The ROSE Theatre, London

This recording at the Rose Theatre, London on Southwark’s Bankside, shows the spectacular access we had to this spot where Shakespeare himself very likely trod the boards.

My thanks are to Tony Toller and the Rose Trust for allowing this unprecedented gift of being able to recite for a second time all of Shakespeare’s sonnets on his 441st birthday.

This sonnet is a perennial favourite with actors. And the final couplet a masterpiece of words mirroring actions. Plus a fantastic example of the wit and truth he brings to these sonnets.

AS an unperfect actor on the stage,
Who with his fear is put besides his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart;
So I for fear of trust, forget to say,
The perfect ceremony of love’s right,
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay,
O’ercharg’d with burthen of mine own love’s might:
O let my books be then the eloquence,
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love, and look for recompense,
More than that tongue that more hath more express’d.
O learn to read what silent love hath writ,
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.

The sense of the ROSE Theatre’s history is hard to grasp when you know there is an office block on top of your head.
See the pretty candles that Ben is lighting at the back?

But step outside and you can smell the Thames river and the sense of history is more palpable, knowing that under the viaduct to your left the remains of the original Globe Theatre lie and off to your right the Sam Wanamaker Globe project (education centre next door and theatre on the Bankside) are piling in the audiences, as if it were Elizabethan London. The original Globe theatre being made of the shell of the THEATRE in Shoreditch another project presently being excavated and preserved.

Academia has caught up with lovers of the Early Modern period and worthy projects like SHALT or SHakespearean London Theatres and MoEML or Maps of Early Modern London.

The ROSE Theatre’s history is connected to another direct link with Early Modern Theatre history, namely Philip Henslowe. Henslowe kept a diary and that too is digitised and another project for academics eager to pad out our knowledge of the period.

A list in Henslowe's handwriting

A list in Henslowe’s handwriting

Kings College have produced a facsimile of the Braun and Hogenburg’s map of London from 1572. There are markers on it which lead you to interesting articles. But it is worth noting that the THEATRE in Shoreditch was the first purpose built public theatre in London in 1576. And that was set up by James Burbage, father of Richard the actor whom our Will wrote brilliant characters he could play.

This public theatre is the key to understanding Shakespeare’s position in the Early Modern Theatre world. Veni, vidi, vici!

But what are these?

The excitement mounts and the anticipation is for the next post. i love Shakespeare is going to Sweden.

2014 DECEMBER facebook group blog

2014 ends and 2015 begins and We wonder what’s it all about?

It’s been a great year and we could easily bow out of the Shakespeare game a happy puppy and not be missed. That would be scanned. Over on Facebook the group about this blog has become more the blog than the blog is. It’s certainly where much time is spent searching out the story behind the story. And every now and then a scoop appears such as the First Folio find in France in November. Also it allows us to gloat about our own successes which seems to be the raison d’etre of facebook in the first place. Our community is growing and in several years we would love to visit the countries where our members live such as Brasil and sub continental India and the antipodean islands and continent. Our members are participants in the process. Shakespeare is a process. We are nearing 500 members. There are daily links to topics of interest. Should you want to join follow the link and send a request. This blog will continue in its own way.


Some yuletide fun but can we call them SHelfies (used already in the twittersphere of people’s bookshelves) ie A selfie of you and Shakespeare in any shape or form. Capitalise the first two letters to set it apart from the shelfie. (BTW we had the idea first and sat on it, then got trumped by the book shelf thing. Timing is everything they say). Here’s mine: WillSuttonSHelfie
You care because you can make a better one between now and 12th Night and post it to the group or tweet it @yluvsh

Now on to news that doesn’t involve us. Speaking of selfies the blogosphere was up in arms that the Guardian sub-editors used the word to describe portraits of Robert Dudley:
You care because you either care or don’t that they did.

One of my favourite metrical scholars Marina Tarlinskaja publishes her newest tome:
Shakespeare and the Versification of English Drama.
You care because it tabulates the metrical styles of Elizabethan and Jacobean scribblers. Additionally it provides non-emotional fuel to the Shakespeare Authorship Question whilst backing up the work of Ward and Valenza doing the same work with databases on computers.

Anthony Sher, one of those excellent actors most people have never heard of, did a live webchat.
You care because the world is full of fantastic actors that are not famous and never will be famous in the superstar sense of fame. Shakespearean theatre practitioners worldwide know that this playwright will allow them to act to the best of their ability knowing the acting creme de la creme has been there and done that before them.

The ever inventive Good Tickle Brain created some christmas carols.
You care because the Shakespearean character letters to Santa on McSweeneys date from 2009.

The Horrible Histories crew have put together a new movie called Bill. Here is the trailer:
You care because it will be one of the funniest takes on the early modern period since the long running and best selling Complete works of Shakespeare.

OP reviewed...Good and bad.

There’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. Someone once said.
Holger Schott Syme doesn’t like OP. In fact he micturates vinaigre over the whole concept. It’s uncertain from his blog post if he’s ever seen any. Holger is an Early Modern Scholar and I personally respect his work. He’s also a big fan of the Deutsche Buhne i.e. the German stage and theatre and bemoans the fact that other countries don’t invest as much in theatre as they do. Hear, hear.

Of course I can now fill this blog post with my reply to his whilst it is under moderation. But the reply has been approved and DC has chimed in with his response and a dialogue is building.

Did you see the latest OP production at the SWP? Have you ever seen an OP production? Are you annoyed that the Globe and its staging of OP productions has taken precedence over your attempts in theatrical historiography? How long since you took a voice class to discover different nuances within your own registers?

Where’s your sense of discovery Holger? It’s all a bit; ‘been there, done that’ sounding.

I quite agree that OP will never re-create the conditions of an Elizabethan actor for ALL the reasons you stated. Be it the Queen’s men or the Globe’s. Linguistic and spatial essentialism are new to me, though they seem to confine monarchical concepts in a tiny room.

Your post smacks of reductionism across the different fields. In acting you deny the voice of response to the practice. In directing you belittle the pretenders that dare to bring that which never was. In practice you squeeze any form of discovery into a faulty template for past causality.

And yet the essential aspect of Original Practice is simply theatrical exploration. Original Pronunciation offers a sound system approximating Early Modern English. This sound system united a disparate group of actors with very different regional and national accents. It was a very exciting and visceral experience for those of us who took part because of that alterity.

But hey maybe we’re all fooling ourselves right? The exigencies of theatrical practice in Elizabethan times were dictated by the societal conditions. The fact that actors used cue-scripts had no effect on the writers who knew they did because time, money, lack of paper is the over-riding factor here. Those writers never married their instruction of character into such a part, which then tied back into the whole.

The idea of OP isn’t fixed. There are no rules to go by. Otherwise Renaissance Fairs would have done this work years ago. What we explored was how to create an ensemble working within the strictures of cue-script and the new-old accent of OP to see what the results would be. Those results surprised us and the audience. And in the Q&A afterwards objections like your own were addressed. However that does not negate the experience no matter how much you may pooh-pooh it.

Ahistorical nonsense or no. You are the one claiming equivalence. As a practitioner my feet are firmly planted on that stage giving the best damn performance i can under the conditions that present themselves that night in that place and time. And the next night whether those conditions of place and type of venue have changed or not. Proscenium arch, or thrust, or living room, or bar, or wherever it be. Actors don’t get to choose too often the concepts that are forced on them. And the amount of rubbish I’ve heard about RP and Shakespeare, willst du nicht wissen. I’m not in any kind of denial about OP, or RP, oder Buhne-Sprache. Bring back the repertory system if we can.

But deny OP? Deny the world of theatre. And box it to be poked at and compartmentalised and scorned. You are not alone Holger. Many scholars think the way you do. Let’s hope the actors and directors don’t.

There are other slightly dissenting voices from those who actually experienced it, like Eoin Price here and Lady M here. And the twittysphere responded too.

So OP attracts attention and the scholars and theatre world need to deal with it. Because we the practitioners are going to keep on doing it. And if we can do it in theatres like the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse that’s just schweet!

Ben on the deck. Will on the balcony. SWP being pretty all around us.

Ben on the deck. Will on the balcony. SWP being pretty all around us.

The comment I posted was replied to by Holger Schott Syme on his rather excellent blog.

And commendably DC carries on the dialogue without descending into ad hominems as We are wont to do.

OP performances past

So much fun to be able to say I played the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. As did one of our cast Natalie the other morning on the tube when someone asked why she was carrying a baby basket. It’s a prop for a show she said. What in some church hall? No, in the Globe. The reply, Oh.

Obviously she really meant the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse but who knows what that is. The actors do. The directors and producers do. It’s gaining recognition and the word is out on what it’s like to play it. Attitudes about it vary from the bloody uncomfortable of the Kirkville reviews to the oh they’re doing lots of really good music stuff there.

Well we can say we played it twice already with two very different shows. And as I said to our master of the book, Rob the other day who cares how uncomfortable a theatre is as long as the show blows you away. The Globe is one of the most friendly theatres on the block btw with wheel chair access and facilities, even for the SWP. And yes, the pit is positioned with benches facing each other. Anyway audiences immediately angle themselves appropriately to the stage and indeed there are no backs on the front three rows.

My first two hours traffic with this stage happened on the 25th June. We were given a gracious introduction by Patrick and then left in the capable hands of the head of events at Globe Ed, Adam and the candlelician Tony. Allowed free access we explore the length and breadth of the stage, the sight lines, the aural capacities of the room.

Discovery numero uno and most important was the corridor the width of the tiring house door, in which you are visible by everyone in the house. Venture too far stage left or right and for some audience members, you disappear.

Discovery numero due and equally important, the acoustics are fantastic. No need to shout or project anywhere. The voice spreads out and up and wrappingly caresses back at you. Kinda like the stage at the Old Vic, but obviously smaller. The all wood interior in this respect is your friend. One wonders how it will sound once the wood is soaked with voice.

The second aspect being that consonants are of utmost importance. The vowel carries the emotion and the room is emotionally vibrant.

The real test of a room as all performers know is playing it.

Reuben Kaye singing some Feste

Reuben Kaye singing some Feste

The tenth of july was my birthday, and at the same age Shakespeare was when he died, I participated in a David Crystal lecture. If you don’t know DC, a little research will pruv his warth. Suffice to say he is the new (old) voice of OP. His voice on other language matters needs 3 small letters, OBE. I’ve worked stages and rooms mostly in NL for some 20 years now but DC brings a confidence to the lecture room few will achieve. He likes the off-beat humourous approach too.

Here’s the platt of the evening:

Preface to the First Folio, by Ben Jonson

DC Introduction to Original Pronunciation

Twelfe Nighte

Love’s Labour’s Lost

Sir John Harington – new design of privy published in 1596 under the title A new discourse of a stale svbject, called the metamorphosis of Ajax.

King Lear.

As You Like It.

As You Like It.

Troilus and Cressida.

Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Heywood’s proverbs.

Midsummer Night’s Dream.

10 examples of last lines: Taming of the Shrew Merry Wives of Windsor King Lear Hamlet Romeo and Juliet Troilus and Cressida H4pt1 H5

Henry the Fifth.

Richard the Second.

Heminge and Condell, introduction to Folio.

Just yesterday the 17th July we played an evening of Songs and Sonnets in OP.

Here’s the Platt for that:

#Weyward Sisters#


Dad, Will, Ben – LLL & OP


#Will He Not Come Again#

Sonnet 20 – Girls
– Reuben


#Come Away Death#


#Hey Nonny Nonny#


Willow Scene

#Willow Song#



Chorus Sonnet

R&J Sonnet


#Fear No More


#ENCORE – Rain it raineth#

Ben wanted to keep the ensemble on its toes to work the cue script process. Everyone had chosen a sonnet that resonated with them. The day before we had finished working the nuts and bolts of the sonnets analysing the form from phonetic and metrical standpoints.

Then Ben worked their contents with incredibly personal results. Seeing as catharsis is the actor’s business, witnessing such in rehearsal without it descending into therapy is gratifying. Information and choices are an actor’s vocabulary and the more we have of both, the better the results.

Those results were explored further during the performance on the 17th in an ordering determined on the spur of the moment. What was fixed were the songs composed by Hazel and her sister. And Sam Amidon a US folk artist, who brought another flavour of folksiness to the songs composition. We sang sonnet 29 to his scoring and boy did it read. Our finale song was Feste’s and with the whole ensemble behind us I felt supported and grateful.

The room when you play it has three god spots. Two on the deck: one downstage centre and the other upstage centre; and one on the balcony, dead centre. You lean back and…

Ben leaning back and sitting pretty.

Ben leaning back and sitting pretty.

OP and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Just got the call ‘Theatre about to go dark’! here at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Hugely no-real-words-for-it exciting to be in this space today and tomorrow for the sonnet performance at 7pm then saturday at 12 noon for a tech/dress/first try-out of Macbeth and sunday 7pm full read/performance of Macbeth with full complement of cast (4 pros who aren’t part of the ensemble and 16 ensemble whereof 4 or five have other jobs and aren’t always there).

Learning hand over fist about staging and ensemble work. The candlelician (seriously that’s the candle tech’s name) is lowering the chandeliers (sorry candleliers) to different heights for the candle tech run through. The cast is in the audience area spread over the two tiers, either learning lines or songs, or capturing photos which we are strictly contract breakingly NOT allowed to make public.

Our superbly chillax contact from the Globe, Colette is hanging on her computer in the pit. Conveniently out of the way of Stage manager Mike, director Rob and our Ben overseeing the candle-abracadabra but close enough to facilitate when necessary.

The Globe itself is full mid-season with Julius Caesar sold out and Lupercalial feasting in the lobby as audience arrives. The education department is in a separate building over towards the Rose Theatre and provides a constant stream of school kids being introduced to Shakes and capable faculty and actors teaching them. Hail Patrick.

It’s so normal to gush about fellow players and the mutual appreciation society can quickly tilt into factions and cliques. I want to gush about Nick, Alex, Helena, Daiva, and Katrina all recent graduates of E15. Warren, Natalie, and Diana all ensemble members since the inception, Adam, Matthew, John, english yorkshire scottish men with 3 different physiques and skill sets. Reuben, oh Reuben. That’s you named. The rest have been named in previous posts. But what’s in a name?

Just broke off writing because the three wayward sisters hauntingly searched for each other in song (thrice to thine and thrice to mine). Palpable through earphones, one tentatively calling from the pit. Another answered from stage right through the audience and a third through the Up Stage Left door. Spooky and goose bumpy.

And there it is again. That cry. It’s going dark it’s going dark!

Original Practice Shakespeare sonnets and songs

Many years ago in Cafe Quelle, Amsterdam I did a sunday afternoon performance in drag. A fruitless 20 minute search for a photo documentation will no doubt please many of our readers. And disappoint a few too. Trust me she was fruity.

The subject was sonnets and I had made hardboard cut-outs of my shadow with eye and heart added.
The performance space was tightly packed and volunteers had joined on stage to be put through their paces and be recited to. Then I started on sonnet 30:

WHen to the Sessions of sweet silent thought,
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye (unus’d to flow)
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan th’expense of many a vanish’d sight.
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee (dear friend)
All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end.

That sixth line (Henry) hit home like an emotional ton of bricks and that old familiar catch in the throat choked out ‘death’s dateless night’. And by ‘weep afresh’ I was inwardly weeping and outwardly trying to save my neophyte sonneteer’s butt. After the performance finished my friend Mark P. tall south african albino laughed at me saying ‘he got you there, eh bru?’

Today in rehearsal our ensemble went through their sonnet paces on a chosen sonnet that resonated with them. Everyone had been mechanick-ed using the nuts and bolts of the form by yours truly yesterday. The content being Ben’s domain today. The full complement of players for thursday night happily being fourteen. So we started with Aslam and sonnet 97. Not an easy sonnet but boy did he nail it with an emotional honesty. Which set the tone and the bar for the rest of us.

Ben’s methodology is intuitive and specific to the person speaking it. The stick work we do daily provides an outside focus, which to my mind represents the actor’s text. The person taking the stick for a walk is the driving force. What happens when taking the stick for a walk whether alone or with another, or being shadowed while doing so, or having your stick stolen from you, or giving it to another party, or accepting another stick and walking with two, or chaining up as three or four or five, is where the magic happens. There is no pattern, there are no rules, though there are plenty of discoveries.

Adam got up to do sonnet 30. He delivered it fine and well first time out of the gate. A successful emotionally connected rendition any actor would be proud of. Don’t forget this verse is two days old in his mind. YET every actor knows that in the heat of the crucible and forced to go out of their comfort zone, their memory of that carefully memorised sonnet will start to smell like an anchovy. Sure enough Ben had him fighting for his words soon as he could misplace ‘vanished’. Repeated chasings of another who wouldn’t listen to him around the rehearsal space had him chewing the floorboards in frustration.

Then once that maelstrom of activity ceased and he just delivered the sonnet to the ensemble gathered closely around him with a personal honesty and depth that each line resonated back story or created it in my listening mind. Line six once again played its magic and broke him. And me too, as years have gone by and many more precious friends are now hid in death’s dateless night. (espen greger hagen rip)

That was 2 of 14 amazing personal sonnet journeys today. Those emotional hook-ups are not what the show is about because that would be just indulgent and onanistic to subject an audience to that. A personal and honest accounting is what the show is about. Getting to that point is what rehearsals are for. And every actor knows it. And wishes he or she were a part of doing that.

Time has stopped existing in a linear fashion. Dream time is happening. And you’ll never understand, until you stand where I stand.

OP Songs and Sonnets by Shak-sper

How does OP affect singing and reciting?

It’s becoming increasingly clear that OP is the great leveller of the Shakespeare playing field. By that I mean a possible re-exploration of the canon without resorting to conceptual renewal, be it sci-fi, zombie, colonial plantation.

The OP accent is not about historical revisionism. (An utterly impossible task anyway you look at it. And more so, thanks to literary theory and criticism of the late 20thC). It is about re-connecting with the words: with the energies and synergies inherent in the phrasing, the puns, the rhymes.

Firstly it offers a re-calculating of the folio and quarto texts. (What constitutes a final text? How does cutting a play affect the original piece? What is then the original play)?

Secondly it asks for a re-visiting of accepted emendations by generations of scholars. (not that they are necessarily wrong or bad in any way. Does the punctuation play a part in the rhythm of an actor’s part)?

Lastly it begs a re-interpretation of the purpose of playing Shakespeare. (Is he really an untouchable cultural demi-god author? Or do these plays, does this play live only in the lines of the characters and their necessary interaction)?

But OP is strongest in levelling the playing field on a global scale in the realm of accent. RP will continue to be the accent of the English stage ie British English theatre elite. (and ffs it is a wonderfully expressive accent, despite it’s lack of balls). Australian, New Zealand, American, Canadian actors, to name but four of the direct recipients of RP as THE standard for speaking Shakespeare, now have a choice of another accent closer to the first soundings of these words and phrases. And in that accent lies a new sense of discovery about how to interpret these same.

Not better, not re-creating an unachievable lost past, just a choice using their accent to produce a new OP accent; in their town or city’s Original Practice using cue-script acting and original pronunciation. The old accent meets the new digitised world. The new-old accent creates an old-new performance language. A language nota bene, which informed those same-different English accents in the first place.

It occurs to me we have been increasingly mentally mouthing these words, century after century. Deifying what is after all a sham. A travesty of a mockery. Words need to live and breathe in ever newer environs. Think on them as much as you want, yet speak these old words new, trippingly on your tongue, as well as reading them, again and again!

We are performing songs and sonnets at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre this thursday the 17th July. There may still be tickets available. If you don’t believe these written words, come and hear his, and decide for yourself. Show starts at 7pm.

OP and this city's Shakespeare OP Ensemble

It’s all about the formation of a Shakespeare Original Practice Ensemble. How do you train a disparate group of actors and gel them together? What are the principles that lay behind it?

So two days of ensemble rehearsal in the Poor School. I ache. In a good way. There are anywhere between 16-20 of us involved. So I’m not alone. (Ahl-own, his OP mouth-brain forming newer shapes). We range in experience from E15 students up to our name actors Hilton, Colin, and Joan. In between the experience range is from often on stage or acting for money to little stage time and jobs that make the money. The thing that unites us is a love for the craft.

We have a production crew; from the driving and steering Rebecca in her London office to Rob and Mike from the USA on the shop floor watching and recording our every move. As Patrick said, this is a read not dead happening, NOT a full production. And it’s NOT a full production. Ay, it seems Madam, but it isn’t. For that one would be paid full time wages and this ensemble is sponsored by those looking to further the Original practice. So we have Angels and we thank them. Some even have names like Eric and Steve. Others are merely benefactors. We also have our Master of Voice, David.

And while this has turned into a naming session I would be remiss to not state that of the man responsible for bringing OP back to the Globe way back in 2004. Thanks Tim. (And Mark. And Patrick).

And for those who always remain nameless yet whose efforts supporting us behind the scenes and from our homes, here are those comforting comfortless words, You know who you are!


No that’s the muscle ache. I need a bath. Because I’m going to the Globe in an hour. To spend all day rehearsing in the Sam Wanamaker Theatre. Putting into practice the discoveries of yesterday. Oh yes! And preparing for the performance on thurs evening the 10th July for which there are a few standing room only tickets left.

Guest Post on OP by Ben Crystal

Today is my friend Ben’s birthday. I am so very happy he is my friend and able to withstand our (often into the wee hours, whisky fueled) Shakespearean discussions. I wish you enough, and want to say, Love and Thanks to this young man’s dedication and enthusiasm. Yesterday we stood together on the stage of the Sam Wanamaker indoor Theatre at the Globe. Then he went to tech run the OP Winter’s Tale with his students from E15. Today he’s being fight directed for Makkers. Here is his blog about Winter’s Tale in OP. If you are in London it would be wise to go and see this.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014
Winter’s Tale – 28th June-4th July
I’m currently directing Winter’s Tale
for the E15 MA final project.

The remit given was: 90mins, in the round, ensemble, Shakespeare-deconstructed.

Being somewhat of a fan of simple, on-the-nose, straight-forward, non-concept Shakespeare, I was with it right up until the last one. But, always a fan of a challenge, and right before taking OP to the Globe’s new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, I liked the idea of going to the other end of my comfort zone, and completely ripping Shakespeare apart while still working the rehearsal techniques I’ve been developing with my ensemble, which relies on solid verse speaking combined with an extensive physical methodology and attention to stagecraft.

Now, I’m used to cutting Shakespeare, but the extant play of Winter’s Tale is 3362 lines long.

Full of meaty, image-rich verse written at the height of Shakespeare’s metrical prowess the dialogue sparkles so close to speech, and the prose seems to be like prosaic verse, or poetic prose, like some parts of Pericles.

The accepted standard is 1,000 lines of Shakespeare spoken per hour, so after forming and training the ensemble, the challenge was to devise out 80 minutes (always nice to finish under time) out of the flu play, which meant we were allowed a maximum of 1100 lines or so.

Do we lose Bohemia? (yes, almost entirely)
How do we solve the bear? (we decided it should be scary…)
What do we do with the statue, when you’re in the round?

The last was a noodle-scratcher, but while prepping for the SWP events at the Globe next month, which will all be candlelit, I thought about how they would have solved the statue issue at the Blackfriars, back when Winter’s Tale was first performed.

It’s easier in a huge proscenium theatre. Put Hermione deep upstage, as far away from the audience as possible, and if she moves it’ll be imperceptible. But in the Blackfriars, or the Globe’s Sam Wanamaker, the slightest movement would read from the back row of the upper gallery.

But. It’s candlelit. The flickering light makes statues come alive, I thought.

So we’ve forged a rather beautiful, candle-lit, Tale, with a melting statue of wax. Continuing the exploration of the Chorus in modern Shakespeare over the last year, I’ve used the Chorus of Time to fracture the play, as we follow this tragedy-with-a-potentially-good-ending.

It opens on Saturday 28th in the Cockpit Theatre (north of Marylebone, central London) and plays on in rep until 4th July:
The Winter’s Tale, Cockpit Theatre.

Do please come if you can.

Posted by Ben Crystal at 14:14
Re-posted by William Sutton at 16:45 Amsterdam time.
Happy Birthday Ben!

Original Practice or Faith based acting

Original Practice Macbeth blog post: part the third.

We left off by looking at the cue script for Banquo’s first entrance in Act 1 Scene 3.
And yet that cue script is printed and type-faced. An original cue-script would have been handwritten like this one for Edward Alleyne, a leading man of the Elizabethan stage.

Elizabethan actors had different parameters within which they worked.And there is no way we can go back and reproduce it. There was no Stanlavski, Strasberg, Adler, or Meisner type schools of thought attached to their acting. They had senses, memory, and imagination.

An actor given a cue script has no context, only text. The world of the character in the play represents a vacuum fed by cues. Using this definition of a vacuum then: an enclosed space (i.e. the world of the play) from which matter (relationship and context to others in the scene) has been partially removed (still have cues) so that the matter or gas remaining in the space exerts less pressure than the atmosphere.

The curious difference is re-learning how to learn your part. Normally we would read the whole play and then zoom in on our character’s needs and wants in relation to the other characters we interact with scene by scene. Analysing my character’s through line using all available information from the whole script and beyond.

Here with cue scripts, our own language or what we say becomes the focal point and how others think about us is left to onstage interaction. We can guess from the way we say things or how we construct what we are saying. However there is no framework of the entire scene. How much time happens in between our cues and response also is impossible to gauge. Or who exactly spoke the cue. Or how long they have been speaking and conversely we listening.

The focus, our focus, my focus is on my lines. And to speak them i need my cue. Other actors feed me those cues as I feed them theirs. To be an Elizabethan or Jacobean actor commences as a solitary act of preparation. The first step is exactly memorising those lines along with their cues.

Right now in my own process of learning Banquo I am terribly aware of his pronoun usage. When does he use ‘you’ as opposed to ‘thou’. Unsurprisingly in his interaction with Macbeth he switches from ‘you’ to ‘thou’ in act 3 in his opening soliloquy.

[III-1] Actus Tertius. Scena Prima.
Enter Banquo.

Thou hast it now, King, Cawdor, Glamis, all,
As the weyard Women promis’d, and I feare
Thou playd’st most fowly for’t: yet it was saide
It should not stand in thy Posterity,
But that my selfe should be the Roote, and Father
Of many Kings. If there come truth from them,
As upon thee Macbeth, their Speeches shine,
Why by the verities on thee made good,
May they not be my Oracles as well,
And set me up in hope. But hush, no more.

His suspicions of his noble partner’s misdeeds are increasing, yet it’s only now that his own ambition is awakened. The more I read Banquo’s lines, the more conscious I am they would have been spoken in front of King James, who knew he was a descendant of Banquo.

Now compare those thou’s, thy’s, and thee’s, to his use of ‘your’, prior to the murder of the King in act 2 scene 1:

____________________________________ A Friend.

What Sir, not yet at rest? the King’s a bed.
He hath beene in unusuall Pleasure,
And sent forth great Largesse to your Offices.
This Diamond he greetes your Wife withall,
By the name of most kind Hostesse,
And shut up in measurelesse content.

And Yes, that’s Macbeth the ‘friend’, though we’d never know from the cue script until he spoke and Banquo recognised him. Or would we? The cue script I’m using tells me

Enter Macbeth, and a Servant with a Torch.

And normally i would have highlighted the dramatic irony of this friend who simultaneously is planning his friend’s murder. Because I have the whole script and can read Macbeth’s thoughts as closely as i do Banquo’s!

The amount of original professional early modern cue scripts we have to study are pretty much confined to one, Edward Alleyne’s. And he was a lead player. We have no smaller parts to study. And the truth of this statement needs to be tested. Nothing, remember, is certain when dealing with Early Modern Theatrical practice either.

We defer to the two of the leading experts of the 21stC moment Simon Palfrey and Tiffany Stern, Shakespeare in Parts chapter 1.

Go on, have a read of it.

Our next blog post will start to cover how many others are thinking about original practice.

And an online discussion can be followed on the Oxfraud fb page under Kim H Carrell’s Map and flashlight post. Kim has worked a number of Original Practice productions as an actor and fight director in the USA. His experiences will help us as we further explore this topic.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps Willy into English air space
to meet and workshop with some teachers from east sussex…