Marlowe450 Rehearsal Diary #2 : Eleanor Cotton-Soares

16th January 2014

“Quod me Nutrit me Destruit”

By Eleanor Cotton-Soares

“What nourishes me, destroys me”. Found inscribed below a portrait of Christopher Marlowe the year he graduated from Cambridge with his Bachelor’s Degree in Theology. This peculiar Latin aphorism seemed to be a notion Marlowe lived by and one that all 3 of our chosen plays demonstrate; Faustus by knowledge, Barabas by wealth and the Duke of Guise by ambition.

So with blind ambition and a narcissistic nature, most of our characters set out to ruin themselves as we begin our first rehearsal period with Andrew, Paul and The Massacre at Paris on the Monday following our wonderful trip to Canterbury. We all arrive prepped and ready to dive into our respective religions and hierarchical status’. Lead by the arguably formidable Duke of Guise, what begins as a War of Religion; Catholics at Protestants throats, Protestants fleeing for their lives, turns into a frenetic free for all. The aristocracy changes every five minutes with people being poisoned, stabbed and hung left, right and centre. This performance is going to be something of a 16thCentury ‘Game of Thrones’.

Blimey, all this death. I’m pretty sure at least half of the cast die a minimum of twice during the show. With a quarter of us swapping sides with every scene change, there is no uncertainty that this play is a challenging one.

But, how are you going to have multiple deaths in a Cathedral Crypt and then getting them off without it not becoming a total farce? (This is me pretending someone is asking. Just in case you thought I was asking you. Which I’m not. That would be weird.) Well, my friends, this is where the handiwork of our brilliant Paul Allain glides onto the scene, with an abundance of physical prowess. To begin most days we have a 2 hour physical warm up in which we have been literally learning how to be a corpse. Without corpsing. Ha. On a serious note though, with these sorts of things you have to be very sincere and genuine with what you’re doing, otherwise it will just become ridiculous. Working with balance and weight distribution, there are numerous possibilities in falling (or even flying!) to your death. How I manage to just get tied to a pole and stabbed however, is another story.

Reuben Davies, the man named to play the dastardly Duke, has the pleasure of persuading the City of Paris to punish every Protestant they can get their hands on. To do so he uses charisma, fear and of course, language. The first playwright in Elizabethan England to use the decasyllabic line, Marlowe was the actual creator of blank verse drama. Yes, I kiddeth you not. He single handedly gave rise to the Iambic Pentameter Period and playwrights positively propelled themselves onto the bandwagon (Whoa. Lots of P’s. P’s EVERYWHERE). Fortunately for us we have the boundless expertise of Andrew Dawson, who’s knowledge of all things Marlowe is astonishing. He helps us all in our understanding of the text with such a coherent manner that classical language becomes less of a battle every time you get up.

Having a script in blank verse is almost, in a sense, easier to interpret than a piece of prose text. Words on the ends of lines have been put there for a reason, and most of the time are the ones that tell the story. One technique Andrew employs when working with his actors, especially those that have fantastic speeches to deliver, is to say just those words. The scene will run as normal, except they will only say the words on the end of each line. This both seems to give you a clearer grasp on what it is you are actually saying and doesn’t letting the end of the line ‘drop’ because you say the word with energy. Something that often happens with verse, the ends of the lines kind of fizzle out or dips when said. Not only losing meaning, this also makes the whole scene drop because it sounds like the scene finishes every time someone comes to the end of a line. Very confusing for audience members.

From words, to a lack of them. Rolling with the whole ‘Game of Thrones’ concept here, another side to this universe is one of abstruse spying, secrecy and seclusion. For a start our graduate playwright Mr Marlowe, completely vanishes from records at Cambridge University for a period of 2 years. Whereupon he, allegedly, inexplicably hands the university a letter from Her Majesty the Queen authorising his return and completion of his degree.

Equally inexplicable is the arrival of the ‘English Agent’ towards the latter end of The Massacre at Paris. Could Marlowe be alluding to and possibly recounting, in some sort of bizarre autobiographical confession, his own involvement in Her Majesty’s Secret Service? And therefore his actual presence at the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre!? Was this what he was roped into doing for those 2 years??!! One thing’s for sure (before I get hysterical), Marlowe was clearly an absolute BAMF (if you, like me just a moment ago, don’t actually know what that means, I point you in the direction of Urban Dictionary. A dirty place). But in essence; Oooerr, espionage.

Which is basically the soul of the play. Special attention is paid to each and every relationship we encounter in The Massacre at Paris, one look could mean a thousand words.

Or, “I want kill you.” You can never tell with these narcissistic maniacs.