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.


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.

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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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