Rehearsal blog – day 13 (21.5.2013)


In the morning we looked at the opening of the parliament, and there was lots of discussion about the extent of the political discord John the Commonwealth invokes when he enters the parliament.

Peter Kenny (playing the Pardoner and the Abbot) bought up how the word ‘murmel’ (Merchant, ‘How we shall slaik the great murmel?’ and Temporality, ‘to save us frae murmel’) is used in the play to signify social discontent.  The problem or ‘murmel’ is dealt with to some extent by absorbing John into the parliament and making him the fourth estate, but the actor Gerda Stevenson pointed out that there is also something very puritanical and extreme about John the Commonweal’s suggested reforms.  Tom Betteridge said that John’s presence has been produced by the failure of the Commonwealth, and Greg Walker added that there is an anxiety about the forces that have been unleashed by his appearance, and how wide-reaching and oppressive the reforms he suggests might be.

John’s speech at lines 2605-2619 took quite some unpacking to work out exactly who the targets of his censure are – is it the entertainers he is getting at or noble excess? In fact it took all morning to work through lines 2347-3115, paraphrasing them into the vernacular.  After lunch we worked through the actual text.  This is a really key part of the text; the meat of the disagreement, arguably the heart of the play.

We staged the estates gangand backwart into parliament and John’s louping of the stank, and it was great to see these inherently theatrical moments on their feet for the first time having thought about them on the page for so many months.  The backwards motion of the estates results in their bumping into each other, making a point about the realm’s disorder as much as it heightens the comedy.

We discovered that the staging of this section would be dependent on whether we saw the audience as part of the parliament or whether we see them as excluded from it.  This is an important production choice. The actors explored some of the confines of our recreative staging; their inclination to use all the space and address the audience as much as possible was in tension with a political space that is exclusive and accessible only to few.

We finished the day by looking at how Oppression, Falsehood and Deceit get put in the stocks.  Again the inside/outside of the parliament was one of the features that needed attention.  In fact the spatial vocabulary of political space took precedence all day, giving the opportunity to take some great pictures!


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Rehearsal blog – day 10 (17.5.2013)

Firstly we looked at the end of Part One 1785-193, and noted the proximity of the divine and the earthy in the words of Diligence – particularly towards the end of the section, where the official nature of his herald role is subverted when he commands the women in the audience to use the toilet during the break.

Much of this section is in the prosodic form we identified yesterday in the dialogue between Suiter/Suiter’s wife/Pardoner which we have started to call ‘Lyndsay ballad’ – consisting of alternating lines of iambic tetrameter with 1 line of iambic trimeter in a six-line stanza of aabccb rhyme scheme.  It’s interesting because this means that it is not therefore denotative of class (being spoken by Rex and Divine Correction in this scene) but must serve some other dramaturgical or dramatic function.  When the dialogue shifts into iambic pentameter, as Good Counsel’s does in this scene – it has the effect, as the actor Gerda Stevenson said, of an operatic “aria” – it heightens the dramatic stakes.

After lunch, we rehearsed the entrance of the Pauper and the sections between him and the Pardoner in the Interval play, which presented a number of challenges in terms of both the verse-speaking and the staging.  The day ended with a music call for the female Vices, during which Fund-Jonet was directed to “collect” men in the audience through her song.

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Rehearsal blog – day 9 (16.5.2013)

Lots of important discoveries today so a rather long blog…The_reformed_court

Today we worked on the first entrance of Divine Correction. What was interesting was the extent to which Tam Dean Burn’s entry created a whole new atmosphere within the world of the play. Good Counsel, Gerda Stevenson, Chastity, Cara Kelly, and Verity, Alison Peebles, had all tried to reform Rex Humanitus and had failed. Suddenly Divine Correction changed the dynamic. We spent a considerable amount of time on Divine Correction’s provocative question – What is a King? And his equally radical answer – Nought but an officer. Discussing this line in the context of a performance brought home to me quite how potentially dangerous and subversive the question is since what Lyndsay was doing here is asking a heterogeneous audience of people in Cupar and Edinburgh to reflect on the nature of kingship

It was interesting discussing with the actors and directors the nature of Lyndsay’s politics. It was a reminder at how impoverished, in some ways, modern political discourse is since during the discussion one was constantly tempted to separate moral, economic and social issues. Of course in Lyndsay’s world such a separation would have been meaningless, indeed it would have represented the worst behaviour of, as Lyndsay saw it, the clergy. Ane Satyre is concerned with the idea of a commonweal founded on equity where everyone lives within their bounds. In these terms it embodies a very similar approach to politics as that articulated in the C Text of Piers Ploughman. At one level this is a conservative model of politics since it looks back to a mythical golden age where the classes or estates each knew and respected the boundaries of appropriate behaviour. But it could also form the basis of a radical critique of society and in particular those in power. After all Divine Correction’s agenda is a restorative one but is it articulated through radical language and there is a constant sense that those who transgress against the social bond, disregard-less of status or position will be punished.

In the afternoon, we looked at the rooting out of Sensualitie from the realm of Scotland and it was really striking to see female figures of virtuous rule on-stage alongside Divine Correction.

There was a discussion of the unusual word ‘consociable’ – the term used to describe the relationship that the King is now to have with Verity, Chastity and Good Counsel – and its emphasis on ‘society’ as a result of having allegories embodied on the stage, figuring the relationship between king and virtue as interpersonal.   The same is true of the moment when Sensualitie gets absorbed into the Church, in our staging through being pulled onto Spirituality’s knee and pawed by the Abbot.

But the really interesting part was seeing the staging of Rex’s acceptance of Divine Correction’s Counsel and the departing of Sensualitie form the court.  As it is being performed, Rex listens to Divine Correction only as a secondary effect of Sensualitie leaving him, rather than from making a positive choice to do so.  The moment really strengthens the version of Rex we are building as a weak and easily-led King.  As the actor James Mackenzie said to me, he only listens to Correction because he realises he is “alone and Divine Correction is the only person who seems to be offering him any counsel” rather than through his recognition of God’s emissary’s authority.

The final call was with the Pardoner to look at the section where he divorces the Suiter from his wife during the ‘Interlude’ (what we call the ‘Interval play’).  The strong rhythm of this section was quickly identified, and the fact that all of the dialogue is divided into six-line stanzas, largely lines of iambic tetrameter followed by a line of iambic trimeter.  There are clear moments of flying in the piece, and the verse lets it build up to the arse-kissing divorce ritual.  It took quite some time to find the right rhythm and pacing of this section of verse and Greg Thompson noted the paradox of some of the most common characters in the whole play having some of the most technical prosody.

We also had the amazing realization today that we will be opening the play on the same day as the play was performed in 1552 – June 7th!!  It must be serendipity.

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Rehearsal blog – day 8 (15.5.2013)


In the morning, we looked at lines 1200-1287 – Chastity’s entrance.  Much of this action will make use of the ‘field’, both Diligence and Chastity are very mobile in this area during this section.  Indeed Diligence’s command of the whole domain of the round is noteworthy, as the research team had predicted.  The fact that the Three Estates can be found in the acting space throughout Part One also became clearer , which says something important about the kind of political universe that Lyndsay dramatizes and how integrated it is. At some point Temporality and the Merchants will need to be secreted in our VIP area.

In the afternoon, we looked at the stocking of Chastity and it was particularly interesting to see the opposition between Chastity and Sensualitie played out in dramatic space.  Today was also a day of costume fitting – above is Sensualitie trying out her wonderful costume.

At the end of the day, we looked at the section where Chastity is welcomed by the craftsmen, only to be chased away by their wives (ll 1287-1395) – a comic turn but with the serious point that Chastity may be found among Scotland’s lower orders, if not its elite.  Verity’s argument that subjects will follow the example set by their king shows that Sensualitie has not yet had the trickle-down effect she predicts.   Once again Lyndsay’s egalitarianism is demonstrated by the fact that the ability to recognise the beauty and virtue of Scotland is given to the Scottish working class…though not of course their ‘wickit wives’.

We also had the amazing realization that we will be opening the play on the same day as the play was performed in 1552 – June 7th.  It must be serendipity.

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Rehearsal blog – day 7 (14.5.2013)


Lots more work on the Vices today. In the afternoon the company looked at the part of the play where the Spirituality enter and Verity is hurled into the stocks 1077-1178.  The implication in the text is that the Spirituality are on-stage throughout the first a thousand lines because the stage direction before their first speech reads ‘Here they [the Vices] come to the Spirituality’ (1096 sd).  However, in our version the audience will see the men of the kirk for the first time as they enter on this stage direction, and are met by the Vices on what we call the punishment stage (the quarter to 12 stage of the round).   This is certainly a scene where the in-the-round staging comes to the fore as Verity will make a journey almost the entire way around the encircling walkway from the time of her entry to her imprisonment.

The need to combine action and words in order to keep a long show moving along at pace is becoming obvious.  However a moment will be taken to create a tableau during Verity’s speech in the stocks of the Spirituality gives the Vices their reward for putting her there, which really helps to focus the juxtaposition between her words and the churches’ deeds.  Greg Thompson also set up a convention whereby every time someone says a prayer or is sincere about religion, the Spirituality “get a slight migraine”.

We then looked at the Vices’ exit 1516-1579.  The fact this starts on the punishment stage but that the Vices move away from it nicely materializes their avoidance of retribution in the first half of the play.

If you’re coming to the production look out for Deceit’s stabbing out of  Falset’s eye –it’s going to be quite a moment!

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Rehearsal blog – day one (7.5.2013)

28 actors, academics, stage crew and a director gathered in what Gregory Thompson called a ‘underground bunker’ to begin work on A Satire of the Three Estates on the hottest day of the year so far – hopefully a good omen for our outdoor production.

Greg T gave the actors an introduction about the sort of research project they will be working on – saying that the type of knowledge yielded through rehearsal and performance is a different but as important form of knowledge as that gained by scholars through literary research. Tom Betteridge added that it’s just as valid, and should be valued as much as archival and traditional scholarship.

Greg T told the actors “We have one job.  We have to make the text sing”, saying that every single word is as important as the next in the creation of David Lindsay’s story. He told the cast that they will be at a technical disadvantage as they will lack lighting and sound, but said that they will have music and what he called, the ‘human spotlight’, the rule by which an actor only looks at the person to whom they’re speaking to help focus the audience’s attention.

Greg Walker and and Tom explained the importance of performing this play in its entirety from a historical and cultural perspective, and Greg T suggested the research significance of asking the question, ‘what is this play’ and seeing it as a much more sophisticated piece of work than recent productions might suggest when compared to other sixteenth-century drama. But he also claimed that our purpose is to ‘delight and intrigue the audience, and give them a sense of what it might have been like to see this play in the sixteenth century’.

The actress Gerda Stevenson, playing Good Counsel, brought up a recent Sunday Herald article on the commonweal which she had found of interest, and Tom responded that the very concept of the commonweal is a difficult one, meaning common-wealth but also -weal, with the health connotation that this entails. Therefore it is not just geographical or ideological but also about a sense of collectivity, raising questions about authority and its distribution.

We moved on to a read-through, managing to cover Part One (split into a more manageable 2 parts) and what we call the ‘interval play’ (otherwise known as the ‘Interlude’ in morning, and part 2 in the afternoon (split into 3 parts). Despite the text unsurprisingly representing something of a struggle at points in terms of some of its obscure meaning and construction, it was exciting to see life breathed into it by the actors. Part One was especially lively and the comic potential of the Vice triad became obvious.  However, it was also evident that this is a difficult and occasionally clunky script which will need a good amount of actorly resource and skill to make it work as a piece of drama.  Greg W said that the ‘scale of the task ahead’ was shown by the reading, while Tom thought it was primarily the end that presented a the most difficulty theatrically.  Tomorrow we will start closer textual analysis on the play to start making sure every actor knows exactly what they are saying.


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Entrances: field and pavilion

Here’s the final blog post in the series of staging questions that the research team have been mulling over. This one concerns where characters may enter and exit from in our production.

Due to practicalities of performance the set has now been modified and, as it stands, the audience will still be enclosed within a ’round’ but the majority of the action will occur end-on. Here’s a sneak preview for you:


While the classical ‘in-the-round’ configuration with a central stage has been altered therefore, the form largely remains, and this raises issues of where the characters both enter and exit from. Do they come from behind the end-on stage – appearing before the audience – or are we still able to use the ‘field’ as an route to the stage – so that characters come through them? Below is the research team’s response to the director’s question: ‘Do the characters make their first entrance from the ‘field’. And Rex specifically – where does he enter from at the beginning of Part 1?’

Greg Walker – I think it matters where people come on from, as it indicates who and what level of society they are from. Those who come seemingly from out of the crowd, like John or Pauper, or the sowtar and tailor and their wives are reps of the people. Others clearly come TO the crowd and platea from outside – from outwith Scotland, whether villains like the Pardoner, or Flattery, or virtuous figures like Good Counsel, Verity, Correction, etc. Shouldn’t Rex emerge from out of his seat (as it were). He’s not from us – we don’t elect him or have a choice of who gets to be king. It’s decided for us by the powers that be.

Tom Betteridge – I think if characters come from outside Scotland they need to come through the field / audience – the only two places that people can enter are effectively from the field or from the court. As Diligence says when Pauper enters, ‘Quhair have wee gottin this gudly companyeoun? Swyith out of the field, – Pauper is a companion who has entered the world of the play from the field – but note that field is not a non-performing area – rather it is one that can be part of the ‘stage’ and at the same time it is the stage’s border or enabling frame. The characters who should not come from the field are, as Greg suggests, Rex but also the other courtly characters – I don’t think Diligence should come from the field since, I would suggest, part of his weakness is that he lacks the authority implicitly given to those characters who can come from the field but transgress its limitations – i.e. Divine Correction and John the Commonwealth.

Ellie Rycroft – I agree with the above, especially that Rex shouldn’t come through the field, but I think the fact that members ‘ride’ into parliament complicates things to an extent. I think there’s something compelling about the display of the parliament during the riding – it’s as if they are saying ‘you can see us, we’re off to do something important, but you’re not allowed to see what’, fully materialised when the Lyon King fences the space off. See images of parliamentary processions below.

parliamentary procession
parliamentary procession 2

John McGavin – I agree with the above. Some characters definitely do not come in through the audience. I do not see Diligence as coming through the audience: he can talk to them up close but he is a higher man’s functionary. Others definitely do. Some actions, however, are intended to be spectacular; they are public theatricality within theatre, and they constitute one of those elements of 16th century drama where the drama self-reflexively stages its own essential foundations – like the thematic use of disguise and impersonation or the moral staging of emblematic tableaux (such as the king and ladies lolling about in the first part described by Verity). This is an instance where the drama gives special force to the notion of watching: spectating becomes ‘witnessing’ in the sense of bearing witness. Although Ellie’s image do not depict the crowd, we as lookers at the image are part of that crowd. Wherever the thrie estaitis come from (the palyeon) on their way to the parliament, their proximity to the people en passant is vital – they are coming backward ‘throw this toun’. James was later to ‘stage’ the nobles in a banquet at the Cross precisely so that the people could act as witnesses to it and so put the nobles under the pressure of public scrutiny and public memory. I would be inclined to start Part Two with Diligence announcing the thrie estaitis and getting the spectators to rise and take their hats off. The surprising entry from the pavilion of the backward estates would then be a shocking blow to the spectators who had been prepared to honour this event.

Sarah Carpenter – I suppose I’d assumed that ‘courtly’ characters – king, three estates etc – come from the ‘pal3eoun’ when they need to ‘enter’. That’s formally stated for the three estates at the beginning of act 2, but I can’t see where else the king would exit to (or therefore enter from). There are some characters who specifically seem to need to come from the audience, people like John the Commonwealth, the tradespeople, some of the vices. And they often are said to come ‘through the water’, which might suggest from the audience side of the platea? Although in fact some of them are said at times to ‘pas to the palyeoun’, like the Taylor’s wife at 1395. It seems important to be able to signify characters who come from ‘abroad’ as different from either of these groups. But they often establish this themselves through their entrance speeches, wherever they arrive from physically.

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Jamie Stuart, the original Sandy Solace, on Tyrone Guthrie’s production

I was absolutely honoured to interview the original Sandy Solace from Tyrone Guthrie’s famous 1948 production of A Satire of The Three Estates the other day.  A true moment of oral history that speaks for itself, and does so in a “richt merry voice”. Jamie Stuart, what a character.



Jamie Reid-Baxter on ‘A Satire of the Three Estates’

Jamie Reid-Baxter, the early theatre and Scottish literature expert, discusses his previous experience of working on productions of A Satire of the Three Estates, focusing on his part of Folly, a character who was cut out of the famous Edinburgh University productions. Jamie says that that this was wholly wrong, as he serves as the “mirror image of Diligence in the play” suggesting that “both Diligence and Folly are David Lindsay’s alter egos”.

Jamie speaks about his excitement at a full, unedited version being performed in June, particularly the political urgency of the piece that will be revealed as a result.  He also discusses the “fundamental” place Lindsay holds in the Scottish canon, in that his work looks both backwards and forwards.  As a former translator at the European Parliament, Jamie helpfully discusses the dramatic appeal of the Middle Scots tongue, talking about the “roughness of Scots, the Germanic side of Scots, what you call in France the terrien, the clods of earth, the earthiness of it… but also the grandeur of those harsher consonants and pure vowel sounds”.  Reid-Baxter finishes by putting Lindsay in the literary tradition of William Dunbar, Gavin Douglas, Alexander Scott and Alexander Montgomerie, saying his work can “shed light right across the canon”, but is also innovative, discussing how Lindsay extends the Scottish tradition of flyting in this play.

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Reading of the 1540 Interlude at the Traverse 5/4/13

The first reading of the Interlude went exceptionally well yesterday, with the audience particularly interested in our staging of the metadrama of James V and Gavin Dunbar, the Bishop of Glasgow whom James ordered to “reform your factions and manners of living” at the end of the 1540 performance.  Questions from an excellently informed audience included whether the actors felt the tension of performing to a ‘King’ and the audience/court during the reading.  Gregory Thompson explained that this is the real paradox of historical theatre research; we can reconstruct texts, spaces, costumes and sets, but we can never recreate a sixteenth-century audience.

The process of working on the reconstructed version of the 1540 play in performance was incredibly useful. The research team felt they learned more in two days of working with actors on the text than weeks of discussion might reveal, highlighting the importance of practice-based research methods. Below are a few photos from the reading as well as a cast list – we were of course incredibly fortunate to be working with such a distinguished roll call of both established and emerging Scottish actors.

1. SIR WILLIAM EURE.   Alison Peebles
2. KING JAMES V.   James Mackenzie
4. SOLACE.  Callum Cuthbertson
5. THE KING.   Finn den Hertog
6. TEMPORALITY.   Peter Kenny
7. SPIRITUALITY.   Tom McGovern
8. BURGESS.    Michael Daviot
9. EXPERIENCE.   Gerry Mulgrew
10. POOR MAN.   Tam Dean Burn

James V among his 'court' Greg Thompson gives an introduction Spirituality gets angry The Parliament Poor Man petition  Parliament Temporality rebukes Spirituality Sir William Eure The audience arrives

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