Rehearsal blog – day 19 (30.5.2013)

The morning began with rehearsal of the hanging again, a very technical part of the play.  Jimmy Chisholm and Barrie Hunter were making marvellous sense of their long and complex gallows speeches.   There’s an interesting shift from iambic tetrameter to iambic pentameter in Falset’s final speech, which registers a shift in tone from a denouncement of the local craftsmen to rulers, prelates, judges in general – but also wives dwell amongst this illustrious company?!

Before lunch, we re-rehearsed the Folly/Rex/Diligence ending of the play.  This is very much a three-way dynamic which speaks of a particular triad of courtly life in the play, and perhaps the personal vision of Lyndsay.  Diligence, the assiduous herald who is widely seen as a Lyndsay figure, mediates the passage of Folly to the King – does this tell us something about the playwright himself?  I was reminded of Jamie Reid-Baxter saying that Diligence and Folly are refractions of Lyndsay’s own character.

In the afternoon, there was a real festival atmosphere as 30-odd ‘jesters, jugglers and bauble-bearers’ prepared to run Part One of the play.  It was fascinating to see the skilful dramaturgy of Lyndsay in the first half take shape.  Enough time is spent setting up the King’s fall that Good Counsel appears at the opportune moment to cast a virtuous perspective on the events.  And just as her voice of sense is registered, the level of Vice is ramped up by the entry of Flattery, Falset and Dissait.  The middle part of the first half marks the nadir of Rex’s reig; his enthrallment to Sensuality, his employment of evil personnel, and rejection of Good Counsel.  Verity’s entrance is the fulcrum from which point the reformation of the king is anticipated, although it his transgression is also heightened by the introduction of notions of religious truth and sin rather than simply the political and social evils of the first half.  We are then led via Verity and Chastity to the ultimate appearance of Divine Correction and the restoration of good order at Rex’s court.  It is a beautifully crafted piece of drama and only through performance can this craftsmanship be appreciated.

We tried putting the ‘Interval play’ directly after Part One and it heightened the sense that the dramatic space has been invaded by the Pauper, as both actors and audience have slipped out of ‘theatrical mode’, and had to quickly slip back in.  I wondered whether this was the order of the drama envisaged by Lyndsay as, dramaturgically, he is fascinated with the notion of the false sending.  This idea governs the overall structure of the Satyre.  Part One finishes in the mode of a traditional morality play, but the finality of this genre is significantly challenged by the parliament drama of Part Two.  The interval play is a further, third piece of drama incorporated into the overall play and the Pardoner’s “Now tarry any little, I pray you,/ Till I with you be known” – does seem to be designed to further delay an audience itching to get away for the drink Diligence has just suggested.  If the interval play was supposed to follow directly on from Part One, this raises an interesting question – is this the “best pairt of the play” that Diligence has just promised? With the Pauper’s tale of woe, the arse-kissing divorce, and the interchanges of the Pardoner with other characters – it is certainly one of the funniest.

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Rehearsal blog – day 18 (29.5.2013)


We started off by running Act 2.  It was really interesting to see the political space materialised with so many of the cast members inhabiting it.  Particularly striking was the relationship between the Pauper, parliament and audience, with David McKay speaking upstage but frequently taking in the crowd as the poor ‘commoun’, speaking as and for them.  There was an enlightening change marked between John and Pauper assuming they will not be listened to when they first approach the parliament, followed by their surprise when they realise that Divine Correction has their back – it is the movement from their oppression to their enfranchisement in the play.   Also interesting was the ‘rounding’ together of the Spirituality in the Parliament to take advisement on the laws being proposed – their secret conversations seemed in stark contrast to the transparency of the rest of the political space.  There seemed to be so many members of the Spirituality on the stage – Bishop, Abbot and Parson, as well as the  Friar and Prioress just behind them – as opposed to the self-representing Merchant and Temporality.

We also charted the various responses to John and Pauper’s assertions of ‘Were I ane King’ and ‘Were I ane pape’ with the parliament finding these challenging statements.  Most important though was Rex’s reaction- he stands  in some sort of defiance against Pauper but also listens thoughtfully.  During the Parliament we are witnessing Rex’s bettering as a monarch.

The staging of the Parliament continued into the afternoon – this is definitely one of the most complex parts to realise given the complexities of political access and space in the play.  There is also the question of finding the appropriate reactions.  The Parliament, for instance, stand in sequence when John the Commonwealth shows forth his true faith (the Spirituality reluctantly) – their honorific response demonstrates the verity of John’s words.  The reactions of the Parliament help to mark the various episodes of this long scene, while mitigating against the action becoming static.

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Rehearsal Blog – day 17 (28.5.2013)

Today we concentrated on the entry of the Three Estates ‘gangand backwart’ and John the Commonweal’s appearance.  We read through the whole of the second half of the play to the hanging of the Vices, and broke the Parliament down into its constituent parts.

The Director, Gregory Thompson worked with the actors playing the Estates and their vices on the practicalities and principles of their backward entry. It was decided that the Estates, with the exception of Spirituality, had no sense that they were being led like puppets by the Vices Covetise, Flattery, Deceit, Falsehood and Sensuality. As Spirituality would later say, they see nothing wrong with what they are doing. They think they ‘gang right wonder pleasantly’. So we saw the Estates waving obliviously to the audience as they are dragged backwards by capering Vices who are to them invisible.  (A lot of time was spent on getting the movements right, to music provided by John Kielty with Annie Grace and Kern Falconer.)

It is only when John exposes the Vices ‘lurking’ behind them that Merchand and Temporality see to their horror how they have been deceived by their worst instincts. The Vices are then dragged off to the stocks. We then worked on the impact of John’s address to parliament – how the members react to this bold intrusion, and what the Spirituality make of the ominous references to ‘reformation’ which start to echo around the stage.

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Rehearsal blog -day 16 (24.5.2013)

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We began by looking at the trick by which Oppression manages to get Common Thift to take his place in the stocks.  Once again, the theme of rehearsals, ensuring that the actors stuck to the regular meter and rhyme of the verse, proved key to the scene.   The dialogue was thus run repeatedly until the rhythm began to ‘stick’, and then the action was mapped on top of this.

We had moved into a massive hall at the Pearce Institute and were able to mark it up to show exactly how big the platea, the field, and the various loci of the playing space were.   The actors began the afternoon by exploring this space.  They then read from the opening of the parliament through to the reading of the acts – to get a sense of how this whole section is going to work.  We worked through the characters’ response to the new laws, with Greg saying that the members of the parliament should be waiting to hear whether what they’ve asked for will happen, so that they have to be engaged in an “active listening” during Diligence’s proclamations. The third law about setting the lands in feu seems to be the really radical one, although many are years ahead of their time – such as priests being able to marry, and nunneries being abolished.  The rest of the afternoon was devoted to staging the parliament.

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Rehearsal blog – day 15 (23.5.2013)


We began the day by looking at the relationship between Diligence, Rex and Folly at the end of the play and considered whether Folly was known to the court.  Perhaps Folly, given his centrality to Scottish political discourse (shown by his privileged place in the architecture of Stirling, and the craftsmanship devoted to this particular Stirling Head) is the final piece of the jigsaw of Rex’s court.  Gregory Thompson noted how Folly’s sermon repeats and inverts the two ‘legitimate’ sermons the audience has just witnessed taking place in parliament.

When Folly calls all King’s ‘fools’, is this a moment at which he goes too far, or is Diligence playing the straight man by saying  Folly has gone mad at this point – creating the space for the king himself to decide whether this is the case or not.  This will be heightened in performance by having Folly whisper some of his criticisms of political power to Diligence, only to have Rex urge the fool to speak to him as well.  Perhaps the weak king seems to have learnt how to be a true Renaissance monarch by the end of the play.

We looked at the hanging sections in the afternoon, and found that once again, paramount was the rhythm – they are the tides on which meaning is carried. It is notable that when a part of the text doesn’t ring true aurally for the actors, it is usually a problem with editing or anglicising and that the ears of the company are able to detect it.

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Rehearsal blog – day 6 (13.5.2013)


The morning began with rehearsal of the entrance of the Vices (Flattery, Falset and Dissait) and the pantomimic nature of their dialogue became apparent. We also discussed the meaning of lines 666-681 and where Dissait ‘comes from’ socially and morally.

The music director, John Kielty, joined us and, following the rehearsal on Saturday, it had been decided that some of the Vices’ dialogue will now be sung rather than spoken, so there was some song practice.  Also, the moments where the relationship with the audience can be built up were identified too, such as where the female audience members can be spoken to directly – platea- rather than loci-determined acting.

In the afternoon, the company were joined by the ‘royal’ vices, the king, and the women, and we went through speaking lines 808 –937 in the vernacular before speaking it as written. Guess the line: ‘Thou hast a fanny like a treacherous bog’!

The remainder of the afternoon was spent rehearsing and sharpening the ‘sex’ scene part of the play followed by Rex’s engagement of the disguised Vices into royal office.  Of particular interest was seeing Rex being witlessly led around the stage in thrall of Sensualitie, as well as his kneeling to Flatterie when he appoints him his spiritual counsellor – both spatial expressions of the king’s debasement.

The actor playing Veritie, Alison Peebles, joined rehearsal for the final part of the and we rehearsed her  first entrance.  Whom she was addressing became the most important question to solve, as many of her lessons are directed at princes and bishops who obviously won’t be amongst our audience.  Alison felt uncomfortable delivering a lesson meant for rulers to the common people.  We thought about directing the speech towards the VIP box area, but also considered whether she was articulating a biblical truth that needed to be directed at specific auditors at all.  It was decided that the first verse would be directed towards those in the field, the next four to the VIP area that political rulers might be imagined to inhabit, and the final stanza back to the ‘groundlings’.

Making Verity’s speech work with its complicated constructions and series of qualifications within single sentences made this, as the director said, “the hardest bit of Lyndsay yet”.

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Rehearsal blog – day 4 (10.5.2013)

We spent most of the day working on the ‘Courtly vices’, Wantonness, Placebo, and Sandy Solace, and their relationship with Rex Humanitas.

How should we think of that relationship? In allegorical terms, as a representation of the dangers to which every youth is prone, or on a more specific, human level, like watching Prince Harry and his mates out on the town? More specifically, we worked through just how close the group were. Could the vices touch the king, for example? And if they did, would it be familiarly and regularly, or hesitantly, wondering just how far they could go? Are they all self-aware of the liberties they are taking, or are some more spontaneous, more ‘natural’ in their camaraderie, unaware of where it might lead?

Gregory Thompson has also been developing the ways in which music and song can punctuate or underscore the action, having the versatile musician John Kielty accompany key pieces of dialogue on keyboard or bazouki, and turning some lines into snatches of song. The transformation of the scene is often striking.



Rehearsal blog – day 3 (9.5.2013)

The section we looked at today was the opening three scenes – Diligence’s opening speech, followed by that of Rex Humanitus and then the three courtiers, Solace, Wantonness and Placebo. What became apparent was how quickly the tone of the play changes and develops. Diligence’s opening speech, as worked on by Liam Brennan, in performance has a clear authorial feel. This is partly because of the way it sets up the play, both in turns of creating the audience as a specific image and assuming responsibility for preparing them for what is going to happen. The extent to which Diligence is a version of Lyndsay (one of many in the play – including Folly ) was emphasised by the passage at the end of the speech seeking to protect the play from accusations of sedition or slander. Seeing these words worked on gave me  real sense of the extent to which Diligence’s opening speech is a prologue designed to set up the play and announce Lyndsay’s aims. From Lyndsay’s Diligence,  James Mackenzie’s Rex Humanitus is a king out of his depth. His opening speeches are conventional but they also create a real sense of the pressures of early modern kingship. With the entry of Solace, Wantonness and Placebo another very different tone is set – realism but also comedy.

Watching the actors working on the first three sections of the play reminded how heterogeneous it is. It goes from authorial prologue, to the language of conventional morality plays to something altogether different when the courtiers appear. In particular, there is a sense as an audience of being instantly seduced by the three courtiers. In rehearsal this was partly because the actors playing these roles, Callum Cutherbertson, Richard Conlon and Ewan Donald, brought so much energy to their performances. But I also think that this is a deliberate ploy by Lyndsay. Diligence has important points to make about the play, Rex Humanitus’ speech is serous and moving, Solace’s account of his mother’s various lovers and the different fathers she gave him is comic, realist ( albeit misogynistic ) and unserious. It is almost as though from the opening of the play Lyndsay is tempting the audience to behave in exactly the way that Folly accuses them of behaving at the end. Surely only a foolish person would be seduced by the antics of Wantonness, Placebo and Solace.

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Rehearsal blog – day 2 (8.5.13)


Apologies for the delay on this one…

The company saw the set for the first time, locus and platea staging was explained, leading to questions about how they would be using the space, how they would enter and exit.  There were also questions about tickets, disability access and food for the audience.

We moved on to talk about text, and the actors expressed some concern with the fact that the script appeared to be half-Scots, and half-English.  A particular example of Sensualitie’s line ‘Flamand’ as the fire’ was used, corrected to ‘Flamin’’ by the research team, but an actor recalled the poetic magnificence of hearing it pronounced ‘Flammand’ in performance.  So it appears that we have over-modernised the text and it became clear that we would need to de-modernise the text as we rehearse our way through it, and find the pronunciations and rhymes that the Scottish actors are comfortable with.

The differences between Scots, English and Inglis were discussed, and the significance of various places, for instance St. Andrews as a clerical and legal centre of power were considered.

After a coffee break, Greg Walker gave a short talk about Kings James IV, V and VI.  Discussion of the political culture of early modern Scotland, how authority is distributed and the role of the king followed.  Tom Betteridge then spoke about David Lyndsay and his dual role at the Scottish court as herald and poet, saying that both gave Lyndsay authority as poetry wasn’t seen as a frivolous activity during the period.  Finally, Ellie Rycroft considered the dramatic tradition in which Lyndsay was writing and how Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis compares to other literature and drama of the time.

After lunch, the costume designer, Hilary Lewis, showed her designs to the cast and explained the rationale behind them.  The company seemed very happy overall with their costumes, especially the actor playing Hameliness, who was delighted she was going to look so feminine given that she usually plays small boys!


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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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