I was talking about the play recently with my cast-mate Mark, who plays local landowner and magistrate Sir William Tyrell. He asked me a question which made me really think about what I do while I am on stage.
We were randomly discussing the way the show has developed since its first performance in July 2016.
"I've noticed that a couple of the pauses have got a lot longer," Mark commented. "Why is that?"
I thought about the sections of dialogue he was referring to and realised what was happening. The pauses have indeed increased over time because, as I have come to inhabit the character of Margery, her internal dialogue has increased. Throughout each performance, there is a constant dialogue in my head as I react to each of the lines I hear. It's like I am hearing them for the first time. When Margery is put on the spot, the pause has lengthened because I'm not ready to say the next line until the internal dialogue is done. Margery's inner voice is still panicking, desperately wondering how to get out of this particular corner, what she can say to smooth things over, why these people believe such things of her. Only when I have run through how Margery is thinking and feeling at that precise moment can I move on to say the next line.
I tried to explain all this - probably badly - and ended up giving a demonstration of what goes through my head during a pause. It's something like this:
"What? How can they think that? What do I say? What do I say? How am I going to save myself? I have to make them believe me. Look at the way they are looking at me. I am so frightened, What do I do? I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do...."
Mark was intrigued by this peek behind the curtain and said something about method acting, which gave rise to more questions.
I've always considered method acting as a way for some actors to go above and beyond in order to really inhabit their character so they can give a more nuanced/informed/believable performance. The one actor I have always associated with method acting is the amazing Meryl Streep. Reading up a little about how she prepares for a role, I realised that what I do could be seen as method acting, although I wouldn't have ever called it that myself. For me, the way I portray Margery is just something that happens, something that feels natural to me when I am on stage. Something that feels totally right and entirely appropriate in my portrayal of Margery. It's not even something that I do consciously. It just...happens.
For while Margery is a fictitious character, the many, many women - and men - whom she represents were - and, indeed are - very real indeed. We know many of their names. We know the horrors they faced in their last days. We know that many of them finally met their end by the rope or the fire. WITCH was written specifically to highlight the experiences of those accused of witchcraft and to preserve the words actually spoken during the proceedings. My portrayal and characterisation of Margery stems entirely from my desire to give an honest representation of someone in her situation. It's a sort of homage to the thousands who died needlessly because of suspicion, distrust, dislike, misogyny.... It is their story that I am telling and, therefore, I have a responsibility to tell it properly, in as honest and respectful a way as I possibly can.
This has been a much longer post than I expected. When I started thinking about why I do what I do, I knew that it was all about them, the hundreds and hundreds of Margerys over countless years who have been persecuted, ill-treated and vilified simply because they were a little different, or unfortunate, or simply because they were keepers of uncomfortable truths.
The image below is from a recent set of publicity shots taken in the library at the Devon & Exeter Institution. Copyright is mine.