Lovers and Liars : A David Garrick Double Bill
INFLUENCES AND INSPIRATIONS:
When first approaching the text, and looking in particular at how best to embody our characters and which of their traits to develop and focus on, it seemed only natural to consult with the biographies of the actors who comprised the original cast. Charlotte, as Dramaturg, led this initial exploration which we then furthered by researching the actors relevant to our respective roles. For me, this involved looking into the stage career of Jane Hippisley, who played Biddy in the 1747 production. Through this I learned that Hippisley led a comparatively successful career but was often cast as a maid figure, as her “great humour, spirits, smart lively voice, and agreeable pertness” recommended her to such parts. Our research was then useful to bear in mind during rehearsals, especially for characters such as Jasper – who we realised was originally played by a renowned comic actor whose facial expressions amused audience members without him having to speak – as this goes part way to explaining why the character is so seemingly underdeveloped in comparison to others within the play, thus guiding us to explore in more detail the physicality of the role.
To this end, we have spent time this week learning about the traditions of Commedia dell’arte, and assessing which stock characters can be related to our roles within the play. Lauren began by showing us a video tutorial on the gestic characteristics of each stock figure, and from this we experimented with the physical traits that could be assimilated into our versions of the characters. For Biddy, this meant adding a flourish and grace to some of her arm and hand gestures, while Chris’ Sir Simon developed greatly under the template of the “Pantalone” figure, taking on miserly hand movements and beady, direct looks from side to side which will hopefully help to steer the audience away from a sympathetic view of the character (a previously discussed concern, as Biddy treats Sir Simon with a contempt which could alter the audience’s perception of her, if Sir Simon’s behaviour does not appear to warrant such derision).
Our research has therefore helped to troubleshoot a number of problems that initially sprang from the text, and we continue to welcome any new influences that can inform our characters and keep our performances fresh as we edge ever closer to opening night!
 “The Theatrical Review” quoted in A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and Other Stage Personnel in London. 1660-1800. Volume 6: Garrick to Gyngell.
PERFORMING AND CREATING AN EARLY MODERN FARCE:
With a play like Miss in Her Teens, finding the line between having fun with the text and actually making fun of it can be a difficult issue, and one that needs to be carefully assessed in rehearsal. In the play I am portraying ‘Puff’, Captain Loveit’s Manservant. He is cheeky, and could, given the opportunity, be a pantomime-esque, one dimensional character. The challenge of performing 18th Century farce is that, due to being over 300 years old, it is difficult for both the actor and a modern audience to recognise where the humour lies. References, contextual information and forms of delivery all need to be understood and then explored to create a performance that not only respects the text, but also understands it.
Thanks to Lauren’s direction and the use of various directorial practitioners we have explored the comedic potential of various different scenes. We have pinpointed where we feel the limits are, without straying into parody or mockery. From there, we then found the more ‘performative’ lines that did have the freedom to be played ‘out’ to the audience; and by contrast, we located the lines where we were missing what the line was saying. This meant further research was needed. One example of this from rehearsal, was the line Tag, Puff’s wife, states to Puff as he dashes to exit the stage to avoid her confrontation. Tag threatens to send Puff to Newgate, which by its mentioning, causes Puff to have a change of heart and talk to his wife. Until we got into rehearsal and found out that Newgate was (a prison), the comedic potential of this moment was lessened. As an actor, I did not know the severity of the threat Tag was offering, and so the stakes were not being communicated to the audience to give the moment tension, and subsequently, humour.
Not understanding an older text, particularly a comedy, can have further issues. Mocking or ‘over-performing’ lines to highlight their datedness (by our modern standards) is not making the play funny, it makes fun of the play. At one point in the performance I state, before a characters entrance, “But who have we here?” In rehearsal, I couldn’t help but mock the line whenever we were rehearsing the scene. But this cannot happen in performance. The line has a function, to move the scene forward, and as such, I, as an actor today need to use it in its original function. Nothing is gained from turning the script into a parody of itself.
Garrick wrote a play that is funny enough on its own merit. It does not need embellishment for a modern audience to laugh. It just takes a cast and crew that are willing to explore this comedic potential and unearth what it was that made Garrick’s comedies so popular in the first place.
The initial couple of weeks in the rehearsal process for Miss in Her Teens have been mainly geared towards trying to really get to grips with the text allowing us as a production to give the best performance we can of Garrick’s play. Along with textual analysis work, actors have been focusing on our bodies and voices, practicing and learning techniques to really allow us to feel at ease and relaxed with ourselves thus hopefully aiding our performance. In previous performances, as an actor I have struggled with nerves and as such become very rigid with my physicality and vocal performances. One of the techniques Lauren (The Director) has worked through with us is the Alexander Technique which aims to teach people how to stop using unnecessary levels of muscular and mental tension during their everyday activities. Personally I have found the technique very beneficial and have felt the effects in my performance in rehearsals. Through early character development work, I have started to get to grips with the character of ‘Bob’ Loveit. As a Captain in the military he would have a confident and calm exterior much of the time, obviously this is challenged within the play but as military personnel, an authoritative exterior would be paramount. And as such I have found the Alexander Technique to be incredibly useful in trying to achieve this on stage. Not only in my physicality but in my voice also, the Captain speaks very eloquently especially in the final scene of the play and as such I need my voice to be relaxed in order to deliver and articulate the lines to the audience. I know that the other actors in the cast have found the technique to be useful and I will be using it throughout the rehearsal and performance process.
We have embarked on a journey into the world of 18th Century theatre, David Garrick and all things farcical. I am playing Tag in Garrick’s Miss in her Teens; the witty clever maid assisting Miss Biddy in her plot to be rid of unwanted lovers, and arrange the marriage between her and the man she loves. Rehearsals have begun by exploring vocal training in order to aid us in performing on such a large stage. Those who know me will probably feel like my vocal dynamics are quite loud enough thanks, given that you can usually hear my voice bouncing off ceilings for days after. However, according to professional actor training, it’s not acceptable to just go on stage, screech your lines and hope for the best. And I guess they’re probably right.
With this in mind, Lauren has been taking us through careful vocal warm ups and exercises to ensure that a) we still have voices left after 8 weeks of rehearsal and b) we learn how to articulate our lines properly. It has been tricky to get our mouths around some of the language in the play, not least negotiating which ‘f’s are actually an ‘s.’ The exercises have been focussed on the entire body, as all of the various tensions in our muscles have an effect on whether the voice is being strained and what kind of resonances it contains. We have explored the various parts of the mouth (who knew there were so many?) in order to see how they work and create different sounds. Our muscle flexibility has also been extended to yoga, with varying success, but we’ve all tried our best to contort ourselves into seemingly inhuman positions. As well as learning to create or lose certain tensions, we have also mastered what I believe to be the most difficult tongue twisters known to man! Hopefully, we will be able to put all this into practice and remember our lines. Given that our deep breathing practice has become so competitive we have almost caused ourselves suffocation, the audience should at the very least be able to hear us!
Normally when working in a group tension is something actively avoided, especially when working with people you have spent the best part of the three years with (those who know you well also know how best to get under your skin). However in the early stages of rehearsals for Miss in her Teens tension was a particular focus for us as actors. Borrowing from methods set out by Jaques Lecoq, and developing techniques used in a workshop led by Director Tom Wright, we set about plotting the different tension states each of our characters were experiencing in a given scene.
We were given nine states of tension which were as follows:
Using this scale we have been experimenting in the scenes, finding out which tension state works best at which moment for each individual character. So if when watching you sense an air of tension amongst the actors… Good!