Double Falsehood Rehearsal Diary: Day One
On Sunday 27th June, Warwick's Shakespeare Society are performing a rehearsed reading of Brean Hammond's text of Double Falsehood (quite possibly the first public reading of the text since it was published in March, though there may have been ones I'm unaware of). I'm involved in this as a sort of Assistant Director/Textual Advisor, and we had our first proper rehearsal yesterday.
Time's very tight, so we're only getting to run through each scene a couple of times before the final performance on Sunday. The whole ethos of the thing is experimental. We're staying on-text, using minimal trimmings, but trying to block as much of it as possible, so that even though it's a reading, audiences can get a sense of how it can/might/does look on its feet.
I'm going to use this blog to post some notes from rehearsals. The great benefit for me with doing this is the chance to see some of my plays in action, which is giving me a fantastic insight into its dynamics and dramatic possibilities, and these notes will be a useful reminder for myself of how a play starts coming to life.
We're going for a simple semi-circle of chairs for the first three acts. Actors (in blacks) will sit here when not performing, stand up as they are "arriving", and walk forward onto the stage when entering a scene. Simple conceit, hopefully easy enough for an audience to follow. It also allows for a bit of explication when characters are talking about someone off-stage - they can gesture towards the seated actor.
At the end of Act III, when the action moves to the country, we're going to push all the chairs to the side of the stage, thus opening up the physical space. This will mark the significance of the transition (similar to, e.g., Time in Winter's Tale), and also physically give us more options for the later scenes. If possible, we'll also switch to a different lighting state at this point.
There's a great deal of costume and disguise in the play. Julio's "madness" (which renders him unrecognisable) is something we're going to do physically. Violante will tie up her hair and put on trousers when a boy, and Leonara's veiling in the final scene is only for a moment, so shouldn't be difficult to represent.
Music is important to the play. We're going to approach a musician to see if we can have a bit of live musical underscore for Henriquez's wooing and (more importantly) Violante's song in IV.ii, where it's a significant plot point.
Act I, Scene iii
This scene introduces both Henriquez (Simon Neill) and Violante (Jo Foakes). We're not entirely sure what the staging will be in the ensemble room, but we'll probably use a raised level for Violante if available, with her being on a balcony.
This scene is particularly interesting as an inversion of what's to come. Violante is polite but confident, assured of her own ability to reject Henriquez's suit civilly. Conversely, Henriquez seems to be more nervy - he's not only lowering himself by courting someone so socially beneath him, but he's also going through all the courtly conventions of love-protestations and musical wooing, so there's potential here for a bit of comedy, particularly at the start of the scene as he rushes about organising the musicians. It certainly seems important at this point to suggest that Violante is the one in control, which allows the forthcoming rape to be so much more significant in terms of changing the dynamic between them.
Henriquez's conclusion to the scene allows the character to undergo a change. The next time we see him is post-rape, so this is the actor's opportunity to show that transition. It's prompted as much by outrage that he - as the son of a Duke - has been knocked back by a peasant girl, so across his solioquy he's able to demonstrate an increased pique and rage. At the end of the scene, he turns and walks back towards the chairs - towards Violante - with ominous purpose.
Act II Scene i
Post-rape, Henriquez is in torment over what he has done, and is going through a process of self-justification to try and overcome his guilt. The important things here are that there's a gradual reveal of what happened, which the actor is responsible for communicating to the audience, and that at the end of the scene he reveals the equally shocking truth that he's fallen in love with Leonora. My suggestion for this scene was that Henriquez is perfectly aware of where he needs to end up by the end of it: in a state where he can freely pursue Leonora without guilt, so there's an attempt to purge going on.
At the same time, the action is shadowed by Fabian (Sam Jefferyes) and Lopez (Ronnie Bassett). These two comic characters make the action "safe"- Henriquez is unaware of them, and they listen to and mock him as audience-surrogates. Dramatically, this allows Henriquez to go off the rails in terms of his torment and guilt, while Fabian and Lopez do the work of reining it in. We decided that their role becomes more serious as the scene progresses and they realise the real threat that this man poses to someone. Blocking wise, they stand upstage and either side of him, literally framing the action, while Henriquez delivers his speeches downstage.
There's also a need, we think, for Henriquez's actions to be almost comically galling. His audacity is breathtaking, and his self-justifications unconvincing, although he seems to convince himself. The moment when he announces his new love for Leonora, we think, is one to make you catch your breath.
Act II, Scene ii
The importance of this scene is in making clear Violante's state - we've been introduced to the idea of rape, and now Violante confirms it. Her responses break down into three movements. At first, she is ruined and dishonoured, but with an element of hope; if Henriquez follows through on his promises of marriage, at least she will be rendered socially acceptable. The second movement is one of utter despair as she receives Henriquez's message, during which she pounds her body and invites in desolation. The final movement gives the scene something of an upward lift, as she abjures the company of all men and maids. While this is a defeated moment, there's also a sense of taking control of her own destiny, even if it's a sorrowful one.
The levels of disdain that Henriquez has for her are projected in two ways. The first is in Tim Kaufmann's deliciously snobbish Gerald, who treats Leonora with utter contempt as he delivers his master's message. This anticipates the letter itself, which Leonora begins reading and Henriquez himself completes from his seat, allowing Violante to react to it. At the end of the scene, she drops the letter, and at the start of the next Henriquez will pick it up and crumple it in contempt before asking how he ever loved Violante.
Act III, Scene iii (end)
We quickly ran through the conclusion to III.iii, where Violante announces her plans to disguise herself. The scene is primarily functional, a simple transition. For Violante's character, it's important in terms of establishing both her willingness to trust and the effects that Henriquez has had on that; the moment where she recalls her previous trust in a "serious face" is a great reflective moment.
I was also really struck by the advantage of doubling this servant with Gerald. Where Tim was earlier the scornful servant, now he's honest and sincere; yet Violante's grilling of him acts as a kind of interrogative redemption for this "character". We were worried that people would be confused about the ambiguity of doubling, but I think it works well as a thematic double that allows Violante's response to one servant to colour and shape her relationship with the next.
Act IV, Scene i
The epic! I'm really pleased with how fully-blocked this ended up being, and it's amazing how clear the actors were able to make the flow of the scene after only one readthrough.
The Master (Tim Kaufmann again) and Shepherds (Ronnie Bassett and Sam Jefferyes again) run this open space, and we agreed that it's the Master's environment, his "court". Violante, in boy's digsuise now, keeps herself at something of a remove from the others. In discussing Julio, the Master takes particular umbridge at the news that he steals their food. The attitude towards him on arrival is one of concern and vague fear, with the shepherds keeping their distance from the "madman".
We spent a while discussing the madness of Julio, played by Tom Hutchinson. There's certainly an element at least of "real" distraction in it, which occasions the repeated betraying slips that allow the shepherds to get a sense of what has happened to him. Julio is played hunched and in pain, clutching at his head. We tried to draw out the important lines from the babble, particularly his screams against treachery. His questions to the shepherds are intense and heartfelt. When addressing the second shepherd, he takes on a hopeful aspect, backing the shepherd into a corner as he pleads with him.
Violante approaches Julio with much trepidation. In her presence, Julio becomes noticably calmer, relaxing with her and becoming almost intimate. Violante allows herself to be drawn into it, making the moment where he instructs her to kill herself a real blow, driving an instant divide between them. His reference to her as a woman is mocked by the shepherds, but the Master here does a double-take, as if realising what might be the truth. We had a great deal of fun imagining the Master's character, and decided that he's probably fancied Violante for quite a long time, but been in something of a state of confusion over his own sexuality in loving a boy. The realisation that she might be a girl is therefore both a relief to him and also allows him to act on his desires.
After Violante retreats from Julio (and, in a nice touch, instinctively goes to the Master for protection), Julio's frenzy returns. He thinks he sees Henriquez in the Second Shepherd's face. The actors worked really hard to block the subsequent action smoothly, and I think it actually looked pretty good! Julio slaps the 2nd Shepherd across the face with his script in a lovely little metatheatrical moment which we hope will get a few laughs, and is then restrained by the 1st Shepherd and Master. The 2nd Shepherd is a whinger, we decided, and the others will later mock him for complaining about his nose.
As soon as the 1st Shepherd tells Julio that this isn't Henriquez, Julio instantly leaves off and walks away, not caring, in another comic but also madly unpredictable moment, and he leaves. The Shepherds are similarly sent off, leaving the Master alone. The Master's soliloquy we played for utter creepiness, including brushing back his hair as Violante re-enters. I'm convinced, even if Hammond's edition doesn't note it, that all his questions such as "Have you learnt the whistle yet" are extraordinarily dirty puns, and we're playing them as such. This scene between them is a little amusing, but Jo worked hard to make sure that the audience recognise Violante's real fear and danger at this point - which is, of course, highly reflective of Henriquez's earlier behaviour. She begins by appealing to his own goodness, almost with flattery, before getting more desperate.
Roderick (Sam Sturrock) calls from offstage, distracting the Master, and Violante runs off. This is a "cold shower" moment for the Master, which gave Tim a nicely comic direction in which to take his "frustration". Roderick enters, somewhat over-polite to the Master, and the Master treats him with utter disdain and mockery, which rounded off his section nicely.
The final dialogue between Roderick and Henriquez is a bit more functional and straightforward, but with some really nice touches. We play the coincidence for full laughs: "And, opportune, a vacant hearse pass'd by/From rites but new perform'd!" The main advantage of this scene, though, is that it allows Henriquez to develop his "sincerity" yet further, proclaiming love for Leonora in a way which reminds the audience just how much of a hypocrite he is. Roderick, here, acts as the audience's reminder that Henriquez is not entirely truthful, but Simon brought out a really interesting aspect of Henriquez - just how truthful does he think he's being?
Act IV, Scene ii
The Gentlemen of this scene are, we decided, the Shepherds again. It doesn't allow for full intellectual logic (which this play defies at every corner), but dramatically, it works - they see Julio in a calm state, the 1st Shepherd takes the lead in looking after him, and the 2nd Shepherd continues to rub his nose in petulance! Dramaturgically, we went for a simple cross-stage movement with this scene which I think works really nicely. The Shepherds and Julio crouch in an upstage corner to watch Violante, with Julio still half-mad, and the flanking Shepherds give the impression of keeping him calm. As Violante mentions Henriquez, however, Julio stands in shock, and then later moves across to join Violante. What I wanted to get here was the idea that Julio's state of madness is primarily an externally-inflicted one: it was provoked by his public expulsion from the wedding, and in the final scene it will be permanently revoked by his reunification with Leonora. Violante has a soothing effect on him, though, that allows him to cross from the "protection" of the shepherds to the emotional comfort of Violante's presence, which we were thus able to show with a simple crossing across stage from one group to the other. This also had the nice effect of returning Ronnie and Sam to their original state as slightly detached onlookers, which is how we first met them as Fabian and Lopez.
Violante's song is spoken from her seat, which will hopefully be accompanied by music. Julio sits to listen to the sweet sounds (his Caliban moment), and Tom brought out a really nice admonitory tone as he shushed the shepherds and told them to appreciate the melody. Violante's entrance will see her with her hair down. Her words are pretty sentimental, not the best poetry in the play, but Jo nicely brought out the instructive aspect to them. There's an interesting sense of control in Violante: she interestingly articulates and explicates her own grief, rather than merely succumbing to it. That sense of control and composure was brought out back in I.iii, and it's part of what now helps soothe Julio.
She keeps slightly back from Julio at his first address, surprised to hear her name while not committing himself entirely to him, allowing him to come towards her in the first instance. As he reveals his own identity, she lets her guard down completely, and the Shepherds respond in surprise to one another - this is, of course, a big reveal for them. The final exchange between Violate and Julio I actually found quite moving, and it really reminds me of Lear and Cordelia going off to sing like birds in prison together. There's a tenderness between the two which I think is very important to bring out, and it's the first stage of the gradual rehabilitation of both.
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All for now. As I say, very excited by seeing this on its feet, and this was only about a third of the play on its first rehearsal. More anon.