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Malvolio Production Diary: ready or not

Tonight is the first read-through, and I have no idea what to do with it. I have spoken before about the strangeness of read-throughs. Actors take different tacks—I generally fall in to the camp that overacts, giving it too much energy in an attempt to give it any energy at all. Other actors prefer to underplay; they haven’t committed to a character yet (as is correct), so rather than give a wrong impression, they just read it all out as if they were reading today’s specials. Sometimes there will be an actor who appears to be seeing the text for the first time, stumbling over unfamiliar words and muttering shapeless sentences. Some make eye contact with their scene partners, beginning to make the connections between actors that will be part of the rehearsal process. Some stare at the page. Some peek at the director. Mostly the actors read all the scenes right along, everyone turning pages simultaneously in a great susurration. I, by preference, flip all the way to my next entrance and then just listen, either making notes or knitting. Occasionally screwing up and scrambling to find the page.

Anyway, as I say, in a general way, I fall into the overacting camp, playing a somewhat exaggerated version of what I think I will do with the part. I know I won’t be playing it that way, of course, but giving the director and my castmates some idea of what I could or might do. In a comedy, I try to crack up the room, which is always a delight. I also try to be susceptible to laughing aloud at whatever strikes me as funny. It can be a tough night, reading aloud in a silent room; I like to give it as much life as I can.

Malvolio, though. I have no idea at all what I’m going to do with Malvolio. I feel, not strongly but vaguely, that he should have a ridiculous voice of some kind. Possibly derhoticized, if it doesn’t sound too much like Elmer Fudd. Possibly a foreign accent (a Vienna accent is appealing to me for some reason, although when I read it aloud to myself, it sounds verging on German-Jewish, which has entirely different connotations) which would potentially help give the very English (tho’ notionally Illyrian) Sir Toby an obvious reason for instant enmity. A subtle idea would be for Malvolio to have an educated upper-crust accent that he loses, when alone and excited, and then again when imprisoned and abused, for some very recognizeable low-prestige accent. Probably too subtle, that. But I think you need some reason to find Malvolio ridiculous right from his first words—ideally, you need some reason to find him ridiculous right from his entrance, but I don’t have to worry about that for tonight’s read-through. I do need to read it in some sort of voice. I’m not really pleased by the idea of trying any of them out tonight. I’m actually quite terrified about it.

There’s a line that Oliver Ford Davies quotes in both of his books that I think is very good indeed; I need to find the actual quotation and what and who it’s from. It’s something like: all creativity happens in the incredibly narrow moment between the part when it’s too early to make definite decisions and the part when it’s too late to make big changes. The trick is to expand that narrow moment as much as possible. All the preparation I do before the rehearsals begin is to try to compress the first part by going in to a show with specific ideas about how to play the part. I don’t mean that I arrive with a fully-formed character, but with a base to start from and a set of set of things to try. This time… well, we’ll see.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I hope the first reading was fun!

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