In November, I worked with two actors, Beth Eyre and Elspeth North, on three potentially tricky scenes from the play: one where Rachel discovers her brother’s act of murder, one where Merry must decide how to dispose of his victim’s body, and one where two waterman find the dismembered remains. All three are complicated to stage: the first because there is a considerable amount of to-ing and fro-ing, as the siblings move between the spaces of their home; the second because it requires onstage dismemberment; and the third because it is a farcical, slapstick scene on which the tragedy of the play hinges. In workshopping these scenes with Beth and Elspeth, I wanted to explore whether using actor’s parts helped the actors get to grips with the complexity of these scenes, or whether they were a hindrance.
In line with Elizabethan rehearsal practices, we plan to rehearse these scenes only once or twice: the more complex stage business, such as dismemberment, will be rehearsed a week before the performance, with props and stage blood on hand, whilst the full scenes will be run through (with lengthly speeches omitted) in a single full cast rehearsal. The workshop was essentially a dry run: an attempt to run the more demanding scenes, with scripts in hand, with two members of the cast before the formal rehearsal process begins. The cast are unlikely to be playing these roles in the full production, so it won’t affect their preparation for the final performance. We found that, while limited knowledge of the overall action of a scene and the characters onstage can be challenging and distracting for an actor, it can also give verisimilitude to actor reactions, which often mirror those of the character. This can be seen in the Watermen scene, in which the two watermen discover the corpse, but neither actor is fully aware of how the scene will unfold:
To see Beth and Elspeth’s experiences at the workshop, and hear how they found working with parts in these scenes, take a look at the Two Lamentable Tragedies YouTube channel, where you can find all three scenes, as well as an interview with the actors.