In playhouse creatures, Mrs Betterton is the eldest female actress and she is looked up to by the rest of the cast as she is the most superior and knowledgeable actress. I am going to look at how to direct her on pages 46, 47 and 48 and the beginning of scene 5 because this is where I think this is her most powerful speech where we really see what she is like and how she is controlled by Mr Betterton. Her first line on page 46 ‘From today I shall not be attending the theatre on a regular basis’.
Throughout the play we get the impression that she is getting a little past her time and her acting talent is not enough to keep her in the theatre; this is the first time she mentions it herself. She should speak this line from the back of the stage whilst walking forward as she is suddenly being noticed in the room by the other actresses. Walking forward as she whispers her lines because she does not want to accept the truth in what she is saying. She should be wringing her hands and not looking at anyone in particular as if she can’t face the fact that she is no longer a valued actress in this theatre.
I would have all the actresses in a group talking as to show that Mrs Betterton is separate from them due to her age and superiority. ‘Mr Betterton has talked to me’ is another significant line on this page because throughout the play we never see Mr Betterton we just hear that he has been giving orders and that he runs the theatre. This shows what a powerful presence men have on the lives of women in this time as we can hear his demands and not see him.
When she speaks of Mr Betterton, I think she should brighten up because, even though he controls her, they are happily married and have been acting together for years and years so he must care for her. I would want the audience to feel strong sympathy for Mrs Betterton because she has to stop what she loves with the man she loves and there will be nothing left for her because of her low status of being female. She won’t be able to get a job because in anything other than ‘oyster or orange’ selling or prostitution.
Mrs Betterton mentions that ‘some younger actresses should be given a chance’ – this represents the fact that even her husband believes she is past her acting career and that he thinks having younger actresses will increase the custom of the theatre because the men only want to watch the younger generation. She should say this wistfully, as if she doesn’t have a care in the world and that it has been her decision to leave the theatre. This is because she wants the younger actresses to think that she has a choice, this way they will keep respect for her even though she is no longer part of the theatre.
On page 47, Mrs Betterton has a long speech reminiscing about her past acting with Mr Betterton. She goes through her acting career with her husband, throughout this speech she should be getting more and more delirious and quieter and quieter. At this point in the play I think that she is losing the plot because she has had the one thing to live for in her life taken away. However, she should have the happy memories flooding out of her the whole way through, crying happy tears and perhaps laughing to show that she cant control her emotions anymore.
She says that ‘We were very close. Me and Mr. Betterton’ implying that they may not be any longer. At this point I would want her to engage with the audience, make eye contact and try to make her emotions known to certain people in the audience so that they can feel the memories and the pain of what has happened to her. We get the impression from some of the things she says that she was a fantastic actress and within this speech her acting skills should come out, the words exaggerated, as if she was playing to an audience.
When she starts to describe her characters she should become quieter yet more animated to make the audience hang on her every word. Her last line in this extract is ‘I am not above a woman selling artichokes’. This should be performed as if it is her last breath in the life of theatre. She should uncontrollably weep whilst saying it to show the audience that she has finally broken down and she can no longer uphold her front of being the superior woman within the group.
When she says this line she should slump in a chair as if all the energy has been sucked out of her along with all the happy memories. This scene in the play has a large element of humour made by Mrs Betterton and Doll. At the beginning of scene 5 Mrs Betterton instructs Doll Common ‘First, pot. ’ This shows her superiority over Doll as she is telling her to do a horrible job. At the beginning of this scene Mrs Betterton should sweep in as if she owned the whole theatre and tell Doll the order before she has acknowledged any of the other actresses, again showing her superiority.
Perhaps when Mrs Betterton utters this line, she should spit on the floor after ‘pot’ to show the audience what a horrendous job emptying the piss pot is! Mrs Betterton makes a small speech ‘He is the senior actor here and his orders come from higher up. From Mr Killigrew and beyond him King Charles the Second of England, Ireland, Scotland and the imperial conquests’ This should be said in true restoration style fashion. This should be humorous for the audience because King Charles certainly does not care about the emptying of a piss pot.
Mrs Betterton should speak faster and faster throughout this speech to show her excitement and on the final line she should be waving her arms erratically around indicating each different country that King Charles is King of. Mrs Betterton says ‘am I to be contradicted’ to Doll, this is her exerting authority and she should go right up close to Doll and shout it in her face whilst Doll cowers in the glare or Mrs B. She should tower of Doll and wait for Dolls answer before she leaves her personal space.
This shows the audience that Mrs B has the authority in the theatre when Mr Betterton is not there and although she is a woman, she has a vital role in the theatre! She says that ‘I will preceed with precipitation’ – this again should be humorous for the audience and she should really pronounce the ‘p’s in precipitation almost as if she is spitting the words out. Then Mrs Betterton proceeds to explain to the rest of the cast about the ‘forthcoming season’ in the theatre. This is a very important point in the play because she is so powerful over the other actresses.
She should be pacing up and down the stage reading from a piece of paper and every sentence looking over to the actresses to check that they are paying attention. However she should read it fast and as if it has been read many times before and that Mrs Betterton is taking advantage of her major superiority a little bit! She finishes with her speech quoting a line from a play ‘May the muse attend us’. This should be a dramatic finish and she should exit with a flourish and arm waving. This should be directed at the audience with a cheeky grin to let them know that she is taking advantage of her high place in the cast!