Welcome to week 2 of Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank.
Rehearsals are now well under way. This week the cast have been exploring how to use the space.
Be sure to come back each day for updates with our Assistant Director Natasha, straight from the room where it happens.
Week 2 Blog
Rested from the weekend, we started our second week with choreographer Paul putting together the party scene alongside director Michael. Building up from Mercutio, Romeo and Benvolio’s party act (I’ll leave what that is as a surprise!) the scene builds up until all the characters are dancing at the party. Using the steps learnt in week one, Paul put the choreography into bigger onstage pictures, with Michael working alongside to weave the choreography together with the storytelling. We talked about:
• When does Romeo first see Juliet and when does she notice him watching her?
• How does Juliet’s curiosity build through the scene? (Romeo, Benvolio and Mercutio are the only masked characters which draws particular attention to them)
• Do any other characters see Romeo talking to Juliet and if not, why not?
These are all questions which mean particular choices have to be made by the choreographer and director together, to tell the story. The dance at the party is a fast paced, proper ‘party’ dance so Michael wanted to contrast this with the dance Paris and Juliet have together beforehand to show the calmer, more stately life she could have had with him. Paul spent the later half of the morning working with Chris and Charlotte, who play Paris and Juliet, to create a slower, more ‘fairytale’ dance for these characters. In Michael’s production, he wants to show that Paris and Juliet aren’t a bad match and might have lead a fairly happy life together – the only problem is that Paris just isn’t Romeo…
In the afternoon we started putting the first few scenes on their feet and ‘blocking’ them (deciding where characters will move in the space). When we come back a second time, the focus will be on text and intention. This included the big first fight scene, so that there is a framework ready for when fight director Alison joins us on Wednesday.
Today we continued blocking through the play. As Michael observed, the focus is from Romeo’s point of view at first. The audience are his friends and allies in the ‘balcony scene’, as he confides in us about Juliet. The play’s focus then shifts by the second half, and has become Juliet’s story. Starting with those early scenes, putting it on its feet really showed us how Romeo’s journey shifts his weight and energy from being heavy and having a ‘soul of lead’ to being light and running into everything too quickly as soon as he sees Juliet.
We were also able to explore the relationship between Lady Capulet and Juliet, versus that of Juliet and the Nurse. In our production, the Nurse and Juliet share their cheeky sense of humour with those jokes scandalising Lady Capulet. Charlotte (who plays Juliet) and Michael felt it was really important to acknowledge that within the text Juliet is tough. She displays real bravery and also owns her sexuality on the page, so it’s important for us to show Juliet onstage as a 3D, empowered, female character.
Today we spent some more time with our fight director, Alison. Using the building blocks set in place last week, she set the street fight that opens the play; this starts with two of the servants, then builds up to include more characters, and finally the Capulets and Montagues themselves. Alison is working with swords and knives, but also some other items to create the fights, and worked with each actor to discover how their character would fight and in what style.
Later in the day, Will came to speak to us from the Globe’s Research department. It is an amazing resource to have a dedicated Research department as part of the theatre. It means actors and directors can ask questions about the text and the dramatic world of the play, as well as what was going on in the real world outside of the play when it was written.
One of the things we discussed with Will was how Shakespeare’s audiences would have thought about Italy. He explained that Italy was thought of as the most desirable place by the Elizabethans, in terms of design and architecture. Will also explained that a play set in Italy would immediately suggest to an audience that a play would involve romance, passion and violence – setting the scene perfectly for Romeo and Juliet.
We have continued putting the play on its feet and today’s scenes involved looking into the relationship between Lord and Lady Capulet. Today, we looked at their reactions in the scene in which Tybalt is killed. It was particularly noticeable in staging the scene that Capulet doesn’t say anything, even when Lady Capulet appeals to him for help, and so we explored why this is. It could be down to the guilt he feels having dismissed Tybalt’s rage about Romeo attending the party.
The next time we see Lord and Lady Capulet, they are speaking with Paris about his wedding to Juliet. Capulet sets the wedding for Thursday, but Lady Capulet seems more unsure and has clearly been hard hit by her niece’s death. Capulet then says of Tybalt’s death, “Well, we were born to die”.
To us in 2019 what Capulet says sounds particularly unforgiving, but at the time Shakespeare’s audience would have believed that heaven was the best place for a soul rather than living on earth. Fast spreading disease and sickness affects the world of the play: the plague later stops Friar John delivering Friar Laurence’s letter to Romeo telling him the plan. This was also familiar to the audience Shakespeare was writing for, who were more exposed to frequent deaths and the idea of life as being temporary.
Today we were visited by Salvatore, the voice coach on the project. He worked with the company both as a group and individually to explore breath (which will help them to project in the space and be heard).
Shakespeare demands the actors use more of their pitch and range than they might in every day life – because the thoughts are longer than how we speak today and the imagery is so expansive.
Throughout the day there were costume fittings with designer Alex and the wardrobe department. Although some of the costume has been bought from shops or found from the costume store, most of it is being specially made and tailored for the actors. To fit them, the wardrobe department use a linen material; once they have pinned and fitted this to look exactly as it will for the show, they will then make the clothes using the actual materials Alex has chosen.
In the afternoon, our fight director Alison began working on the fights between Tybalt and Mercutio. With the actors and director Michael, she explored how much Mercutio is winding Tybalt up for something to do and how this spirals into something fatal.
Week 3 is coming up fast, and we’ll revisit the play, starting from the very beginning…