June 26, 2010

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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