-evaluate his position straightaway, standing next to Leonora in "defence" of her. Henriquez's protestations of love are by now, of course, utterly abhorrent to her, and she pulls away from him as he kneels before her. Roderick ushers the two offstage, calling after them (essentially so Henriquez behaves himself, we thought!), but is himself stalled by Violante, who crosses the stage and meets him centrally. This is a very short dialogue sequence, during which Roderick experiences two shocks - that Violante is a woman, and that Julio is alive, the second of which is particularly significant to him. Violante escorts him offstage as he promises good faith.

Epilogue

This is delivered by Lily Walker, and is one of the hardest and most complex speeches of the play. It's a "funny" 18th century epilogue to the play, that essentially mocks the action that has just taken place as being overly sentimental. Shockingly, she mocks the characters (especially Violante) for treating rape as a serious crime, and points out that in this enlightened age, thank God rape isn't a problem. She suggests that, if the play was written now, Violante would have taken the "fault" in her stride, married and then, if the Husband had noticed anything wrong, have nagged him for questioning her virtue. She also points out that men nowadays have enough work in hand with their own wives, let alone pursuing any others. Finally, she celebrates the play (and Shakespeare) as emblems of national spirit.

We talked a lot about how we could best stage this in a modern setting, where the same kinds of audience attitudes just cannot be sustained. We decided that what Lily is doing is critiquing an audience who laugh at rape as if it's a distant crime, by ingratiating herself with the shocking beliefs that she feels they have. Thus, her tone is one of mockery both ways, making fun of the play on the basis of cultural assumptions that are projected onto the audience. Lily did a great job with an extremely difficult speech, and I think on this basis we're able to justify the Epilogue, morally sickening as it is.


Double Falsehood Rehearsal Diary: Day Two

One of the biggest complications we keep coming up against is the problem of disguises. Happily, Theobald's adaptation appears to have neutered the effect of several of the (extremely numerous) instances of disguise in the play: both Julio and Leonora, for instance, throw off disguises as soon as they enter at certain points. In a rehearsed reading with only suggestive costume, one of the hardest things has been working out how much of this kind of action we need to represent, and how much we can leave to the text to suggest.

Act 1, Scene 2

This long scene introduces several of the major characters and is primarily conversational, so a lot of work for the actors to do. Some really interesting things came out of it though. Structurally, the two socially-ambitious fathers Camillo (Lawrence Gibson) and Don Bernard (Nick Collins) frame this scene. With Camillo, we got some lovely excitement over the idea that his son has been called to court, and it neatly sets up his generally humorous attitude throughout the play. As Julio (Tom Hutchinson) read his letter (downstage, and to himself), so Camillo stood further upstage, exulting in his own future honour.

The relationship between Julio and Leonora is a complex one in its first introduction. Emma Taylor gives a really interesting reading of Leonora which is greatly helping me shape my understanding of the character. She speaks a lot of obedience and filial obligation, particularly in this scene: first she critiques Julio for being too wedded to his father's good opinion, then later she promises her own obligation to Don Bernard. There's something very independent in this reading: she toys with Julio to test his love, and negotiates parental duty only so far as it suits her purpose. Julio, for his part, was frustrated with Leonora's coyness, but couldn't press his frustration too far - we played with his accusation of her "misbecoming" behaviour, quite an assertion for this young lover. This playful tension can't go too far though, and Emma brought out a far meeker and more openly affectionate side as she heard of Julio's summons to court. Her speech warning Julio that her faith may be tested while he is away reads, to me, as a genuine fear, but here it was played as a vaguely taunting threat - one that she has no intention of carrying out, of course, but allowed her prescience here to contrast beautifully with her actions later. Poor Julio, of course, is rather manipulated in this scene, but at least he draws from her those promises of genuine fidelity.

The closing sequence between Don Bernard (beautifully comic in Nick's performance, often smoking a pipe) and Leonora was great, allowing Leonora to continue her dutiful act for her overconfident father's sake. His rambling over other potential suitors not only shows his social ambitions, but reminds us that he feels he is entirely in control of Leonora's fate.

Act 2 Scene 4

This very short scene is simply staged, between Leonora in one corner and Josh Cockcroft's Citizen, who passes and is called over. We've doubled the Citizen with the Duke: the Duke is emblematic of reason and order, while the Citizen contrasts neatly with the false friendships of the play by being a "true" stranger, so there's something nice about the same actor playing two characters defined by their constancy. The dynamic sees Leonora trusting easily, in nice contrast to Violante's later mistrust of her servant. We injected a sense of urgency into the scene - with Don Bernard calling off stage and the unusual nature of the request, the Citizen has to react quickly, and leaves the stage with a sense of purpose.

Act 3, Scene 1

Another very short scene. While Leonora speaks her last words in the scene that has just ended, the Citizen carries his letter around the back of the semicircle of seats, and gives it to Julio at the far end. The two are then able to walk in together in mid-conversation, discussing the contents of the letter. Tom was able to start exploring the "madness" in the character as his anger against Henriquez manifests itself, while Josh continued being the bastion of sincerity.

Act 3, Scene 2

The wedding scene is one of the most complicated from a staging point of view, particularly when the actors are reading - it's one of the more physical sequences.

Leonora has a nice arc at the beginning, and Emma made a great deal of her doubts and paranoia in her opening soliloquy, contrasting them with her genuine relief on Julio's arrival. As soon as she was aware of his presence, she turned to leave without looking at him, negating the need for Tom to have a physical disguise to remove. Leonora took control of their subsequent conversation, while Tom continued the agitation that had begun in the previous scene, both threatening to draw his sword and calling on the gods. Leonora has the practical common sense: she hid Julio behind the semicircle of chairs on which the "offstage" actors sit, in order that he could watch the ensuing action.

As the scene "opens" for the wedding, we suggested that the rest of the cast can stand up, to make this a public scene. Don Bernard and Henriquez (Simon Neill) enter, with Bernard already treating Henriquez effectively as his son. Henriquez's tone in addressing Violante's withdrawal is one of disappointment and some frustration. Leonora will already have had a scene of pleading with the two men; here, she is far more resistant, pulling away from both as they come near. She does not obey Bernard's instruction to give her hand, and is grabbed by her father who puts their hands together.

This is where the more physical section of the scene begins. Julio bursts through from behind as Henriquez and Leonora take hands, and he takes her hand instead, pulling her over to the side of the stage. Henriquez and Julio face off centre-stage, until on "then I'll seize my right", Julio shoves Henriquez back, retreats to Leonora and makes as if to take her offstage. Henriquez immediately beckons to his servant (Tim Kaufmann), who crosses the stage and forces Julio away while Julio shouts his parting words. As this is happening, Henriquez moves towards Leonora, who faints against him and is lowered to the floor. He calls for help, and over her prostrate body Henriquez and Bernard find the dagger and letter that inform them of her plans. Leonora will then be helped offstage by her maid (Lily Walker) while the rest of the actors leave. We spent a while blocking this sequence, which we'll rehearse again during the full run.

Act 5, Scene 2

Very possibly the most complicated sequence to block, but surprisingly coherent in the reading. These multiple-revelation/reunification scenes (notoriously the finale to Cymbeline) compress a lot of information and can be difficult to make clear, so I was really pleased to see how quickly and easily the actors individuated their characters and interpreted the various dynamics and exchanges of this long scene.

Dramaturgically, the key is that the Duke (Josh Cockcroft again) stays upstage as the static "audience" for the multiple revelations, while Roderick (Sam Sturrock), who is stage-managing events, is very mobile. I was extremely pleased to find that the scene lends itself very immediately to a formal and patterned symmetry of revelations, which looked remarkably clear in action.

Bernard and Camillo continue their bickering, with Bernard now a broken man. Camillo continues to be relatively amusing, though with a very bitter, sarcastic tone; while the Duke is sober and formal, and also unknowing. As well as being the bringer of order, his absence from the play since I.i means that he acts as an audience surrogate, forcing events to be retold before him so that he can pass appropriate judgement.

A Gentleman (Sam Jefferyes) has a quick walk on role to introduce Roderick, who then enters to co-ordinate the reunions. Rather than make too much fuss of disguises, he simply beckons on Henriquez and Leonora from their seats, who enter upstage together, walking past the Duke to centre-stage. They immediately go to their fathers, Henriquez kneeling before the displeased Duke and Leonora embracing her father. There's thus straightaway an uneven pattern of two fathers with their children and then one without, which Camillo plays on.

The Duke delivers his speech about the authority of parents - which we might play slightly mockingly, but in context has the ring of patriarchal authority that the 18th century theatre demands. It's important that this speech be significant, as it is followed immediately by Leonora's (perfectly reasonable and appropriate) conditions placed on her obedience, which offer Emma a nice closure to her character's ongoing negotiation with filial duty throughout. We follow that with a bit of comedy as Camillo continues to insult Don Bernard to his face.

Violante, still in boy's clothes, appears at the side of the stage and catches the Duke's attention. At Roderick's introduction of Violante, Henriquez and Roderick begin a spat across the length of the stage (they've both retreated to the edges by this point), which gets increasingly heated as Henriquez denies the conspiracy. Jo Foakes plays Violante-in-disguise nicely meek, and the presence of the Duke makes her words safe, despite Henriquez's protestations. Violante exits, and Roderick reads the letter, at which Simon's Henriquez begins to undergo his shift, as he realises his earlier faults are being exposed. The dispute reaches its head as Sam wonderfully puts down Henriquez with "You are a boy".

Violante, now with hair down, and Julio (still hunched in his mad pose) enter upstage, where Julio remains, out of the semi-circle for now. Violante moves forward to centre-stage, all eyes on her. There's the beginnings of a wonderful pattern here in Henriquez and Violante's reunion, which takes place in front of the Duke, who ratifies their taking of hands with his own hand. The reunited lovers kiss, and move to one side of the stage, the first reunited couple, while Leonora remains by her father. Roderick then brings Julio forward, who stands in some distraction as Leonora moves in wonder towards him. He "comes out" of his madness to greet her, and they embrace, again in front of the Duke. The comedy continues with Camillo: Julio's back is to him, leading Camillo eventually to tap him roughly on the shoulder in order to establish his identity, after which he tells him to get back to kissing Leonora. The Duke joins Julio and Leonora's hands, and the two of them move to the other side of the stage, completing the symmetry. Finally, the Duke orders Julio and Henriquez to make up, and they embrace, again in front of the Duke, completing the three most important reunions.

In the final closing up, the Duke gifts honours to Violante from where she stands next to Henriquez, and moves himself back to centre-stage in order to get verbal consent from the group. Play ends in a nicely-patterned tableaux: Duke and Roderick central as authorities; Julio, Leonora and Don Bernard on their left; Henriquez, Violante and Camillo on their right. I was really pleased, I'll say again, with how the very simple staging really brought out the formal patterns here, and this is the bit I'm most proud of at the moment in terms of what the staged reading is bringing out of the text.


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I’m Peter Kirwan, a final year doctoral student in the English Department at Warwick, and this is my PhD blog.


Conferences, reviews, articles, thoughts and links relating to my interests in the Shakespeare apocrypha, early modern drama, authorship and performance.

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