To some, 'Shakespeare' is synonymous to 'culture' in terms of England. And considering my interest in both Elizabethan England and theatre in general, it should come as no surprise that I am a fan of Shakespeare as well.
Globe Theatre Tour and Exhibition | Twelfth Night| A Midsummer Night's Dream | Sam's Weekend 2002 | Workshop for Early Modern Drama Course | King Lear | MacBeth | Stratford upon Avon | Sonnet Walk | Taming of the Shrew | Sam's Weekend 2004 | Romeo and Juliet | Much Ado About Nothing
Today, as I was crossing the Thames on my way to the Tate Modern, I spied the reconstructed Globe Theatre. I knew it was in that part of town, but I didn't realise it would be practically next door to the museum. As I was in and out of the Tate fairly quickly, I decided to stop by and see if anything was going on. Lucky me, I made it just before they stopped letting people in and I was in time for the final tour of the day. :D Yay! On the way to the meeting point for the tour, there was an exhibition about Sam Wanamaker and the rebuilding of the theatre, as well as the history of the original. There were many little displays, including a wooden model of the original building and posters and costumes from previous productions. There was a costume for Elizabeth I that was recreated to be as historically accurate as possible, and a little plaque included instructions on which layers of clothing went where.
Just when I got halfway through the exhibition, someone was ringing a bell calling for the 5:00 tour. So I hurried down and got sent into a side room to wait for the guide. His name was John. He took us back up to the surface in front of the theatre and told us a little bit about what we'd see on the inside. Normally, they just tell you about it while you're in there. However, they had just opened their 2002 season on the 11th with Twelfth Night and the second show (A Midsummer Night's Dream) would be opening on Saturday, so the Midsummer cast and crew were having a tech rehearsal. This meant that we couldn't talk inside, but we did get to see the last bit of the rehearsal. They were all in pajamas and false bare feet. The fairies had lights built into their pajamas that were twinkling. It looked really cute. They ended up cutting short because the Twelfth Night crew had to set the stage for tonight's performance and the musicians needed to warm up, so we ended up being able to talk (and take pictures) inside as well.
The entire building had been reconstructed by hand, just as it would have been done in the 16th century, from the wooden pegs holding the building together and the thatched roof down to the bannister railing around the upper and middle galleries. The only 'roof' in the place was the cover over the stage. It had been painted to look like heaven. There were two pillars on the stage holding 'heaven' up that looked like marble, but were actually painted wood. No stone in the building except for some brick around the base and the concrete floor where the stalls are (they would have used dirt, but that gets muddy when it rains). The tour ended inside, and John told us about an indoor theatre that is still being worked on. Currently, it is used as classrooms for the Globe Education program. But when they raise enough money, they hope it will be completed for a second theatre. Then, the Globe Company will be able to produce plays year round, just as Shakespeare's company would have! The tour as a whole was really neat and I got excited about being there, so I bought a ticket to see Twelfth Night on Thursday. :D:D I can't wait!
I went to see Twelfth Night this evening. I had such a great time! The show did not begin until 7:30, but I left the dorms at 5:00 because I was taking the bus. Even though all the busses I needed came almost immediately, I still did not end up getting to the theatre until 7:20. That might have been in part to the fact that I got off the last bus about four stops too early, so I had to jog a little along the Thames in order to get there on time at all. However, I managed to make it there in good speed and arrived at The Globe a little out of breath but none the worse for wear.
The first thing I did was buy a program. Then I walked by quite a few food stalls, the sellers hawking their wares. One guy yelled out, 'Would you like to buy some fresh strawberries, my lady?' Smile, no, thank you. The guy next to him hopped in cheekily with, 'Would you like to buy some from me?' No...but I got a picture instead. I don't know that they got many people taking pictures of the food sellers. I must be an extreme tourist or something. :)
The Globe is situated in Southbank (that would be the south bank of the Thames...fancy name, eh?) next to the Tate Modern and across the river from St. Paul's Cathedral. It made for a lovely view, though my camera did not capture the image very well because it was starting to get dark.
Inside, the yard (the stalls area, standing room only!) was still fairly empty. Most people were still milling about outside drinking their coffee. I don't think they realised that they could bring food in. Not that I was about to complain; it meant I got a good...spot to stand in. There was already a row of people lining the front of the stage (and leaning on it), as well as a large clump toward the middle of the yard. I stood about a foot and a half away from the stage, house right centre. It was a much different view than when I got my tour. I could see all the different figures painted on the ceiling above the stage and the detail was great. It was so colourful!
As more people started coming inside, the actors and stage hands (all in costume) stopped milling about and closed the three doors on stage. Five musicians appeared at the balcony and began to play music. They were all in costume as well, and the one woman was dressed like a man, her hair hidden under a cap. After each song, they would bow and touch their hats. The guy on the far left never smiled, but the rest of them had these great big grins. They stayed up there the whole show. When there was no call for music, they would stand at the edge of the balcony and peer down as though mere spectators. There was one guy who was sitting in the seats behind the stage. Not the best seats in the house, but that's where all the noble nobles would sit to be seen and to keep out of the sun. I don't know how he got up there though; those aren't seats that can be booked. After intermission, more people were sitting up there. I think it might be for the volunteer stewards as a reward for helping out.
An actor came out to remind us to not take pictures during the show and to turn our mobile phones off. Then the show began. The show as a whole was wonderful, the actor playing Olivia was brilliant, and the costuming was superb! I had a great view for the most part, except when the actors were behind one of the pillars or down stage right (tall person next to me, couldn't see around him). I laughed so hard. At some points I got jokes that only a handful of the people in the audience got. During intermission, I bought a cup of soup and some chocolate covered dried fruits (I had wanted nuts not fruit, but they were good anyway). Two English ladies were standing next to me and borrowed my program to see who was playing whom. One of them told me that I really seemed to be enjoying it and asked me if I've studied the play. (Well...no, not really. But I'd seen it once before, ages ago. Does that count?) The second act began and all confusion then ensued. It was excellently done.
The production concept was to present as historically accurate a show as possible. This meant all the costumes were made as they would have been using only materials available in 1602, the musical instruments were recreations, and the entire cast was male. I suppose to a modern audience that could seem rather strange to see. But it actually made sense. That Olivia, Maria, and Viola were not women in truth was never a question that arose during the play, and once Viola became Cesario if she seemed more masculine at all it made sense to the story and the role. This was probably the best Shakespearian production I have ever seen staged. Throughout the show, the cast had a few 'musical' numbers where they were all singing together. And at the end, Feste was singing a song and then the whole cast came out and did a little dance as they took their final bows!
Again, the acting was incredible. I can still picture Mark Rylance (Olivia) gliding across the stage in his high necked and long trained dress. Every move that both he and the actors playing Maria and Viola (as a girl) were strangely feminine, yet not in a mocking or comedic way. The visual stimulation was wonderful. The little gestures made by each character and the inflections on certain words made scenes and situations play out in a more sensical way than I remember the play being when I saw it before. It was not only the actions which made the play funny, but the language, and I think it is commendable that this was accomplished. Of course, they are professionals. :) Anyway, I had SO much fun and this was one of the best stage productions I have ever seen. I would like to see it again before I go home, but as long as I get to see Midsummer, all will be good. :D
Viola -- Michael Brown
Sebastian -- Rhys Meredith
Antonio -- Colin Hurley
Olivia -- Mark Rylance
Maria -- Paul Chahidi
Feste -- Peter Hamilton Dyer
Malvolio -- Timothy Walker
Sir Toby Belch -- Bill Stewart
Sir Andrew Aguecheek -- Albie Woodington
Duke Orsinio - Liam Brennan
Fabian/Sea Captain -- Jan Knightley
Valentine/Priest/Oficer -- Peter Shorey
Curio/Officer-- Simon Hyde
Other parts played by members of the company
Master of Play -- Tim Carroll
After leaving the Bell, Book and Candle (where Tina, Therese, and I went for a pre-show bite and pint), we headed back toward the Globe. It was almost 6:30, and the doors to the yard opened at 7. We wanted to get as close to the stage as possible. Ok, we wanted to be standing right by the stage. :) So we walked back toward St. Paul's Cathedral and then over the Millenium Bridge to the Southbank of the Thames. We stopped on the bridge to take a few pictures of the Globe (and of us in front of the Globe), then continued on our way. When we got to the site, it was about 6:45, and they had already opened the front gate. After going into the outer bailey area, I bought a program and we ordered our intermission drinks, then we headed inside to the shop. We looked at the books that are for sale. I still cannot get over the fact that there is Shakespeare's Fourth Folio just hanging out in the display case. And now I can say that I have seen Queen Elizabeth I's signature three times! Ok, maybe that isn't very exciting for many people, but I just think it is so cool! Tina and I both bought post cards, and then we decided to go wait outside one of the doors leading into the yard.
The door nearest to the shop entrance had more people than one of the side doors, so we stood at the side doors. There were two people in front of us. When we got in the queue, a large group of people stood next to us. We waited there for the last ten minutes before they opened the door. When they first opened the doors, they had problems getting the second one open. One of the stewards said that it must be the weather. It had stopped drizzling at this point, but the sky around us was looking fairly grim. Finally the doors were opened and we were allowed in. There was a mad dash from three directions to get to the stage first. Tina jumped forward, showed her ticket and was off as well, Therese and I not far behind. It was a short jog worth while for we were standing where I had stood for Twelfth Night, only right next to the stage. :D:D I felt like a little kid standing next to a table, my chin was just able to rest on the edge of the stage. The show was so great!!
Things looked much simpler this time. The three entry ways, which were previously very ornate, had been covered with green painted flats, and the doors were open. Instead of being able to see all the way to the back through the entrances, there were black curtains hung masking the backstage area. The middle entrance had been transformed into a small alcove, and there were chairs and music stands set up. The rest of the stage was bare. Above the yard was suspended a large, white, spherical lantern. It was absolutely huge!
Just after seven, the musicians came out with their instruments. Each was wearing a forest green satin robe over black satin pyjama bottoms and top. One of them was wearing a green sleeping cap as well. As they settled themselves and started to tune, someone else wearing pyjamas came out carrying an air mattress which had been covered in what looked like a cotton case with leaves or vines printed on it. He was wearing flannel pyjamas. Within two or so minutes, the stage was full of cast members, each setting up their own 'bed' and making final preparations. One man (whose pyjamas looked like a sweatsuit with some leafy designs on the top), who was right in front of us, got comfortable and started playing with a stuffed donkey. Someone behind me said, "I think we are looking at Bottom." In centre stage were two air mattresses with a body pillow put between them. A man was on one side, a woman on the other (both in silk/satin). She was reading a copy of A Midsummer Nights Dream. She had on these white slippers with white fluffy things over the toes, and took them off before getting under the blanket. On the edge, stage left, was another woman (also in silk/satin) who had a hot water bottle and some sort of fashion magazine. A man with glasses came out (striped flannel) and was brushing his teeth quite vigorously. After going at it for about thirty seconds, he leaned over the side of the stage where some people were standing and, just after they scattered, spit out his toothpaste! There was quite the cry of "EWW!" from that side of the stage, and then he settled further upstage of the water-bottle woman. Some people on stage right had hand-held radios, one had a stuffed bear-like thing, another had an alarm clock. When everyone was settled and 'sleeping', including the musicians, another man (again, striped flannel) came out with a box. He told us that on such a nice midsummer night, with the moon (gesture to the lantern) shining, we are all ready to sleep. He asked us to refrain from taking pictures and to turn off all mobile phones in order to not disturb the sleepers, then opened the box. It was a music box, playing a light tune. He walked across the stage, holding it out as though showing it to the audience, then settled on a mattress at the back of the stage (left) between the musicians' alcove and the entrance.
After a moments pause, the musicians 'awoke,' the man with the cap took it off, and they started to play a strange haunting melody. Everyone on the stage started tossing and turning. The donkey man started to laugh and bray like a donkey, the toothbrush man was yelling something about neeeding more meat, and there were other things going on. All of a sudden, it all abruptly stopped, and the man and woman in the centre woke up. Thus the play began. As each character was spoken to, or spoke his/herself, he/she woke up. The men who were the artisans who would put on the play for entertainment at the Duke's wedding were all in flannel, whilst the rest were in fancier pyjamas (except for the servant Philostrate -- he was the one in sweats). Most of them wore flesh toned slippers which had been drawn on to look like bare feet; the rest actually had bare feet. Each actor doubled as a fairie, and the way they were distinguished from their mortal selves was most creative. The first to 'transform' was Robin Starveling, one of the six artisans. The rest had all left him alone, looking at his 'script' (which was a tissue) and counting his lines, which apparently did not add up to very many. He then crumpled his page, and knelt down. As he turned back around, you could see that he had christmas lights sewn into his costume and poking through. They were all lit, twinkling slowly. His script had been crumpled to look like a flower. Then, a twinkling Puck leapt out; he was preiously Philostrate. Duke Theseus and Hippolyta were Oberon and Titania, the rest were just random fairies. As Hermia, Demetrius, Lysander, and Helena made their way through the night, their pyjamas became more and more tattered. Everyone kept referring to the moon and gesturing to the lantern. That got laughs every time.
I still cannot get over the costumes. It was not just pyjamas. Everything, even the props, were all things one might encounter before bedtime. When Peter Quince was reading out the list of actors, he read of a small roll of toilet paper for his scroll. The script pages were taken out of a box of tissues. Nick Bottom as the Ass wore the bottom half of a styrofoam cup tied to his nose and the white slippers with the fluffy things strapped to his head as ears. Any flowers were crumpled or folded tissues. The swords Demetrius and Lysander used were the hand-held radios with their antennaes pulled out. And the costumes for the artisans when they were doing their play...absolutely hysterical! Starveling/Moonshine held a toilet brush in one hand (as the bush or shrub or whatever it was), the caddy for the toilet brush as moon, and the stuffed bear-dog thing (which looked like it could have been one of those animal slippers with the foot hole sewen up) hanging from the caddy by a string. Snout/Wall had his pyjama top off and had his torso oiled as though he was a body builder. He had a those rubber things one puts in the bathtub to keep from slipping slung on his chest and back, a rock to show stone, and talcum powder to show...I'm not really sure what, but he kept sprinkling it on himself. During the 'play' he stood between two large, white sheets which had been knotted together and were stretched apart by Lion and Moonshine. Flute/Thisbe was wearing a tiny pink sleeping jacket, and a flowered shower cap. Bottom/Pyrmaus had shaving cream for his beard and wig, the beard kept falling off. His sword and dagger alternated as a hand mirror and a toothbrush. But the best one had to be Snug/Lion. He had washing gloves (made of washcloth material) on his hands with toothbrushes sewn on for claws, his tail was a bathtub stopper on a long chain, and his mane was a fuzzy, orange, oval bathroom mat glued to cardboard with a hole cut out of the middle for his head. It was SO funny!
The final scene was beautiful. After the players went off the stage, and the three happy couples (and Egeus) went off stage, only Puck was left. After his soliloquy (sp???), the rest of the cast came onstage with their fairy lights on. The music was very strange, still haunting. It seemed like a mix between traditional Elizabethian music, Spanish music, and Indian music. Oberon and Titania danced in the middle, and Oberon sang. The rest of the fairies formed two circles and circled Oberon and Titania, each circle going in an opposite direction. I had seen something like this before on film, but it looked so much more beautiful live, even with them all being in pyjamas. As they danced, their lights blinked faster. And when they broke away from the circles, they all started to sing. The danced to stage left (behind the column), and Helena and Demetrius turned off their lights and were put to sleep. The same happened stage right to Hermia and Lysander. Then, Oberon and Titania turned off their lights and became Theseus and Hippolyta once more and were put to sleep. The rest of the fairies slowly went lay down as well until, again, only Puck was left standing. He looked around, turned toward the audience, and switched off his lights. As he spoke the epilogue, the rest of the cast 'woke up' again, and lay there watching him. Finally, the cast arose and took their bows, as well as returning onstage three times after exiting for more.
Ah, the acting. I feel as though I do not have the words to describe it. The performances were simply...magical. Tina and Therese were both speechless. I could not stop grinning. It was simply incredible. Such passion and excitement and energy. There were neither fancy effects nor special lighting apart from the lights in the costumes (and the lantern). The performance was about the actors, bringing the text to life, not about being flashy or over the top. I have no idea which was better, Midsummer or Twelfth NIght. The two plays, performed in entirely different styles, cannot really be compared. The caliber of the productions is like nothing else I have seen. Not even Branaugh's Hamlet or Much Ado About Nothing match what I have seen at the Globe. I do not claim to be an expert at Shakspearean acting, or even Shakespeare's works in genera. But, for me, this has only reinforced that, although Shakespeare can be fun to read, he is meant to be seen and experienced. When performed by people who have so much talent and convey on stage such excitement for what they are presenting, as well as truly understand what it is they are speaking of, it changes the entire experience. I am so glad that I decided to see both plays, as well as come for the tour on a whim one rainy day.
Theseus/Oberon -- Paul Higgins
Hippolyta/Titania -- Geraldine Alexander
Philostrate/Puck -- Simon Trinder
Egeus -- Gary Lilburn
Hermia -- Philippa Stanton
Demetrius -- Keith Dunphy
Lysander -- Richard Katz
Helena -- Louise Bush
Peter Quince -- Paul Trussell
Nick Bottom (Pyramus) -- John Ramm
Francis Flute (Thisbe) --Aled Pugh
Robin Starveling (Moonshine) -- Ryan Early
Tom Snout (Wall) -- Patrick Lennox
Snug (Lion) -- Jem Wall
Fairies played by the company.
Master of Play -- Mike Alfreds
It is Sam's Weekend! There are workshops and educational programs offered at the Globe year round, however the cost of them can add up, as well as some of them being only for students at certain schools. For this weekend though, there are a series of workshops and lectures being offered to the public for free. I could not resist attending just one day of this, and I am so glad that I did.
The first workshop was presented by the Master of Movement for the Globe Theatre, Glynn MacDonald, who has been working with Globe actors for seven years coaching actors in the Alexander Technique. I still am not quite sure what the Alexander Technique is, but I had lots of fun. I was hoping that we would be shown or taught some of the little dances that were used in the productions, but what I experienced was better.
We started by being taken around back of the theatre, and then led up some of the back stairs. Suddenly, I found myself backstage! There was the large table used in Twelfth Night in the middle of the room, upon which were several mirrors. I assume that the actors get ready there. There were only four of us attending, three girls (including myself) and a boy. Glynn told us to put our things in the corner, then led us out onto the stage. I couldn't believe it! There I was, on the stage at the Globe!! :D:D:D Happy JoNell! The Globe Education Assistant introduced Glynn to us, who then started the workshop.
The first thing she had us do was to introduce us to the size of the stage. She had this little hand drum (kind of a mix between a bodhran and a tambourine), and was beating time as she led us around the stage in circles. Then we lined up at the back of the stage, and had to walk forward to the edge on six beats then turn and go back again. After that, she beat out a rhythm on the drum (ta-tum, like an iamb) and we had to gallop in a figure eight around the two columns. But it wasn't enough just to make the galloping steps. We had one hand on our waists and one in front of us, holding the reigns. We also had to use our upper bodies to make the galloping motion, not keeping our heads still. Finally, we had to add a line from any Shakespearean play. It was quite exhausting! Then, we got into a circle and Glynn talked to us about how the actors use the elements on stage during their performances. Each element (earth, water, fire, and air) has a certain stance and echoes the 'feel' of the element. It is really hard to explain without showing, and, as I previously mentioned, I don't have pictures. We practiced the stances in the circle, then did them mirroring each other.
After we finished this, another man came in late and joined in. We moved on to feeling the space of the theatre, and how our bodies on stage need to be open to the audience and the space. We each took a turn standing at the middle entrance and then walking forward to the centre. There, we placed both hands over our hearts, and slowly spread our arms as though we were welcoming an embrace from the audience or from the theatre space in general. After standing thus for a moment, we were to take three steps backwards, still leaving our arms open, as though we were taking the audience with us. The only comparison I have to describe it is that it is something of a combination between the experience of singing at the Verona colliseum with the SOA chorus with the seating all the way around, and the experience of performing at the State in Olympia which has the audience really close by. Yet there was something different about this. I don't know if it is because of the fact that I was on the stage of the Globe or if it was something else, but whatever the case, standing alone at the centre of the stage was an amazingly powerful experience. There were a few groups of people who were taking tours of the Globe while we were using the stage space. Though they were not paying much attention to what we were doing so much as to what the guides were saying about the theatre, each group would pause at the end to watch us for a few moments. I could just imagine, after having been to a show here twice, that the galleries were full and there was a crowd of people gathered in the yard. It was so exciting to be there.
The next thing we did was return to our circle and go back to the element stances. We did them to get the new man acquainted with them, then we moved around the stage keeping in mind the different elements. Glynn then introduced us to the four characters which are presented in Shakespeare. There is the king or queen (for this we had to hold our hands over our heads like a crown), the magician or the jester (a quick spin around to end in a 'surprise!' sort of pose), the knight (left hand in a fist at our sides, right hand open and straight up like a lance or a sword held high), and the lover (arms open in that embracing way, with a slight bow). With each pose we again walked around, keeping in mind the way the character would hold him/herself, and the way the character would move (speed, intention, etc.).
We lined up again at the back of the stage. We had to envision ourselves as archers or sorts. Beat by beat on Glynn's drum, we went through movements to release an arrow, throwing it toward the audience as we would throw our intentions. After going through that a few times, we walked around the stage once more, this time returning again to the 'lover' and practicing bowing (and then curtseying, for the girls) to the audience, the empty seats, and each other. Finally, we returned to the front of the stage and stood in a line. There, we went through the following lines and motions:
We then turned and faced each a partner, and did the same to each other.
Finally, we returned to our circle and, holding hands, Glynn talked us through the idea of filling the space again. All the theatre was empty, save for us and a woman sitting on the left. The only sound was that of Glynn's voice, and a gentle breze blew over us as we stood there. We then stood in silence, just feeling the enormity of the stage and the closeness of it all as well. I could hear the churchbells of St. Paul's faintly ring eleven o'clock. And the workshop was over.
Secondly, I attended a lecture presented by the Master of the Words, Giles Block. He was a friendly man with these bright red shoes who couldn't seem sit still. We were in the Indigo Jones Room 1, which is part of the indoor theatre. He was sitting directly in front of a little stage, and we were in a half-circle around him. Made sense, since the interior was also a half circle. He told us about his job as Master of the Words. Apparently, Mark Rylance (Artistic Director of the Globe) decided that because of the nature of the company, it would be best to have different people in charge of the different aspects of the production which normally would not be split, and he calls them Master of the such-and-such (though Giles thinks they should be Servants, not Masters. :D). Giles' job is to take charge specifically of the words. He works with the actors to help them understand how to speak Shakespearean texts, as well as sits through rehearsals and corrects emphasis on and pronounciation of various words, and even goes so far as to criticise if the actor cannot be understood or heard. This leaves the Master of the Play (ie, director) free to focus on other things.
Giles first told us the different types of styles Shakespeare uses in his plays (prose, blank verse, and rhymed verse). He suggested that the reason iambic pentameter was used had to do with the fact that it mirrored in the voice the expression of thoughts in the body. An iamb (ta tum) sounds like a heartbeat. The length of the line is determined by the size of the lungs, and breath is connected to thought (hence the ten beats). He further suggested that in the Elizabethian time, this sort of thing was common thought. And, although we have difficulty understanding it now, the language was not so strange then for it is not so much using heightened language (as we often see it), but using the most approprate language to express a heightened experience. I thought that was really interesting, and actually made sense.
We each had handouts with excerpts from various texts. The first he spoke on was from King Lear, Act 5, Scene 3. He had us read it aloud, starting with one end of the room and each person taking a line. Mine was rather short (Edgar: "Look up my Lord."), but that was ok because I tend to get embarrassed reading things aloud in front of lots of British people. Strange, I know, but oh well. King Lear is one of Shakespeare's later plays, and he considers it to be one of the best. What he likes about the excerpt he chose is that, although it is a tragic and poignant moment (the last 25 or so lines of the play), the words are very simple. Most of the are monosyllabic and not so difficult to discern the meaning. In the middle of Lear's final speach he has the famous line "Never, never, never, never, never." which is not an iamb but a trochee (sp?). This breaking away from the normal rhythm, the rhythm of the heart, suggests turmoil within Lear. Indeed he dies three lines later. He also referred to the three rhyming couplets at the end of the scene, and we discussed how rhyme often indicates finality, even when we use it nowadays in modern speech without thinking about it.
He then spoke on the problematics of the continuous lines within the texts, those which are punctuated in the middle instead of the end. For this, he used part of Bassanio's speech from The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, scene 2. He suggested that, though this is irregular in the style, it makes sense for it gives emphasis on words, indicates a slight break for thought, or even demonstrates that there is difficulty in expressing the emotion behind the text. As we talked about it, he noted that most actors ignore the fact that he lines of speech are broken up in the text rather than set out continuously as in prose. He noted that when one speaks normally, one usually breaks up what one says, especially if speaking spontaneously. There is emphasis on some words to underline them, so to speak, and to express what it is that we want or intend. Giles said that often when actors ignore the pauses, they are forgetting to want when on stage, and to tell the audience what they want.
In the last five minutes of the lecture (he ran out of time), Giles spoke on prose and how it is used. His example was from Act 1, scene 5 of Twelfth Night, when Olivia and Viola/Cesario first meet. We did not get to analyse the prose closely, but he suggested that the use of prose within the text often indicates wit. Not just the "ha ha funny" kind of the jesters and fools, but also the wit one uses to hid discomfort. Prose shows a difference of expression and it does not follow the normal rhythm. It is used, in a sense, to mask and hide the true feelings of the speakers (which is why it is used by the fools and clowns who wear masks to entertain). When Viola switches back to verse, it signals another shift for she is speaking of something more serious. Olivia attempts to keep it playful through her continued use of prose, yet Viola ends up pulling her into the rhythm and the seriousness of the dialogue.
Finally, I attended a lecture by the Master of Clothing & Properties, Jenny Tiramani. It was supposed to be about Shakespeare and crossdressing (since many of his plays were casts of men, and at least one man played a girl or woman who would eventually disguise herself as a boy. go figure.), but it ended not being that at all. First she gave us a slide presentation and brief rundown of the set construction for Twelfth Night. What sticks out most in my mind were what she said about the visits to Hatfield House. Owned by the Countess of Salisbury, Hatfield is famous for its Renaissance textiles. The house was where Queen Elizabeth I was told that Henry VIII died. It is now a museum where one can go to see historical textiles. Apparently, Jenny went to a meeting for a textiles or costuming group, and met the woman who is the head of the women's household for the countess. Long story short, Jenny was introduced to the countess and the Globe group has received a great deal of support from the Hatfield people. The cast and designers get to go to the House after the museum closes and wander around to get a feel for what living in an actual Elizabethian manor would have been like, and the family make themselves available for questions. One question that came up in designing the set for Twelfth Night was the mention of a box-tree (Act II, Scene v, Line 15). Box is an actual plant, but Giles Block believes that it was referring to the balcony which wouild have been in the theatre space. When Jenny Tiramani was speaking to the countess about it, she said that box is used to create buildings. In fact, she was growing a gazebo in the gardens, and her son was almost finished growing a small summer building! It reminded me of an elaborate hedge. So the 'box-tree' was probably a little house made of box that the three characters hid inside, not a tree that was climbed or the balcony.
When she finally started talking about costumes, there was not that she really said. She did get a volunteer from the audience to get dressed up in one of the spare men's costumes they had. She told us that the costumes used are based on clothes at museums, and are made of linen, wool, cotton, or leather. She also said that undergarments are plant based, and outer garments are animal based. She showed us how the doublet and hose were laced together by many little holes and laces, each pair of holes getting their own lace. Then she demonstrated what cross-gartering is (another reference which is made in Twelfth Night). Most of the actors would use cross-gartering to hold up their stockings because it was most comfortable. She had her volunteer stand and sit down, noting that the most comfortable stance to stand in is the portaiture stance (one foot in front of the other) simply because of the way the clothes are cut. When he sat, she talked about how today we sit down butt first and usually sticking out, but that is not possible in Renaissance clothing with the padding and boning.
Designing the costumes is a different process than today because costume drawings are a modern design tool. She said that the actors have an active participation with the design process, choosing colours and even styles. Though the costumes are custom made, they can be reused for other actors if the build is similar since everyone is being laced in tightly anyway. She mentioned the restraints caused by the lack of budgeting as well, for true Elizabethians adorned their clothes a great deal with jewels and embroidery, but the costuming department could not afford to do that.
After the lecture, I wanted to ask her how she reinforced her eyelets. She had said that all the costumes were hand made, and no materials were used that were not available in the period. That meant that metal grommets and eyelets were not used, and when I looked closely at the holes, they were very small. It seemed as though it was the normal cut a hole and stitch around method, but she had mentioned that the costumes lasted for more than five years. I waited for her to finish talking to a man who seemed to know her from before. It was just the three of us left, and some of the stewards were trying to ush me out (darn them). They were about to leave and she had finished talking to someone else so I started to ask and then this guy jumps in again! Couldn't believe it. But she interrupted him and asked if I had a question. Apparently, rather than cutting holes, you take an awl or a knitting needle and push it through the fabric, making a hole by pushing the threads aside. Then you sew around the hole to make it keep the shape. That way, the fabric does not tear and keeps its strenght. I did not think it would have been such a simple solution, but it made so much sense!
After that workshop, there was supposed to be a walk to Sam Wannamaker's grave, but because I wanted my question asked I missed the departure. So, I went home. However, I had a great time and I learned so much! I can't wait to work on my bodice for the Renaissance Faire to get it fixed with the proper holes for the lacing! :)
It was a brisk Friday morning when I went back to the Reconstructed Globe for the first time since my return to England. I had hoped to go see The Golden Ass before the season closed, but, as closing weekend was the first weekend I was back, that didn't happen. After meeting up with Kate and Carly, and we sat in Starbucks (how commercial can you get...hehehe) for about half an hour, we decided to head over to the lobby of the box office/education centre. There were only five or six out of 25-30 who arrived on time. I was irritated. I wanted to start Right Now so we could use as much of the time we had as possible. We were told to wait for a few minutes, and about ten minutes later only two or three more people had shown up. Our guide person (Trevor, who is also an actor at the Globe) came then and we started the tour. It was a little redundant for me since I’d already been there four times in the spring. But I always enjoy it. There is just something special about that place. I know that the architecture and design is based on very little actual evidence of what the Globe actually looked like (it’s pretty much a combination of bits and pieces from at least three different Elizabethan theatres), but still. It just has that magical feel to me, the one that makes it new and exciting no matter how many times you go.
After giving us a history of the place, Trevor took us into the Tiring House (the backstage area). He showed us where the doors which led to the trap doors were, and then opened these beautifully ornate doors that revealed a chrome elevator. I thought that was pretty funny. He explained how the Globe uses the Tiring House today, more of a holding dock for the actors and stage hands than the room in which the actors to attire themselves (hence the name) as it was designed for during the Renaissance. He pointed at the heavy oak posts and said, 'That is where they would have posted the plot and the entrance cue sheet' and then we walked through the centre doors. I absolutely love that stage. It is nothing like any other stage that I have been on. Not that I’ve been on that many, but wow. You walk out on something that feels completely ancient, simply because it’s the Globe, with all your modern preconceptions about what stages feel like. And as you stand on the stage, looking out at all the empty ‘seats’, you begin to imagine the bodies filling, looking down on you and up at you from all around. Crammed in a small area and completely visible to you while you’re onstage. It is all at once claustrophobic and euphoric, the moment hanging on and on even though it is passing so quickly. I would love to actually perform on that stage someday.
After the tour, we were led out of the building and down the street to where the Globe people were held their plays and workshops before the theatre was finished being built. The workshop was held in the space where they used to have their performances. It was fairly dark, and the décor of the stage reminded me of the puppet show scene from The Sound of Music (except there were darker colours and more greens). Trevor had orignally said that he would be giving us a workshop on Hamlet, but we ended up not getting that far. He started by going over cue scripts. The gist of it is that the players would get their lines in the evening, and by their lines I mean their lines and a three-word cue. That’s it. The next morning at 10am, they would come together for rehearsal. At 1pm, they would break for lunch. At 2pm, they would perform the play. And then it would start over again. In a season, the company would perform each play maybe 5 times. Every other night (except Sundays), there would be a new play. That three-hour rehearsal time was not necessarily enough time to run the whole play, and since you only got your own lines you probably wouldn’t know what the play was about. It boggles the mind, it really does. They would have a prompter sitting there, on the stage, with the only complete copy of the play following along just in case. Conceivably, the actors would not know what the storyline was of the play they would be performing that afternoon. They would know nothing about the parts their fellow players would have, nor would they know anything about their own parts. This way of acting is completely foreign to the way we do things now, what with the amount of rehearsal we do and the emphasis we put on 'what does your character want?' (truly, a question I cannot stand answering). If you didn't know the rest of the play and had no stage directions, how did you know how to behave physically, or how you should 'feel'? Trevor had Arlo, one of my classmates, come up for an example of what was done. They did one line from Romeo and Juliet, when Friar Lawrence enters at the end of the play. Arlo was the Friar. Trevor told him to listen to the line he (Trevor) would say for all the clues he would need would be given. I do not remember the exact wording of it, but it was something to the extent of, 'Here is the Friar who weeps, trembles, and sighes.' As Trevor pointed out, nowadays, we would be weeping, trembling, and sighing already when we're backstage. But back then, it was as Arlo (maybe) did it. The action started when you heard it. We also went through a scene from Julius Caesar as a group. Each of us had 'scripts' with just our lines and our cues. It was really hard to stay on top of things, you had to listen more closely than just for the gists of the lines. And exact words were really important, otherwise someone would miss the cue. Oddly, it works. After that workshop, I had a whole new respect for Renaissance playwrights. After all, if each player only knows his own lines and his cue, then that cue cannot be repeated at all through the whole play or else your players would come in at all the wrong times. Absolutely fascinating. :)
Carly and I met up as planned at Barnes Train Station at 6:00. I actually arrived early and as I walked the platform I passed Robert Shaughnessy. Carly and I caught up with each other and decided we would avoid him. Both of us are really intimidated by him, simply because he is so obviously intelligent. We talked about that quite a bit the whole night, and it is basically a situation that we know we could come up with some bright things to say about the plays on our own, but once we talk to him the responses become, "uh... uh... it was good." Oh yeah, really impressive commentary. :P
Neither of us knew where the theatre was located, just that we had to get off at Waterloo. Carly remembered seeing a sign pointing toward the Young Vic somewhere in the station, but in typical form we went to the other end of the station first. :) Finally, we located a map and figured out what cross streets we would need to find. The next step was actually finding those streets! It took another jaunt around part of the station before Carly figured out that we would have to go down the escalators to the other part of Waterloo station. As we walked, we found the Old Vic where Elaine Stritch at Liberty is playing. Yet another show I want to go see. My list is long. Anyway, we crossed the street and kept walking.
After a minute, we looked at the street signs to try and figure out when we needed to turn. Silly us, we didn't remember which roads the Young Vic was on. Darn us. :) Since the one we were at looked a bit dodgy, we opted for the next road. As we walked past the building on the corner, Carly says, "Hey, there it is." I look all around. "Where?" "Right here, in front of us." We almost went right by it. There was a restaurant connected to the theatre with windows looking onto the street and we could see Robert sitting there. Our options at that point were to hang out in the lobby or to go into the restaurant. Cowards that we are, we hung out in the lobby. After waiting and waiting, more people showed up and we got into the queue. I went into the restaurant and got Carly's and my tickets from Robert and then they finally let us in. Huzzah!
The Young Vic is very small and intimate. It is set in the round, with six rows of bench seats in a half circle around a thrust stage, sort of mini-amphitheatre seating I suppose. Cutting the seating area in half was a walkway leading from the stage to the black, curtained off exit aisle. We were sitting in the fifth row centre house left, very good seats (though I don't know that there are any bad seats in the house). Finally, after much waiting, the house lights dimmed and the play began.
Before I continue, I think I should say something about the acting company who performed that evening. It actually was not quite a company as such. It was performed by the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) Academy (Company 2002). Sixteen people straight out of drama school go to Stratford-upon-Avon and are trained with professional staff and directors. Lucky them. Though it the Academy is not meant to be an acting school, the aim is apparently to hone and refine what skills had been learned. The result after ten weeks of rehearsal under this year's director, Declan Donovan, is a three-month performance tour in England and parts of the Continent. And well do they deserve it.
The show was three hours long, plus a 20-minute intermission. I have never read King Lear, nor have I seen it before this. I didn't even really know what the story was, apart from the synopsis in the programme, which basically read that, in typical tragic form, nearly everyone dies. Beyond that, I did not know what to expect of the story. The story itself is so sad; the deaths, trials, and sufferings were senseless, caused by the typical human emotions of greed and jealousy, by blindness and lack of compassion. I think that, in performance, it has the potential of coming off as just another bloody (literally) play. This production was entirely on the other end of the spectrum. I feel as though words cannot begin to describe the performance that was given. It was beautiful.
These actors did a fabulous job, but the one who stood out was the one who played King Lear, a young man by the name of Nonso Anozie. To be so young himself playing the role of an old man on the verge of madness seems like such a difficult task. As well as playing an old man who did some cruel things yet managing to evoke pity from the audience for the state he ends up in. Numerous times, he was required to go from seemingly calm, to incredibly angry, and then back again in a flash. Doing that in real life is strenuous; to pretend to do it without losing sight of or control over the character can be exhausting.
There were also many wonderful theatrical devices employed which added to the profound effect the play had. For starters, everyone was in fairly modern dress. All the men wore tuxedos and the women were in evening gowns. The eldest daughters (Goneril and Regan) wore black, while the youngest (Clorinda) wore a few shades toward the green-grey mixed with black. Lear's Fool dressed as a lounge lizard, complete with the sequined jacket and microphone. At one point, Lear is partying with his men, all of whom appear to have come straight out of a Blues Brothers film. They even incorporated a Blues Brothers song, something I thought to be particularly ingenious. Edgar, legitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester, ran around as though a commando from a war game, complete with head band and camouflage makeup.
The staging was marvellous. There was a lofted area toward the back of the stage used as a sort of stage within the play, for most of the time the people there were on spectacle to those standing below. The scene changes were seamless, often overlapping from one into another but never breaking continuity or adding confusion. At the beginning when Clorinda refuses to accept her father's idea of dividing the kingdom, he grabs her and practically throws her on a table centre stage. There she stands as he tries to sell her to the Duke of Burgundy, vulnerable as she stands alone. When Lear and his Fool have left the home of Gloucester, they run into a terrible storm near Dover. To simulate this, an actor ran on stage wearing nothing but black trousers and a massive piece of grey cloth fell from the rafters. The actor grabbed it and ran to the back of the stage where he stood for the rest of the act waving and shaking the cloth (it was still attached up top) like wind. When Lear has a vision of his three daughters, the appeared through the cloth (ah, lighting tricks) standing on the lofted stage. Two actors stood on either side of them, blowing into mics for wind while another stood in to the side of the stage banging on a metal sheet for thunder and the crashing of waves. The next dramatic effect used was when Gloucester had his eyes torn out. It was, to be sure, rather gory. But after his second was ripped out, there was a blackout as though plunging the audience in blindness as well. As the characters continued with their lines, Edmund (bastard son of Gloucester) appeared on the walkway in a spotlight in all his devious glory. It was exceedingly disturbing.
For being three hours long, it felt as though it was moving at a fairly high speed. The action and scenes were right on top of each other, without any lulls. It was great. By the end I was crying out of pity and sympathy for these poor people so wonderfully written and performed. We received free tickets (with complimentary ice cream) through Robert, and to be honest I was not expecting too much even knowing it was affiliated with the RSC. Now, I would have to say that I would expect to pay an incredible amount of money for a performance of that calibre. It was profound, disturbing, moving.
On the way home, Carly and I couldn't get over how wonderful it was. We are supposed to do a review of a production of an early modern play. Most people who went to see King Lear are going to do their review on it. Neither of us feel as though we could possibly do it justice.
King Lear -- Nonso Anozie
Earl of Kent -- Steven Robertson
Earl of Gloucester -- Ryan Kiggell
Edmund -- Adam Webb
Goneril -- Aishling Howard
Regan -- Katherine Manners
Cordelia -- Kirsty Besterman
Duke of Albany -- Matthew Douglas
Duke of Cornwall -- Kieran Hill
Duke of Burgundy -- Robert Wynn
King of France -- Mo Zainal
Edgar -- Bruce Godfree
Oswald -- Guy Flanagan
Curan -- Dean Ashton
Fool -- Edward Hogg
Old Woman -- Sarah Everard
Director -- Declan Donnellan
Today, I decided I wanted to try and see Macbeth. I have been saying that I was going to see it for months now, but, as this is the last week that it is showing, I was running out of time. After a morning of cleaning up a bit and writing letters, I hopped on the bus at around 2pm. The show would not be starting until 7:30, but I figured that I could get some touristy stuff in beforehand.
By the time I got to Leicester Square, it was just past 4:00. I walked past the plethora of discount ticket shops, though I peered at the titles they were offering just in case Macbeth was listed (which it wasn't), and headed for the Half-Price Ticket Booth across from the Odeon in the middle of the square. Macbeth wasn't listed there either. Undaunted, I made my way to the Albery Theatre. According to the lady at the box office, it was sold out until closing. Perfectly understandable, considering. However, cancelled tickets would be sold before the show, first come, first serve. She said the queue for cancellations would start whenever people wanted it to, but usually around 6pm. With that in mind, I headed out and about to kill a couple of hours.
When I got back to the theatre, the box office lady said told me that the couple sitting on one of the benches was ahead of me in the queue, but I would be next. I went to sit down, and she asked me if I only wanted one ticket. Yes. She can sell me one right now. Great! Less than a minute later, and £39.50 poorer (poorer?), I had a seat in the stalls all to my very own. Row L, seat 7. Not as good as the last minute seat I got when I saw Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, but still a really good seat! Even though the show would not start for another hour and a half, I didn't feel like walking around any more (most of the touristy stuff would be closing soon in any case). I sat down on one of the fuzzy red benches and perused a free magazine I found in a display at the confectionery counter. As I sat down, a loud explosion echoed from the theatre, followed by two more. Blatantly a massive effect, though I wasn't sure what it was for.
Within fifteen minutes, the queue for cancelled tickets was about 10-15 people strong. Another 10 minutes went by and only one more ticket was sold (it was only a £29 one, so not as good of a seat as mine). I had finished reading through the magazine at this point and was sitting there trying to avoid twiddling my thumbs. There were two girls next to me who were waiting for a pair of tickets to be returned, and they noticed a group of about four men coming up the stairs to the front doors. One of them said that maybe they were returning their tickets. I thought she shouldn't start counting her chickens.
I was right.
The door opened, and this man with short blonde hair and what looked like a day-old beard (you know... when they don't shave in the morning or something) walked in flanked by a couple of other guys in black leather coats. I blinked, because I couldn't have been seeing what I thought I was seeing. But I was. It was the actor playing Macbeth (coming for a 6:30 call, I suppose). How did I know this? Sean Bean was that actor (which I knew, which was why I was keen to go to this show). He walked by not 10 feet away from me! It didn't really register exactly what that meant until he had gone through the doors toward the stage, but even so I don't know what I would have done had he randomly hung around. One of the girls next to me was like "woh..." and I said that I wouldn't have expected them to waltz in the front door to the theatre like that. I would have thought stage entrance or something. The girls then started talking about how if they didn't get to see the play at least the waiting wasn't a total bust because they got to see 'him'. He he he.
After about 5 more minutes, a mass herd of people came into the lobby, mainly teenagers. It seems that there were a few school groups that came to the show. I wasn't too psyched about that; it had the potential of being an annoying audience. At least for me. :)
Sadly, I was right again.
There looked to be only 20 seats in my row, and as there was no seat 1 or 2, I was the fifth seat in. There were little red opera glasses for rent every other seat (only 50p!), and I settled in and looked through my program while I waited for 7:30 to roll around and the lights to dim. The girls next to me and behind me, as well as the boys in the row behind them, were among that massive group of teenagers whom I saw in the lobby. I had hoped that all of them would be up in the Upper Circle (since those are usually the cheap seats that school groups seem to get), but this group was not part of the majority who had been herded upstairs. They weren't too bad, I suppose, if one does not mind the screeching before the show and during intermission, or the brief moments of whispering after really visually stimulating moments. Though I just about smacked the girl next to me when her phone rang announcing a text message (and vibrated later, after which she dug through her rustly bag...), and glared a few times when the screeching girl began whispering loudly throughout some great dialogue, things weren't all that bad I suppose. I could have done without them, easily. :)
I looked at my watch. 7:30. Any time now, I thought, eagerly awaiting the dimming lights and request for no mobile phones or pagers to be left on, both of which encouraging the silence that would encompass the audience (hopefully, anyway). The house staff shut the red velvet curtains and closed the confectioner cupboards. They disappeared somewhere, and still the noise went on.
Suddenly, a loud BOOM! echoed through the theatre and the house abruptly plunged into darkness with a lightning flash on stage. Half the people screamed, and I admit I jumped myself. The curtain was one of those gauzy things that show nothing unless the light hits it at the right angle, and at that moment all that could be seen were the three Weird Sisters standing in a triangle, arms stretched out toward each other. As the audience shushed each other (there was discussion about the 'coolness' of the opening effect going on), the Sisters began their lines. A fire sprang up from a grate in the slightly angled floor and smoke pealed out from all around. As they continued with their lines, they slowly began circling the fire, their skirts flowing gently around their legs. Gently, they began to sing. I could not tell what language it was. It sounded a bit like Russian, and then at times like it could be Scottish Gaelic. A synthetic organ played the underlying chords and slowly the harmony built as other members of the cast joined the song. Men came on stage, posing with their swords drawn. And as abruptly as the show began, it shifted tone. The lights came up a bit, strobing as well, and immediately a fight began. The curtain came up. The Sisters seemingly vanished, they left the stage so quickly. Thus began the tragedy of Macbeth.
My first thought was that the design concept was some sort of post-Apocalyptic world, though I had previously read it was based on World War II and the time surrounding it. The set was circular in line. Most of the stage had been tilted at a slight angle toward downstage right. There was a wooden tower at the back with a large bell hanging at the top and some sort of grated double door at the bottom. Coming out of either side of the tower (with a slight gap stage right) were two tall, curved, metal walls riddled with dents and bullet holes. There were steps from the platform on stage left curving downstage and ladders in the centre of both platforms. Each had three entryways leading off stage. Everything had a gray overtone. I thought of the inside of a submarine, or perhaps some sort of military bunker.
The costumes were a bit... bizarre. It was these that really made me think 'post-Apocalypse', for they reminded me of those seen in Ring of Fire or Waterworld, oddly enough. Except for the swords part, I guess. Later, many of the men would be wearing military uniforms of the 20th Century, and some dressed as snipers complete with machine guns. The women were wearing what looked like satin night gowns (the ones with spaghetti straps), with various robes over them depending on the scene and their ranks. The doctor had what looked like a fedora in hand, and the young boys all wore blue and white striped flannel pajamas.
The lighting design was a fairly simple, yet effective, affair, consisting mainly of combinations of narrow spots for intimate scenes. Firelight was also utilized with torches and the fire in the grate, and candlelight for a few scenes as well. Once, during the final appearance of the Weird Sisters, they used round mirrors to reflect spots back onto Macbeth.
Set pieces were wheeled or carried on stage in black out, and had to be anchored lest they roll away with the tilted stage. The most 'proppy' scene was that of the banquet at which Banquo makes his first ghostly appearance, followed closely by the scene between Malcolm and Macduff in England. Everything else was kept highly simplistic, only a bed, only some chairs, or a completely bare stage.
The end of the opening fight was signified by Macbeth running up the stairs and across the platform to the bell tower. A wooden fence barred the front of the tower, at the centre of which was a wooden spike. Upon this spike Macbeth slammed a bloody head with an audible and ominous thud. After a momentary pause, the lights shifted once again to flood the stage and herald the entrance of Duncan and some of his attendants.
The production was somewhat gory, though I found that fitting considering the subject matter and the events that unfold throughout the play. When Macbeth leaves Duncan's bedchamber after the murder, his hands and the two daggers are literally dripping with blood. It was rather gross, but his horror at the sight of Duncan's blood on his person becomes all the more poignant, as well as the presence of the blood on Lady Macbeth's hands becoming recalled vividly in the ravings of her dreams.
When Macbeth meets the Sisters for the first time, they are shrouded in army coats, rifling through the bodies left on stage. The keep their faces covered, showing them only twice in the scene: once after popping their heads up they drop the hoods briefly to show only the audience, secondly after they abruptly rise and drop the coats to run off stage 'vanishing' from the presence of Macbeth and Banquo. Thereafter, during scene changes throughout the first half of the play, they would walk across the stage, hands linked, singing their haunting song.
The music reminded me of the large-scale Sacred Choral numbers one would hear at special services in cathedrals. This was especially resonate during Macbeth's coronation as King of Scotland. At this point, the cast sang in Latin rather than the unknown language of the Sisters. It built as the priest came down centre to crown in hand, blessing it. It swelled as Macbeth entered through the doors under the tower, the long white cape on his shoulders trailing behind him. As he approaches the priest to be crowned, two men unclasp the cape from his shoulders and two more attach the other ends to lines which lift the cape as he is crowned and as he crowns Lady Macbeth, showing the green lion and other symbols lightly emblazoned upon it. The song reaches it's pinnacle as the flag stills and Lady Macbeth stands, turning with her husband to face the audience as King and Queen. The curtain falls.
The image of a flag was used twice more during the play, though never again that which rose behind Macbeth. The first of these two occasions is during the scene in England between Malcolm and Macduff. Four armchairs are placed on stage, two on each side with a small table between each pair. What appears to be a large blackboard with a wooden frame is lowered to hang upstage above the action. When the lights come up, the image of the flag of England (white background with red cross and three red lions) is projected onto this screen. The image is wavy, as though the flag was frozen as it rippled in the wind. The final time a flag is used is at the end of the play, after Malcolm returns and conquers Scotland with the aid of the English army. As he and members of the 'army' enter the stage, the flag of England carried in on a pole is placed in a stand next to the tower. This felt rather foreboding, as though symbolic of the presence of England as a governing force in Scotland, a presence that would not depart.
A hugely impressive effect was the creation of the 'moving forest' as it moved to Macbeth's stronghold. The stage went into a full blackout, but then blacklights came on. White trees glowed in the background, painted with ultraviolet paint on the backdrop. Each of the sniper-dressed soldiers had white branchy shapes painted on their clothes (with the lights on normal, they appeared to be an odd sort of camouflage). This image of moving, ghostly trees added to the haunting and threatening atmosphere created by the entire production.
There were little things done in the staging that had great impact. When Banquo comforts Fleance in bed, a lone light bulb hung above the cot-like bed, indicating the sparseness of the quarters. The 'comic interlude' of the Porter was introduced with his entry through the doors beneath the tower, which were lit to appear as though an elevator rose to bring him to the stage. During the scene change after the banquet, Banquo stood downstage centre and one of the Murderers held two five-branch candelabras behind him. All was dark except for the lit candles. As Banquo paused then exited, the candles were blown out one by one.
The two final images were chilling at best. Macduff bringing in Macbeth's head and placing it on the spike used at the beginning, though predictable, gave an excellent 'full circle' indication. Yet the final frieze of Malcolm arrogantly standing centre stage with two of the Scottish men held captive by some of the English snipers (physically restrained with arms around their necks and machine guns to their heads), perfectly still as the lights went down was unnerving. Macbeth the tyrant was gone, but what had replaced him? A definite concept to be pondered in any given day.
For final bows, the cast came out in two rows (with the exception of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth), bowing then trading places and bowing again. Then Samantha Bond (Lady Macbeth) came out, then Sean Bean. They all bowed together, again, and again, then left the stage, and then Bean and Bond came out alone, then they were joined by the rest of the cast. Sean Bean brought everyone out twice more for more bows. He had this simultaneous cocky and mischevious (if such a thing can be accomplished) grin on his face, like a little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar who knows he is so cute he'll get away with it.
The acting was fabulous, something I have come to expect from West End productions, really. Sean Bean's intensity was only overshadowed by Samantha Bond's, and even that was minimal. He seemed to be losing his voice a bit, but still managed to deliver every line with emotional force and power in every nuance. He went from seeming calm to frighteningly angry or horribly afraid so quickly it made my head spin. His Macbeth was one to tiptoe around, if not avoid completely. Lady Macbeth ran screaming from him a few times, and with good reason. He delivered his atrocious commands to slaughter the innocent with control barely masking the frenzy that spun constantly beneath his skin, the frenzy that sometimes surfaced.
As Samantha Bond went from fiercely power-hungry to insanity, I could not help feeling sorry for her even as I hated her for what she began. At the beginning, during Lady Macbeth's extreme moments of determination, she managed to give combine the physically tense and rigid movements enabling command with a beautiful, fluid grace. Yet as her fall progressed, she too became frantic and stilted, overcome by the workings within. The 'out, damn spot' scene was brilliant. Bond came on stage with a stilted walk, half staggering with the candle in her hand. She knelt centre stage and went through her motions. Every muscle in her body was tense and she was sweating with the exertion of it. Watching her, I just wanted her to let out a primal scream full of the fear and pain that seemed to writhe within her.
Mark Bazeley played Macduff. Though his part was not altogether large, he made every moment on stage count for all it was worth. His anguish at the discovery of the deaths of his 'pretty ones' was heart-renching. Here was a man to be sympathized with. In contrast, Adrian Schiller's Malcolm was cold and calculated, full of imperial disregard for the feelings of his subject hinting at the darker person than Macbeth he admitted was hiding within. Julian Glover's Porter was superb. I had no idea he was also Duncan until I checked the program, so separate and unique were the two characters. And Barnaby Kay's ghostly (and bloody) Banquo did not seem to blink, his eyes wide with an insanity of his own leaving him to haunt Macbeth as he would.
I was heartily impressed with this production, and very pleased I had decided to see it at last. I probably would have enjoyed it even if it was not so marvelously well done simply to listen to Sean Bean speak (great accent), but even that was just an added bonus that, had it been absent, would not have detracted from the wonder of the show. Seeing productions like this is inspiring.
Macbeth -- Sean Bean
Lady Macbeth -- Samantha Bond
Weird Sister/Lady Macduff -- Clare Swinburne
Weird Sister -- Alexandra Moen
Weird Sister/Gentlewoman -- Jayne McKenna
Duncan/Porter -- Julian Glover
Malcolm -- Adrian Schiller
Captain/Murderer -- Christian Patterson
Ross -- David Beames
Banquo -- Barnaby Kay
Lennox -- Finn Caldwell
Servant/Messenger -- Edmund Moriarty
Fleance -- Blair Merrick, Aran Schipp
Macduff -- Mark Bazeley
Donalbain/Young Siward -- Tam Williams
Seyton -- Ian Price
Murderer/Doctor -- Nicholas Asbury
Murderer/Old Siward -- Edward Clayton
Young Macduff -- Sam Mannox, David Towriss, Joe White
Messenger -- Christopher Obi
Director -- Edward Hall
Designer -- Michael Pavelka
Lighting -- Ben Ormerod
Music -- Simon Slater
Sound -- Matt McKenzie
Movement -- Ian Spink
Fights -- Terry King
Globe Theatre Tour and Exhibition | Twelfth Night| A Midsummer Night's Dream | Sam's Weekend 2002 | Workshop for Early Modern Drama Course | King Lear | MacBeth | Stratford upon Avon | Sonnet Walk | Taming of the Shrew | Sam's Weekend 2004 | Romeo and Juliet | Much Ado About Nothing