For Blog 3, we’ve heard from Ian Barritt who plays Polonius in Hamlet.
Death is complicated. Yes.
When I was first cast in the role of Polonius, a friend sent a text – “Don’t go near any arrases.” The one thing that everyone knows about Polonius is that he gets killed behind an arras.
You all, of course, know what an arras is? A rich embroidered tapestry used as a wall hanging and often covering an alcove. Named after the town where they were first made. Polonius gets his come-uppance for nosiness when, hiding behind the arras, he is mistaken by Hamlet for the King and is stabbed.
Easy enough in most theatres but tricky in a theatre in the round.
Andrew Hilton, our director, wants Polonius to fall onto the stage as he dies so that his corpse lies there throughout the subsequent scene between Hamlet and his mother. So I hide behind the arras in one of the entrances. But how can the arras be set without obscuring sight lines for the audience in previous scenes? And how does the dead Polonius leave the stage?
The answer is a “kabuki drop”.
A kabuki drop involves material being rolled inside a suspended box. When the box opens the material falls out and hangs in the space. The plan is that after killing me Hamlet will pull down the arras and I will fall onto it. At the end of the scene Hamlet will drag me off on the arras. “I’ll lug the guts into the neighbour room”.
In technical rehearsals earlier in the week, the second part of the plan went well. Hamlet dragged the arras down and I fell onto it.
The first problem is with the kabuki drop itself. In Japan it would involve light silk. Although our budget doesn’t run to a rich embroidered tapestry we do need material strong enough to support me as I’m dragged off. And the heavier material isn’t yet dropping easily out of the box.
The second problem is dragging an elderly actor off along a narrow entrance and round a tight corner. This might involve a little unseemly crawling by said actor at the last moment screened by other players – but I think we’ll manage it.
Andrew has given instructions that the audience seated nearby should be warned. The stabbing of Polonius is acceptable. Heart attacks in the audience aren’t!
Posted on 10 February 2016