Whispers from the Wings

An idiot in brilliant clothes

November 14, 2013

Lute by Hans Holbein the youngerThe avid fans of Hilary's works, and indeed the manifold budding Tudor groupies that populate the world, will think that my character, Mark Smeaton, is mostly just an idiot with brilliant clothes. There have been a number of comments from the creatives indicating typecasting which I have continued to ignore.

Despite the reams of historical evidence that populate the annals of our nation's libraries, it seems nobody took the time out of their day to write a single thing about Mark. He has clothes. He once gave a book to George Boleyn. It's all very straightforward and dull.

But I believe him to be so much more than that. He's an idiot. With brilliant clothes. And a really annoying lute.

Dedicated and reso-lute
I was offered the chance to cheat a little bit and play the lute-shaped guitar. But, in accordance with the no holds barred, no half measures RSC approach, I wanted to learn the lute, a proper lute, and nothing but the lute. With all of its thirteen gut strings, bulbous body, wonky backwards head and impossible chord structures.

This was a brilliant idea in theory. But now, as my calloused fingers tap painfully at the keyboard, I can't help but feel I've shot myself in the foot.

I mean, it's an inherently ridiculous instrument. It looks like a wooden swan in a carnival mirror. But, heck I'm determined to make all of the new beautiful compositions as useful to the dramatic structure of the play as possible. Lots of underscoring, a cheeky bit of singing here and there, I'm enjoying the process immensely.

I'm even playing some tunes Henry VIII himself wrote. Which is fine, except for the fact that he was notoriously bad at it.

I'm also losing friends on a daily basis on account of finding lute-based puns hilarious.

Meeting myself at the pub
It got me thinking, however, about the smaller characters in the play. About the ones history forgot, the ones whose own personal stories and tragedies are lost to the mists of time, brought to life by Hilary's pen.

As we come to the end of rehearsals for Bring Up the Bodies, something echoes out in the rehearsal room that fills us all with a little more confidence. All of these people... are people. It's such a strange thing to witness. Whether they existed or not, whether their stories have never been told, everyone has created incredibly human characters.

I could meet these people at the pub. From the smallest servant to the greatest of legends, these are people with depth, with energy, with hopes and passions and heart.

So yes. We've had a few of our costume fittings - God help the department, there are over a hundred - and if we are going to be idiots, then we are most definitely going to be idiots with brilliants clothes.
But what's going to take us into a different world altogether is the humanity of every character, young and old, and their commitment to living again.

Am I excited? Abso... Lute... Ly...

If anyone needs me, I'll be at the bar.

Top image: Lute by Hans Holbein the Younger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Bottom image: Lute playing in the rehearsal room for Bring Up the Bodies

by Joey Batey  |  3 comments

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Nov 19, 9:13am
Agnes Mkandawire

dear joey

I am reading your blog in an internet café in Mzimba in northern Malawi.

I know a little bit about Shakespeare and now I know about lutes.
We have an instrument we play at church here made out of wire, wood, bottle tops and an old bicycle bell. we play it with a nail. Shall I send it to Stratford in case you break your lute?

We also have some brilliant coloured cloth, if you know an idiot who needs it.

good luck with the rehearsals
I wish I could come

tikukutemwani (love)


Nov 19, 9:19pm

I love reading these blog posts! I'm a huge fan of the books and was hoping to travel from the States to see both shows but am unable. So I look forward to reading these each week!

Nov 20, 11:11am

Well, the lute is obviously impressive - but how are you getting on learning the viol, virginals and organ? Multi-talented man that Smeaton. (Enjoying the blog posts, btw).

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