This week London Editor Louie Woodall is in Stockholm with Ben Crystal’s Shakespeare ensemble ‘Passion in Practice’ to cover their unique production of Pericles in Original Pronunciation (OP) at the Berwaldhallen theatre.
Following the performance on Thursday 29 January, ensemble leader Ben Crystal and his father and OP expert David Crystal, along with ensemble members Warren Rusher, Will Sutton and Owen Oakeshott, as well as musical director of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Harding, participated in a panel discussion on the ensemble’s rehearsal process. The panel was moderated by Marcus Nordlund of the University of Gothenburg.
Marcus Nordlund: Why did you choose to perform Pericles?
Ben Crystal: I hated reading Shakespeare in school, and it was the acting of it that gave [me] the love [for] it. Pericles was the first play where I understood everything I read, and that stayed with me.
When I brought the ensemble together a year ago, we were already using the Richter re-composition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. There’s so much music mentioned in this play, [for example] the music of the spheres, that kind of thing. I woke up one morning and thought that Winter 3 was about the storm in Perciles, and the shipwrecks, and the waves- it all clicked together.
The other reason is that there’s a lot of rhyme in the play, especially with Gower and that’s always joyous to hear in OP.
Also, it’s a later Shakespeare play and part of the ethos of the ensemble is that we are trying to explore what it would be like to have spent 14, 15, 16, 17 years in a theatre working together with this amazing playwright and with each other and finding out what we could achieve. So we’ve generally been sticking to the latter plays when Shakespeare really started to roll up his sleeves and start to collaborate with others. It’s also always nice to bring something fresh to the world, doing a lesser known play and bringing the joy of that play to an audience.
Marcus Nordlund: What can you tell us about the rehearsal process?
Ben Crystal: We are experimenting with a number of different Elizabethan methods and one of them is the cue-script process, and another is using a finite amount of rehearsal time and to instead rely on learning and understanding the stagecraft of the space.
David Crystal: The 15 of us have never acted before together in this particular group. Ben’s ensemble consists of about 30 actors, some of whom are available at the time of a production, some of whom are not. We met for the first time on Monday evening and Tuesday morning was the first time these actors actually encountered each other and their cue scripts together.
Owen Oakeshott: It was probably one of the most emotional moments in my career, this play in performance. It was extraordinary. During the last 20 minutes I was struggling to keep a lid on it, I’ve never known anything quite like that!
I’ve never done something like this in such a short time, something so ambitious in that short amount of time. It was a pressure cooker scenario and it’s a testament to everybody’s skill and patience and ambition that we made the play.
Marcus Nordlund: I’m amazed by how everything came together, because 45 minutes before the performance was about to begin some pretty decisive staging choices were still being made! And I found myself thinking: “they’re not going to remember that”, but they did and it all came together beautifully.
Will Sutton: The other thing about this process is it’s very, very scary! We’re used to rehearsing in different ways, reading the play through together, knowing each other’s lines and running the text through with someone very quickly, but with this you don’t have that opportunity. So you have to do your own work as an actor and bring that to the process, but this process is one where we don’t sit down and go through the script, we’re running around with sticks in our hands! It’s an amazing way to create a subtext.
There’s a wonderful analogy between how musicians also practice and perform- they learn their parts too as individuals and then they bring it to an ensemble and it’s all put together.
Warren Rusher: It’s terrifying, exciting, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun!
Daniel Harding: When we produce an opera, the singers tend to rehearse over weeks and weeks, then the stage director comes in and works with the singers with the piano day after day going through every move. The orchestra turn up three days before the premiere, and it is only then we all rehearse together.
When you talk with the actors about the way we as an orchestra work like this they think: “are you crazy? How do you do this?”
This is the same process, though, that Crystal’s Ensemble is going through. With an orchestra, you have a group of people who know each other and work together, who can then put a particular production on in a short amount of time.
The way you’ve been working like this is much closer to the way we [the orchestra] tend to work all the time.
A review of Pericles in OP will follow on The Shakespeare Standard shortly