In this post is collected a series of notes from the play’s director, Michael Cordner, on the ongoing rehearsal process.
Sunday 2 June Just passed the half-way mark in our short rehearsal period. The first attempt today on the play’s massive final scene, with its extraordinary twists and turns. Putting it on its feet constantly brought out how clever Marston’s theatrical thinking is, how deft he is in exploiting the presence of every character on stage. The demands he puts on actors and directors are accordingly huge.
Monday 3 June Exploring today the demands of the scene in which Beatrice learns of the apparent death of the man she was to marry, and of his infidelity with the courtesan. It’s, as so many of this play’s scenes are, a high-wire act for the players. Difficult to see here, however, the pallidly modest heroine of scholarly legend. The verse Marston writes for Beatrice is crisp, focused, lucid (in the midst of extreme distress), and then swiftly forensic in her response when her rival takes a step too far.
Tuesday 4 June Today we revisited the high-voltage scenes in the brothel in the early part of the play and worked on absorbing our newly composed songs into the dramatic flow. We were visited by Perry Mills, from the King Edward VI School in Stratford-upon-Avon, celebrated for his production of plays from this repertoire with boy casts. He worked with the actors and later recorded a conversation with me about the differences between our two versions of The Dutch Courtesan and about the brilliance of Marston’s technical command.
Wednesday 5 June A day which, by the accidental juxtaposition of rehearsal calls, demonstrated afresh the stylistic diversity and largesse of Marston’s play. Before lunch we rehearsed the scene of Caqueteur’s systematic humiliation by his nominal friends, a brilliant genre piece in a familiar city comedy mode; after lunch we worked on the dawn love duet of Freevill and Beatrice, with its reminiscences of Romeo and Juliet, but shot through all the while with misgivings, nervous rephrasings, things left unsaid, which marks it as utterly different from its more famous parallel.
Thursday 6 June Today was devoted to rehearsing the opening sequence of our production’s second half (Marston’s 4.1, and 4.2). It starts with optimistic celebration of a betrothal, which is then violated by a feigned quarrel instigated by the prospective bridegroom, then morphs into exploring the aftermath of this shock on the incipient courtship between the bride’s sharp-witted sister and her persistent suitor. The writing in the latter encounter moves at a dizzying speed, demanding that its players shift mood with athletic agility. Each day’s work in the rehearsal room makes me more and more convinced that interpretations of the play which work from the assumption that it was tailored down to the alleged narrowness of the performance styles at the command of the boys’ troupe which premiered it are misguided. This is a playwright, at full stretch, who feels at total liberty to explore his medium to its limits.